I’ve played a lot of real-time strategy over the decades, but it’s very clear how much the genre has faded over time. Where strategy games were once a dime a dozen on PC and other gaming platforms, it now feels quite a bit fewer and further between that we get something good in this field. That brings us to Frozenheim, which is a Norse-styled real-time strategy game from the folks at Paranoid Interactive. While its various systems don’t always have me singing praises of battles well-fought, it is quite the interesting and beautiful take on primitive war, resource management, and battle tactics.
Raise your clan
Frozenheim puts you in the role of a Jarl leading up a clan of Norse settlers and countryfolk. There is a single-player campaign here as well as several ways to play in multiplayer. For the single-player part, you play your way through several scenarios which see your clan betrayed by treacherous kin and their own armies, as well as battles across land and sea. Each scenario guides you further into the various mechanics of the game as you learn to survive and grow in changing weather and treacherous terrain. Ultimately, you unlock and learn to use everything at your disposal to effectively build a bristling Viking settlement ready to pillage, burn, and slay those who would threaten you.
The resources and mechanics Frozenheim has on offer make for an interesting economy as you build up your settlement, manpower, and means to survive. Villager count, wood, iron, food, animal pelts, and more come into play as you build houses, woodcutter shacks, tanning racks, and workshops to keep your settlement growing and flourishing. What’s interesting about Frozenheim's resource system is that you must assign workers to not only carry out resource gathering at your workshops, but someone must also be assigned to bring it from the workshops to your Jarl’s longhouse before you can actually use it. In this way, it incentivizes players to consider how you position your resource buildings around the main homestead to minimize time spent gathering and threats to your supply lines.
Out of all of this, I quickly found lumber was the hardest thing to keep. Everything uses it from buildings to defenses to weapons for certain units. If it wasn’t enough that woodcutters go slow about delivering it, the ability to deplete a gathering zone and be forced to cut trees elsewhere was a constant concern in my play. It just kind of feels like where everything else was flowing once I had the resource secured, I was nearly always waiting on wood to continue my plans.
That said, another fun part in Frozenheim comes in the form of the Elder Hut. You can diversify how your settlement specializes and vary up your gameplay with the unlocking and building of one of these structures. It allows you to choose the nature of your clan and unlock one of several skill trees associated with said clan. For instance, the crow clan is all about exploration and discovery, featuring bonuses for scouting and travel. Meanwhile, the bear clan is far more defense-based, giving you bonuses to the strength of your structures and fortifications. Choosing the one that suits you best makes for a fun part of Frozenheim’s overall strategy.
To arms, brave warriors
When it comes to victory in Frozenheim, you’re eventually going to have to take it by force and that’s where battle comes into play. Being able to field combat units and equipment is key to any RTS, but making the most of those units and their composition is a huge part of success and failure in Frozenheim. Several regular units are available, including the standard axemen, archers, spearmen, scouts, raiders, and witches. Each features their own strengths and weaknesses and you only have so many resources to choose which units will serve your war efforts best. You can also prepare ships for naval combat and siege weapons like ballistae and catapults (which must be manned by one of your units) for bringing an even more intense offense to your enemies’ walls. Each combat unit also features abilities that can turn the tide of a fight when used properly.
Unit maintenance and protection are easily one of the tougher points of Frozenheim. If you lose a unit, you lose all resources that were used in creating them. That includes overall count of villagers in your settlement. It’s not so bad when a lowly axeman unit is wiped out, but losing an archer unit and the skins, furs, wood, and metal it takes to train them can feel like an almost unnecessarily harsh setback for what you have to do to replace them. You can also easily disrupt your own supply lines and progress if you keep losing resources to unit defeat. For how easily it can be for units to die, it’s just a bit oppressive, even on regular difficulty.
That said, Frozenheim’s progress, expansion, and battles are quite a strategic endeavor and you’re not without options to bolster yourself. Throughout most maps, there are scattered groups of neutral raider camps, peaceful villages, and other encounters. Villages might hand you a quest to supply resources, guide one of their units to your settlement, or battle nearby raiders, and you can get bonus wood, fur, and other rewards for aiding them. Likewise, discovering and battling neutral raider camps will also supply you with much-needed bonus resources. Moving to control the bonuses you can get from these opportunities provides a rewarding side quest as you grow your clan enough to defeat your enemies in combat and raze their settlements.
It also helps that Frozenheim’s maps are just fantastically designed and enjoyable to explore in the first place. The game features a wealth of different terrain between valleys, elevated hills and mountains, bridges, lakes, rivers, oceans, and more. What’s more, the game features a weather system that changes the map as you play (actually lending to some strategic boons or setbacks as well). Acting with or against the terrain in Frozenheim is fine, but I also constantly found myself enjoying just how much detail is poured into its woods, mountains, and oceans. Simply put, it’s a gorgeous game.
May the Allfather look kindly upon you
Frozenheim is quite a test of strategic resource management and combat tactics as you raise your settlement, make it self-sufficient, and defend it from outside forces. I really enjoyed the ability to diversify through clan types and the maps are just plain beautiful at all ends. Some resources are far more unwieldy than others, and players will likely find frustration learning how to keep the things they constantly need in check. However, for everything on offer, Frozenheim is a solid arrangement of primitive economics and warfare and should scratch an itch for anyone looking to enjoy a solid strategy experience, either solo or with friendly opponents.
This review is based on a digital PC copy supplied by the publisher. Frozenheim is available now on PC.
- Building placement is a huge part of the strategy
- Clan specialization allows for tactics variation
- Maps and terrain are beautifully detailed
- Raider camps and neutral villages provide helpful side quests
- Weather system changes map and affects tactics
- Resource hierarchy is unbalanced
- Losing units is much too costly
- Supply lines can stall quite easily
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Frozenheim review: Strategy that would make Tyr blush