Gord PS5 review. Not every strategy effort needs to be some massively sprawling effort with armies that number in the hundreds as they wage war across a gargantuan map. Perhaps realising this, Warsaw based developer Covenant.dev has given players Gord, a much more tightly focused, third-person perspective strategy offering that prizes deep lore and RPG style questing above the epic spectacle one would normally associate with the real-time strategy genre. Made up of a conclave of developers that have previously toiled on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and the underappreciated, narrative driven RTS Frostpunk, it’s certainly reasonable to posit that Covenant.dev would freely unleash influences from both games in the design of Gord and that’s precisely what has happened here.
Gord PS5 Review
A Tightly Focused, Grim Strategy Adventure That’s Rough Around The Edges
Depicting a dark and grim fantasy world rife with death, violence, Pagan-esque gods and an all-encroaching darkness, the influences from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are keenly evident. Indeed, the very title ‘Gord’, also has roots in real-world history too, referring to settlements built in central and eastern Europe built between the 6th and 12th century. And as you might very well infer, that’s precisely what you’ll be doing here.
Before we get down to the business of how Gord goes about its survival strategy shenanigans, it’s important that we look at the world and narrative that serves as the foundation for Gord’s genre leanings. Taking control of a wayward tribe known as the Tribe of the Dawn, it is your task to lead them to safety, carving a path through hostile and ancient lands as you seek sanctuary all the while uncovering the forgotten mysteries of a world steeped in Slavic mythology. Immediately, this brings the first difference to the fore which Gord enjoys when compared to its genre contemporaries – chiefly that rather than sustaining a single, static base of operations, you must instead strike a balance between creating a range of new settlements along a route and pushing forth in order to succeed.
Alternately guided by a superstitious wiseman and a greedy, though plain-talking emissary of the king, you must begin your odyssey into darkness by picking out an area suitable for constructing the palisades necessary to provide a protective barrier to the settlers and the vital structures that must lay within. As with any real time strategy effort where base-building is concerned, there is a subset of key materials that are essential to creating your gord and, well, Gord, is no different in this regard. Here, wood, reed and food are the building blocks of any half decent settlement that doesn’t want to end up as carrion for the insects by the time the next season rolls around.
As you might expect these materials can be found within a comfortable range of where you decide to build your gord, while additional materials, such as clay, can be harnessed through a clayworks and then can be used to improve and upgrade the existing structures in your settlement. Predictably, this is something that you’ll want to do since upgrading buildings provides additional buffs and improvements that prove eminently useful. Upgrading a storehouse provides extra room for surplus materials for example, while bolstering your temple provides your Whisperer (think a Shaman style character capable of slinging offensive magic at foes) with additional and more devastating spells to unleash on their foes.
In Gord, there are two main metrics that you need to be concerned about as far as your populace is concerned. The first is health, a universally familiar barometer for the mortality of your settlers – when your health is reduced to zero – well, you can probably guess the rest. The second, and this is where the Frostpunk influences come in strongly, is sanity, which when reduced to nil on account of witnessing violence, fiendish monsters and enduring general unhappiness causes your poor folk to lose their minds, flee into the darkness and a range of other eccentric behaviours.
Luckily, both of those crucial reserves can be topped up by foraging herbs and food from the wilderness, fashioning idols, creating meaderies, digging graveyards (seeing loved ones left to rot has a deleterious effect on sanity, as you might expect) and indulging in other such remedial measures. Other structures can also be put in place to help bolster your survival as well, including – but not limited to – watchtowers, military structures to train dedicated soldiers and firefly stacks to illuminate areas away from your gord, while snake pits can be used as a sort of primitive early warning system to let you know when danger is approaching.
Another way that Gord exists at some remove from other strategy games is in how it makes each of the settlers under your yoke feel more like true individuals, rather than just a faceless and disposable clone forced into endless toil. Not only do each of your denizens have their own name, but they also have specific traits, competencies and experiences that make them function better in certain roles. Balagard, a short, though stout individual, might prove especially suited to fishing, while Elgrin, a taller, more flight of foot individual, might prove a better scout on account of his superior agility.
Further afield, though the timescales are accelerated, the various settlers can also give birth to children (so long as the supply of sanity is sufficient for those individuals) and while children cannot be put to work or fight by themselves, they can build structures on their lonesome while working alongside adults to learn trades and skills. In truth, it’s a great little system that really helps to foster an attachment with the poor souls under your care that other strategy efforts would struggle to do or just ignore entirely.
