Vikings: Wolves of Midgard Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Your village is burning and your warriors are dead. You sprint from the cover of the trees as you approach your village to see it ablaze, smoke pouring from buildings and the screams of your brothers and sisters being slaughtered. Then you see the massive jotun and savage trolls ripping apart your food stock and you advance into the chaos. It is at this point you may ask yourself “Does this have anything to do with the Vikings TV show?” The answer is no, it has absolutely nothing to do with the Vikings TV show.
Viking: Wolves of Midgard is a Diablo-style hack-and-slash game set in a mythical version of the Viking era. Hack-and-slash games generally involve you running around and hitting things until they fall over or until enemies give up. They also have a lot of micromanagement with you constantly collecting loot and equipment. You take on the role of a Viking chieftain rebuilding their village after an attack from various monsters found in Norse mythology. To do this you will single-handedly travel to locations to kill said monsters, loot treasures and collect resources. Along the way, in typical hack-and-slash fashion, you will level up and collect new equipment to improve your chances of survival. This is where the game gets interesting.
Instead of having a traditional leveling up system - collecting experience and leveling up on the spot - you must collect blood, the game's version of experience, and sacrifice it at an altar to gain new skills and stats. Vikings doesn’t have a typical class system either but instead bases its skill trees on the current weapon you are using. As an example, you can start the game as a bow user and put points into leveling up the related skill tree but at any point you can switch to using a giant sword and start putting points into the giant sword skill tree. This opens up the character customisation to a little experimentation as you are never forced to stick with your starting class. However, this doesn’t really benefit you as each weapon’s skills can only be applied to that weapon. While the freedom of the leveling up system can be applauded, its delivery is a little messy.
As mentioned previously, you are on a quest to rebuild your village. This is done not only by completing certain missions but also by putting resources into buildings. The altar, for example, needs to be improved to get access to better skills for your character. Other elements of the village can also be leveled up such as a smith or witch who sell you weapons and trinkets. While this is great to start with as it gives you a visual representation of your village’s growth, Vikings forgets to inform you that later in the game you will need these same resources to advance the story. The game then falls down that ever-present trap of grinding. You will have to replay old missions to grind out the resources needed to advance the story; while to some this may add more gameplay to me it felt like unwanted padding in an already average game.
You would expect a game based on a brutal clan of Vikings to have satisfying combat with gore and viscera all over the place. It doesn’t - all combat within Vikings lacks the punch needed to keep players interested. Massive mobs of enemies are non-existent - you’ll either be taking on a few at a time, or one big enemy. Skills and spells lack the spectacle that makes them feel impactful, unlike other hack-and-slash games. Combat is also clunky, with the character locking onto enemies or objects in the environment instead of allowing the player to attack in whatever direction they want. This is a particular problem with one boss as he summons a golden pig - it helps if you understand Norse mythology - to attack you while he is blocking. The idea is to get behind him while he is blocking and hit him in the back. However, because the game wants to focus your attacks on the pig, it makes it difficult to land hits on the boss and this just drags out the battle. It would be good to have the option to turn off the option of locking onto enemies, but the options menu seems to lack this.
Loot is always an important factor within any hack-and-slash game and it seems that Vikings forgot this golden rule. While the game does have loot it never feels like it makes a big impact. You are never excited to pick anything up and the majority of loot you do collect will go unnoticed and remain unchanged. This is because most of the best loot comes from the Smith and Armourer located in your village. As you level up your Smith and Armourer the stock they carry improves, and the majority of it is very good. I can see this as a catch-22 situation for the developer. They wanted to create a reason to upgrade these elements in the town but in doing so they have made other loot relatively useless. It also doesn’t help that early in the game the developers choose to give you legendary items for your accessory and trinket slots - the best version of a piece of equipment. In fact, if I wasn’t playing a bow user I would have used a legendary sword and shield and wouldn’t have needed to change my equipment at all.
It is also unfortunate that a few bugs seems to have snuck past the QA team. Often the game would refuse to acknowledge a hit on an enemy as they were too close, or I had just cast a spell. One bug had me quit out of the game because an invisible collision wouldn’t let me proceed. Upon returning to the game all my progress for that instance had been wiped and I had to start the already tedious mission all over again.
The problem with Vikings: Wolves of Midgard is that other games in its genre are out there and vastly superior. Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, Torchlight 2 and even something like Titan Quest, a game that uses Norse Mythology, all outshine what Vikings is trying to do. If the game didn’t take the route of a purely hack-and-slash game and instead focused on rebuilding the village in a far more interesting way, then maybe it would recommend Vikings. As it stands, this is one raiding party to best to avoid.