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In our recent interview with Jan Turan, lead programmer at Games Farm, he stated: “If Blizzard is doing something and you want to compete with them, you need to reach at least the same level of quality, and that’s really hard”. When it comes to action RPGs in the same vein as Diablo 3, he’s absolutely right. There aren’t many developers who consistently create genre-defining games like Blizzard do, so when a competitor finally comes along, the developer really has to make their mark. The Slovakian developers may not be as renowned as Blizzard, but that’s not going to stop them bringing something new to the table.
Vikings: Wolves of Midgard is a new action RPG set on the Shores of Midgard – a fantastical world based on the history of the Vikings and Norse mythology. Your village has been pillaged by fearsome creatures and its up to you to discover why and how to stop them. A group known as the Jotan have returned with the sole intention of taking vengeance against the Gods of Asgard. As the chief of the Ulfung clan (the Wolves of Midgard) you must lead the Wolves to victory, ridding Midgard of the monsters of the Fimbulwinter and rebuilding your village.
We played Vikings on an Xbox 360 controller as the game doesn’t support a mouse and keyboard yet. The controls seem awkward at first as the developers have opted to use the right stick strictly as a means to dodge. Most games would have a face button as a dedicated roll, but not Vikings. Instead, the game uses every other button for special abilities.
Though we didn’t think much of it at the time, this probably makes the game far more action-heavy, as you spend most of your time getting up close to enemies as opposed to walking backwards and throwing spears. Vikings encourages you to constantly attack enemies by building your devil trig- I mean Rage bar. When you enter berserker mode your character gains a buff to their strength and the screen shifts to a translucent red hue. This short-lived mode supposedly enables you to take advantage of the games’ destructible environment, offering you the opportunity to push enemies under falling rocks and drive them off steep cliffs. However, these prospects were not obvious and we didn’t utilise rage mode in this way during our play through.
We started the game using a bow & arrow with a throwing knife, but once we were given the opportunity to switch to a real melee weapon (alongside a ranged weapon), it made the game seem a lot more fun. Each new weapon starts off with very limited abilities which slowly grows as you continue to play. Spamming your abilities is not possible as your stamina bar stops you from doing so, meaning you’ll have to actually think about your actions before heading into a battle.
One of the most apparent features of the game is the exposure system. The idea behind the exposure system appears to be to make the player more aware of their harsh environment and make survival an ongoing struggle, but it doesn’t work as well as the developers may have hoped. Our experience with this system had us finding sources of heat in order to avoid frostbite. The area of Niflheim is a sub-zero zone whereas Balheim exposes you to blistering heat and there is also a region littered with a poisonous substance. While this feature may differ to other action RPGs, it just seems more annoying than interesting. It took around a minute or so to build the exposure bar, with your character feeling the full effect of exposure after the bar had filled completely. Upon realising that you are about to reach your exposure limit, you will be forced to look for any source of heat to deplete the bar. This system, at least in the ice sections of the game, breaks up any type of momentum you may have built, making the action part of the game seem quite disappointing. What’s the point in having a system designed for attacking when you have to think about running back to a campfire after only a minute? Although this may encourage you to explore, we found ourselves back-tracking often which greatly lengthened the duration of some of our quests.
Don’t let the threat of the exposure system put you off, though. There are a number of places for you to reset your bar. This was particularly evident in the boss fight that we engaged in. The fight consisted of us battling with packs of wolves and a towering foe in an icy dungeon. Our warrior would routinely complain that his bones were cold, indicating that it was time for us to roll to the safety of the fire circles glowing on the floor before continuing the battle. It was also possible to fight the wolves (and the boss when he split into three separate beings) from the fiery circles so freezing to death felt far less threatening in this instance.
Characters, Abilities & Weapons
Character customisation is quite basic in Vikings. You’ll be able to play as either a male Warrior or a female Shieldmaiden and will have to choose a sword, axe or bow and arrow as your starting weapon. Other than that, your customisation options are solely cosmetic, focusing on your character’s hairstyle, colour, beard and tattoos.
We chose to play as the Warrior and picked a bow and arrow and a throwing knife as our starter weapons. The bow and arrow started off incredibly weak so we spent most of the time using the throwing knife, combined with a kick move that players can use with the bow equipped. Upon killing an enemy, you collect their blood which you will later be able to sacrifice at an altar in exchange for an enhancement of your powers. In addition, as the number of your defeated enemies stacks up, you will also build your rage bar, which we mentioned earlier.
One of the things that we were interested to see was Vikings’ crafting system. Games Farm boasts an extensive crafting system where players are encouraged to collect materials in order to craft new equipment in the village ‘hub’. We’ve been told that fragments of mythical armour and weapons will be spread across all of Midgard so there should be plenty to choose from. Rather than levelling up your character, your equipment determines your strength, so the more enemies you kill with a specific weapon, the better you will perform with it. However, it’s important to note that you can only master two weapons per playthrough so choose wisely.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to test out Vikings’ co-op mode. However, the game will support online two-player co-op. There will be no level cap either so you’ll be able to jump into the game with your friend whenever you want, regardless of your level.
Unknown as of now, but as the game is running on the Unity engine we would assume the game won’t be very demanding. If your computer can handle other games that run on the Unity engine (there are loads, trust us) then you should be fine.
There are currently no plans for modding support.
Vikings: Wolves of Midgard will be released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in Q1 2017.
Overall, Vikings is shaping up to achieve everything that it set out to do but so far, we haven’t seen anything that really makes it stand out. The addition of the exposure system didn’t change the game in any meaningful way, aside from making the experience more awkward than it needed to be. Again, you could argue that this system forces you to explore, but it’s not like the player wants to stay in the same place for ages.
We didn’t get a chance to test out many important aspects of the game, including the city/village building and the crafting system. Whether this will elevate Vikings from being an extremely competent, albeit a rather safe game, to an interesting action RPG that tries to do something new with the genre is another question entirely.
Vikings plays it far too safe in almost every aspect, so we are almost certain it will turn out to be a decent game. We’ll have to wait until early 2017 to find out whether Games Farm expands on some of Viking’s unique features. If the Slovakian developers manage to make some of the game’s core mechanics interesting, they could end up creating a true competitor to the Diablo series.
Most Anticipated Feature: Trying out the co-op mode with a friend.