As it is, the base building aspects of Gord are simplistic, yet engaging. With its relatively narrow scope, straightforward structure building and populace your attentions can drift elsewhere – and so they must, since a large chunk of what you’ll be doing in Gord is venturing out beyond the safety of your palisades into the grim darkness that lay beyond. This is owed to the fact that Gord is ultimately all about the journey – that great endeavour of taking the Tribe of the Dawn through hostile, ancient hands through to some sort of final safety – and so the base building portion can’t help but feel just that, a portion of rather than the majority of Gord’s strategy banquet.
When you’re out in the untamed wilds, Gord uses a fog of war to obscure areas of the map that you haven’t been to yet, and so when you’re sending out a small handful of folks into the dark, it can be all too easy for nasty surprises (such as waiting enemies) to fall upon you. Luckily, though combat is a resolutely rapid and real-time affair, it can be paused, allowing you to take stock of the situation, redeploy your warriors, prepare spells and so on. In addition to the numerous fights you’ll find yourself tangled up in, the shrouded expanse that you’ll be venturing across also has a wealth of secrets to discover, treasures to find, forgotten gold to scoop up (which is needed to pay your trained warriors) and chronicle pages which impart the history of the world. To say that the temptation to explore every inch of Gord’s maps is strong is an understatement to say the least.
In short, there’s a whole lot to do beyond the management of your settlement and so Gord, as a direct result, feels a lot more dense and involving than many other strategy games do. But that’s not all. As well as raids on the gord, you can come across Horrors, terrifying mythical creatures from the depths of Slavic folklore that can be dealt with by giving into their demands (such as sacrificing a member of the Gord and thus reducing your sanity) or fighting them (which is extremely challenging). Gord’s non-linear design persists beyond this too, with a variety of different scenarios where you must choose an outcome. Do you take in a talented wandering lumberjack at a steep hefty food cost so that he cut wood efficiently for you or do you turn him away, risking the sanity of the gord in the process?
The central dynamic of Gord then, is that you have this balancing act of keeping your settlement and its denizens whole while you send out the more capable members of your group to complete the quests, discover secrets and loot and further the main story. You have to be switched on too – resources of all kinds are desperately finite in Gord and it becomes all too easy to backslide into starvation and insanity when you’re focused on battling monsters and discovering treasure. Thankfully, you can save as much as you want, so reloading after an unfavourable outcome means you can hop right back into the action almost right away.
With its muddy gold hue, rotting forests, grotesque horrors, violent combat and general melancholic atmosphere, Gord certainly does strike an impression. Visually, Gord is modestly impressive, with detailed character models, well-animated real-time cutscenes and environments that abound with all manner of decaying flora and fauna which all does a great job of underscoring Gord’s oppressive tone and storytelling.
Even when you’ve reached the end of Gord’s impressively framed narrative campaign, there’s still more to do. The custom scenario mode allows you to get stuck directly into tactical centre of Gord, permitting armchair generals to tweak just about everything – from the size of the levels, to the abundance of resources, the number of horrors you’ll encounter and more besides. While the customer scenario mode does add a generous chunk of value to the overall package, it does also feel a little hollow absent the narrative beats that hold together Gord’s principal story campaign, but it remains a more than amply value stuffed addition to the game all the same.
Where the wheels begin to come off of the figurative wagon somewhat is when we start to look at the overall polish that Gord possesses. A distracting level of stuttering often blights Gord during gameplay (particuarly when structures are built and when combat concludes) and consistent performance drops sharply not only when new structures are being built, but also when there are lots of enemies on screen engaged in combat too. Quite simply, Gord doesn’t seem to be properly optimised for Sony’s current gen console at this point and this unfortunate impression is reinforced by the fact that the experience can prove to be occasionally buggy too, with the odd freeze rudely invading affairs from time to time.
Beyond the realms of performance, there is annoyingly no ongoing digest or tutorial that you can refer to in order to see how to do things. So if you’ve missed a tutorial section (or clicked through it by accident as I did), it isn’t clear how you’re supposed to complete that particular objective. For instance, it isn’t made abundantly clear what buttons you need to press to either upgrade or dismantle structures, since the in-game UI simply doesn’t tell you. Hopefully this is something that can be resolved by future update because otherwise Gord takes great strides to make its tactical beats appetising to genre newcomers.
Gord is an impressive marriage of base building, adventuring and storytelling across a ruined world fraught with horrors from Slavic folklore. Though it’s more than a little rough around the edges, such issues aren’t enough to considerably tarnish the uniqueness of what developer Covenant.net has wrought here.
Gord releases for PS5 on August 17, 2023.
Review code kindly provided by PR.