OG Hackers

"Vikings" serves up new twists on old-school isometric button-mashing slaughter
Saturday, September 30, 2017 - 6:45pm
"...everything is upgradeable, level-uppable, skill-tree improvable, etc., making for surprisingly varied tactical and even strategic approaches hidden deep within the delicious, old-skool button-mashing slaughter."

 My name is Aurullox. I am a 7 foot tall, 280 pound, dual-ax-weilding behemoth. Clad in chain mail frosted blue from the cold, my enemies cower when they see my Goldilocks-style pigtails lumber out of the snow towards them, facial tattoos glowing red from my rage. Yes, you read right: pigtails: gigantic, pectoral-length, blonde little girl pigtails... attached to my very own, fearsome, humorless, Viking-warrior demigod Fabio-physique. Obviously, I am the first metrosexual Viking.

Welcome to the world of "Vikings: Wolves of Midgard" (currently on Steam Store sale, -65%, $13.99). Developed by Games Farm and published by Kalypso Media Digital, "Vikings" takes the old isometric dungeon-crawler formula of games like "Diablo," the story-driven and RPG elements of "Torchlight," and throws them into the crazy mashup-blender with a huge helping of Norse mythology, then takes the unrefined product and tunes it, adding subtle tweaks and twists to the gameplay and combat that alter the all-too-familiar-formula into something that's just new and shiny enough to be addictive and compelling - a whole much greater than the sum of its (highly repetitive) parts.

This all begins with character creation. You can be either a Viking guy or a Viking gal (er, "warrior" or "shieldmaiden") and select from one of several initial weapons specializations, each keyed to the favor of a certain Viking deity. Loki, for instance, is the God of duel-wielding, while Odin is God of the staff, etc. Other initial weapon specialties include Archery, the Greatsword (2 handed), or you can get all Thor about it and wield a gigantic fucking hammer... the bottom line is that each God's weapon preference confers the wielder of those types of weapons with special passive "Gifts" that buff the player.

Thus begins the many micro-divergences in "Viking's" design that separate it from other games of its ilk. While seeming to be your normal 1-button masher at first, the actual combat in the game is made of many smaller elements that must constantly be managed, kept track of, used, and exploited at the appropriate moments, lending the action a faint RTS kind of feel.

For example, you need to keep track of your exposure to the elements, as too much time wandering the tundra and snowdrifts between visits to campfires will totally fucking kill you. You need to remember to use your stamina meter to dodge massive incoming attacks with a well-timed roll. Boosting your blood-collection (essential for leveling up your character's base attributes) by strategically weakening groups of opponents with basic attacks, priming them for a devastating special attack that earns high combo scores and multi-kills is also important, as is the careful monitoring and management of your rage meter - the use of which can be the crucial factor in boss-encounters.

Speaking of bosses, the enemies in "Vikings" range from the inconsequentially small to screen-filling giants. The camera accommodates these creatures dynamically and generally with great competence. Actual boss encounters are strategic affairs, in which (just as in normal combat) you must balance the risk of leaving yourself open to critical, health-crushing hits with everything else you're already thinking about. Thus, a game seemingly centered around a single attack button becomes much deeper than is initially obvious.

Furthermore, this depth of play extends through the inventory, crafting, and equipment menus: new equipment requires a skilled craftsman, and the resources necessary to make the new item. These have direct and profound effects on the myriad of character statistics. This concept extends from armor and weapons through to the special attacks available to the character. In short: everything is upgradeable, level-uppable, skill-tree improvable, etc., making for surprisingly varied tactical and even strategic approaches hidden deep within the delicious, old-skool button-mashing slaughter.

All of the gameplay elements are enhanced by first-class graphics, environments, and visual effects: in this area, "Vikings" earns a solid "B."

In conclusion, the game also offers a multiplayer mode which I've not yet had time to explore, but - like much of "Vikings: Wolves of Midgard," opens and offers exciting reasons to keep playing and exploring this sneaky-old-school hack-and-slasher. Stay tuned to the podcast for a full review in future weeks.  

-Seth "Fingers" Flynn Barkan is the author of "Blue Wizard Is About To Die," and is the host of the Best Linux Games Podcast, a weekly audio podcast covering only the best games available for the GNU/Linux Operating System. Which will own you, SUCKAH! (he can be contacted via twitter @Vegaswriter or by sending a message directly through Steam to "skookiesprite")