Can I just say how much I hated how popular Vikings were at one point? It is not necessarily because they cannot be cool, but because people tend to neglect their piracy and violence, and just go with the aspect of them being strong farmers. Vikings were a lot of things, but neglecting any part of it, is neglecting history. I might be harsh about this, but that is because we have organisations doing tribute to the Viking-history that are no better than Neo-Nazis. As a modern Scandinavian, I thought we were better than this. However, I cannot deny that I was excited when my sister got Viking: Battle for Asgard for her Xbox 360 and that Sega published it, had me further intrigued. I honestly had not even seen a Total War-game at that point, so that the developers were Creative Assembly, had no meaning to me. For the record, it still does not, but this is an interesting shift for the team. Is Viking: Battle for Asgard cashing in on the popularity of God of War, or is there more than meets the eye here?
Could you at least open a history-book?
For a reason that will be explained later on in the game, the goddesses Freya and Hel are at war with each other and it has expanded to have the battle take place on Midgard. Why it has gone so far to include the mortal realm is never known, or questioned (in-game that is). Alas, our Viking protagonist, Skarin, is caught in this war. While fighting against the army of darkness, Skarin falls, but all hope is not lost “for hope is stronger than any armour, (and) any weapon”. After being treated to more cliche dialogue that would make a J-RPG featuring the Care Bears blush, Freya comes forth and dubs Skarin the chosen champion who will lead an army of mortals against Hel’s evil forces and take her down.
Before I get to the main problems of this story, let us get the minor ones out of the way. The plot is as simple as it gets: Skarin must push back Hel’s evil forces on the three islands she has conquered, kill her in the name of Freya and save Midgard. However, CA tried to make this into an epic tale with tons of dialogue and quests that is never strengthened by the setting. Freya constantly monologues about each settlement you encounter, and while she tries to make them sound dangerous and fierce, they all play out the same. It makes her speeches feel forced, and with how much talk about “inner strength” there is, it could almost be taken for a Kingdom Hearts story.
Nothing escalates at all or contains interesting events. Skarin will have strange flashes of memories that do not amount to anything of interest, which already damages a character that has no personality or even a voice. He feels almost like a custom character due to lacking any form of personality, yet is an established protagonist with even his own backstory. None of the sidequests helps either, as they boil down to: go over there to either collect or kill stuff, as what you gather is never visually shown. Getting mead to strengthen the Vikings’ spirit, should be more exciting than a simple “thank you”.
In fact, we are touching upon the biggest problem of this story: it has terrible knowledge about Viking mythology and culture. From what I can tell, my friend Casper told me that CA is terrible at historical accuracy and it shows. First of all, there are tons of faults to the style and myths. Vikings did not have horns on their helmets, there were more fiends to fight than dark blue zombies, and we did not have traditional dragons. We had forms of wyverns/serpents at best, but even they are more similar to the Loch Ness monster of Scottish folklore or Chinese dragons. Freya is a strange person in this world, as she comes forth as sly, instead of loving for her people. It makes her change quite odd in this adaptation, and one that becomes a bore because of her one trait: wanting to take down Hel. I will give the developers this: they got Hel and her origin right.
Then we can also talk about the tone. Vikings glorified war, strength and tactics, with mead being a celebration drink that could contain powers of the gods. This is all thrown out for the idea of hope, how war is tragic, and that you drink mead to forget your problems. Understandable for a setting today, but this does not represent Viking culture at all. I also hate how towns can have names that means something completely different, how Mjolnir is a Dragon Gem, and that the dialogues are just rudimentary and never well written or presented. While I will not spoil it, the ending was completely unsatisfying and clearly unfinished.
There is something about being simple and true to the sources, in order to create an immersive experience. CA definitely has no idea on how to do so, and did not even glance over Wikipedia for some insights. Even if that would have been the only issue, the game is a living example of the opposite of show and do not tell, its world is bland with no interesting characters, and they only got minimal parts of the lore right. I probably would not have been so mad if Viking did not take itself so seriously, but it clearly does. For anyone who values style or story-telling, this is a prime-example of how not to do it. How you make a story about Vikings annoying and boring, is truly a remarkable lack of care. You do not even truly fight for Asgard, making even the title a lie!
Story Score: 1/10
For a studio known for their strategy-titles, it is quite neat how they wanted to create a Hack & Slash title, with an open world to explore. It adds a lot of possibilities for conducting a focused adventure, that still sports variety within its concept. Viking: Battle for Asgard definitely does this, but to a mixed results.
Let us start with the actual combat, as that is what you will do the most in the game. Skarin conducts an interesting combat-mechanic, where you have one button dedicated to simple combos, and another for hard-hitting attacks, charge and finishing-moves on staggered enemies. His moves are quite stiff and not versatile, but works due to the fact that the enemies are also heavy in movement. Except the single enemy-type that is nimble, but much weaker and easy to take down. Combat is very simple in this regard, and while you can block with your axe and sword, you can only dodge backwards. It is a strange way of limiting your characters movement, as it does not feel made for complimenting the designs of the enemies.
With any attack, Skarin leaps forward with his first hit, honing in on one enemy. This is a nice way to make sure you will hit them, but combat can be very shallow because of the limited moveset, and enemies not having an interesting setup. Some will use stronger weapons, others might have a shield, shoot arrows or hide in trees. Despite the fact that you can upgrade your moveset, I only bothered with the one to destroy shields, as others required strange button-combos and did not register well enough to inputs to be reliable.
Yes, you can upgrade Skarin by purchasing moves at an arena using gold, but none were essential for making fights easier except the one I mentioned. Because of this, fights got severely dull and it became more about the amount of enemies to take care of, rather than how. With how uneventful the enemies were designed, the game became drowsy in fights. Yes, you can punch back enemies or do a quick combo, but when it is never helpful, why even care?
Beneath your health-bar, you will have one bar for magic, and another for using special attacks. The last one is represented by up to 5 units, with special attacks taking a certain amount from it to be used, and can be refilled by simply attacking enemies. Killing enemies will leave behind green orbs to refill health, and red orbs for magic. You will also regain health outside of combat, which is a nice touch to keep you exploring. Magic is not too exciting though, as it is only used for enchanting your weapons with either fire, ice or electricity. Again, these must be purchased in order to learn or upgrade them. While they all were useful, I only found myself using ice as it could kill enemies in two hits. Oddly enough, you cannot cancel a spell, which means it will drain your magic-bar completely whenever one is cast.
Every upgrade, be it more moves, magic or the health bar, costs money, making it almost a substitute for XP. While you can use it to purchase maps for finding more gold easier or for items, I never found much use in either. Things like fire-bomb, throwing axes and health-potions are functional, but not necessary and when gold is used for permanent upgrades, the choice is easier. This all makes combat undercooked, as the movesets are limited, abilities can be useless, and enemies are rather bare. Even the story-driven upgrades add no clear strength to Skarin’s weapons, which begs the question why they were even implemented.