I have always had an affinity for dungeon crawlers, I used to stay up into the late hours playing Diablo on my grandma’s computer and ever since then I was hooked. Upon hearing about Vikings – Wolves of Midgard, a dungeon crawler featuring Vikings I found my interest was high. Not to mention just a little bit of pride, being from Minnesota and all. Some of my favorite games of all time include the Diablo franchise, Torchlight II, Champions of Norrath, so it’s safe to say, that for me at least, Vikings has some really tough competition to compare it to. Is Vikings – Wolves of Midgard destined for Valhalla or will it fall to the strength of the Ice Giants?
The story in Vikings – Wolves of Midgard is fairly simple, your home is under attack, it is up to the hero to save it. In the aftermath of this attack the player is elevated to chief and now the fate of the clan is in their hands. The clan also faces threats from ice giants, trolls, other clans, and foreign invaders; the story pits the player against all these threats with just a little bit of drama added in. The game knows you aren’t playing it for an epic story, you’re playing it to take on tons of enemies whilst getting stronger and looting better gear. This is evident when the main character’s primary motivation for some of the quests is “I like to kills things, let’s do this!” and “It’s been too long since I’ve killed something, okay I’ll do it”.
Throughout the story, players collect materials which are used to upgrade the shops and is included in the overall narrative as well. Every so often decisions are presented that will impact the rest of the game. Choosing whether or not to integrate an enemy clan or destroy them, keeping an artifact or giving it up, are just a couple of examples. Usually these types of decisions are in more narrative heavy games like Baldur’s Gate, or Torment. It is a welcome addition and is just one of the few things yet to cover that sets Vikings apart from other dungeon crawlers.
The core game play of Vikings is what one would expect of a dungeon crawler experience. Basic attack, special attack, collect gear, defeat enemies for experience, level up, etc. To start, there is a limited character creator letting one choose their gender and pick a small selection of hairstyles and tattoos. Instead of a class, players choose one of the Norse gods, which determines the starting weapon and ability tree. There are, however, a few standout gameplay features that are present.
Like the console versions of Diablo 3, there is a dodge function. Vikings – Wolves of Midgard is clearly designed with a dodge in mind, more than just a tool for getting out of crowds or avoiding specific attacks. Almost every enemy has something that can be dodged. This dodge can also be used to gain position on an enemy to deal critical hits.
Leveling up provides two types of upgrades. The first are points to spend on abilities. These can either be active, which are added to the character’s move set, or passive, which boost active ability effects, movement speed, damage, attack speed, etc. The second type of upgrade is a 1% increase to maximum health, damage, attack speed, environmental resistance, or armor. It doesn’t seem like much but after awhile I began to really appreciate my investment in attack speed.
Progress in Vikings – Wolves of Midgard is quest and objective based, each quest takes place on an area that is selected and then loaded. The areas aren’t connected together in any way like they are in Diablo, where travel between areas of certain chapters are all connected. Once complete the player is automatically transported back to the clan village. The use and design of the various areas is well done. Each area is visited multiple times, and more than once I didn’t realize I was in an area I had already been through until I had gone through more than half of it. Areas also have bonus optional objectives, like destroying specific things or defeating specific enemies, that if fulfilled provide bonus materials.
Certain areas have an environmental danger that the player will have to be aware of as they traverse the areas. There are specific ways to stave off the effects, but if too much time is spent exposed to the cold, poison, or other effects, be prepared to take lots of damage fast. Exposure is tracked on a bar near the health and attack prompts and is staved off by things like being near fire or getting out of poison gas clouds. Combat is pretty constant throughout every level; I rarely went too long before fighting another group of enemies.
Attacking enemies fills a rage bar that when full can be used to trigger rage mode. The viking appropriate rage mode increases damage and gives a cool slo-mo kill cam when an enemy is slain. When enemies die they leave behind blood which is collected as experience and provide a small heal, so defeating large groups or difficult enemies can result in a good amount of health gained back. Also available are a limited number of heals which is determined by an item that is equipped, forcing the choice between fewer bigger heals or more plentiful smaller ones. Once used, they can only be recovered by visiting healing altars located throughout each area.
