Winter is Mighty in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard Preview

Winter is Mighty in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard Preview

It feels like ever since Marvel’s Thor movie hit the silver screen way back in 2011, Norse mythology has become more popular with mainstream audiences. Up to that point, that lore worked well in the heavy metal scene, but it didn’t quite have the same elegance or popularity as the Greek gods. But now, Vikings are prominent on TV, specifically on History Channel, and in videogames, there are more and more titles using that Norse lore as the backbone of truly epic adventures. That is the premise behind Vikings: Wolves of Midgard, which takes the basic gameplay premise of Diablo and puts it, with minor alterations, in a Norse-inspired setting, making for an epic adventure filled with ice giants, cold winter, and high octane action.

Developed by Games Farm, known for their work in Air Conflicts: Vietnam and Air Conflicts: Secret Wars among other titles, this new property is slated for an early 2017 release for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. And even though Vikings: Wolves of Midgard isn’t what you’d expect from Games Farm or Kalypso Media (who are known for more point and click based games), this step into more action-based gameplay is exciting.

Winter is Mighty in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard (Preview) 6

In both my hands-off preview and hands-on demo, I was shown a large icy world. Vikings: Wolves of Midgard introduces players to the Norse concept of Fimbulwinter, or “mighty winter” that comes before the end of the world. Everything is dreary, icy, and dead.  Your character returns to his village to discover giants have overrun everything, leaving it up to you to save the town. Upon rescuing your fellow townsmen, you’re appointed chieftain, and part of your new responsibilities include rebuilding and upgrading your village.  This is your hub world that you constantly return to to upgrade your character by sacrificing enemy blood to the gods or to use your materials to craft better weapons.

Winter is Mighty in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard (Preview) 2

You don’t get either of those things unless you actually go out and complete missions, though, and I must say, they got my blood pumping. My playthrough required me to go out and slay an ice giant in a pretty intense battle. The game looks and plays similar to Diablo as a pseudo-dungeon crawler and action RPG with a fixed above camera, but it feels different. I played on the PS4, and in this version, the right stick is used to dodge rather than turn a camera or even rotate through moves. Each button is used for different power ups, so there is a heavier focus on action instead of potion spamming. The game encourages players to get up close to their enemies and dodge at the right time, giving the game a heavier focus on action than Diablo in that regard.  Obviously, when making a title in this genre, Diablo is the template, but that inspiration feels more loose in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard, as it has a completely different play style that takes a little getting used to if you play a lot of Blizzard’s RPGs.

Winter is Mighty in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard (Preview) 3At least, that’s one of the complaints I heard before I played Vikings: Wolves of Midgard. I can understand that the dodge mechanic, which is used heavily in combat, does require an adjustment period to shed your typical Diablo play style, but it feels so natural. Each dodge feels like you barely missed complete annihilation, and each sword slash or shield bump feels like you’re delivering a devastating Viking blow. On top of that, there is an added sense of danger with exposure to the cold. As you fight through winter levels (not all levels are winterscapes) an exposure bar fills. Once it reaches it’s maximum capacity, your character starts to lose health. You prevent this by finding fire spots throughout the level, but it means you have to be smart about your battles, and even pick your fights depending on how far away from fire you are. It adds a sense of urgency to everything you do.

Winter is Mighty in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard (Preview) 4

That feeling never left me while I played, and it’s one of the main reasons why I’m so excited for Vikings: Wolves of Midgard. While at first glance it’s easy to dismiss the game as another Diablo clone, it really isn’t. Instead of copying and pasting a tried and true method of gameplay that’s worked for two decades, it takes that framework and builds a completely unique experience on top of it. If all goes well, this could well end up a very fun game worth playing.

Reviving a Classic with Sudden Strike 4

Reviving a Classic with Sudden Strike 4

When Kalypso Media announced the return of the classic military RTS franchise Sudden Strike with a whole new entry, I was shocked. Considering the series went dormant for over half a decade, there was also a bit of scepticism mixed with my excitement. Sudden Strike is known as a trailblazer in the genre, so there is a lot to be concerned about with a new publisher and developer at the helm of the classic series. Yet, during my playthrough for Sudden Strike 4 at the Kalypso Media 10 Year Anniversary event, I found quite a bit to be excited about.

