Despite my rumblings about the hack n slash genre in the past, I do love the idea of destroying the multitudes with a battle axe. Going into SEGA’s Viking: Battle for Asgard I had high hopes, but low expectations. What ended up happening was me having more fun than I expected, despite some obvious and glaring problems with the game.
Viking is set in the world of Norse mythology, where the gods ruled and people got extremely jacked and ripped to go into battle. The player character, Skarin, is mortally wounded after a battle with the legions of Hel. That’s one “l,” not two. Freya steps in to help the muscle bound axe wielder, and with her healing powers gains his allegiance to her cause. That cause is to do battle with Hel, queen of the underworld. Skarin’s reward is to make the lands a little less dingy, because each time you save an area (whether it’s a camp or a full on fortress) the surrounding area is cleared of darkness. Just like the new Prince of Persia game announced, it is very Zelda-esque.
The game itself is a series of similar quests. You’ll find out there’s a camp of soldiers being held by Hel’s Legions, so you make your way over and either bludgeon them to death or stealthily creep around to free your brethren. The goal is to amass an army large enough to take on the big bad hordes of that region. You’ll have to gain control of a dragon and open the way, but those are pretty easy tasks to accomplish. Actually, the game is generally easy to get through.
Where Viking loses its way is in the most important portion of gameplay: the epic battles. You normally go into a battle with a couple Shamans keeping your enemies flowing, so you’ll first have to dispatch them. There’s no way to stategize your army, they just go about willy nilly. Cutting down enemies, and more importantly, clogging the screen with far too many polygons. The real reason Freya gives you the glowing amulet in the first cut scene is so you can have a small chance at finding Skarin amidst the throngs. No fear though, just button mash your way out of trouble. And don’t forget to hit that “X” button to remove arms and heads. That never stops being satisfying.
What makes Viking so much better than the mindless action of a Dynasty Warriors is the amount of strategy you have to put into rescuing some soldiers. The enemies have so many ways to kick your ass, that if you spend the first few hours playing as if this were a typical hack n slash title you might get frustrated. For instance, the horn blowers look like unimportant side additions. Hell, the first one I ran into did his thing and maybe 10 new enemies showed up. But you have to be careful, because alerting a horn blower can mean the entire area you’re in will swarm with the enemy. And no matter how many Odin inspired axe swipes you’ve trained to learn, your ass will be handed to you. Or you’ll find that some areas have just a few too many enemies for you to storm alone, so stealth is needed to free some soldiers so that they may help you take out Hel’s Legions.
Viking is just long enough to begin to bore you with the repetitive nature of the gameplay, but luckily ends before you begin ripping your hair out. The slowdown during the large battles isn’t gamebreaking, but it is noticeable. And I would have imagined a huge muscled Viking warrior running around the lands cutting down foes demands a rousing score. Asgard is barren of sound or music. Unless you like hearing a burly man run, there isn’t much in the way of sound design to enthrall you. Overall this is a surprisingly fun game to pick up for a day or two, perhaps a weekend rental over the summer when you’re in dire need of something entertaining to play.