Just as this game does, I’m going to get to the point, right from the outset. If you like The Legend of Zelda series, Fable, God of War or World of WarCraft - in any capacity
- you’re probably going to like Viking: Battle For Asgard. Instantly accessible and full of action, exploration, level-ups and bad guys, Viking is one of the most enjoyable third-person action games I’ve played in a while. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but the sum of its entirely enjoyable parts more than make up for rushed design and obvious omissions. At times you’re looking at a well-crafted, well-balanced beautiful game, while others you’re wondering where the job ticket for sound or NPC interaction went during production. Still, despite being consistently made aware you’re playing a product that could
have been so much more, the sheer fun of slashing undead in two, sneaking around enemy encampments and summoning dragons is more than enough of a distraction. Viking may not be the blue-print for modern next-gen game design, but it's definitely a post-it-note on what makes games accessibly engaging and fun
Developed by The Creative Assembly and published by Sega, Viking: Battle For Asgard clearly draws from both company’s stand-out strengths. You’re constantly seeing hordes of good and bad guys encompass the play area (which itself is really pretty big) - something not at all dissimilar to Creative Assembly’s Total War series. While the arcade-esque battle system and overall accessibility of the game’s action is easily borrowed from Sega’s long and successful arcade and action game roots. But as a stand-alone product that marries these high-points, Viking is *almost
* a great catch; a spouse on the cusp of becoming something great within the aforementioned unity – I can only hope it’s adopted and successful enough the demand for a more thorough, better crafted sequel manifests itself.
For those of you not of Nordic blood, Viking: Battle For Asgard follows the struggle between Freya
, daughter of Odin, the Norse God of thunder, and Hel
, the Norse God of mischief Loki’s daughter, who is also queen of the Underworld.
War has been raging in the Norse God realm of Asgard, but the hellish skirmish has spilled into the mortal world of Midgard. Hel, furious at being cast from Asgard for defying Odin, is attempting to resurrect the ancient wolf-god Fenrir in a bid to begin Ragnarok
; a prophesized apocalypse that is said to bring about the destruction of Asgard and its Norse God inhabitants.
During the epic battle within the realm of Midgard, a Viking named Skarin is mortally wounded at the hand of Hel’s Legion general. Surely knocking on the gates of Valhalla – the final resting place for all Nordic warriors – Skarin’s fate seems sealed, however Freya, in desperate need of a champion and saviour, instils upon Skarin her medallion, Brisingamen
, which offers him immortality and a chance to save the people of Midgard. Knowing his land and people are being torn asunder, Skarin agrees, accepting Freya’s offer to become Midgard’s one true hero.
The goddess of love and war tells our speechless hero Skarin, that each time he clears a portal overrun by Hel’s Legion, she will cleanse the land surrounding it and bring light and peace back once more. And thus, medallion adorned, Skarin sets out to take on the evil undead hordes of Hel’s Legion.
From this set-up, the battle that had been raging is now gone – the sun shines, birds chirp and the inhabitants of Skarin’s village of Brighthelm go about their daily routines. You’re in control of Skarin from this point and it’s here you’re thrust into the game’s simple rule-set, accessible approach to gameplay and addictive combat.
As mentioned during my introduction, Viking very quickly gets to the point. The introductory story sequence doesn’t last very long, and after a mere 10-15 minutes with Skarin you’ll already pretty much understand how the inner-workings of the game grind. There are a handful of people you can talk to within the game-world, and they will give you simple tasks to complete that will likely set you up for a long series of gameplay events.
Early missions include rescuing bound Vikings on the beach near your village, collecting lost barrels of mead or liberating the nearby farm. What you learn from doing these early tasks is Skarin’s goal is not to fight Hel’s Legion alone, but to recruit Vikings to his cause so as to build an army. Once you understand this facet of gameplay, things become very clear. There are three islands throughout the game and each one has mills, farms, guard towers, bridges, towns and the like, all overrun by Legion forces. Liberating them will not only provide you with fresh soldiers in your war against Hel, but also important tools. Your soldiers may require food or refreshments to ensure they're ready for battle for example, so rescuing a vineyard or farm are paramount to success. Beyond building an army, you’re also charged with calling forth dragons to help in each island’s final battle.
Initially you’re not given a great deal of information regarding how the game works, however, the machinations of gameplay and the obvious visual cues (ie how Skarin moves, each Legion-run area is shrouded in darkness and downpour, etc), give you a consistent picture of what’s right and wrong and how it should be dealt with.
You’ll likely find yourself hacking and slashing at undead early on in the game, but as each area progressively becomes bigger and more menacing, you’ll begin to appreciate Skarin’s stealth abilities. Where Viking gives you an option to go in sword and axe ‘a swingin
’, it also gives you the chance to dispatch of enemies quietly. You’ll need to gain more power before you can do this effectively, but it’s a lot more appealing than having to take on upwards of 20 bad guys at once.
