It’s all been done before…
Timed button-mashing wasn’t a novel mechanic when God of War was released on the Playstation 2, but the team at SCE’s Santa Monica studio hit the mark in terms of visceral, combo-laden combat that couldn’t get stale. Set in Greek lore, we were introduced to a mortal-turned-demi-god, and an enticing story portrayed through superb narration. Since its critically revered reception, there have been many titles that have looked to capture the same essence as the God of War franchise and capitalize on the precedent; yet, nearly none come to mind in succeeding. Creative Assembly’s Viking: Battle for Asgard, is the latest to integrate context-sensitive attacks, but mixes things up with Norse Mythology.
The Creative Assembly studio is same group which, a few years back, released another colon-infused title by the name of Spartan: Total Warrior. The cross-console game unleashed massive battles unto players, rich with bits of customizability and a strong technical prowess, as well as invoked a sense of believable action through competent AI assistance.
God of what…
You may ask yourself, “why all of the talking around Viking?” Simply put, the game feels more like an amalgamation of different gaming experiences, compiled into one repetitively-mediocre, Scandinavian bag. Essentially, Viking not only pulls from its God of War and Spartan forerunners, but it implements sneaking elements previously seen in the Mark of Kri, as well as character design pulled from the Lord of the Rings universe (both film and game).
While it would be easy to call out Viking for completely ripping off the story told of Kratos, the struggle to save Asgard, in the actual Viking mythology, is not much different than that of the Greek Mythos. Like any classical lore, there is an impending evil, and a single character is chosen to fight on the side of good. In this case, Hel and her Legion are bent on destroying Asgard (the gods’ realm) after Odin cast the goddess from Valhalla. In her path is Midgard (the mortal’s realm) and it is only Skarin who is brave enough to fight Hel’s Champion, but who is ultimately killed in the battle. Upon being chosen by Freya, the Goddess of Love and War, Skarin is granted immortality and promised a place in Valhalla if he is successful in defeating Hel and her army.
Although you’ve most likely played through this scenario many times over, Viking’s presentation is just as good as any before it and remains a competent plot. The narration adds a strong storytelling element, and coupled with great character dialects, the game is one of the best actions titles out there in terms of dialogue.
However, the story doesn’t feel as fleshed out and explained as it could have been. The gameplay focuses heavily on liberating the various realms from the clutches of Hel’s Legion, but there is an underlying story with Skarin’s origins as well as dubious undertones from Freya’s assignment itself. In the end, it all feels underwhelming as plot twists are revealed almost nonchalantly. The biggest problem, perhaps, is your mute character. Other than bouts of yelling, grunting and your occasional “heeyah,” Skarin says nothing. This wouldn’t be such a bad decision if his story was divulged a bit more—save for a few flashbacks and brief explanations, there is little development of Skarin’s character, and little connection with him.
Th-th-th-tha-that’s all folks…
With such little development, the game reverts to a simple hack-and-slash experience. The setting is divided up amongst three realms, growing bigger as each is taken back from Hel’s army. The story is linear, but played in an open-world style. Unfortunately, much like other open world titles, the game suffers from a repetitive quest-based system and the inability to traverse territories other than by running—there are Leystones for teleporting about the land, but they must be found first, and often don’t get you close enough to where you want to be.
Essentially, the game really breaks down into a simple formula: save groups of Viking clans from Legion outposts, liberate key settlements and receive an additional fetch-mission from the leader, complete the fetch-task, return to the settlement to complete the quest, find Dragonstones and awaken one of three dragons, and assault the Legion stronghold in the realm. While the formula is fun and exciting the first time you play it, it becomes annoying on the second, larger area, and completely tiresome and boring on the even larger final level. There are few missions which give you the allusion that you’re doing something different, by either trying to sneak into a guarded fortress or obtain better weapons, but they are ultimately just as fruitless as the other go-for exercises and involve mindless button mashing.
Unfortunately, almost every other aspect of gameplay is just as repetitive as the mission structure. Most likely you’ve heard of “grinding” in MMORPGs, which involve a lot of killing of enemies for little reward, well, that is what best describes Viking. While it’s possible to completely eviscerate enemies, your moves-list is shallow and the weapon upgrade system, along with employable elemental powers, is nearly inconsequential; even after you imbue your sword and axe with god-destroying powers, it still takes multiple taps of your light-attack button to take down the weakest of enemies.
With that said, there are only a handful of enemy types which make up both your everyday grunts, and bosses. The main draw of Viking (just like Spartan) is the ability to have massive battles with hundreds of NPCs on-screen. Once you begin your siege, it’s evident that these scenarios do well in creating an immersive feeling as competent AI aid you and enemies hurt each other. However, each battle plays out the same way, with the same goal: kill shamans. To do so, it’s possible to run through hordes of enemies, with only a few enemy protestations, to dispatch the power-protected witchdoctors.
The biggest disappointment, however, is these baddies, along with Champions (big Dark Knight-esque looking characters) and Giants (large, lumbering creatures), make up the entire Legion. There aren’t any unique boss battles which require some sport or intelligence to defeat, just the same repeated rhythm with button-coordinated cues; even the final battle boils down to a combination of shaman and Giant-killing.
Ultimately, Viking is a one-shot ride that uses deceit and grind to cull a not-so-surprising play time. Between running across vast distances and killing the same enemies over and over again, the game will take you a good amount of time to complete; once it’s done, there’s nothing else left to do, and no reason to grind through it again.
In the end, the repetitive nature of the game kills what could have been a stellar title. Besides a few, minor drops in frame rate and some grass popping in, Viking is a standout title that performs relatively well and delivers a gorgeous looking game with great draw distances, rolling seas, flying dragons, character details and simple-yet-serving textures. Great dialogue mask an otherwise missing soundtrack and rounds out the audio side of things, but the limited scope of gameplay really makes Viking a must-rent, rather than a must-buy.
+ Novel setting
+ Great looking game—you might get sea sick from the rolling waves
+ Huge battles when making a siege
Oh, hell no:
- Repetitive missions and battle structures
- Poor character development
- No replay value—unless you like Achievements