If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise. And it might ask you to feed it a child. Lewis goes hands-on with Gord…
Gord is gloriously, despicably nasty. Towards the end of the demo, you encounter a Horror, one of the vicious, awful monstrosities that lurk in the woods around your tiny settlement. Its name is Ardaven, and it’s hungry. “Feed me!” it howls into your mind as it points a blistering finger in your direction. “Feed me young flesh!”
You’re given a choice. Sacrifice a child to this horrendous creature, or attack it. Your advisor warns that attacking may be futile, as the Horror is incredibly strong. Looking around at my feeble band of foragers and woodcutters, I feel he may have a point. But can I really send a child into the maw of this horrendous beast?
Such is the unpleasant world in which you find yourself in Gord, the upcoming adventure strategy game from publisher Team17. It’s being developed by the Polish studio Covenant.dev, which was founded in 2020 by Stan Just, former producer on The Witcher III (who we spoke to at Gamescom last year, at a point when Gord was distinctly hands-off). The game itself draws from Slavic mythology, just as The Witcher did, although the studio says other inspirations include Northgard, Darkest Dungeon and RimWorld.
But Gord is very much its own thing. Part city builder, part strategy game, part RPG, it’s an unusual mix, all wrapped in a despairing grimdark cloak. The story sees you exploring the horrible wooded realm of Lysatia, full of terrible beasts like the baby-eating fella mentioned above. A nasty king has ordered you to conquer Lysatia with the aim of exploiting its gold resources, and you’re put in charge of The Tribe of the Dawn, one of the few groups of humans to call Lysatia their home.
The peace-loving tribe has been subjugated by the king, and the tribe’s meek but earnest elder, Boghdan, is on hand to guide you along the way. In addition, the king has sent his odious emissary, Edwyn, to keep an eye on your progress. Both pop up with advice as you delve into the woods, Boghdan worried and heartfelt, Edwyn greedy and self-serving.
Initially you’re given a small band of workers from the Tribe of the Dawn and sent off to find the whereabouts of the Royal Cartographer who was tasked with mapping the woods. You begin by erecting a small palisade – a gord – and then constructing buildings like a lumbermill, a forager’s hut and a thatchery to collect wood, food and reeds from the surrounding area.
But this base building is only part of the game. Each citizen under your control has a unique personality, along with different strengths and weaknesses, and you can even name new recruits to your tribe. Much like in the XCOM games, they gain experience from doing various activities, such as crafting and fighting, becoming much stronger over time. Also like in XCOM, losing someone in battle who you have guided and nurtured for hours can potentially be heart-breaking.
Speaking of battles, combat is mostly a case of selecting a tribe member and right-clicking on an enemy, but you’re also aided by magic. Mana can be accrued by constructing a temple and then having your subjects pray to it, and it can be used in a variety of incantations to incapacitate enemies.
Beyond the walls of your base, there are various side quests and treasures to discover, in addition to a main quest to follow. Finishing the main quest on each campaign map moves you to a new area, where you’ll need to construct a fresh gord all over again.
One particularly interesting wrinkle is the sanity system. Each person has a sanity meter, which ticks down the longer they spend facing the horrors of the woods outside the palisade. Witnessing the death of a friend, for example, can send their sanity meter plunging, at which point they might begin to run off in terror. Sanity can be restored by keeping them close to torchlight or through the use of special herbs – or you could just give them a good glug of mead after constructing a meadery in your settlement.
The walls of your gord can be breached, too, as the wildfolk and other terrors rampage through your carefully constructed community, necessitating a counter-attack and some hasty repairs. Tribespeople foraging for wood or food can also be attacked, prompting you to hastily send someone to their rescue before they bleed out and die. In short, it’s scary out there.
That’s my biggest takeaway from Gord – the unremittingly oppressive atmosphere, the feeling that there are awful things beyond those walls, and even worse things to come. The sudden appearance of a hideous dragon at the end of the demo confirms that there are far more frightening things to be encountered in the ever-dark forest, along with many more Horrors like Ardaven. It’s a bleak, ghastly world, and you’re not even left with the comfort of knowing you’re on a noble quest, sent as you are on a mission to plunder gold for a greedy king.
Gord’s very bleakness puts me in mind of Frostpunk and its unstoppably dying world, and there’s a survival element to this game, too. You can even play the game on Permadeath mode, much like the Ironman mode of XCOM, where the death of a follower cannot be undone by reverting to a previous save.
It’s a masochistic game then, one that invites misery, and does not necessarily reward nobleness. Perhaps you should sacrifice that child. After all, you can always get some more. Children aren’t much use, after all. They can only assist adults, and can’t work until they’re older. Until then, they’re just using up precious food that your foragers are battling to obtain from the oppressive woods outside.
And suddenly, you realise what you’re thinking. You’re thinking about feeding a child to a monster. And that’s how Gord gets you.
Gord releases on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S in summer 2023.