By and large, video games are exercises in overblown fantasy. Whether we are swallowing the essence of dragons, ruminating on the validity of artificial intelligence, or rummaging through a nuclear hellscape, video games exhibit an unbridled sense of creativity and freedom so much so that we often forget about the epicness of our own history. Logic Artists’ Expeditions: Viking, the follow-up to their well-regarded Expeditions: Conquistador, looks to remind us of that history.
To be fair, the bearded Norsemen have been emulated often in the digital medium, but it usually ends up as flimsy caricatures of who these people were. Skellige, Skyrim, and the various peoples in The Banner Saga portray groups clearly inspired by these historic Scandinavians, but end up being uniformly warlike, xenophobic, and superstitious. Expeditions: Viking does its best to present these people as a more diverse set of human beings in fun role playing scenario.
As Expeditions: Viking opens, the player goes through a fairly standard character creator. There aren’t exactly a wealth of options, as far as cosmetics go, but the horde of skill options make up for it. It sets the tone early; this is a game about numbers and actions. Looking at the scores of support skills, utility skills, combat talents, and so forth, makes this game’s roots in table top gaming clear, as well as the openness of the system. There are plenty of ways to build a character here, and plenty of ways to play Expedition: Vikings.
When the game begins, the player is thrust into the mantle of Theign, the leader of a clan after the demise of your wayward father. It seems he had big plans to sail for European coasts and find wealth there. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out in his favour, and clans and cousins have gathered to mourn his death. You talk with the attendants, no one seems to think this will be a smooth transition of power, least of all your drunken cousins who find it necessary to pick a fight and talk mad smack about your deceased daddy.
After throwing out some justice to the unruly partygoers, your mission becomes clear. You are beset on all sides by enemies, some who would come at you with swords and some with political machinations and favours. If you let them win, things won’t go well for you or your people, but you’re running out of warriors and allies. Your best bet is to take to the sea, as an invader or a trader, as your father did before, just with less dying.
The actual gameplay here is fun and pretty intuitive. As I said, there is clearly a lot of table top influence here, but it doesn’t overcomplicate things. All characters have standard actions, move actions, and free actions, but can move at any point on the player’s turn. The function of each skill is explained plainly and should be approachable to new and old players alike. There are a ton of different status ailments and buffs to apply, and there’s plenty of strategy to go around for the more hardcore among us. Furthermore, the choices you make, of which there are many, will affect the morale of your comrades and the safety of your homestead. Build your defenses and choose your words carefully, or you may not have a home to return to.
The only real complaints I have with the game is that it feels generic. I love the Viking narrative, but nothing mechanically really seems to reinforce that theme. This system could be used in any setting to the same effect. It breaks emersion and makes me care more about a character’s skill set than the character themselves. Furthermore, the game is fairly buggy, but it looks like the developers are already hard at work to correct these glitches.
Expedition: Viking isn’t going to make huge waves in the gaming landscape. It’s a fun RPG with light strategy and an interesting setting. If you want a new RPG that relies more on history than magic or future science then this is definitely worth a look.