Gord (Xbox Series) Review

Gord game, gord-awful controls on consoles

I’ve always appreciated games that blend together genres, more so if each element is engaging and the balance between them is good. Gord is one such game, offering a compelling mix of base building and survival-focused resource management, coupled with RPG-like adventuring and basic character progression. It’s a design that goes all the way back to 2002’s WarCraft III, but if I had to pick two recent examples, I’d say Gord feels like a mix of Frostpunk and a scaled-back SpellForce 3. I just wish I had picked up the PC version so I could play with a keyboard and mouse instead of a controller.

Premise

Gord is set in a grim and dark fantasy world – quite literally, as the sun hasn’t been seen for generations and many prophecies exist about its return. In the campaign, you take the role of a “Callanthian” steward tasked with preparing the way for its armies to conquer the northern reaches of the continent. Saddled with the king’s obnoxious emissary and the promise of severe punishment should you fail, you’re given control over the subjugated “Tribe of the Dawn” who lived on the borders with the northern wilds. It should come as no surprise these “forbidden lands” are not easy to tame, especially when giant creatures and ancient demons – long thought to be primitive folklore by the Callanthians – reappear, drive the reclusive Wildfolk to open warfare, and plague the land.

The campaign functions as a lengthy tutorial that sees you trek northward through 10 increasingly challenging missions (with traditional difficulty modifiers too). In addition to the base building and survival mechanics, there are unique objectives with in-game cutscenes and choice-and-consequence encounters that include gambling on percentages for a positive or negative outcome; checklist-style sidequests to boost the stats of a worker; an easy short-term solution with long-term consequences if you’re willing to do something terrible; or challenging battles that might cost the lives of veteran warriors if you’re trying to do what’s “right”. Your motley crew of advisers is on hand to give their opinion on each major scenario, including a wisened “Elder” who literally spells out the basic gameplay mechanics up until the final chapter.

If you just want to experience all of Gord’s mechanics without staggered unlocks or a narrative veneer, you could jump straight to the custom scenario menu (not recommended). This mode allows you to create unique scenarios, tweaking parameters like the size and biome, victory conditions, event frequency, enemy strength, and available resources. You can even share the map seed with friends as a challenge. It adds plenty of longevity and gives you the option to play brisk and easy maps to perfect your build order and upgrades, before throwing yourself into increasingly tough challenges. Think accumulating and maintaining resources, hunting down or appeasing a demon, or finding guarded treasures – often within a time limit that’ll test your adaptability under pressure.

Despite the grim setting, the gloomy, overgrown, and oppressive forbidden lands make for a welcome change from the bright verdant hills, valleys, and castles so commonplace in Western European high fantasy; as does its bestiary of grotesque monsters and demons that were loosely inspired by Slavic folklore. As you explore each map and progress through the campaign, you also unlock an extensive and fully-narrated “Chronicle” – bundled in with the console version – which fleshes out the current state of the world, ancient civilisations, and the origin of its twisted creatures and deities.

Gord demon choices

Gameplay

Regardless of the game mode you pick, Gord revolves around the “gord” (an archaeological term for medieval Slavic fortified settlements in Central and Eastern Europe) – a circular palisade that provides a foothold in each region, protecting and sustaining your small population, while you expand resource production, improve fortifications, upgrade structures, and prepare adventuring parties.

If Gord functioned in the detached, mostly-automated manner of most city-builders or survival games, you could argue it lacks sufficient depth. However, with the focus on small settlements, a handful of unique workers, the physical transporting of resources, and real-time-with-pause combat, you’ll find yourself constantly micromanaging and shifting priorities. It makes for intense and involved gameplay, and the campaign – despite being packed with tutorials – leaves you to figure out its distinct gameplay rhythms on your own.

Gord expansion

It’s easy to build early resource-generating structures and fill them with workers, but the limited starting population will only cover wood and reeds and leave no hands free for further construction. You might then focus on covering more resources – like foraging, fishing, and hunting for food – by spreading workers thinly, but with most found beyond the palisade, you’ll want torch-bearing scouts as escorts. Sure, the basic progression mechanics mean individual workers become more proficient at their tasks, you can discover survivors while out exploring, recruit newcomers through some random events, and even assign children to basic tasks – but you’ll never have a large enough population to cover everything at once.

