by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
The plan was simple - we would have a genuine Viking descendant in charge of the Vikings: Wolves of Midgard review. Perhaps not surprisingly, modern day Vikings produce rather destructive offspring and Ingvi’s gaming rig did not survive the attention of his little berserker. The best laid plans eh? So it fell onto the more subtle Germanic warrior on the team - namely me - to step in. Ingvi’s loss, I found.
Vikings: Wolves of Midgard begins full of action. The player makes a mad dash to rescue his village which is besieged by Giants. You manage to defeat the assailants, of course, but the village lies in ruins. Only a handful of villagers have survived the attack and the clan chief is among the dead. As the hero of the day, the villagers elect you as their new chief. You vow to rebuild the village and bring glory to your clan.
Pretty standard fare for the start of an action-rpg and while the story expands a bit later on it doesn’t really get much more involved. Yet it does put the player in the right frame of mind for what is to come. The revenge bit is obvious but rebuilding your settlement - the hub from where you stage your raids and rescue missions - is actually an integral part of the game. If you skimp on that aspect Vikings: Wolves Midgard, you’re not likely to complete it. Did that get your attention? It did mine.
I would even say that rebuilding and upgrading the village is the primary means of progression. Sure, your character levels up but the changes are incremental - a few percentage points in armor, a sliver more health. It’s really not that spectacular. And there is very little love in the area of character skills too. Yet the gear you buy from your blacksmith and armorer make all the difference as the quality of their wares goes up by leaps and bounds with every upgrade.
There’s something in the trees
More interestingly, both town upgrades and new gear require more than just gold. You’ll need materials such as wood and iron too. Crafting materials are not just obtained through quests and breaking down gear. The environment also plays a role. Many objects can be smashed to bits and those bits sometimes include materials. Smashing a stalactite in a cave may yield iron and a tree stump or crate potentially adds wood to your stockpile. With such a heavy reliance on materials, I found myself scavenging every last smashable object around before moving on to new areas. Occasionally this led to finding new ways to defeat my enemies, cutting down the support beam from under a platform of archers had them falling to a certain death. It’s not always easy to see which items are smashable though, and it’s especially unfortunate that identical looking objects to ones that you crushed before often prove unbreakable.
On the plus side, the environments themselves vary widely and are full of imaginative surprises. I loved stumbling upon two derelict viking longboats in a high up cave, a treasure chest sitting in one of them. How did they get there? It will forever be a mystery but my imagination sprang to life and has come up with all sorts of stories. Discoveries such as these make exploration fun, even if there is often precious little time to enjoy the environment until you rid it of whatever is alive and trying to eat, crush or slice you up. Luckily, backtracking is kept lively by other little surprises. A bunch of Tomte (a gnome-like creature) crawling up out of a crevice to attack you out of nowhere is a nice little distraction.
The environment isn’t necessarily friendly either. On some maps it can be downright hostile. Wind and snow can turn the blood cold and even a hardy viking cannot stay outside for too long under those circumstances. When you are exploring cold environments, a cold meter slowly fills up, telling you how much further you can venture out before warming yourself by the fire. The snow conspires to keep you away from such relief, slowing you down in some of the deeper areas.
As a keyboard warrior, I had a hard time to get control of my character. In almost every other game the WASD keys are used for movement but in Vikings they are used to roll out of harm's way. This is something you will do very often, especially when things get heated and knee-jerk reactions abound. You can ignore the keys in favor of the right mouse button but your hand needs to be near anyways to activate your character’s rage mode, switch between ranged and melee weapons and replenish your health. You get used to the controls but it’s a bit unnatural.
The animations can at times be a bit choppy. I’ve even seen attackers turn to move towards me and then ‘float’ sideways before getting their feet back on the ground. Fortunately these were rare.
The AI are not the fastest attackers and hacking your way through the throngs is usually not particularly challenging. In fact, the henchmen do little to prepare you for your last battle against their boss. Most of the end bosses have ferocious attacks and considerable health and even on normal difficulty there have been a few that I needed to retry more than a dozen times. As I spent most of my time in the game more concerned about destroying the environment than the enemies, I think that bringing the difficulty of the end bosses and their henchmen closer together would be a major step forward.
A different approach to progression
I don’t think anyone will consider Viking: Wolves of Midgard’s hack & slash play as anything novel but some of its other innovations are very welcome. The environment forcing you to take some time to recover is a nice little feature but the town building aspect is what I enjoyed the most. It sounds like a simple enough addition but the impact on character progression and the relevance of loot and materials should not be overlooked. What you do during a mission, or rather bring from one, actually matters beyond a few gold coins in your inventory. Fun? Fun.
Town upgrades as a means of character progression is as fun as it sounds.
Lack of balance, counterintuitive keyboard controls.