Can any game deliver the experience expected after seeing the above image? Viking is a game which sets out to do just that, but can it live up to the “brutal, limb-severing combat” as promised on the back of the case? Hit the jump, click “Read more” or sneak up behind me, press X and cut me in two in slow motion to find out.
In Viking, you play the role of Skarin, a beefy Viking with a ponytail. Skarin is called upon by Freya, the goddess of Asgard, to help her defeat Hel, Queen of the Underworld, and prevent the world from being plunged into a dark age in which Hel will rule all the land.
To do this you must fight Hel’s Legion across three large, open maps. Your main objective is to free your allies from various captive states and convince them to join with you in battle. Sometimes they will join with you freely. Other times they will ask a favour of you, such as talking to somebody, taking out a watchtower full of enemies, or freeing other allies. Once you have enough people fighting on your side, you can go to battle.
These battles are the epic moments the game builds you up for. You take the men you have freed and tackle the might of Hel’s Legion. Sometimes this takes the form of an ambush, but at least once per map you are treated to an battle of impressively epic proportions. With hundreds of Vikings fighting on both sides, you must fight your way through waves of enemies to claim victory over the battlefield.
As you travel across the open world maps, you will discover more jobs to do, be they discovered by you finding them as you walk around, or from talking to people. Using a handy mini-map to keep track of your location and objectives you will never be lost as to what to do next. You also don’t need to worry about tedious travel times across the world as there is a very useful transportation system built into the world in the form of Leystones. These glowing stones allow you to jump to any another discovered stone instantly, saving a lot of otherwise dull travelling time.
The jobs themselves all feel fairly similar, from freeing a group of men trapped in a quarry surrounded by Legion, to freeing a group of men trapped in a brewery surrounded by Legion. There are a few exceptions to the general formulaic “go to location X, kill all the bad guys”, but they don’t too venture far from the mould.
As well as building your army, you will also be tasked with calling on several dragons to help you during your battles. Sadly, the dragons don’t do anything apart from fly around your base camp when you’re not in a battle, but it might tip the difficulty curve a little too favourably to the player if you could call a dragon-strike in on demand.
Not that a dragon-strike is needed, however. Using your trusty sword and axe your enemies will more often than not be no match for you. The few times I ended up in trouble were usually the times I accidentally wandered into a group of a dozen or so Legion.
The combat itself is very traditional of the third person action-adventure genre, using two buttons for attack– one big and slow, one small and quick. There’s also a button to defend and a button to dodge. As you progress, you will learn moves which get more complex and powerful. They will also be surprisingly useful, much more so than I have found in other games with similar combat styles (I’m looking at you, God of War).
This is where the game begins to shine very strongly. The combat never ceases to get old, even after killing hundreds of enemies, it’s still amazingly fun. Most likely because of the slow motion fatalities you can use. When your enemy is near dead, missing an arm or some other important body part, you get the option to kill the guy with style. Slicing a man in half and watching his entrails fall out has never quite been as much fun.
The first time I was able to pull off one of these fatalities I let out an audible “oh, wow… haha”. You know. the kind of noise you make when you watch a Rambo movie? Something so gory (yet awesome) happens and you become a little shocked. yet mildly bloodthirsty for more? In Viking, when you cut an undead Viking’s head off, then take both his arms off in one swift move, in slow motion, with lots of blood, it does feel good.
Happily, you will be doing a lot of these fatalities, as well as a few well-made quick time based finishing moves. Viking is clearly taking a page from God of War’s book on “How to make bosses die much more enjoyably using quick time events”, which is fine, because it works.
Sadly, they also seem to have taken a page out of the “How to make everything you ever want to do require you to press a single button rapidly” book. Anything from opening doors or freeing prisoners to summoning dragons seems to require a rapid button press and it gets old quickly. It also never quite detracts from the game, but becomes an annoyance you get used too.
As well as the standard set of moves, you also gain a few fatal stealth moves. I know I probably shouldn’t use the word stealth in the context of a videogame, very few people respond well to it, but in Viking it works. Your character will automatically go into a stealthy (by Viking standard) hunch, allowing you to sneak up behind enemies. If they don’t see you, and you get close enough, you can take them out in one swift slice. Practical and fun, if occasionally annoying when you get caught.
Besides combat, another area where the game shines is with its graphics. Initially, the game looks very average. Nothing stands out as looking stunning. The character models have a nice level of detail in, but they don’t bowl you over. That is, until the game shows its trump card.
During the large battles, or if you happen to chance upon an enemy army, you will see literally hundreds upon hundreds of NPCs on screen at once, many more than I have seen before. This comes at a cost of a few framerate slowdowns, but it is definitely worth it.
Another aspect of the game which is noteworthy is the lack of in-game loading screens. You get one at the start of the game but no others. Where you would expect to get one, when you warp to the other side of the island for instance, you simply don’t. This keeps you within the game and let’s you continue unhindered on your mission.
The audio is fitting for the game, yet like a few other aspects, does not seem to rise above average. The orchestral score found within battles does help instil a feeling of grandeur, but never quite pushes you over to true epic-ness.
All in all the game is best described as a cross between God of War (for its combat), Crackdown (for its open world) and Dynasty Warriors (for the large scale battles). If you enjoyed any of those games, you will likely enjoy Viking, and it’s a must buy. Although I would recommend not playing it for long periods of time, due to the mildly repetitive nature of the tasks, the payoff the game gives the player in the form of satisfying combat and mighty battles makes the game well worth it.