Viking: Battle for Asgard Review

Viking's got good ideas, but you'll see most of them in the first third of the story.

Viking: Battle for Asgard has some really great things going for it, mostly on the mechanical side. The combat is just deep enough to keep you engaged, and the character upgrades you get feel meaningful. The problem is that everything is counterbalanced by a quest that quickly grows stale and repetitive after its first third. Even the final boss fight is just a minor twist on an encounter you'll have done at least five times before. It all averages out into a likable action game that could have been a lot more.

Cutting dudes is a major part of being a viking.
Cutting dudes is a major part of being a viking.
You play as a burly viking named Skarin, who has been brought back from the dead to be a goddesses' champion. In doing her bidding, you bump up against evil Legion forces controlled by the goddess known as Hel. The entire game is spent with you trying to push back Hel's forces and reclaim territory by freeing trapped humans. Once you've completed all of the tasks in a given area, it's time for your newly-massed forces to rage into battle against a Legion stronghold. These large-scale battles recall some of developer Creative Assembly's previous work with the Total War games, but make no mistake, there are no serious tactics or strategy to be found here. This is strictly action.

That means your main way of interacting with the world is by hacking it up with the sword and axe that Skarin always has at the ready or by hammering on a button to untie viking hostages, unlock doors, and open chests. The combat uses a light and strong attack button, and as you play and earn gold, you can spend it at an arena to learn a host of more devastating maneuvers. The combat never gets too tricky, but some of the moves you'll purchase make Skarin a much more survivable guy. It's less combo-oriented than something like God of War, but the handful of Quick Time Event sequences certainly make for some similarities.

You'll also upgrade your magic abilities, which come in the three flavors of ice, lightning, and fire. As you kill enemies, you collect red orbs that fuel your magic meter. Activating it drains the entire meter over time, giving you access to the elemental power of your choice. Here's a tip from me to you: choose ice. It freezes enemies when you slap them with your sword, making a second attack a death by shattering. It's the perfect ability for crowd-control, and the other two powers felt entirely useless to me, even with them upgraded all the way. Since money is easy to earn, you'll have plenty of opportunities to upgrade everything and purchase every move before the game's end, so don't worry about making upgrade mistakes.

So the bulk of the game is spent setting up for the large-scale invasion missions, and you'll do this by running around to free trapped vikings. Then you'll often have to perform a simple task for them before they'll realize that you're down for the cause and join forces with your army. Sometimes this means taking out a roaming enemy force. Usually it means running a very basic fetch quest. The repetitive action of freeing vikings from different camps by hacking up enemies is Viking's downfall. This might have been a bit easier to take if the game's terrain was more action-packed, but there's nothing to see or do when you're running between points of interest on your map. Enemies don't roam around randomly or anything, making the whole game feel like you're playing delivery man, whether you're delivering death to Legion troops or delivering honey to heal a camp's soldiers.

Visually, though, Viking's world is done nicely. There are plenty of instances of good lighting and quality shadows. And despite the fact that there isn't much to do in the world, the world itself does look good, and it's neat how areas transform from dark to light as you free them from Legion control. The lone graphical issue is that when you get into the larger battles, where armies clash around you, the frame rate can take a serious dive. The sound effects leave a lot to be desired, as well. I prefer my vikings to shout and shriek more than the mostly-silent Skarin does, and the death cries from your foes aren't so great, either.

Viking: Battle for Asgard has good graphics and some solid ideas at its core, but the lack of content and variety really holds it back. I immediately liked Viking, but as the repetition set in and made it clear that I was in for another six-to-eight hours of the same few activities, my initial impression gave way to disappointment.