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.
Once the palisade wall is complete, you need to keep the settlers inside alive. This means harvesting resources like wood and reeds to build new structures, mining clay and iron to upgrade them, and constructing hunting lodges and fishing huts to source food. Crucially, these stations only function when you assign settlers to them, who will then venture out into the wilds automatically to collect the designated resource.
The problem, of course, is that the wilds are called such for a reason. The gloom is filled with wolves, wild boards, bears, alligators, and stranger creatures like bloodworms, goblin like "Gazers", and of course, the aforementioned horrors. The most dangerous threat you'll face, however, is the darkness itself, constantly gnawing at your settlers' sanity.
In short, a lot of things can go wrong, and Gord is most interesting when they do. One of my settlers, a fellow named Leif, spent too long in the darkness and became frenzied, meaning he'd randomly attack other people in the gord. I couldn't afford to do without him, so I had to put up with him occasionally shanking people and running away. Naturally, settlers can die, but they can also just disappear, fleeing into the wilderness leaving nought but a bag of any items they collected.
Gord damn it
Unfortunately, keeping your settlers alive and sane is far less fun than watching them lose their marbles and die. Despite the small scale, managing your settlement is irritatingly fiddly. Since new settlers are "born" at random intervals, you never have enough to do every job at once, so you must switch them between roles constantly. If they're in the middle of another task, they'll just drop whatever they were carrying and you'll have to tell someone else of the same profession to pick it up. If they need a health or sanity-restoring break at the Bania or Meadery, they don't go back to work once the particular stat is replenished. They just sit there until you specifically tell them to get off their backsides. If they're attacked in the wilderness, they'll always try to fight it out, rather than running back to the fortified settlement that forms the focal point of the entire game.
Indeed, considering Gord is about building a defensive structure, you don't get to use those defences very much. Combat is a basic RTS affair of recruiting axemen, archers, or spearmen and having them duke it out, usually outside the Gord. You're never able to afford more than a few units at any time, as they're so expensive to maintain you'd think your Gord was being run by a PPE contractor. You can't enact obvious defensive strategies like digging pit traps or manning the walls with archers. Outside of a late game ballista, the only other defences you can build are illuminating fires and noise traps to "distract" enemies. You do get to wield a bunch of spells, some of which are quite fun, but they feel like a plaster stuck across the game's lack of strategic depth.
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.