Valhalla doesn’t admit just anyone. If you want to get in, you need to die valiantly, and Thora missed her chance due to an unspecified but inglorious death. Now she’s wandering through Viking purgatory to gather runes to summon the giant Jotun, who are huge elementals with more than enough power to finish Thora’s afterlife for good. It’s hard to enter Valhalla when you’ve been squished to protoplasmic goo between a frost giant’s toes.
The latest demo showcases Jotun’s first boss fight, with Thora facing off against an enormous blue ice giant. Both Thora and the giant put everything they’ve got into each attack, with a windup time that requires a more tactical approach than button-mashing can deliver. Surviving an attack means not just knowing its opening animation but also how long you’ve got to get out of the way and where the giant will end up at the end of it so you can take advantage of its recovery time to get in a few good whacks of your own. I didn’t survive my attempt at giant slaying (although I think I could have done it with a second try), and that’s with the AI turned down for the show floor.
A big part of selling the action of Thora and the giant’s movements was down to the animation, which is fully hand-drawn. Every character has multiple actions and you could see with a quick glance how much care has been put into the animations making the movements read properly. There are a few shortcuts taken, such as the giant’s loincloth sway being handled by the computer, but every frame is worth taking a look at for the sketchy lines that modern animation generally avoids. It was also a lot of fun to see one of Thora’s attacks wasn’t fully done yet, so was filled in with pencil-test animation roughs.
While the big action-centric Jotun encounter was the only thing shown to us, the rest of the game will be made up of searching out the runestones that wake up the bosses. These will be found in the afterlife wasteland, with each hidden behind an environmental puzzle of some kind. It’s a bit early yet to be showing them off, but the boss fights are meant to be the balance to the more exploration-based rune searches. Viking purgatory is a lonely, desolate place, though, so the giants are the only enemies in the game, making Jotun feel like some kind of richly hand-animated Shadow of the Colossus. Thora’s journey to her final reward is going to be a quest made up of quiet moments punctuated by epic, brutal encounters, but with a bit of luck and a lot of valiant combat she just might earn her way into the eternal party of Valhalla.