End of the world prophecies are nothing new. Many cultures have had different beliefs about some cataclysmic event bringing about the end and perhaps a rebirth of the world. In Norse mythology, this event is known as Ragnarok, and the legends state that when the coldest winter occurs the Jotan will return to take their vengeance against the gods of Asgard in a battle that will likely bring the end to all life on Midgard. As the frost giants gather their armies to bring destruction across the land, they end up at the village of the Ulfung, the Wolves of Midgard. The giant armies destroy their village, which as one can imagine is not taken kindly by these viking warriors. A lone warrior from this village sets out to battle the Jotan, trolls, hordes of terrifying undead monstrosities and the beasts of Ragnarok. For vikings battle is a glorious event and Vikings – Wolves of Midgard puts the player in the role of a one man army in a bloody battle for the fate of Midgard.
Vikings is what many would call a Diablo clone, or in layman’s terms an isometric action RPG where the player hacks numerous enemies to death while collecting loot and growing more powerful. Vikings approaches this tried and true format in a slightly different way. Instead of experience points, blood is collected by slaying your enemies in battle which is then sacrificed to an altar to gain a level. Leveling up gives some stat increases and skill points, which are then spent in different weapon skill trees designated to different weapon types and ruled over by different gods. For example, mischievous Loki favors dual wielding, so players that enjoy having a weapon in each hand will find the skills for that style under Loki, whereas those with Odin on their side will have dominion over staff combat.
Since this is a game about vikings and not vampires, blood is not the only souvenir collected from the battlefield. Wood, animal hides and other crafting resources are scavenged and used to increase the size of the sacrificial altar and to upgrade equipment. Upgrading equipment is just as important to the overall power of the viking, which can be done in the village by visiting the smithy and armorer. Additionally, there are fragments of mythical arms scattered across the world to create extremely powerful equipment and to satisfy a player’s lust for loot.
Vikings plays exactly how someone would expect a Diablo-inspired action RPG to play. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre by any stretch of the imagination, but does a fantastic job of successfully implementing what makes this formula fun while adding enough unique elements so it doesn’t feel like just another rehash of the dozens of games in this style out there. Vikings, for whatever reason, have not had a ton of starring roles in games. The Lost Vikings, Viking: Battle for Asgard and For Honor are the only other games that immediately come to mind (feel free to prove me wrong comments section), so battling through a Norse mythology inspired fantasy world doesn’t have the same been there, done that feel that can be found with other settings. The player will travel to the Nordic realms of Midgard, Utgard, Niflheim and Dvergheim, which the landscapes of each area is as varied as the probable mispronunciations of each of their names.
Some of these environments are so harsh that only those made of the hardiest viking stock will be able to survive. The Fimbulwinter is a cold winter that will punish even the stoutest of Nordic warriors. A separate meter will fill under the life bar when the player is exposed to these frigid conditions, and if it completely fills up, then the viking popsicle will freeze to death just like poor Valfar, though hypothermia can be prevented by seeking warmth from fires that are scattered throughout the frozen mountains. Other environmental effects include blazing heat and poison, proving that Scandinavia wants to show Australia that there is more than one continent that is hell bent on killing you.
For those familiar with this type of game, Vikings is naturally designed around the endless stimulus loop of looting, leveling and killing. To reiterate, this title does not do anything that new and groundbreaking; it just puts its own spin on something that works and does it well. The gameplay mechanics are smooth and intuitive, and with each button on the controller eventually assigned to a specific action, it’s a breeze to dish out the assorted special attacks and using rolls to dodge the giant clubs those pesky frost giants use to try to crush your viking. Or to heal yourself in a near death moment because Vikings aren’t known for their acrobatic skills and those giant clubs can really hurt. What vikings are known for is berserker rage, so it is only appropriate that there is a rage bar that fills with kills that grants the viking warrior a temporary period of increased power. Environmental destruction is another tool for dispatching of your enemies, knocking someone off a mountain cliff never gets old and there is something satisfying about breaking down an archer tower and watching them die as they fall to the ground amidst the splintering lumber.
Vikings has enough content to keep most players satisfied until the impending end of the world. The campaign will take approximately twenty hours but this time frame can be augmented by going on different hunts or taking on the challenges of the gods to make your character even more powerful. Each of the six gods has ten challenges, so just trying to appease all of them will take a good portion of time. It’s only possible to master two weapon sets on each playthrough, but thanks to the magic of New Game+, players who wish to create the ultimate viking warrior are able to do so. There are four difficulty levels, including a Valhalla mode option which is basically the viking term for hardcore mode, meaning that once that character dies they are permanently in Valhalla and a new character needs to be created.
Vikings is enjoyable as a lone wolf, but since wolves are pack animals, it’s even more fun with a friend. Local co-op is sadly not supported, which seems to be the way things are headed these days, but thankfully online co-op provides a means of incorporating social interaction into the game. (*Note: At the time of this review, local co-op was not supported. An update that launched on 6/22/17 added local co-op*) To differentiate the onscreen appearance of the two players there’s some customization in character appearance. The player can select whether they want to be a male viking or female shield maiden (both are equally ruthless in battle) and can select from pre-made hairstyles and body tattoos.
The graphics and soundtrack are both top notch. The environments are breathtaking and the design and detail to the monsters that are to be slain are a beauty to behold, continuing to be pleasing to the eyes when gallons of blood spill from their wounds and their limbs fly across the screen. For some reason, I don’t have any records that were recorded during the viking era, but the soundtrack the developers put together sounds like what I think viking music should sound like. They could have just gone with putting together an Enslaved mixtape for the soundtrack, but as cool as that would have been, what they came up with was probably the better choice.
Vikings – Wolves of Midgard takes the formula made popular by the game named after the Spanish word for devil and makes it its own. I wouldn’t go as a far to say this is a Diablo killer, but this is one of the more impressive titles that follows that game’s template. The looting, crafting and killing formula is one that has been done many times over and it is no less addictive in this title. This interpretation of Ragnarok and Norse mythology creates an interesting campaign setting that’s not often used in games, and the visual and sound design make this an engrossing title once the player gets past the tutorials. For fans of action RPGs, Vikings – Wolves of Midgard is a must play.