Northern Shadow – You Got Real Time Strategy in my Open World RPG | Exclusive Interview
Northern Shadow combines a number of closely affiliated but rarely intertwined genres into a huge RPG. An amalgam of first person RPG combat, city building, and large scale real time strategy battles, Northern Shadow’s immersive open world and sandbox approach aims to spin together complex mechanical combinations and create a unique game. We talked to Arda Güneş, a developer working on Northern Shadow, about just how all of these elements come together into a massive single player game, and why the team chose Steam Greenlight and Early Access as their path to release.
Northern Shadow begins with the fall of the Northern Kingdom. Its manner and reason for destruction is a mystery and you, as one of the few survivors of the destruction, take it upon yourself to discover answers. Since Northern Shadow is still heavily in development, Güneş could not reveal much more about the plot than that brief tease however.
While the team may not have a clear plot inscribed in stone just yet, they do have an idea of the size, scope, and scale of the game world. “Currently we are working on three big overworld zones and the underworld.” Güneş explained. “Overworld zones take about 20 minutes each to traverse between the farthest points. Underworld is harder to estimate a size, but it will be roughly the size of one overworld zone.” This four zone structure isn’t completely immutable, however, as Güneş and the team plan to alter and possibly add based on feedback received during their planned Early Access release.
Each of these areas has a different theme “with various geographical features.” According to Güneş, the underworld area has a “network of natural and artificial tunnels, underground structures and even ‘open’ zones,” while the overworld areas are scattered with landmarks like “old ruins, watch towers, small farms, traders going by their business, caves, and dungeons.”
Güneş has a tentative gameplay length of 20 hours in mind, although again, since Northern Shadow is still early in development, that is subject to change. The 20 hour figure is doubly mutable due to the sandbox nature of the gameplay itself, which further adapts to the individual player’s playstyle. This is due in part to the “world simulator” which “produces events that players have to tackle either by themselves, or by ordering NPCs [to do so].” Sidequests will also play a part, but again Güneş wouldn’t be drawn on any definite details. We can’t say anything about side quests, as it is a very much in-progress area.” Güneş told us. “We would like to include meaningful quests, not kill x creature y times type of quests.”
The developers have a massive idea of scope for a game that has only been in active development since the start of the year. Güneş explained that despite the short development time of Northern Shadow, what exists today is actually a culmination of a series of projects. These prototypes served as “‘spiritual’ predecessors”, according to Güneş, but the actual development of the current project known as Northern Shadow is completely separate from these past projects.
“We had to quit development of our old projects for various reasons. When we started development again, we thought that the best way to continue would be to move on and start anew. What makes Northern Shadow different is that, it is a combination of ideas that we have been thinking for a while, and our experience with our old projects.”
A major influence for Güneş and the team was a love of RPG, strategy, and management games, and, unexpectedly, Neverwinter Nights 2’s Crossroad Keep sections. Crossroad Keep’s combination of RTS, resource management, and base building “became a starting inspiration” for what would become Northern Shadow.
A large part of Northern Shadow will be devoted to the base building and RTS gameplay. It begins with your city, which is at the heart of your little empire. Customisation of your city is currently based around a slot system, in which each slot has “different sizes and properties, and buildings can benefit from these statistics.” Güneş gave the example of a windmill which benefits more from being at a high elevation. The team are, however, currently working on a different system for city building, one which will “give greater flexibility and customisation on building the cities,” although he did not detail the mechanics of this potential new system.
No matter how advanced or powerful you become, however, there is a finite limit to your city’s boundaries. “You won’t be able to expand a city outside of its borders.” Güneş told us. There are options for expansion outside of the city’s walls, though, in the form of points of interest. These can serve as remote locations “where you can build watch towers, trading posts or farms, or gather other resources.”
After the city building comes battle, and that requires preparation. “Before a battle, you will plan the formations and deployments of your troops, assign tactics for them.” Güneş explained. “During a battle, you cannot control other soldiers, but you can shout orders or send messengers to them. Whether or not they can follow your mid-battle orders depends on their training and loyalty.”
Aside from this RTS order system, players are also capable of taking a more direct approach to combat – instead of just giving orders from the back lines, you can decide to weigh in personally.
Northern Shadow’s player combat is from a first person perspective, and depends on a strategic approach rather than brute force. “Combat depends on timing and forming a strategy to beat your opponent.” Güneş revealed. “Different weapons have different attack and defense moves. Your characters endurance will limit the amount of spam attacks you can do.”
Characters will have access to a wide variety of weapons to deal out damage with. “Daggers, axes, swords, clubs, spears, bows, crossbows, with sub varieties such as short, long, heavy and thin” will all be in Northern Shadow. “Armor has light, medium and heavy types, and can be customized to specialize against different damage types.” Güneş told us.
Weapons not only have an array of inherent statistics like “damage, weight, balance, durability, defense and so on”, apparently Northern Shadow will also track a number of less-expected stats. Northern Shadow will count the number of specific enemy types or NPCs killed by the weapon, how many times it’s been repaired, how many times that weapon has saved your life, and even how long it stays near ominously nebulous “different substances.” Güneş explained that each of these tracked statistics affects the overall performance of the weapon. “An axe that killed thousands of undead, can become a folk legend, [increasing] its value and giving it slight bonuses when used against the undead.”
“As you use a weapon or an armor piece, your character becomes accustomed to its weight and characteristics, giving you a small stat boost. The outcome of a difficult battle is still determined by the skill of the player however – even legendary items cannot guarantee an easy victory.”
With such an expansive scope, there is the expectation of funding and sustainability issues. The team behind Northern Shadow are not taking the now-common crowdfunding route though, instead preferring to rely on traditional funding and an Early Access release. Güneş explained that “[c]rowdfunding can be unwieldy and can quickly spiral the scope of the project out of control if handled wrong. That is a risk we are not willing to take.” For Güneş and the team, Steam’s Greenlight and Early Access system provided them with a more “beneficial” option.
Northern Shadow is so far only confirmed for PC, and the team are “not thinking about consoles right now”. There is no release date slated yet. Northern Shadow has gone through the Steam Greenlight process, though, and has been approved. It is also planned to be released through Early Access. Thanks to Arda Güneş for taking the time to talk with us about Northern Shadow. OnlySP will be sure to watch Northern Shadow’s progress and keep you apprised of all the latest details.