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Gord review: fertile ground covered in stagnant water, also swamps

Swamp and circumstance of inglorious bore

A bearded man is angry in Gord
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Team17

I used to be into deserts, but ever since Kenshi I have become a swamp fangirl. I also consider nomadic cultures to be woefully under-represented in games. You'd think, then, that a game about a nomadic Iron Age people larking about in a horrible swamp would be made for me, but unfortunately, Gord is somehow both a game where you can feed a child to a forest-dwelling horror, and a game that's kind of dull.

It's the only memorable thing that happened, and I did it to save time. The horrors are sort of demi-gods who you occasionally threaten you with plague unless you satisfy some demand. The alternative is to attack them, which the game stresses is extremely dangerous. I might rationalise the choice as the lesser evil, one life sacrificed to spare the lives of several, but the reality is that sending all those dudes back and forth across the map just sounded like too much hassle.

An overhead view of your town at night in Gord
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Team17

Gord is a real-time strategy game with a town management layer, in which everybody has a name, skill levels, and traits affecting their output or applying some circumstantial modifier. Rather than train new people, you can only keep the camp (gord) going until a child is born. It's an obvious effort to shift players away from the typical RTS mindset, into one where you value and nurture each person.

But there's little reason to. Almost everyone can do every job, and though they gain experience over time, your population is too low throughout most of a game for it to matter much. Almost every profession has the worker run out of camp to a resource, stand there for a while, then carry the produce back to town and repeat. Everyone's basically doing the same thing, and since resources run out and regenerate all over the place, you'll seldom keep track of where anyone is. Workers ordered to change tasks will drop resources they're carrying, which can only be retrieved by the right specialist (only fishermen can carry fish, etc). This is exacerbated by a fiddly UI that makes it hard to find and select people. There are portraits on the right of the screen, but the names are in an often unreadable colour so you'd have to go through everyone in turn, multiple clicks apiece, just to find out who's slightly faster at mining. Clicking on a building shows who works there, but no way to select and reassign them. The villager information panel also entirely blocks the notifications, which seems like an easy patch but is emblematic of how many times I imagine a lot of QA people were ignored by someone two or three salaries higher.

All this adds up to a game about managing people where you'll find yourself clicking back to the gord and grabbing whoever's nearest instead of caring who's who. It's just easier, and none of the random events or afflictions imbue anyone with enough identity to matter.

An overhead view of a snowy settlement in Gord
The menu screen for Yarmatsh, son of Druantia, as they fight villagers outside the walls of a village in Gord
Builders construct a wooden house in Gord
Warriors fight in night in Gord
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Team17

Constructing the right huts lets villagers act as warriors, and run out into the wilds to find more resource spots. Workers blindly run out to those if the nearby ones dry up, whether the monsters are gone or not, so you'll have your warriors systematically kill everything as they go, then run back to the gord to heal in a bathtub for a few minutes, and then repeat. And that's... basically it. Each monster type has a special attack, like the gazers who leap onto your face, or little globby things who drop poison mines, but the method is always to sent three dudes to stab them, then send them back to town for a bit. Oh, but warriors drain your gold while they're active, so you'll maybe want to switch them back to farmers while they heal. Later threats might require more dudes, and periodic raids on the gord mean dragging them back home mid-exploration before your villagers, who live in a society defined by defensive walls, respond to a threat by leaving the walls. This is fixed by having five axe dudes instead.

Gords themselves garner no affection or loyalty either, as you have no meaningful control over where or how large they are, and since space is extremely limited, most will be exactly the same. You can build extra 'outpost' gords, but only in a fixed oval that can barely fit one building. Expansion is expensive and tedious and offers little that making more axemen and sending them directly to the objective can't do.

An encounter screen with the Horror Lauma from Gord
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Team17

Villagers also have a sanity stat, which depletes when they're in the dark for too long, and is fixed by making them drink for a while, in exactly the same manner as healing. They don't automatically seek healing or booze, instead preferring to die or abscond, so you'll occasionally build a campfire near the busiest spots, and add "send a miner to the pub" and "send the miner back to work" to the list of chores. Villagers also don't return to their jobs when you ask them to build, or give them a "move away from the angry wolves" order. The closest thing to any strategic thought is waiting until you have enough labour to support the gold mine needed to support more warriors (there are multiple types, but beyond archer/melee little distinction between them, especially as each requires additional buildings you won't have space for). And if you do have enough miners, you might as well just pressgang them, since you can find gold by killing monsters and/or selling the wood that's spilling from your stores anyway.

There's a lot I haven't mentioned, like how each map is littered with little looty things to click on (a pixel hunt barely worth the effort), occasionally producing magic items that don't change anything about what you're doing. There's a magic system too, in which you can build a temple and have people pray, generating 'faith' that powers spells I only bothered with when a digger walked into a bear and needed to run faster. The temple is enormous, and occupies labourers for a purpose that will be served faster by just sending more dudes.

The much-vaunted Horrors, meanwhile, show up on some levels, and demand some tedious chore or, if you're lucky, a child sacrifice that you'll do just to get the level over with faster. The more I write about Gord, the more dull and underwhelming it feels to actually play next to its detailed and moody cutscenes. Listing more of its details and features is starting to feel like another chore because it means explaining how half baked and inconsequential most of them are. It's by no means bad, but it's a disappointing game that fails to capture the appeal of any of its component genres, and fails to generate anything interesting by combining them.

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