By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
I love beat ‘em ups. Isometric beat ‘em ups are probably my favorite. There is just something gratifying about leaping into melee combat with ferocious enemies, and leaving soaked in their blood. And if I am to obtain ridiculously powerful items from their corpses before running forth into the wilderness to do it again, well that’s just icing on the cake. Can it be a bit of a grind? Of course it can! But it’s the non-stop action that makes it intense, as well as a good setting; and a bit of challenge can’t hurt too. That’s what I found with Vikings: Wolves of Midgard. The title tells you absolutely everything you need to know about this game. There’s zero left to chance. You play a Viking, and you kick the crap out of everything that has a pulse, and some stuff that doesn’t! Wielding whatever weapon represents the God of your choosing, smashing huts into splinters, and uppercutting wolves, goblins, and other Vikings with your axes along the way. Do all that without succumbing to the cold of the frozen north, and you’re real Valhalla material!
From what I understand, this takes place during the events of Ragnarok, but I can’t be certain. However, some other websites have claimed “no loot drops.” Only from bosses and chests. That’s blatantly untrue though. In fact, as I wrote this, I tabbed over, opened the game and entered a map. Within three enemy deaths, I picked up a new piece of armor! It wasn’t great, but it was there! You can definitely acquire new weapons and armor through the deaths of your enemies. Moral of the story is… trust no one and no thing except your own axes and eyes.
Some folks will look at this and go “Ho hum, a Diablo clone,” but while it is an isometric murder-fest like Diablo, and you get lots of cool weapons and armor through battle, that’s really where the similarities end for me. The goals from map to map don’t really change much, and leaving a map to go back to town resets your progress on the map itself. You travel across the level, smashing things to bits and pieces, hitting checkpoints, completing a side quest, and ultimately facing a boss. The bosses are not hack-n-slash fights, not even a little. This game, the more I played it, felt less like Diablo, and more like Everquest: Champions of Norrath. Boss fights are cruel, unforgiving, and require split second decision making. Every hit and every second counts. You can’t just heal anytime you feel like it; you can’t buy potions! There’s a minor regeneration trait, or you can get lifesteal/regen on your gear, but other than that? Your only hope is an equipment slot that allows some healing, in the form of charges. I’ve only seen charms that have two or three charges at most, and the better the charm, the fewer the charges, at least so far. When it runs out, you need to find a health pool, which greatly resemble the Diablo 2 health shrines. It will heal you, and restore your charges. These pretty much always come with a Checkpoint too, and these are the greatest things you’re going to see in the world.
Let’s get into one of the hardest parts of this game: The weather. Holy damn, this threw me off. When I tromped into the snow for the first time, I thought it was just going to be like any other game where you run into the snow, murder stuff, and move forward without any fear. But beneath the health bar is a meter that shows how cold you are. Even Vikings aren’t immune to the frostbite, apparently. As you stand out in the bitter northern winter, the bar fills more and more. It moves slowly, unless there’s a Jotun totem nearby, in which case it fills rapidly! Once you break the totem, via violence, it slows back down. When you get to a campfire, it will decrease at a good click, then you can move forward. Thankfully, you can see them on the map when you zoom out, even if you haven’t been there. You can see all of the health pools, checkpoints, and campfires, so you can plan and prepare where to go next.
However, this leaves me a bit confused. The next stage, a regular Viking stronghold/village had these same fires, but no cold weather to fight through. This makes me wonder if you’ll return to these stages and the Fimbulwinter will be there, waiting to destroy you. Though I will say I’m glad that every stage so far doesn’t have this crippling side effect, because I’d get tired of it very very fast. I appreciate the challenge because it means you have to really fight efficiently, destroy your foes fast, and get to that campsite. If the Fimbulwinter meter fills, you’ll start taking constant damage until you can warm your bones. I love this, but every stage would become quite vexing. The combat by itself offers enough challenge and technique to learn after all.
The combat is intense, with each weapon type varying in what it brings to the table. It’s not just standing in place, hacking away, because the shield-bearing enemies are the bane of my whole damn existence. They will block forever, and I’ve found very few skills that will pierce their defense. You have to move, let them attack, roll in, and attack, or get around them/leap over them somehow. Ranged powers help too, from what I’ve seen. It’s way more than just running down a road and pummeling things. You’ll find archers overhead, spear throwers, standing on wooden platforms. What do you do about this? Why, break what they’re standing on – send them falling to their deaths! I won’t lie, this is one of the most gratifying things in the whole game.