The best part of dungeon crawlers is finding new loot. It’s immensely satisfying to find a rare and powerful item and equip it. Often coming with bonus effects, a name of some sort, and even unique look, these items add to the experience of a game and really show all the variations a game can present. The loot in Vikings – Wolves of Midgard leaves a bit to be desired. It doesn’t come very often and when it does it is rarely better than what I already have and even more rarely, interesting. There are magic and unique items that have bonus attributes, but only legendary items have names. I’m not certain if bows in general don’t drop often or if across the board the loot algorithm changes depending on what deity was selected during character creation. All I know is I almost never found bows and only a couple of times was it better than what I was able to have crafted at the blacksmith. This is disappointing and holds Vikings back from being the great time I think it could be.
The art direction in Vikings steers away from the bright colors and high saturation of Diablo 3 (and even more so in Torchlight) and goes with darker and more earthy tones, similar to Diablo 2 and Path of Exile. With some slight stylization to help separate elements on screen, this game looks good! The viking culture has a lot to draw inspiration on, from the pantheon, various creatures from the lore, the Scandinavian landscapes, and other worlds from Norse mythology. Some of the enemy designs even brought to mind the God of War series. This is all present and looks great.
The overall art direction is evident in the amazing production art that is shown during loading screens. All the assets come together really well and feel like part of the same universe, even when exploring other worlds. There’s a good attention to detail too. Walking through snow leaves a trail and it changes a bit if you perform special moves. Walking into the main hall of the longhouse will show even show the player trophies of some of their exploits. Heads of the more monstrous enemies, weapons of foes, and armor pieces start to populate the walls as you progress through the game.
The game does have some glitches though, the most prominent one being frequent frame rate drops. I saw them almost every time I completed an object or an event was starting. Reminded me of a vehicle with a bad transmission shifting gears too hard. Stuttering and stopping, struggling to catch up to what is happening. Vikings also sometimes struggles with elevation and how it impacts gameplay, I suspect this may only be an issue with long range attacks, but it was frustrating when I should have been able to hit an enemy and couldn’t because I was on a hill and for some reason couldn’t fire down on my foes.
There were two other glitches that happened, each one once, but both had the potential of breaking the game. The first was while trying to complete one of the map’s bonus objectives. I found myself returning to the beginning of the map. I found what I was looking for and walked towards it and triggered the map start again, all my counters towards those bonus objectives reset to zero.
The other was during a boss fight. The fight took place on a series of steps leading up to a building. The boss entered a space on the stairs and simply disappeared. Since I hadn’t technically defeated the boss, the next event wouldn’t trigger, leaving me stuck. What I ended up doing was entering that same space and using a move to force the boss out of that space, resuming the fight. Though none of these ended up breaking the game completely it did leave me rather irked.
The audio in Vikings – Wolves of Midgard is a pretty mixed bag. Some of the sound effects for when enemies get hit sound a little odd, are too pronounced, and get pretty repetitive. Yet, those effects for hitting enemies is satisfying. There is also some good ambiance noise as well. There are wind, water, rain, and other environmental sound effects that help build this Nordic world. The voice acting has some good moments, but is often somewhat flat. It actually seems to work with the tone of the game, being just snarky enough to pull it off. The major saving grace on the audio side of things though is the fantastic soundtrack. It’s suitably epic and intense, really pulling a person into the action.
If you are a fan of dungeon crawlers, you will likely find yourself having a good time with Vikings – Wolves of Midgard. Despite it’s lack of satisfying loot, the game brings forth some really great visuals and some interesting ideas to the dungeon crawler formula.
Vikings – Wolves of Midgard has all the elements present to be a really great dungeon crawler experience, but each of those elements needs a little bit of polish to make it great.