In the world of interactive entertainment there are games that go out of their way to engulf the player into a sea of narrative. Making sure that every whimsical detail is relevant and every story arc engaging. Viking: Battle for Asgard is not one of these games. If ever the definition of visceral action applied to a game Viking would take home the crown hands down. Combinations of mindless button mashing, over-the-top gore and all too familiar fetch quests plague Sega and Creative Assembly’s latest hack and slash. Yet even with these classic game clichés you will find yourself enthralled into a world that, while short on story manages to keep you playing for hours on end thanks mostly to addictive gameplay and plenty – and I do mean plenty – of blood, guts and gore.
There is a story buried here, unfortunately it is presented through still-frame cut scenes that really confuse more than they inform. You take on the role of Skarin, who much like Kratos is about to off himself until Freya (the Goddess of Light) recruits you to destroy the evil force of Hel’s army. There is a ton of potential here, mostly because game designers have all but ignored the Viking mythos, but Asgard does little to capitalize on it. Skarin apparently has a beef with one of the Gods, which is never fleshed out, and instead of intriguing the player or dumping in a huge plot twist the game seems to focus less and less on the story as you progress.
Thankfully story is not the focal point for Viking. What we have here is a no-holds barred action game, and at that it succeeds admirably. The game takes place from a third-person perspective and when you first boot up the disc you will likely notice a small resemblance to Fable. Hulking character models pasted against lush, brightly lit environments with smooth animation and excellent atmosphere. Most of what you will be doing in Viking is moving from camp to camp freeing trapped comrades and cleansing the area. When you enter an enemy controlled encampment the world darkens and rain begins to pour down, but once you have wiped out all the opposition it magically changes into bright, sunny pastures.
The world of Viking is gigantic. Much like other open-world games Viking is split up into three main islands, with each new one increasing in size. The downfall is that once you progress to the next island there really is no way to backtrack. This is disappointing as there were still many things I wanted to try out before I moved to the next island. Each island has several focal points where other soldiers need freeing. Free enough soldiers and you will amass an army large enough to invade certain, more fortified establishments. This is the formula for the game, so love it or hate it you will become very familiar with it. However, this isn’t what makes the game so much fun. That is left entirely in the hands of the combat.
Combat is simple, yet effective. From the outset you have access to your sword and battle ax and this will not change. These two items will stick with you to the very end. You can of course upgrade with elemental powers such s fire, ice and electricity and you can also buy projectiles such as throwing axes. You start out the game with a limited palette of combo moves, but as you earn more gold you can purchase new moves from the Arena. One of the moves is an instant stealth kill. Creep up behind an enemy and a button prompt will appear above his head. Tap the button and boom, instant mutilation. There is also a fatality system in the game, wear an enemy down enough and another prompt will display. Tap the button and be treated to one of many gruesome finishers.
Learning new moves can be both crucial and useless at the same time. For instance moves like the stealth kill are imperative, while others are downright a waste of gold. For the most part you will discover that the basic combos will work on most enemies and projectiles will help immensely in boss battles. It is also frustrating that most of these special moves don’t do any more damage than standard attacks and some of them leave you open for abuse, so using them is not always wise.
My biggest gripe with combat is that it is always all or nothing. If you engage in combat with a group of enemies and discover midway through that you are going to lose, there are no options for you. Running away simply isn’t possible. Skarin moves at such a snail’s pace that enemies quickly catch up and continue to drain your energy. This can be frustrating in certain areas, especially when surrounded by enemies. While the AI for your foes is mediocre at best, being confronted by more than ten usually leads to certain death.
As I mentioned Viking is a large game. Conquering all three islands will certainly take a solid amount of hours, but a lack of multi-player is still disappointing. Online or split screen co-op would have balanced this game immensely. There were so many occasions during my play through, where cheap deaths and being outnumbered became highly frustrating. That isn’t to say I didn’t have a good time, in fact Viking was a pleasant surprise honestly. It’s just the type of game that screams for co-op.
Visually Viking is a mixed bag. On one hand you have some truly gorgeous locales and the gore factor is nauseatingly brilliant. However, when you finally amass an army large enough for your invasion and initiate the attack everyone seems to run through a giant vat of molasses before entering the battle. The frame rate dips and dives, now granted there are hundreds of onscreen enemies, but if you pay close attention most of them are running into or past each other, so it’s mostly for show.
Enemy types are also limited; you will be hacking away at the same four to five models for the majority of the game. The camera is another point of agony as it consistently ends up in a bad position and while there is a center feature, it is located on the click of the right analog stick which is cumbersome to say the least. There is no music to speak of outside of the monumental orchestral piece towards the end of the game and sound effects feel recycled from the library of action games. Voices are decent enough to get by, but not nearly good enough to be memorable.
Viking is the kind of game if you go into it expecting a masterpiece you are going to come away a little disappointed. However, if you go in looking to have a great time with a gory hack and slash you will be hard pressed to find disappointment. The combat may be shallow, the story non-existent and the fetch quests tedious, but I still managed to have a blast with Sega’s latest offering. If you are a fan of the genre don’t hesitate to give it a whirl, everyone else will want to settle for a rental.