To say that Diablo is an influential title is an understatement. Blizzard’s dungeon crawler came into the world and left a mark that, decades later, still inspires many similar titles while still remaining the standard for the genre. No game will ever reach the heights Diablo did, and that’s okay, but it’s still nice to see new titles take on that style with its own twist. That’s Vikings – Wolves of Midgard, the latest title developed by Games Farm published by Kalypso Media who’s mostly known for their strategy-based titles. Now, they’re dipping their toes in different waters, opting for more action-oriented combat with a deep levelling system that feels right with those two names. While it could probably use a little more refinement, Vikings – Wolves of Midgard mixes titles like Diablo and Gauntlet to create a genuinely unique experience that feels familiar, though a little unpolished.
Players are dropped into a world of Norse mythology. After rescuing the village, the protagonist is named chieftain tasked with rebuilding the town. At least that’s what I think the story is. It’s not actually explained in detail. Instead, the player just kind of jump into missions that are vaguely connected with little to no motivation. One minute, they’re tasked to venture outside the city walls to destroy ice giants that can threaten the settlement, and then the next mission tasks users with taking over a neighbouring allied village because someone suggested it. There seems to be an overarching story of an incoming danger, reminiscent to Fable III, except no one is actually aware of this future threat. It’s kind of a muddled mess, but in a way, it makes sense. Viking culture was one of intense brutality and dominance, so one could argue; it would be disingenuous to deprive players of an authentic experience of randomly showing up on a nearby shore to take what isn’t yours. Still, I’d wager most aren’t looking to jump into this title of Viking warfare for a deep, sensible story to begin with.
It’s probably best to turn the brain off when jumping into Vikings – Wolves of Midgard anyway. While there is a rather deep levelling system where different gods grant different upgrades to different weapons, much of the game is mindless fun. Everything is made to be “badass to the extreme” with intense gore, and a jacked up protagonist carrying Norse weapons fighting wolves and goblins who collects blood to level up instead of EXP. To an extent, it’s almost a little too much to the point where it felt like a comedy, which is not the tone the game is actually aiming for. Still, it walks that line of cheese rather gracefully, never venturing too far into funny territory even when it unintentionally slips. The game even goes into slow motion as you take out enemies every once in a while to show how cool and intense you are.
Combat is optimized for a controller experience with a mix of melee, ranged, and magic across multiple classes. Players can opt for the dual wielder, staff wielder, the traditional sword and shield warrior, hammer enthusiast, heavy sword user, Axe Specialist, and the archer. Each class gets a plethora of specials that are spread across the case buttons and triggers, while the thumbstick is used to dodge. Although the game is melee centric, the archer takes a more ranged approach that allows the game to be exploited pretty easily. The AI in Vikings – Wolves of Midgard is predictable, as most enemies in this type of game are, but the ability to attack from a distance makes it easy to take out enemies from afar with little hardship. A lot of times, I felt like I was taking advantage of the system by switching to archery, but even then, that class can get overwhelmed easily as it struggles with close range.
The game’s difficulty doesn’t necessarily lie in enemies progressively getting stronger, rather more enemies appear on screen. Don’t take that the wrong way, further in the game, soldiers and goblins get harder to take down, but once they’re introduced, players shouldn’t have a problem really taking them out. Since the game does take place across many frozen landscapes, the cold does have an effect on combat, and even turns some of Vikings – Wolves of Midgard’s battles into a risk/reward situation. If players are in the cold too long, they will freeze. Once they freeze their health will drop rapidly unless they find a fire. This means that, at times, players will have to ditch a battle, or avoid conflict all together in the search of warmth. It’s not something that is seen consistently throughout the game, but it’s a nice addition that makes Vikings – Wolves of Midgard unique. Adding to that style, there is an option for online co-op mode, which can make for a good time as well, allowing players to really use their classes properly and strategically.
Brutality is really what Games Farm wanted to convey, and aesthetically, that carries over, but it never really pops. While the game does take a more fixed angled camera style, the environments can look pretty boring despite being remarkably varied. Across the different planes players will traverse, there is a sea of browns, unless they cross the winter vistas in which case there is a lot of white. Enemies are interesting, but it’s hard to really appreciate them given the camera’s position. I couldn’t even find a way to see some kind of artwork in game for some of the main bosses I fought, who appeared to at least look interesting from a distance. Though, when given the opportunity to zoom in during a slow motion sequence, there isn’t a lot of detail in the models. It’s a minor gripe though, for what it is, the game looks fine, and the cut-scenes are told through ancient texts which add to the game’s mystic Norse vibe it’s going for, so that way, it succeeds.
It’s hard to jump into a genre that’s defined by one game. Though many titles have come and created great experiences, Diablo is the king, and long it shall rule. Somehow though, Games Farm and Kalypso managed to carve out a title that is its own. It’s unfortunate that the messy story and somewhat exploitable controls take away from what essentially is high octane, macho bloodfest, but that doesn’t make Vikings – Wolves of Midgard unenjoyable. In fact, I’d argue that even its flaws add to its charm. There’s something beautifully chaotic about every facet of this game, and in that way it’s a success. I’d really like to see a more polished sequel, because for a first step in a completely different direction for both publisher and developer, Vikings – Wolves of Midgard is pretty enjoyable.