by Ingvi Snædal
previewed on PC
Norse mythology with a twist
There’s a reason Marvel’s Thor comics never became popular in Northern Europe. For some reason, the descendants of the ancient and proud Vikings did not appreciate having one of the most iconic heroes of their culture dressed up in a silly red cape and sporting - for some reason no one can yet fathom - Hermes’ winged helmet. At Kalypso’s 10 year anniversary event in Berlin, we went hands-on with their latest foray into the Action RPG genre entitled Vikings - Wolves of Midgard. The game, as the name suggests, is inspired by Norse mythology but with a ‘fantasy twist’. Tread softly, Kalypso, because you tread on my heritage.
Returning from hunting, you find that your village has been attacked by jotuns and goblins in the all-too-familiar intro sequence to every game ever (minus the Nordic names of the monsters and the snow). What distinguishes this game from others of its kind, however, is the fact that once you have saved the day and rescued the surviving villagers, they elect you chieftain. This means that as you progress in the game, more people will flock to your town and it will visibly change. You can also spend some of your hard-earned iron and gold on upgrading the various merchant stalls, allowing them to offer you better weapons, armour, and other equipment.
Before you get into all that, however, you will have to choose whether to play as a warrior or a shield maiden, and customise their look and fighting style. As the game progresses, you will always be able to switch weapons and go for a sword and shield, two handed weapon, or bow and arrow, despite having opted for dual-wielding in the character creation menu. The skills upgrade separately, however, so choose wisely.
Tactics change with environments
The natural elements play a role in the game as the frost urges the player to get from fire to fire in the wilderness. Failing to do so means that you will lose health as the frostbite starts eating away at your flesh. Fortunately, the environmental effect is displayed below the health bar, which shows you how close ‘kuldaboli’ (Icelandic personification of biting wind) is to catching up to you, and the character drops you hints as well when he or she feels nippy. Treading into deep snow not only slows you down, but limits your roll distance. This has an enormous effect when battling larger monsters, like the jotun, as you won’t make it out of range before the hit lands. Take care to fight in thin snow as you will move faster and take less damage. Ranged characters, on the other hand, might opt for using the deep snow to slow down smaller characters, picking them off before they even get close. Other areas in the game will have other environments and different types of exposure, but regardless of where you find yourself, the environment should be used in your tactics. Stamina also plays a role and the cooldown durations of your various combat abilities depends on their power.
Metal armour such as ring mail offers you better protection during fights, but speeds up the exposure process. Iron is an excellent conductor and gets cold really fast. You won’t have to pick up health potions as healing is a cooldown power in the game. You will have to remember to use it, though, as your character will not slowly recover over time. Failing to do so would be akin to forgetting to reload between firefights. Healing items can be acquired and assigned to a slot in the inventory menu. As can stat-boosting jewellery and other wearables, as per RPG tradition. Blood collected from slain enemies represents experience points and can be offered as tribute to the gods, granting upgrades to powers and allowing you to acquire new ones.
The various places you will travel to are based on real-world locations where the Vikings had a presence. Each area has a main story and you will experience that story in a relatively classic, linear fashion, with some side quests to do along the way. The developers hinted towards some mythical world trekking as you might tread into Arthurian legend when your quest takes you to Britannia and beyond, but this has not been officially confirmed. The game will also feature drop-in multiplayer mode, should you wish to call in your blood brother to aid in your quest.
The measure of a good Action RPG is the pace and quality of the carnage ensuing on screen and the responsiveness of the character under your command. As such, the hands-on preview build we had the pleasure of playing in the derelict Berlin theatre was excellent. My shoulder twitched uncontrollably as I battled multiple enemies and the satisfaction of landing a critical hit triggered a physical response, the nature of which I will not confess in writing. The world made me want to explore, the creatures made me want to bash their heads in, and the town made me want to care for it.
Personally, I am intrigued and I can’t wait to see more of Vikings - Wolves of Midgard. If Games Farm and Kalypso can satisfy this old Viking, then they should be on the right track. Just so we are clear: if I see so much as one horned helmet, we are going to have a problem.