Name: Viking: Battle for Asgard
Genre: Hack-and-Slash Adventure
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
In the weeks leading up to its launch, I heard absolutely nothing about Viking: Battle for Asgard. In fact, despite what some others have said, I think that the game appeared from nowhere, dropped on store shelves by SEGA employees in the night. Since nothing of interest came out last week, I decided to give it a try without any idea what the game was about. My general assumption was that it would be similar to Beowulf: the Game, an assumption no one should ever have going into anything they may like.
Viking: Battle for Asgard’s “plot” follows the Skarin; a stereotypical silent warrior resurrected to battle Hel’s forces by the goddess Freya. Looking for any more story will find you squinting at nothing, and Viking is a great example of video games needing professional writers to put together a plot, because this game suffers from a cliché story and unmemorable characters.
Gameplay consists of traveling around a world map freeing Vikings from imprisonment and completing different quests to meet a set of conditions. These conditions vary from land to land, and usually involve killing a certain enemy or liberating a certain amount of camps. Once the qualifications are met, Skarin can lead a large assault on an enemy base, with hundreds of Vikings fighting hundreds of enemies on screen. This is obviously the focus of the game, and these battles are intense and beautiful. Later in the title, the option to enlist the aid of dragons becomes available, further adding to the chaos of massive battles. While some of the quests can become tiresome and repetitive, the large scale combat sequences are always impressive enough to justify the effort that paves the way to them.
The voice acting, though scarce, is adequate, but the game’s lack of anything resembling a soundtrack is criminal. Early in the game I even went into the options to make sure that the “Music” option wasn’t disabled by some weird glitch, but it turns out the game is just abnormally quiet. I suppose the sound team spent all of their time squishing different kinds of fruit to get sound effects for blood splatters, and didn’t have time to record any music. There are instances where the sound effects completely drop out during some cinematics, and, due to the overall shoddiness of the game’s sound, it is hard to figure out if it is a bug or not.
There is plenty to like in Viking, but there is also plenty missing. The large game map is surprisingly full of life, with enemies or friendly camps filling the expansive overworld. However, its size can often be daunting and it will occasionally take an annoying amount of time to get from one place to another. Including a speed burst or, more likely, a horse, would have broken up some of the monotony of walking from town to town. Also, while fighting enemies is entertaining, the lack of any kind of experience system is regrettable. The game allows for several upgrades to be purchased at different points in the game that easily could have been assigned to a leveling system instead. Aside from achievements and building up the rage meter, Viking doesn’t give many rewards for killing enemies if it isn’t part of the current quest. Even having them drop some gold or the occasional health potion would do wonders to the game, and it is hard to figure out why the developers decided against it. The lack of multiplayer support and nearly brain-dead enemy A.I. also count against it, but it feels like nitpicking to get too annoyed by those issues.
The game doesn’t bring the genre anywhere new in terms of graphics, but they aren’t by any means bad. Character models are all covered in a few coats of next-generation shiny paint and blood will splash on Skarin’s face. Viking doesn’t have the world’s smoothest framerate, but it holds up for the most part even with hundreds of enemies on screen and when it does drop down it is only a temporary annoyance. Draw distances are also impressive, allowing for players to view enemies hundreds of feet away. Certain aspects of the game bleed polish. Characters are not glued to the ground as they are in many other third-person adventure titles, and bashing enemies off of cliffs does exactly what it should: sends them plummeting to their death. Skarin will automatically climb many ledges and hop over short obstacles, and the game’s hit detection is phenomenal.
Ah, the violence. Let me first preface this by saying that I am by no means offended or upset by violence in videogames. While reviewing Dark Sector, a game which features decapitation as a casual pleasantry, I actually commented on how the blood and gore were implemented almost tastefully. This is not the case with Viking: Battle for Asgard; this is not the case at all. General swipes with the sword will remove arms or hands from enemies (a testament to the game’s fantastic hit detection) and finishing moves, which come in several different assortments, remove everything else imaginable. These animations are hilariously over-the-top and give you extra rage or health. It is during these fatalities that I felt exactly the opposite as I did with Dark Sector, and thought of how unnecessary some of the blood and gore in the title was. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with decapitating an enemy or cutting off their arms, but usually I wouldn’t imagine them to happen in that order.
I am genuinely confused as to why I hadn’t heard of Viking: Battle for Asgard before it hit store shelves. While it isn’t perfect and the title is far from as impressive as Oblivion, the gameplay is tight enough to justify a rental. With some advertising behind it I could easily have seen Viking selling extremely well until a bigger game hit, and with some more time in the oven and a fall release, I could see the game being a contender in the holiday season. However, due to whatever circumstances preceded its launch, Viking fell between the cracks. I still suggest playing the title, and while I am not sure if everyone will enjoy it as much as I did I believe the battle is worth fighting.