by Matt Porter
previewed on PC
Carry me to Valhalla
For a Norse warrior, if you died with a sword in your hand in a glorious battle the Valkyrie would carry you to Valhalla, the hall of the dead. There, you would spend your days drinking, being merry, and preparing to aid Odin during Ragnarok. In Jotun, you play as Thora, a warrior who has died an inglorious death. He must fight his way through purgatory in order to prove himself and ultimately join his fallen comrades in Valhalla.
Jotun is part action, part exploration and billed by the developers as a cross between Journey and Shadow of the Colossus. Playing through the alpha version it was easy to see why. I started off in a hub world set against a magnificent starry background. Mist obscured the entrances to two separate areas, and my first ten to twenty minutes were spent exploring these areas in order to find two shrines and two runes which would summon the winter jotun.
For the remaining twenty minutes, I spent my time dying to this hulking creature, as it pounded, charged, breathed freezing wind at you. My mind drifted off to Dark Souls, as I spent my first couple of attempts learning its attacks, and how much I could get away with before coming back and trying again after dying. In order to avoid damage, I had to learn how to roll out of the way. To do damage, there is a quick attack and a strong attack, the latter of which takes quite a long time to charge up.
Combat at this time lacks the finesse of a Shadow of the Colossus or Dark Souls, but the one fight in the alpha felt epic nonetheless. After I reduced the jotun’s healthbar half of the way, he kicked up the wind and removed all of the snow in anger, leaving just slippery ice beneath my feet. I could skate around, making it a little harder to get up to speed and making it all the more difficult to avoid his attacks. It was difficult to dodge even when moving normally. Hopefully bosses will telegraph where exactly they are aiming their attacks a bit more clearly in the final version of the game.
Visually, Jotun is already strikingly beautiful, with hand drawn art reminiscent of last year’s The Banner Saga. The wintery, almost ethereal feel draws parallels to Journey, with part of the alpha even harking back to the latter half of that game where you are hiding behind rocks to avoid icy bouts of wind. Right now, the environments you explore can feel a little barren, but the occasional hint of something more keeps things interesting.
All my frustrations with how difficult the game was were wiped away once I finally brought down the winter jotun, but that also marked the end of the alpha. It doesn’t do anything particularly unique, but there’s a distinct air of quality about it. If some variety can be brought to the remaining levels and boss fights that are as yet unseen, Jotun could be one to watch this year.