NEED TO KNOW
What is it? A dark fantasy management sim with basic mechanics and a bleak tone.
Release date August 17, 2023
Expect to pay £30 / $35
Reviewed on AMD Ryzen 5 3600, Nvidia 2080 Super, 32 GB RAM
Steam Deck N/A
Link Official site
Gord opens with a disclaimer that it “explores mature scenarios and themes”, including among its laundry list of triggering material “sacrifice” and “child sacrifice”. What it means by this is it lets you witness Mortal Kombat fatalities being performed on children. See, as you attempt to light a spark of civilisation within Gord’s pitch-black forests, you’ll encounter demonic beings known as “Horrors”. Nigh impossible to kill, the easiest way to appease these creatures is to comply with their demands, which can involve making a blood offering.
When I first brought a shuddering waif to kneel before the giant blob monster that ruled this particular forest, I expected there’d be some artful cutaway or turn of the camera when it came to the big moment. I was wrong. Instead, Mister Blobby’s evil cousin wrapped its tentacles around the screaming urchin, raised them into the air, and crunched them down like a bony strawberry.
Now, I’m not one to moralise on what imagery games should and should not depict. But if you want me to take your gritty tale of survival in the wilderness seriously, then I’d question the wisdom of presenting the ritual murder of children with all the tact of a glory kill from Doom Eternal. Not that I want to rag on these spectacularly tasteless scenes too much, because without them I’d have little of note to write about.
What lies behind the attention-grabbing horrors is a thoroughly middling blend of city-building, survival gaming, and RTS that takes place in a medievalish world inspired by Polish folklore. Think Frostpunk, but replace the snow with shadows, and the nuanced depiction of imperilled human society with big monsters that eat kids. You control a band of the King’s subjects tasked with building gords, a Slavonic term for a fortified settlement. If you didn’t know what a gord was before now, you’ll certainly know after a few hours with Gord. The game’s advisor can’t go five minutes without saying “gord”. He’s gord-obsessed, that guy.
You start off your gord by building the palisade wall. While you have some leeway in its shape and location, its starting size is strictly limited. And since you can only construct buildings inside the wall, this means you’re going to be careful about where you place structures. And I mean careful. Once you’ve placed a building, you can’t move it, only dismantle it. Neither can you place down blueprints to plan your gord’s layout before committing to construction. Also, every building is surrounded by a large bounding box that seems designed to be as inconvenient as possible. You can expand the palisade wall eventually, but the early game is essentially about fitting a bunch of square pegs into a round hole.
(Image credit: Covenant.dev)
There’s no sense of community, no developing relationships, rivalries, or feuds between the people you lead.
This leads into a broader issue. Gord’s focus rests too much on what happens outside the gord than what happens inside it. Most of your time is spent using scouts to explore the procgen maps, clearing out basic enemies so they can’t eat your settlers, or tracking down the horrors so they can eat your settlers. The gord itself is just a place where you establish and upgrade buildings, where you settlers work but don’t live. There’s no sense of community, no developing relationships, rivalries, or feuds between the people you lead. You don’t even have to build shelters for them. They’re just drones for production. When they aren’t being meals for monsters, anyway.
Gord does have a certain moody atmosphere, and there are a couple of smaller ideas that show promise, such as how you can assign scouts to be torchbearers for your workers, even though it’s rarely an efficient use of hands. Beyond that, though, there’s little here that hasn’t been done better elsewhere, and the game never feels like it effectively grapples with its own subject.