Preview: Gord

2023-08-03 by Mike Alexander

Obeying Those in Power

At the beginning of last year, I came across an interesting little strategy game that was still in development. One that manages to find a way to marry the spine-tingling dread of horror games with the addicting, OCD-feeding mechanics of city-building games. I dug a little deeper to learn more about the project, only to find that its origins and the circumstances of its development are almost as intriguing as the mechanics of the game itself!

For those unaware, Gord was announced back in 2021 as the premiere project of a brand-new indie gaming studio based in Poland called Now, isn’t just any indie game studio. It was founded by Stan Just, who was formerly a producer at the house of The Witcher and Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red. Yeah, that made my ears perk up quite a bit.

Now, a year after I discovered it and two years after its announcement, I finally got to get some hands-on time with a near-finished build of Gord. If you’re as excited as I am about this exciting new title from a promising new studio, then join me as we stake our claim and brave the unknown in this hands-on preview of Gord.

Gord begins with a motion comic intro outlining the situation in this world torn apart by war and darkness. Players take on the role of a Steward of the king of Calanthia, a power-mad lord on a warpath to consume and assimilate everything he possibly can. Including the lands beyond his kingdom that are rich with both gold and nightmarish creatures that are fond of human flesh.

Building Barriers

As the Steward, your job is to venture out and assume control of one of the “barbaric” tribes that have managed to eke out a living for themselves in the monster-inhabited forests, the Tribe of the Dawn. Using their manpower, knowledge of the forests, and work ethic of this tribe, you’re expected to establish a safe path to the precious resources the king desires.

Oh, and the king is basically holding your family hostage, so failure isn’t really an option. Even though every time you send someone outside of the safety of the gord (which is also what the tribe calls their settlements) might be the last time they are ever seen or heard from…

Overall, not a very good situation, and the feeling of dread and helplessness managed to creep out of my computer screen and ensnare my own soul before too long. Sure, you’re essentially “just following orders”, but Gord did a pretty good job of making me form bonds with all of my subjects. So when I wasn’t able to save one because I fumbled an order, I felt it.

By the end of the intro, you’re introduced to the scenario as well as Gord’s cast of characters, which includes a goblin of a man named Edwyn. At that point, the kindly elder of the Tribe of the Dawn takes over to walk you through the many mechanics you’ll be dealing with in Gord.

You’re then given a small number of subjects and tasked with erecting the palisades of your very first gord. Each subject comes with a pre-defined profession, which is what the game uses to determine who can do what. Scouts move fast and have torches to explore the woods, lumberjacks have axes to collect wood, foragers collect food from any sources within range, etcetera. Each resource and action can only be carried out specifically by a subject with the appropriate profession, but thankfully you aren’t locked into a set of subjects that don’t contain critical professions. If you select any subject and send them to the building associated with a profession, they’ll change their clothes and take on that profession in a matter of seconds.

The first scenario of the demo was a lot of juggling subjects and professions to complete objectives, build up the gord, and ensure your subjects' survival. I was initially a little overwhelmed with the plethora of menus and buttons on screen, which also includes time controls (pause, play, fast forward). I don’t typically play this style of game, but Gord is just too interesting to pass up, so I persisted. Thankfully, has done a great job of making the game’s many mechanics and menus easy to digest, and I was in the swing of things long before I moved on to the next scenario, which was more combat and exploration focused.

Adding to the bonds I was already developing with my subjects, the second scenario begins with a party selection screen. EACH INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER has a unique story and background, which I found incredibly impressive. The demo wasn’t long enough to find out if these backstories would have any gameplay or narrative implications, but they’re written in a way that makes it seem like they might in the full game.

Scenario two took the focus off bas-building and citizen management and placed it squarely on cautiously exploring the dark unknown, torch fearfully raised. Combat is a click-and-wait affair, as long as you have enough units that are strong enough to deal with the current threat. If a subject falls in battle, there is a generous timer that ticks down to give you time to revive them before they are lost forever. Losing a subject means less manpower, which means a tough road ahead. Thankfully, there are items scattered throughout the environment that restore both health and sanity, a stat that each subject has as well as the gord as a whole. I didn’t experience the effects of a mental break in my time with the game, but it does add an extra layer of management that bleeds over into the horror side of the game, which it has down pat.

The second scenario also introduces Lynx, the magic wielder and therefore the source of the game’s incantations. Incantations are powerful spells that can have graphic, visceral effects on enemies if the cutscene that reveals them is anything to go by. A targeted enemy is compacted, twisted, and discarded with the same stomach-churning visuals and sound as a similar scene in the 2018 remake of Suspiria. You know the one.

I don’t have many gripes about the game in the state that I played it, though I did notice some performance stuttering in cutscenes and while transitioning from gameplay into a cutscene. Hopefully, that is fixed by the time the game launches on August 17th for PC, Xbox Series, and PlayStation 5 consoles.