Reviving a Classic with Sudden Strike 4 7

It’s always nerve-wracking when a series that’s so beloved is back, but with completely new talent behind it.  Especially when the team involved is relatively unknown. Kite Games is a 23-person team, with most of their talent coming from the now closed Stormregion Studios, known for their work on Codename Panzers and Joint Task Force. The team was also renowned for their time with Crytek Studios as Crytek Budapest, where they helped in the development of Ryse: Son of Rome.

Fortunately, Kite Games has taken a lot of time to build an authentic sequel to the Sudden Strike series that can work as an access point both for fans of the franchise and for new players who just love history.  Available for Mac, PC, Linux and PS4, Sudden Strike 4 plays like an RTS through and through. Traditionally, this genre doesn’t translate well onto consoles; however I was told the PS4 version was optimized with a friendlier interface to try and change that mindset That being said, I played a PC build, so I can’t really speak to the validity of that assessment.

Reviving a Classic with Sudden Strike 4 6From a personal standpoint, however, I prefer a keyboard and mouse for this genre, so I had no problems sticking with the PC demo. Set during the Second World War, Sudden Strike 4 offers players 20 missions to choose from, all based on actual battles across three different campaigns (Russian, German, and Allied). Each campaign features historic commanders to choose for battle, and they come with different bonuses for your troops. For instance, one commander may be known for his revolutionary tank warfare tactics, so your tanks will be stronger under him, or one general could give your foot soldiers a bonus where they all carry grenades.  While some commanders are better suited for specific battles, they are not the difference between victory and defeat.

Reviving a Classic with Sudden Strike 4 5That is all up to the player, really.  The game’s focus is on completing the mission, not building units or bases, so it’s more action heavy than many RTSs, but at the same time, there is much more of a focus on playing smart, rather than going in guns blazing.  Each level is fairly open ended, so you can play to your strengths, but for more savvy players, there are alternate routes that can allow you to surround and flank groups of enemies, making attention to your surroundings vital.  Really, you should pay attention to everything, because events can happen so fast, and different troops have different vulnerabilities. For instance, certain tanks have weak points, and strong spots. Shooting the wrong spot could cause ballistics to bounce back at your team.  In such cases, your team must try to work around the tank to its weak side to take it out properly. That attention to the battlefield is required right from the beginning, and if you slip up, it’s hard to recover.  Not that it’s impossible, or that you can’t bounce back, it just gets a lot harder. At least, that’s how it felt in my playthrough.

Reviving a Classic with Sudden Strike 4 3Visually, the game drops the more 3D visual style of Sudden Strike 3 and goes with a more traditional RTS look with a fixed camera on an angle, so it’s not really top-down. Still, the game looks great, and has an element of classic RTS design that makes it feel familiar but new at the same time, which is the perfect way to reintroduce a series that’s been gone for so long that also has new talent at the helm.

Reviving a Classic with Sudden Strike 4My time with the pre-alpha build for Sudden Strike 4 was short, but it was long enough to get me excited. It’s challenging, keeps players thinking, and takes a different approach to the genre. It put my initial worry at ease. With a Spring 2017 release, there is a lot of time to polish up the flaws that come with a pre-release demo, so I’m certain this will be a solid entry and a welcome return to the RTS genre.

House of Cards Meets Civilization in Urban Empire Preview

House of Cards Meets Civilization in Urban Empire Preview

Urban Empire Preview 4
City builders are gigantic time vampires, but in a good way. It’s like every time I pop in SimCity or Sid Meier’s Civilization, that’s my entire day. While they are some of the most intricate games on the planet that require the player to think 15 steps ahead at any point during a playthrough, the idea that a city ruler has no one to answer to and is the sole ruler of a city-state always felt disingenuous. Of course my city turned out great, I didn’t have anyone opposing me. I’m not here to start a debate on whether municipal politics is interesting or not, but unless you’re playing the role of dictator, there are a lot of politics involved in the smallest details of everyday life when it comes to running a city. That’s why Kalypso Media’s Urban Empire is so interesting to me. It takes all the backdoor dealings and behind the scenes political alliances of typical government doings, and mixes them with a traditional city builder. At Kalypso Media’s 10 Year Anniversary Event in San Francisco, they showed a hands off preview for the title, and it’s a game changer.

Read moreHouse of Cards Meets Civilization in Urban Empire Preview