Dude, have you ever looked into Norse mythology? That shit is hot right now and it’s bonkers crazy. After the success of the TV show Vikings and the recent God of War it feels like more people are coming to understand how bat-crap crazy it all is. There’s a huge snake that fights a lightning dude and there’s some snowy giants and they all die except one marries the king of gods and has a kid but he’s a scamp and he basically ends the world and IT’S A LOT. As much as I’ve been interested in Norse mythology and the worlds around it I’ve always found it to be a daunting venture. The lore is dense and convoluted and going into Niffelheim (which, I must clarify I will be copy/pasting the title each time because my brain doesn’t DO the spell for that word) I was apprehensive that I wouldn’t grasp the full weight of the game. Fortunately, Niffelheim stands on it’s own two feet without the weight of it’s mythos and proves to be an excellent survival game.

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Well, I say survival game but that’s not really fair. There’s a lot to Niffelheim and if I were to try and give it a genre it would be close to a side-scrolling survival dungeon-crawling RPG because all those elements are at play here. The game places you in the boots of a fallen warrior, someone who missed the train to Valhalla and is stuck in the icy wastes of Niflheim (the game uses a different spelling, I’m not sure why, so you close that Google tab you’ve viciously opened). Your only goal is to escape…somehow. Until then, you’ll have to survive and that means hunting for food, building up your castle and delving into dungeons for rare items, weapons and tools. It’s an addictive loop, venturing around the map to return with materials, constantly upgrading your base and utilities. As your fortress grows, so do you, levelling up in a variety of disciplines depending on where you’re spending your time around the world.

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And what a world it is. Beautifully hand drawn backgrounds are crisp and defined, creating a cold and harsh environment that also ripples with a sense of discovery and adventure, while the dungeons are dark and dank, limiting your view and sending a wave of relief through your body when you see a glimmer of torchlight. Niffelheim ’s aesthetic is gorgeous and while I find many of the animations to be somewhat stilted and unresponsive at times, it doesn’t detract from the sheer effort that has clearly gone into making the game look fantastic.

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It’s the sort of survival game that counts how many days you last. Now, I know that’s not a significant detail unique to Niffelheim but whenever I see that counter, I know it’s gonna be the sort of game that you’ll have to start over and over again until you’ve learned and mastered all the world has to throw you. There’s a really great tutorial screen, available at any time through the UI, to help new players get their bearings during their first few sessions, but after a few days Niffelheim throws the curviest of balls at you. Anecdotally, I had survived 14 days, my longest yet. I had upgraded my kitchen, furnace and alchemy stations and was working at building better mining equipment. I receive a notification. Oh, what could that be? A quest? It was not, in fact, a quest. Instead, it was a warning that I was required to make a humble sacrifice to the local priests and if I did not, there would be dire consequences. The game never explained what this meant or how I should go about it, so I shrugged it off. How bad could it be? Were they going to destroy my chicken coop?

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THEY LEVELED MY ENTIRE FORT.

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And just like that, 14 days of progress were gone. Niffelheim can be punishing and isn’t great at explaining some of its mechanics to you. It’s a problem I find in many survival games and Niffelheim is no exception. What starts out as a simply expedition into Norsedew Valley can very quickly escalate to full on warfare with random raids assaulting your base. Niffelheim’s combat does its job, but don’t expect the most exhilarating of fights. Click on the enemy well and you win. If there’s too many or your weapon is too weak, they win. It’s simple and uncomplicated, but it needn’t be anything else. Honestly, the most fun I had in this game was the dungeon crawling.

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There are dungeons scattered all over the world, each far deeper than you’d initially expect, littered with resources, loot and enemies. Bosses lurk around every few levels and many of these can prove a challenge. High grade gear is required to take down some of the bigger boys and, as most dungeon crawler players can attest, the feeling of finally getting that kill and picking up the loot is as gratifying as ever. While some might find the degradation of items a bit rough a first, it shouldn’t take long before you’re building portals and doors back to safety, hacking away with iron pick axes.

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You know, reading back on this review, it feels like I’ve said a lot about this game, yet not enough. There’s so much in Niffelheim that it’s difficult to condense it all into words. I haven’t even mentioned the quests, the multiple starting characters and worlds or even the surprising amount of items available to upgrade and purchase. Hell, this game even offers 4-player multiplayer for when you want to pillage your friends forts. There’s just so much to do; It’s a marvel how this game juggles it’s systems, and yet it does so efficiently. There have been games that have done individual parts of Niffelheim better but there are very few to have included all those elements at the same time and handle them so competently.

Last Updated: March 18, 2019

Niffelheim
Niffelheim is a deep, complex survival dungeon crawler with a wonderful style that offers a ton of longevity in its gameplay, as long as you’re okay restarting multiple times.
8.5
Niffelheim was reviewed on PC
/ 100

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