Vikings: Wolves of Midgard Hands-on Preview – Unleashing Hell
The Vikings are a surprisingly unexplored group of people when it comes to games. This is particularly noticeable when you consider the fact that they're popularly known for violence, as well as having a rich base of history and Norse mythology to draw from. It makes them ideal for a wide range of genres, something that's been shown well in the past with games like Viking: Battle for Asgard, War of Vikings and Age of Mythology. This under-representation is something that Vikings: Wolves of Midgard will hope to capitalize on.
Developed by Slovakian studio Games Farm (known for Air Conflicts) and published by Kalypso Media of Tropico fame, Vikings: Wolves of Midgard is slated for an early 2017 release on the PC, PS4 and Xbox One. It's also not the usual type of game you'd expect from either the developer or publisher. Straying from preferred genres always has the potential to go wrong. However, a fresh perspective can also lead to surprising results. A perfect example of this is Creative Assembly with Alien: Isolation.
This breaking of new ground by Game Farm is fairly noticeable due to a wide source of visible influences that have gone into Vikings. These games include Diablo, Dark Souls and even, to an extent, Final Fantasy. The most visible is Diablo III. At first glance Vikings just looks like a very white version of Diablo, but that's actually being very unfair to Vikings. It seems to have a depth that I thought Diablo III was seriously lacking.
Where Vikings has its limitations is in character creation. If I was being kind I'd say it has two classes, but in reality there's one: that being the Viking. If you choose a male character, you're a warrior. Female, you're a shieldmaiden. That's about it for limitations. There's a lot of depth included with a variety of weapons for you to use, each of these can be fitted with runes that work in a similar way to Final Fantasy VII's Materia system. Ranging from swords, axes, war hammers to bows, you'll have the chance to choose a style that you prefer.
Vikings also has a number of mechanics to contribute to the variety that the game will offer. The story behind the game is that the Fimbulwinter (a global freezing) has been unleashed by the Frost Giants, your home village has been attacked and burned and your quest will be to get revenge, but also to rebuild your village that further aids in the development and upgrading of your equipment as well as unlocking more aspects of the game. For example, a shipbuilders workshop can be built and upgraded to unlock more areas to explore and to let you go back to older areas.
Even though you will build as a smithy and armorer, where you really improve your weapons and armor levels and abilities is through combat itself. As you attack, and get attacked, your level with the equipped weapons and armor are upgraded as experience is gained. As weapons are developed, you learn abilities that are relevant to that weapon. Armor strength, increasing how much damage you can take, and more will develop as you fight through the game.
In reality Vikings: Wolves of Midgard would rather you not take hits. Of course you're bound to fight groups of smaller, weaker enemies, that barely make a dent on your life. The core aspect that I took away from my presentation and hands-on at Gamescom is that Vikings borrows a lot from Dark Souls in stamina management, dodging, leveling and healing aspects.
Spamming your abilities is impossible due to the drain it has on your stamina meter. At the same time, battles against huge creatures like a Jotun, requires use of the dodge which is tied directly to the right analogue stick. Should you take a hit, you have a limited number of heals, tied to an item called Eir's Boon which works exactly like the Estus Flask of Dark Souls. Experience is also gained through blood, rather than souls, and is used to level specific abilities trees. This results in a much more tactical combat and character building system than found in other ARPGs.
Where I'm not completely impressed by Vikings is in one minor, and one particularly core aspect. Both fears could be fairly unfounded and work perfectly in the final release. The first, and key, issue is in a visible lack of loot. Vikings features a large number of destructible objects, huge numbers of enemies and handcrafted worlds with paths that lead to hidden areas and caches of loot. The issue is that, possibly due to the crafting system they have in place, you rarely get more than gold and crafting materials. It's hard to break the expectation from this type of game that killing hordes of monsters will result in equally large hordes of treasure.
The other issue is in the world building itself. Games Farm have tried to add in environmental issues (linked with the story), and have them affect the game. The map I was able to play was an external area, covered in snow, but also had exposed bridges. Throughout this I had an exposure meter growing, only lowered when you went to a source of heat like a campfire.
The developers did indicate that other areas in the game will feature similar factors, such as heat exposure in deserts, poisoned areas and of course more ice areas. If used sparingly, or at least in an intelligent way, it could make for interesting puzzle options. However, the map I played had it throughout, which did mean getting in a large fight meant that I then had to backtrack to the nearest fire, heat up, and then go back to the path I was already on.
I should repeat the fact that I took one thing away from Vikings. More than any other aspect, this is possibly the most intriguing and satisfying combat system I've encountered in an ARPG for quite a number of years. In just 35 minutes, it's managed to grip me more than Diablo III ever did. It will feature New Game+ as well as an alternative game mode that focuses primarily on combat, something that will benefit the game greatly.
Vikings: Wolves of Midgard will be available in early 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.