In Norse mythology, Niffelheim is the land of mist and darkness, and is one of the 9 realms that exist on the World-tree Yggdrasil. In fact, translated it means roughly ‘mist home’ or ‘dark home’ depending upon regions and dialects. It is the place where Odin banished Loki’s daughter, Hel (not to be confused with Cate Blanchett’s character Hela in Thor Ragnarok.) Odin then gave Hel dominion over all souls of those who died of old age or disease, for only those who died in battle were taken unto Asgard, another of the 9 worlds, to sit with Odin in the halls of Valhalla until the coming of the last battle, Ragnarok.
Along comes your character. You get to select from one of four fearsome Norse warriors: the Viking, the Valkyrie, the Berserker, or the Shaman. Each of them fell in battle, and yet instead of arriving in style with the Valkyrie of Odin’s court (sort of like angels on chariots, and whom the female warrior vikings were named after) to Asgard, you wash up on the mist shrouded shores of Niffelheim, for Hel has robbed Odin, and you, of your dues.
Each of the four warriors has particular attributes. Metabolism is how fast your satiety (hunger) meter goes down, and thus how frequently you need to eat. Health is how much punishment you can take, and defense is how much punishment a given blow does to you. Finally is the damage stat, which is how much punishment you can dish out. The Viking is a nice middle of the road character. The Valkyrie needs less food, but does less damage, and has resistances to some damage types. Berserkers do lots of damage, but have poor defense and high metabolisms (meaning they eat voraciously) and shamans have the best defense, but the worst damage and the second worst metabolism. This means that each will have a slightly different playstyle, as well. Berserkers are going to need to spend more time harvesting food because of their metabolism, but are also going to hit harder in combat so might want to spend more time hunting animals than gathering plants. I’ll add here that this game can be played multiplayer, with each of the four heroes and four lands being selectable. You can also choose to play alone with 1-3 bots.
After selecting your hero, you arrive in the land you’ve selected before. Each land is based on a spirit totem type animal: bear, wolf, eagle, and dragon. This totem will be reflected in the structures and landscape, but otherwise each region is the same as the others, with the same randomly spawned resources. Surface resources include trees, herbs, vegetables, and animals, all of which will have a use. I do not believe I’ve come across anything in the game that couldn’t be used for something. Also in each surface region is a totem craft station. At these stations you can make miniature animal charms that give various buffs or healing. These are the only craft stations that I have noticed that can’t also be built in your castle’s underground. It’s worth noting that you can find low level alchemy and cooking stations out in the wilderness, so these aren’t necessarily immediately necessary to craft for yourself, though making sure you’ve got a good stockpile of food is going to be something that you work on throughout the game.
Speaking of crafting for yourself, you’ve got a keep! If you want to turn it into a castle, it’s going to take some work. Within the keep you have an underground burrow. Here are your storage chests, your workbenches, etc. As with many games of the survival genre, you must essentially level up each bench in a rough sequence. Doing so allows you to make better gear, which allows you to go to more dangerous areas and face harder enemies, which allows you to make better gear, etc. This is basically called tiered progression. To unlock a Tier 4 furnace, you need items from a Tier 3 alchemy lab, and so on.
Beneath your castle are your mines. The mines are randomly generated and have all the mineral type resources you’d expect to find. Copper and iron ore (as well as more rare metals later). Clay and saltpeter. All sorts of goodies. The deeper you go in the mines, the higher the quality of minerals. You’ll also find mushrooms in the mines, which also get more rare the deeper you go. Basically it’s a standard risk = reward type system. One neat thing is that the mines are randomly generated at the beginning of the game, replenish periodically through underground earthquakes. Essentially meaning you can’t ever completely run out of a mined resource. Considering you use these for consumables like arrows and traps, this was glad news for me indeed!
Oooh, I know someone that wants this mushroom!
Not everything in the mines is your friend. There are clouds of poison, spiders, skeletons, rats, trolls and worse. There are also dark rogue priests that will give you quests, claiming to wish to help you, though they keep their motives close to their chests. If you get too beat up, you can stand near a cluster of fireflies to help replenish your health more quickly.
Now, I mention trolls. I’m not talking your standard basement dwelling internet prowling troglodyte, but rather nasty creatures with large clubs, dubious complexion, and horrendous halitosis. These creatures are some of the first bosses of the game, and they are tough. You’ll want to have plenty of potions, matched armor, and the best weapon you can acquire when you first encounter one, and even then, be ready to spam healing potions as you run away. I will say, this is one of my lesser disappointments with Niffelheim as a game: The combat just isn’t that engrossing. It amounts to repeatedly left clicking (or hitting the F key) until you or your enemy dies. You’re supposed to be able to block with your shield, but I haven’t seen it having a whole lot of effect, and even if it did, it’s still not much. Really though, the rest of the game makes it interesting enough that I don’t really care that much.
Any fight you can limp away from…
So you’ve defeated your first boss. If you’re lucky, it has dropped a portal stone. Chances are, if this is the first troll you’ve encountered, it probably won’t. I get the distinct impression that the harder the bosses, the more likely they are to drop the valuable portal stones.
Twenty-two Portal stones, in all, are what is required to finish Niffelheim, and make your way from Hel’s clutches into your promised reward in Odin’s feast hall. Mind, not every boss will drop a portal stone the first time, and after they do drop one, they no longer will, but instead will be more challenging and will have better loot.
All in all, I had a great time with Niffelheim. It sort of has a Terraria like feel in the most vague of ways, but crossed with some good ol’ fashion Norse mythology, which I greatly appreciate. The game has a variety of quests to keep you going, including many with good rewards offered by a strange raven who visits your castle (in fact, if you do a quest for him, then enter your castle and come back out, he’ll be right there again).
During my play of the game, I didn’t actually encounter any bugs, which, in this day and age, frankly amazed me. There were some minor translation issues (your gear when it breaks informs you that it has “Weared out”), but that can be overlooked. The animations and combat leave a little to be desired, but the overall art itself is pretty high quality. There is a Horde that attacks your base every 7 days, and once one of the NPC bots that I had turned on came with them to try to attack my castle. My defenses and my blade made short work of the interloper, however. The Hordes keep you motivated to progress, though, as they will also get stronger as time passes, meaning you’ll need to upgrade your base to survive.
So wait, every 7 days I get attacked by a bunch of undead… why is that familiar?
All in all, I give Niffelheim 4.5/5. If you’ve read my reviews you’ll know I don’t give marks that high very often, and there’s a reason I do so with Niffelheim. The game is just fun. The graphics are good, if not great, and the gameplay is engrossing. It’s seemingly mostly bug free, which is glorious. It’s definitely one of those “One more turn” type games that make you profane against the Aesir when you realize you stayed up playing 3 hours longer than you’d meant to. And worth every minute of lost sleep.