Xbox 360 Review

Viking: Battle for Asgard

Richard swings the axe

My name is Rich and I am a gore fiend. I'd go as far as to say I have a gore addiction, probably an unhealthy one, probably an unnatural and sick compulsion. Ever since the first zombie-solider from Doom exploded in front of my eyes from a direct rocket launcher hit and his pink guts and red blood rained into a neatly uniform gore sprite on the floor -and the sickening splattering sound which accompanies it! I can't get enough of the stuff. From Diablo impaled humanoids and Quake gibs, to Solider of Fortune dismemberment, Ninja Gaiden decapitations, and Resident Evil 4 exploding zombie heads; I absolutely love gore.

Frankly if a game has good gore, I'm embarrassed to say, it's like tossing an apple to the teacher or a donut to the police. I'm getting teary-eyed just thinking about it. Upon hearing that I'd be reviewing Nordic hack and slash game Viking: Battle for Asgard; you can imagine I was looking forward to it. Even more so when I saw that the game was BBFC rated 18 for the sole reason of its "bloody violence." The box made promises of a no-nonsense free-roaming action-adventure that allows detailed dismemberment of your foes. Viking: Battle for Asgard

The so-called "dismemberment of foes" is a set of automated uninterruptible fatality animations, which occur when an enemy is almost dead and a big X appears above their head and ... you ... press ... the ... X ... button. To be honest limbs do go flying and blood does come pouring out, but its all so incredibly boring after literally ten minutes. It's hard to really say why they're not more satisfying than that, but they simply aren't. Maybe it's the complete automation of it or maybe it's the lack of variety; but give me a Soldier of Fortune II gore fix any day of the week.

Skarin - the Viking protagonist - reminds me a little of a World of Warcraft character by the chunky way in which he clambers over the grassy hills. The majority of gameplay takes place running through various landscapes and battering your way through orc-like, troll-like or other mythical-based creatures. Combat is basic and tedious, but the collision detection is tight. You do have the ability to block, which makes you impervious to most normal monster attacks, even from behind. But most of the time you find yourself unstrategically button mashing through yet another crowd of unvaried monsters guarding randomly scattered bags of gold; bags of gold which, by the way, pretty much play the role of XP in this game.

The Creative Assembly's decision to omit the standard system of XP and levelling up from their hack and slash is questionable, I would assume they were trying to simplify things but it really just takes away one of the few motivating features of this genre. They opted for a system whereby you buy magic attacks and new moves using gold. Gold that, by the way, does not drop from the monsters you kill. So just to reiterate - this is a hack and slash game where you get no basic reward for killing monsters; no XP, and no monster loot.

Now, maybe it's just me, but when I'm grinding through the zillions of minions contained within any self-respecting hack and slash I tend not to be deriving much enjoyment from the actual (dull, repetitive) action... call me crazy. But it is the thought of the rewards that urge me on: the magic item drops (which Viking does not have, in fact there are no item drops at all) and the XP obtained/the level-up benefits (which Viking does not have). Viking: Battle for Asgard

Occasionally, an NPC character with a giant flashing exclamation mark that transforms into a giant "B" for "B Button" will show up here or there to offer you a quest which consistently involves going to some hill or other and killing everything in sight, or going to some ruins or other and killing a mini-boss.

The mini-bosses and bosses, by the way, are somewhat more functional than the common hordes. To some extent they do require a little more decision making and skilful gaming on the player's part, but they're far from the complexity of the bosses offered by Team Ninja (for example). We're talking things like dodging the bosses big swirly axe move, and then running in button bashing, and then running away while he does his swirly axe move again.

As you may have gathered this is very much a "pick up and play" game. Almost every action in the game is performed very simply and most of the time you're reminded by giant suspended flashing letters as to which button you should be pressing when you're not hacking through goblin-things. This even goes so far as offering a flashing and glowing "press A to skip" in the bottom right corner of the cut-scenes; it's almost as if your "A" button is begging to be pressed; "skip the cut-scene! Please! Press me! Skip it! Go on!" There are some people this game should appeal to based purely on that premise, but for most real gamers it can only be a turn off.

Skarin has been blessed with immortality; this is basically an excuse for constant auto-saves and re-spawns at nearby magic stone things that conveniently also act as warp-points between one-another. What this means is that there's almost no punishment for death, other than the re-setting of any set pieces you were currently engaged in, and when you do die you can then quick-travel to pretty much any location you've already been to. The magical amulet hanging from Skarin's neck also, conveniently, scans the nearby landscape for him. In other words, there's an in-game mini-map and a rather lame explanation for why it exists. Viking: Battle for Asgard

The game is split into regions. Within each region Skarin goes about liberating various captured/tied-up allies and recruiting them into his army. No one in this army actually shows their face in a fight until the final section of each region that consists of a so-called "epic" battle, followed by a boss-fight. The epic battles are not epic in the Total War sense of the word, but they do make a refreshing change from the standard lonely trudge.

They consist of around 100 NPC characters on your side charging through large amounts of spawning enemy monsters on the other. The battles get more and more impressive as you progress through the game, which is one of the few reasons you might want to play the game through to completion. Generally you're storming a fort or a castle and sometimes there's some nice fire effects and moody scenery.

I found the AI to be a little poor at this point in the game; I was consistently able to plough through hordes of computer enemies without taking a scratch because their programming seemed to be preoccupied with path-finding and targeting my allies which they were out of reach from.

At one point I was obnoxiously told by Freya, she's the goddess who has blessed you with immortality (I'm not dwelling on the storyline), I must "fight alongside my allies" if I am to win, and then the battle re-set to the start of the set piece. This was particularly annoying because I had only moved about 10 paces from the bulk of my army, and there was no prior warning this would occur. Viking: Battle for Asgard

If this was five or six years ago I could have a bit of a gush about the graphics, but frankly these are exactly the kind of visuals we should expect from next-gen games these days and Viking really does nothing special with them that stands out. The scenery is kind of pretty, and Skarin looks cool(ish).

The game also has some climbing puzzles, dragon summoning, some extra damage magic-based attacks, and Skarin can jump and stuff. As you can tell by the lack of detail, none of this is the saviour of Viking's gameplay.

There are two types of people who will enjoy this game. People who like very accessible and simple to pick-up games, and people under the age of 18. The least said about this the better, of course. If any hack and slash addicts are so desperate that they go out and buy this game, they will find they're trying to scratch a maddening itch with a feather duster. Most of the marks for this one are for its shear accessibility. Anyone should be able to play this game through to completion without having to go near the manual. It also has some half-decent graphics, a very stable engine, and the big battles are kind of fun; but other than that Viking: Battle for Asgard comes up lacking.

E3 Trailer