What do you do though when you’re overwhelmed, and your regular abilities from your Gods’ skill tree just aren’t cutting it? What does any good Viking do? Snarl, activate your rage power [L1+R1], and slow time down, adding damage, health store, and a ton of violence to your arsenal! You can also activate a trinket dedicated to one of the Gods through your buttons, each with their own specific powers. The one I’m currently using is dedicated to Skathi, and freezes all enemies nearby. It’s really gotten me out of quite a few jams, and they do have a surprisingly long cooldown. Use them sparingly! Your rage meter fills, predictably, when you slaughter things and take damage! As you murder things, you acquire blood, the blood of your enemies to be exact. When the orb at the top left fills completely, you can commit it to the God you serve at an altar, whether it’s in town, or on the map. There are altars scattered around, but you can’t level just anywhere. It must be at a shrine. Leveling means adding to one of your stats, and using skill points. Skill trees have level requirements, and at first I found myself saving a stat point or two – I didn’t really see a use for it. There’s a tree for each God: Odin, Thor, Tyr, Skathi [Female characters only], Ullr [Male characters only] and Loki. They all have a weapon that represents them, as I said earlier, but if you aren’t wielding their weapon, you cannot access their passives or actives at all. So I’m still torn on whether it’s worth it to put abilities in trees of other Gods. So far I’ve been sticking to Loki’s path, but as the game progresses and it’s easy to farm older maps, I can see farming exp to get powers from other Gods. While you can go back to older maps, you cannot fight bosses again. Not important, but definitely worth knowing.
When you aren’t on the ancient world’s greatest killing spree, you’ll be attempting to make your own village as great and large as possible. You can improve upon your clan altar [useful for upgrading skills with skill points], your smiths, and the like. As you progress, so too will your village as you try to stave off the Ragnarok and bring your ragtag group of survivors to the glory that they so richly deserve. While yes you can get new weapons and armor in the wild, I also found that the weapons my blacksmith crafted were definitely worth it. If you aren’t finding ones you need for your God in the wild, you can make your own! You can also enchant them with runes of the various Gods, runes you’ll find in your travels. The village to me though pretty much felt like an afterthought, a place to cooldown between battles, and get set for my next rampage. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. I don’t really want to worry myself over village politics. We have battle to get into, after all!
That’s what this game is about, combat. Saving the world, Viking-style. The pace never slows down, unless you’re in the village, so that’s where you can go to take a breather, let your heart rate slow down, and get back into the thick of it when you’re ready. Because this game does not hold your hand. It doesn’t baby you, and will kick your ass. Though it will have multiplayer, it was not in the build of the game I played, but God, I think it’ll be way more fun with a few friends. It’s just fine to play solo, but some of the fights will be a lot less frustrating when you have allies to smash into the Jotan forces with.
Where’s Your God Now? Preparing for Ragnarok
Vikings: Wolves of Midgard is what the hack’n’slash RPG genre needed. It’s a kick in the face, a shot of adrenaline. Diablo 3 is frightfully easy, and while there are other pretty good isometric games out right now, none of them are like Vikings. The customization for characters is, eh, it’s okay, but every other part of this game shines. It’s challenging, sometimes frustratingly so, offers lots of different play styles, upgrades for skills, badass weapons and armor, tons of things to murder. It feels real too. Sure it has goblins, frost giants, evil pissed off birds and wolves that slay people, but take a look at the enemy Viking towns. They have spiked structures made of wood to hold you at bay, high ground with archers, fortified structures with archers, they act smart, and everything feels like it’s really against you. It’s not just an open little crappy mud-hut town with a few dudes in it that might swing at you. No, the enemy armies are proper armies, moving in groups, and acting like they have a brain. They try to kill you and show no mercy at all.
This is definitely a controller game, using the right stick to tumble and roll and buttons to use abilities with. It felt perfect on a controller. There was never a time in this that I felt bored, but there were times where I felt frustrated with how hard the game was. The second boss beat me for what felt like a week. In fact, if you’re interested in seeing some gameplay, we have a livestream I did just a few days ago where I went back through some stages and played my Loki-worshipper. Being able to choose between single and multiplayer, and the non-stop carnage and action really make this a challenger to the isometric action throne. If you want a casual, easy time, go play Diablo and fight the devil. If you want to be challenged, and experience sending your foes to Valhalla or to Hel, you play Vikings.