Powering up Skarin comes in the form of visiting Battle Arenas – these are ancient stone circles (like Stone Henge) where you can call upon a Viking warrior from Valhalla to teach you new attacks. For some reason he wants monetary payment, but nevertheless, the various attacks and combos you learn, while progressively slow (in that they’re nowhere near as immediately impressive as say God of War), keep you on your toes and eventually you’ll be able to string together devastating attacks. There are always more than enough Legion scum to practice on, and Viking does a great job of ensuring each and every attack and combo is ingrained in your play-style (thanks largely to the slow pace of leveling up).
Legion baddies begin at low-level grunts and progress to wood (and eventually iron) shielded warriors, horn-blowers (who, if not taken care of quickly, will alert all other Legion in the area), archers, assassins, shamans, and the big sword-wielding heavy-hitters. The vast array of attacks available to you offers plenty of creative recourse in how you fight each enemy. If you’re engaged in combat in a high place or next to the sea, you can simply shoulder barge your target to certain death. You can play it safe by blocking each blow only to attack with your own well-timed counter, or you can use your accrued combos and power-strikes to hack and slash as you see fit. Some enemies are faster while others have difficult defenses to breach, others still may just take a helluva long time to bring down.
The freedom of choice you have in each encounter is instantly empowering though, and you’ll find yourself most-likely mixing it up as best you can to get the most out of all your learnt abilities. There is another form of attack though, in keeping with the Nordic theme. Skarin’s axe and blade are both inscribed with three runes, one for thunder, one for fire and finally for ice. With these, provided the magic meter has anything in it (it’s filled by collecting red orbs from slain Legion), you can power your weapon so that anyone it hits will be shocked, burned or frozen. You can also launch into a special magical attack that will use each power differently. For example, the thunder rune’s special attack latches onto a single victim and raises them in the air, electrical currents beaming from your sword. When you let go, the bad guy is pulled violently towards Skarin where he lunges his blade forward and slashes the enemy in two. Awesome.
Cool as all this sounds though, Viking isn’t all fun and guts; there are heaps of technical issues to be dealt with here, and a fair amount of missing content in this reviewer’s opinion. It can
be overlooked if you’re as much about fun as you are about polish, but the problems most definitely do
stand out, and for the duration of the game, don’t go away.
Annoying things stand-out such as liberating villages, farms and the like to little if any ovation. Even the small handfuls of Vikings you’ll rescue who’re tied up around the game-world offer absolutely no thanks. It might sound trivial, but you’re saving them and the world of Midgard and in games of this nature gratitude goes a long way to empowering the player. Moreover, sound drops out in the game regularly. Explosions happen as if they were in space and Freya’s advice often comes and goes without so much as a whisper (thankfully you can view all vocal notes from your status menu). It’s obviously a technical problem, but one that does not sit well with the rest of the game.
Other issues include a less-than-dynamic camera system. It’s completely free-roaming, which is good for scoping the landscape with ease, but a semi-automated dynamic system alongside free-roam wouldn’t have gone astray. The camera can also mess up a bit during skirmishes making it difficult – at times – to see exactly who you’re targeting, often resulting in being attacked from behind by another enemy.
Checkpoints are also a bit of a problem because dying anywhere on the field will net you back to the island’s starting Leystone (Leystones allow you to travel instantly between them), as opposed to the closest unlocked Leystone, and any and all progress you might have made will need to be started over, despite the game saving on-the-fly content to the contrary.
It’s all balancing issues, and it’s easy to see that Viking would have been a far more impressive title had production lasted even another six months, but as it stands the issues are real and like it or not, detrimental to the overall product. As I’ve already said, they can be overlooked, but can’t be forgotten.
There is a lot to love about Viking: Battle For Asgard. The Story is ripped right from Nordic mythology and the game’s richly detailed surroundings and great level design make it a treat to embody the persona of a Viking warrior from Midgard.
Action and combat are intensely gratifying thanks to an excellent move-set and the scale of baddies to unleash them upon is ever gratifying. The massive army battles at the end of each island are on par with huge WoW raids or the attack sequences from The Lord of the Rings films (obviously not nearly as pretty though), while the soloing stuff across each island; freeing Vikings, finding treasures, liberating encampments and destroying Legion strongholds, is utterly compelling.
It is difficult to overlook the game’s technical and inner-working shortcomings. (Three whole islands and only a handful of people to talk to? Please.) But that being said, it’s still an immensely fun game. There are some great Achievements to unlock on the Xbox 360 version, and in the first half of the game they’re handed out like so much candy (an initially compelling reason to keep pushing on), but beyond those rewards, I can’t stress enough how addictive and fun this title is to play. Here’s hoping a sequel is already on the cards with a mind to fix all of the issues mentioned above (and whispered under gamers’ breaths as they play no doubt), but for now, this is a good start to a potential franchise that perhaps didn’t
get its best start
, if you know what I mean.