It’s a good year to be a Viking. The somewhat historically true race of Northern European warriors are more popular than ever before, thanks to recent a TV series starring a bloodthirsty gang of the longboat lovers ripping up rivals and a more deiriffic version of their mythology mixing it up on the big screen in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.
So what’s going in the gaming scene then, regarding the cult classic lovers of horned helmets? The most high-profile use of Vikings since Rune buried its axe into a Musselpheim demon belongs to Ubisoft and For Honor right now, but developer Games Farm want to give it a bash with the shield with their passion project Vikings: Wolves of Midgard.
Part Diablo, part trendy medieval haircuts, Vikings: Wolves of Midgard is an attempt to blend the world of Norse mythology with a high focus on action from a strategic viewpoint. Most of the time it hits the mark, but there’s certainly still room for some extra polish here. Vikings has the hook it needs as a Diablo clone: Decent world-building, a levelling system that offers plenty of variety and a selection of threats that feel brutal enough to give you a run for your money.
It’s a power fantasy under the watchful eye of Odin, a heavy metal progression system where the blood of the slain furthers your growth and combat quickly finds itself amping up the difficulty by dipping into quantity over quality opponents. It’s…OK.
I wouldn’t say that Vikings: Wolves of Midgard is a bad game but rather a perfectly serviceable one at its best. There’s a certain spark missing here, a layer of predictably that seeps in and makes the adventure feel like it relies far too much on either overtly attempting to murder you with enemies or your environment, instead of allowing itself to be a bit more playful with its mechanics.
To its credit, however, the actual combat is viscerally satisfying. Foes explode into bloody chunks the second they meet your axe or longsword, abilities can even the playing field immensely and facing a group of hostiles actually can feel like a challenge at any given time. Yet there’s still that lingering feeling that something is amiss. Maybe it’s the user interface which doesn’t do its combat any favours, the repetitive arenas to face off in or a narrative that plays out along the lines of “STRONG VIKING SMASH MIDGARD SERPENT RAAAARGGHHHH”.
Every game is a series of motions repeated, but Vikings: Wolves of Midgard somehow hammers that truth home to a boring conclusion. A pity, because there’s so much more to actually like about it if you’re ready for a bit of a slog. Viking’s boss battles are especially brilliant, encounters with high-level threats that actually plays around with the structure of its particular breed of RPG far more than you’d expect it to. There’s also the danger of frostbite with the exposure mechanic, which isn’t an excuse to strip yourself naked or a fantastic TV series about a doctor in Alaska.
I swear I saw a moose wandering around though.