Gord is a dark Slavic settlement sim with fantasy horror elements | Hands-on preview

by on June 13, 2023

According to my extensive research (by which I mean a three-minute excursion to Wiktionary), a Gord is “a medieval Slavonic fortified settlement, typically a group of wooden houses surrounded by a wall of earth and wood, with a palisade running along the top of the bulwark”. It’s ironic that despite being a European I could more easily tell you what a tepee or an igloo is. And frankly, it’s only a good thing that more and more developers are leaning into Slavic folklore and history when making games.

Recently we’ve seen titles like Blacktail explore the rich cultural mythology of ancient Europe, delving into legends we all remember just a little differently thanks to their bastardisation by mostly British or American storytellers. Gord is another title that seeks to shine a light on the lesser-celebrated Slavonic heritage, in the form of a survival settlement sim with no shortage of horror elements mixed in.

The two missions I played for the preview reminded me immediately of a dark fantasy version of Stranded: Alien Dawn. Success in Gord relies not just on being able to harvest resources quickly, but on maintaining the physical and mental health of your settlers. The early story follows the servants of a less-than-savoury monarch on a march through a wolf-haunted forest. While the two figures of authority, one a wizened druidic leader and the other an unlikeable little imp of a man, bicker and battle, you must take control of the few common travellers in your party.

Gord preview

Job one is to establish a base of operations, a protective bulwark that serves as the outer defences of your Gord. Having survived the dark woods and blood-hungry wolves, your people are more than eager to build a fence and get to work on a lumbermill, larder, and thatchery. You click on your individual settlers to assign them jobs, and they’ll carry them out exhaustion, collecting food, reeds and wood from both inside and beyond the settlement. The surrounding woods are dark, and you’ll often need to keep one character free as a guard to watch over the workers. The further they travel into the murky shadows, which replace the standard fog of war with a colourless film, the more dangerous it is.

This is a world of magic and monsters. Wolves, giant spiders, wendigos, evil spirits; even capricious gods, exist within the woods, and merely surviving encounters with them won’t be enough. Gord has intricate systems in place that force you to monitor not only your settlers’ physical wellbeing but also their mental health, as they can be deeply affected by ongoing trauma. This trauma can also affect those around them, requiring you to construct buildings like a meadhall and infirmary to help them cope.

Gord preview

Likewise, your people will have families, and slowly grow your population, which requires the gathering of more and more resources. A parent or sibling might be mauled to death by a wolf, or contract some disease from a roaming fey deity, and their state of mind and body will adversely affect their family members – especially if they die.

This kind of intricate human connection is core to Gord, which is why it reminds me at every turn of titles like RimWorld and Stranded. Sometimes you might do everything right, but a random event can set in motion a chain of entropy that sees you lose everything anyway. The two missions in the preview did a good job of introducing me to the broad strokes and mechanics of Gord, the emphasis on looking after my people despite the authority figures in the game either holding them in contempt or being too timid to protect them. It’s an interesting, complex, and multi-branching network of systems that seem almost incomprehensible at first but which will become clearer as you play, and lose, and make small steps of progress.

Gord preview

Although we didn’t see much of it in the preview, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are ways to combat the darkness, from training warriors and forging weapons and equipment, to inviting a witch to join your village who will bless you with temporary buffs against the evil denizens of the wilds. Ultimately Gord is a game about the people under your control, not necessarily the settlement itself. You won’t be using diplomacy to talk to neighbouring towns, and you won’t have to worry about other players or invading factions. The focus is on survival against all odds, and in that it’s almost refreshing.

To top it off, Gord is beautiful in a grimdark kind of way. It may be relentlessly bleak, but the use of light and shadow to illuminate detail is incredibly effective. There’s great attention to detail in the environment and buildings, and the way each of your settlers behaves differently hints at some complex wizardry under the hood. It’s impressive even at this early stage, and I’m looking forward to losing many hours to Gord’s gloomy world.

Gord is coming to PC on August 8th, 2023.