Lost in the well documented blood feud between ninjas and pirates, the fearsome Vikings rarely get the face time they deserve. Refusing to sell out by dressing up in designer black pajamas or shamelessly yelling their catch phrase everywhere they go (Yarr!), these noble warriors from the north are often ignored by the mainstream media. But every once in a while a game comes along that brings these battle hardened Nordic wild men some attention, and Viking: Battle for Asgard is one of those games. Guess it kinda sucks for them then that it isn’t very good, huh?
Viking follows the story of a, well a Viking obviously, named Skarin, who must champion his people against the monstrous minions of the underworld who have stormed forth from the pits to subjugate the lands of Midgard. You see their boss, the Goddess Hel, is a little disgruntled about being kicked out of Asgard by Odin, so she’s taking it out on everyone and everything. Freya, the Goddess of War, isn’t about to take that lying down though, and guess who gets to do the heavy lifting? That’s right, it’s you, as per usual.
Not surprisingly, Viking is all about running around hacking bad guys into bite-sized morsels. Combat is easy to pick up, and enemies scale decently well throughout the game, from cannon fodder foot soldiers to shield totting lieutenants and eventually serial-blocking elites who require greater finesse to defeat. Occasional boss encounters with giants, shamans, and Hel’s buster sword wielding champions also make life in Midgard more exciting. Though the controls for combos are more awkward than one would like for a game that features fighting as pretty much its only activity, and the combos you learn aren’t terribly interesting, slicing and dicing your way through the forces of the underworld is certainly plenty visceral and bloody, even if it is more than just a little repetitive.
In pseudo-open-world fashion, you have some freedom in where you run around, liberating resources, freeing captured Viking clans, and locating dragon summoning runes as you go. Although you have some choice in what order you tackle the various quests you pretty much have to sweep and clear each sub-area before you’re able to trigger the epic attack that will open the way to new challenges. Once you’ve taken care of business in each ‘hood, you’ll be ready to let loose the army of warriors you’ve freed on one of Hel’s strongholds in Viking’s huge battle scenes.
The goal in these massive melees is to take out the monster summoning enemy shamans, which naturally means hacking your way through an angry horde of Hel’s lackeys. Though really impressive initially, with an appropriately large scale to the battles and the ability to call down dragon fire on your enemies, these epic showdowns are plagued with horrible frame-rate slowdown that really makes them drag. Even without the technical issues, the actual mechanics of the battles are pretty boring, called for little more than rushing the shamans, doing as much damage as you can before getting killed, respawning, and doing it again. Alternately you could slowly hack your way through, leading your slightly brain damaged cohorts forward, but there’s really no point. Coming from the guys who made the Total War games such a blast on the PC, that these big battles aren’t more fun is a major let down.
For a game that promised so much, Viking really doesn’t do much in the way of delivering. Being that it’s really just combat, combat, combat, it doesn’t do nearly enough to make all that fighting interesting. Enemies are adequate, as is your array of attacks, but there’s nothing to elevate the whole affair from half a step above a cure for insomnia. Yes, there are a lot of brutal animations with head lopping and limp chopping, but it’s just window dressing on a very average hack-and-slasher, and that doesn’t justify hours upon hours of repetitive button-mashing for most people. If the epic battles were better that at least would have been something to get excited about, but they too fall a little flat. There might be something here worth sampling if you’re really a melee fighting game fanatic, but those less dedicated to the genre are going to want to give this one a pass.