Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 03/25/08 | Genre: Action
If Viking: Battle for Asgard is to be believed, Viking must have had very boring lives. Viking is a practice in patience. Flawed as it may be, there is still a great deal of fun to be had if you can stick it through to the end, though many may not.
Viking has you taking the role of Skarin, a run of the mill hero, in a run of the mill story. Freya (the good goddess) has brought Skarin back from the brink of death to lead her Viking in a war against Hel (the evil goddess) and her legion in an attempt to stop Ragnarök (the apocalypse of the viking world). The story and the characters are far from creative and you will most likely not care about either.
Technically Viking is an extremely impressive piece of software. The world is huge and detailed, but surprisingly requires no load times (you do load when the game starts, but that's it). What makes this game even more impressive is the attention to detail. As Skarin moves through the world he reacts realistically to the terrain. If he is climbing a hill he will lean forward and shift his weight to keep his balance, likewise running down a hill he shifts back, balancing as he descends. Skarin also automatically jumps over fences and onto ledges (similar to Assassin's Creed when you hold the correct button). Be warned though - at times Skarin will take a leap of faith over a fence that was supposed to guard you from falling off a cliff, thus allowing you the privilege of running back to where you were after a respawn.
You probably aren't playing it for its technical aspects or beautiful animation though; Viking is about the combat, the wars and the destruction. As a whole it succeeds wonderfully at its main draw. As you start, Skarin will have very few moves and no combos so combat will be hard. Unlike the Dynasty Warriors series you will be taking on three of four of Hel's Legion at a time, any more is pushing your luck.
There are three types of combat in Viking. First is the most common, Skarin vs. Legion. These are small, quick battles, normally four or five people total. After collecting enough money and visiting the arena Skarin will learn new combat arts and combos, thus making combat fast and brutal. In towns you can buy spells of three different elements; fire, ice and lightning. Each brings certain powers with them and change the way combat works in a big way. Once you build him up with a few combos and stronger moves the combat becomes a great deal of fun. Eventually these small fights grow in size and Skarin will be able to take on eight to ten Legion easily when he learns some new combat arts.
Skirmishes are larger versions of the previously mentioned battles. As you free Viking around the islands there will be times that you get into a small battle or ambush. This is normally thirty to forty men per side. Your virtual allies are really quite intelligent. On a few occasions you will free a group of Viking, their leader will explain that there is a patrol of Hel's Legion close, and they will move into position for an ambush. During these larger fights any spells you have purchased will come into play in a new way. If you activate your spell, all allies in close proximity gain the elemental ability, thus changing the tide of battle if the cards are stacked against you.
Finally, bigger than skirmishes, and much more epic in scale is all-out sieges on Hel's cities. The big battles are a lot of what Viking has built as it's big draw. They are fun, fairly long (up to thirty minutes), and very easy to understand. When you have upwards of a thousand Viking and Legion fighting it out you do get some slow down. It's unfortunate but not so much as to really take away from the big battles. I could go on here about what all happens in the battles, but sometimes surprises are best left alone. Just know they are amazing, and will make you love this game.
So great combat, great technical achievements, generic story; sounds like a fantastic game through and through, right? This is where the repetition of the game becomes pain. I loath games getting knocked for being repetitious. Life is repetition. You wake up, do your morning ritual, go to work or school, come home, play some games or watch T.V. Go to sleep and repeat. Games work the same way, finish this race, go to the next, kill this boss, go to the next, etc. Viking has accomplished what I thought not possible. It is so mind numbingly repetitious it will make you hate it by the third island. The game is set into three acts, or three islands. Skarin runs around the island collecting money, freeing viking camps and summoning dragons. This would be fine if the islands felt different as you progressed through the game, but they don't, it feels as though you were playing the same island three times with a new paint job. Summer island, fall island, winter island. I won't take off points for this, but consider yourself warned.
The final aspect of Viking that needs mention is the sound design... or lack thereof. If you are ever curious how much great sound design helps a game, play this one; it will show how much bad sound design can hurt a game. While I admire the fact that as you wander around and explore the island there is no epic music looping in the background, as it immerses you into the world unlike any other game I have played, a lot of the sound effects are missing altogether. When swords clash there is no sound, at times when Legion growl or yell, there is no sound and when you kick open a door, it's like the lottery; I'm sure someone heard it, it just wasn't me. This almost kills the game, but put on some good music in the background and you won't notice it.
Viking is a great game, with some great promise, but this feels like a trial run. Hopefully it will sell enough to garner a sequel, one I would be very anxious to pick up on day one. If you are a fan of 300 or Lord of the Rings this is a must buy. Viking accomplishes what it set out to do; great battles, a beautiful world, a long story, and just the right balance of difficulty - it just missed out on the finer points. A little polish and you have a new franchise that will surely grab a large part of the gaming population's interest.