It’s overwhelming at first, even on the normal difficulty, until you realise the only upkeep resources are food and gold to keep up morale when fielding warriors. There are other sanity-effecting considerations, like working in darkness or traumatic injuries, but these can be mitigated with the right structures, while scout escorts and consuming local plants can keep distant adventuring parties stable. Success in Gord is all about continuously shifting priorities as needed by micromanaging your small workforce.

Gathering wood, reeds, clay, and iron is vital as you establish and upgrade a new gord, but equipping a party and exploring the map is not just important for quest progression. The campaign often implies speed is of the essence, but unless mission parameters demand it, methodical progress is the best approach. You’ll need to scale back resource production to field more warriors and scouts, but exploration yields combat experience, random encounters, supply caches, chests full of gold, shrines that boost experience gain, and sometimes equippable gear for your party with useful buffs.

Combat is messy, with jostling character models and splashes of gore obscuring your view, but it doesn’t require much input if you’ve assembled a mixed party of axe-wielders, spearmen, archers, and scouts. Melee and ranged units will automatically attack the closest foe, but you can pause and prioritise targets, move units to avoid AoE attacks, and even cast offensive or defensive “incantations” if you’ve generated enough of the faith resource through temples and shrines. You don’t have the same level of control as you’d expect in a traditional RPG, and you can only take a small party into each new mission, but the light progression system makes every death or low-sanity desertion potentially devastating. On higher difficulties, it also provides plenty of statistics for invested players to peruse while optomising their starting party.

Gord worker stats

Unfortunately, Gord‘s controller support and UI are frustrating and often left me bemoaning the fate of the underappreciated Halo Wars games with their streamlined, intuitive control scheme.

Gord typically uses the thumbstick to directly drive menus, the camera, selected units, and structure or waypoint placement (aside from the initial gord layout) but the snap-to feature is a pain whenever objects are grouped closely; multi-layer radial menus, tab-style menus, and unit lists are slow to navigate; and you need to remember multiple shortcuts – all with different inputs – to access all available information on your settlement and workers. It doesn’t help that any fluctuations in the framerate, such as by zooming out over a large settlement or moving in close to a chaotic battle, impact input responsiveness.

Another issue is that despite playing on 49″ TV, I found the UI increasingly cluttered, overhead icons and selection highlights too small and often indistinct from one another, while the “senses” overlay had a habit of not removing icons when toggled off.

Presentation

I doubt Gord will win any awards for the prettiest Unreal Engine game, but it nails the gloomy and grim atmosphere. As the seasons pass, you shift from rainswept springs into fetid summers, through orange-brown autumns and frigid winters. Character and monsters models look reasonably detailed and well-animated up close, so gathering, combat, and even the in-game cutscenes look good. Dense and eerie ambient audio coupled with a haunting soundtrack set the mood, though the inconsistent voice acting and several scenes seemingly played for laughs can undermine the grim and serious tone.

On the downside, the different biomes all felt like the same procedurally generated tile set with sliders for water, swamps, grass, and trees; something I confirmed when firing up my first custom scenario. Aside from the snowy and icy winter months, which have a significant impact on the look and feel of the environment, the other seasons are uniformly green, wet, and shrouded in gloom. I enjoyed the structured campaign for what it was, but it’s easy to imagine Gord started life as a pure survival game before it was added on as a glorified tutorial.

gord xbox series s visuals

Conclusions

It’s a shame the controls and UI are a constant source of frustration on console, as Gord’s satisfying hybrid mechanics and fresh setting kept me coming back to the campaign and dipping into a few custom scenarios. I’d still recommend it if you’re a fan of the genre but go in forewarned. If you’re planning to pick this up on PC, you can add a point to the score; while those looking to play on console (or those who’ve never gelled with controller support for city-builder or RTS games) should probably knock a point off.

Gord was reviewed on Xbox Series S|X using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC and PS5.

Gord (Xbox Series) Review

Gord (Xbox Series) Review
7 10 0 1
7/10
Total Score

The Good

  • An uncommon setting with an extensive bestiary and plentiful lore
  • Survival focused city-building, with resource and sanity management
  • RPG-style adventuring, real-time-with-pause combat, and basic character progression
  • Plenty of decision-making events

The Bad

  • Micromanagement-heavy games are not always the best fit for consoles
  • A frustrating control scheme and UI
  • Rare progress bugs forced a few reloads during the campaign
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