by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
Flames and Blood
Ulla Farulfrdottir stood still in the flickering light of the firepit. Her heart pounded. She clenched her fists, but her grey-blue eyes showed no fear as she faced the people gathered around her in the longhouse. Only moments before, she had witnessed her father’s last journey as the burning ship floated away from the shores of the living. He was in the Halls of Valhalla now, a horn of mead in his hand. To Ulla fell the hard task of convincing her cousin Asleifr and other clansmen - and the thegns of the neighbouring clans - that her father’s place and the power that came with it were hers. Watching over her every move was the jarl herself, Ragnhildr the White, from Ribe.
It was going to be a bloody night.
From Conquistadors to Vikings
Expeditions: Viking follows Logic Artists’ Expeditions: Conquistador, and they have now returned home in a game that is set in the history of Denmark instead of the New World. Set in the dawn of the Viking Age, c. 790 AD, the British Isles are still mostly unknown to Norse peoples, but they are already actively seeking trade routes to nearby islands. Your task, as a new thegn, is to solidify your position and ensure the future of your clan - through trade or conquest.
The game is currently in beta state, so many features are missing and some glitches exist, but you already get a good idea of where the developers are heading and how they aim to develop the concept from the first title in the series. Now, it may be only my Nordic heritage speaking, but the character development already feels more involving than it did in Conquistador - you get the complete RPG gamut of options from wonderfully drawn character portraits to decent customisation options to your general appearance - as well as the usual attribute and skills min/maxing. As in Conquistador, the skills go deeper than in your usual computer RPGs: you have to make sure that you or one of your companions knows how to hunt, preserve food, heal others, stand in guard etc. It is simply not possible to create a character who is able to do everything alone.
The game also offers a nice selection of suitable Norse names that you can give your character. It was fun to find my wife’s name in the options, and there was really no choice but to play a female character on my test run. You also get to name your character’s father, and thus choose a part of your “surname”.
Politics and Adventure
The story starts with the burial of your father. He has left the seat of the clan’s thegn to you rather than your older brother, and you must convince doubtful clansmen and fellow thegns of your right to rule. You soon learn the reasons for all this: your father was rather a bad thegn, more interested in conquest and adventures than taking care of his people and alliances - and your older brother is kind but too weak to rule. With the lack of strong allies and few surviving hirdmen, your first task is to strengthen your clan and your position at its head.
After a few expository scenes, the game progresses into the meat of a traditional computer RPG, allowing you to travel the land in a map view and explore certain locations more closely in local area maps, where you roam the locales with your companions. The characters are really well done and immediately recognisable with differences in clothes, hairstyles and weaponry. You move by clicking on the spot you want to go to and the characters will then find their way there - even if it requires going around various obstacles. Moving your arrow over items or characters will allow you to manipulate or talk with them.
If you enter a fight, the ground will be overlaid by hexagons. Each character will have a certain number of movement points that you should exceed only if you need to (it will exhaust the character). Switching weapons takes no time (thankfully) and special combat actions are all clearly indicated by their symbols and descriptions. When aiming a ranged weapon, you can move your arrow to various characters, see the probability of a successful hit and its expected outcomes (damage delivered). These are only predictions, of course, and the end result may vary because of, for example, critical hits or lucky blocks.
By Odin’s Beard, This Looks Promising!
The beta build of Expeditions: Viking looks very convincing at the moment, even though not all skills are implemented yet; load screens have rather low-res images; my characters occasionally turned completely invisible; and there’s no clear option to set up a camp although one needs that option to heal wounded characters. Still, the story intrigued me from the very beginning and I felt more like I was roleplaying than I did with Conquistador. I loved the costumes on the characters for their historical accuracy: there are no horned helmets or leather-clad bikers here, and no over-sized or levelled weaponry either.
The game is set to be released early next year. It is going to feel like a long wait, but I am certain that it will be worth it!