Developed by The Creative Assembly (Total War series) and released by Sega in March 2008, Viking: Battle for Asgard feels different than most other games in the “hack & slash” genre. Rather than forcing you through missions linearly, the game presents you with several objectives that must be completed before being able to launch an assault on the next big settlement. These objectives are usually along the lines of killing all enemies at point X, or freeing captured Vikings at point Y. The story can most accurately be described as “silly,” and never rises above the level of “so… there is this war, and ‘Goddess A’ chooses you as her champion because she’d prefer it if ‘Goddess B’ did not win it.” Throughout the campaign the main character Skarin regularly has visions, but when these are finally clarified the game is nearly at it’s end. Seeing as the story has been rather irrelevant up until that point, you probably couldn’t care less when “the revelation” occurs. Overall, The Creative Assembly has used the ancient Norse mythology for nothing more than an excuse to combine strong, hairy men in a game with dragons, some goddesses and a severe lack of plot.
Most people probably think of Vikings as heroic warriors who do nothing more than drink blood and spill mead all day. Though this is historically far from the truth, this image lends itself perfectly for a game in the hack & slash genre. It should therefore come as no surprise that Viking: Battle for Asgard is filled to the brim with brutal executions, dismemberment and enough mindless victims to fill a medium-sized city. Players can attack with either swift attacks that can be chained but deal little damage individually, or use their heavy attacks to break shields or dismember opponents in a single blow. Once damaged sufficiently or after having lost a limb, most enemies will be stunned and stumble about until they bleed out or are finished off by one of Skarin’s executions. These executions are extremely satisfying, and will often send enemies flying off in multiple pieces, in multiple directions. Hitting opponents with regular attacks will grant Skarin points (one per hit landed and a maximum of five points may be stored) which can be used to perform special fast or strong attacks. Unfortunately, the special “strong” attacks are generally much more useful against the hordes of enemies coming your way, with the special “fast” attacks only shining in very specific encounters.
The game spans three different islands, which comes down to a total of 5 major battles. To initiate these major battles, Skarin must often liberate a local farm to provide food for the troops and unlock health potions as well as enough facilities to construct siege weapons. Additionally, Skarin must free captured Vikings, all of which have been conveniently placed together in large prisons and allowed to keep all their armour and weapons during captivity. As soon as all objectives are completed, a major assault on a town or city may be launched. It is here that Viking: Battle for Asgard truly becomes epic. The game manages to conjure hundreds of Vikings and at least an equal amount of “Legion” soldiers on-screen at the same time, with only sporadic slowdown in performance. Surprisingly, unlike many other hack & slash games where you are accompanied by allies, the Vikings in Viking: Battle for Asgard actually make an effort to kill enemies, making them a force you can easily rely on to defeat a large part of the enemy forces while you focus your attention elsewhere.
The large battles in the game are played out in a way that seems to lend itself extremely well for massive online multiplayer battles. Both teams have Shamans that spawn an endless amount of troops. Slaying a shaman will obviously cease the constant stream of cannon fodder spawning at his former location, but also allows one of your shamans to move closer to the battle. When all enemy shamans on a battlefield have fallen, the enemy retreats further into the city where more shamans must be defeated. Eventually, the player must climb to the central portal located in the town and summon a shaman of his own there to convert the portal and lock out all enemy forces. These battles can last anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour, and are most enjoyable to play. Unfortunately, even though these battles would seem a perfect setting for online slaughter, there is no multiplayer option in the game.
The game has controls that are easy enough to pick up, but as enemies will come at you in increasingly large number, players will be required to master the dodge / counterattack ability as soon as possible. Eventually, the dodge / counterattack move will become the most important move in the game and all other combos will be used only when engaging smaller groups of enemies, or to defeat shielded opponents. The game also features a rather well-implemented stealth mechanic. Because all enemy-controlled regions are under constant cover of darkness and rain (liberated regions are always set in day-time with clear weather), Skarin can enter a stealth-mode by avoiding line-of-sight with most enemies and by sticking to shadows and obstacles. Using stealth is almost never an obligation, but since it allows Skarin to kill most enemies in a single, silent blow, sneaking about is highly appealing. Whenever Skarin is not in combat with enemies, the game considers him to be stealthed which does not slow down movement speed. Sneaking is therefore simple and requires little active input from the player. A few missions in the game require Skarin to infiltrate enemy strongholds to find and extract an item. These rely heavily on the stealth mechanic and although they are rather challenging they are not frustratingly hard.
Overall, Viking: Battle for Asgard is one of the most enjoyable games in the hack & slash genre on the market today. Unfortunately, this entire genre is plagued by repetitiveness and lack of replayability. In this regard, Viking: Battle for Asgard is no exception. There is little incentive to replay the campaign after beating it, and with the surprising lack of multiplayer despite it’s obvious potential, there is little else to do. The game has minor glitches with terrain navigation and the game is often unclear on where you need to go, especially when it expects you to climb along ledges or climb vines attached to a building. The AI is bearable and usually pretty solid, but enemies regularly have somewhat humorous path finding issues that leads them to fall down a flight of stairs or off a cliff. Despite the lack of story, this is definitely not a bad game but it is not something you will return to very often when you have finished it. Therefore, Viking: Battle for Asgard is probably one of the best rental titles available and I highly recommend it to anybody who can imagine him or herself enjoying a few afternoons of mindless slaughter.
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Published by: Sega
Developed by: The Creative Assembly
ESRB Rating: M for Mature, 17+
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date: March 25th, 2009
Genre: Hack & Slash