It’s been 25 years since Valhalla graced the fuzzy pixels of the ZX Spectrum, and since then for me the pursuit of Norse mythology has been an encompassing pursuit. So it was with great delight when Sega announced Viking: Battle for Asgard – an action adventure steeped in folklore and rich with character. Despite the title suggesting the action takes place in the realm of Asgard, home of the Norse Gods, the player will find themselves in the mortal world of Midgard into where fighting amongst the deities has spilled over. With Hel, the Norse Goddess of Death, banished from Asgard it’s down to the player, as Skarin, to prevent her from creating an apocalypic battle which would destory the World, lead by Freya, Goddess of War.
If this all sounds like a bad history lesson, don’t worry: despite the elaborate settings and weighty back story once you’re in control of Skarin none of this will be required knowledge. The game is essentially a massive sandbox split over three large islands, which are all open for exploration from the start. Unlike titles like GTA though, you’re not meant to take on such a momentous task alone and indeed building armies is one of the game’s key features. Whilst your main goals revolve around conquering each of the islands, accomplished by capturing castles, you’re free to explore and discover at will, completing missions and quests as you progress.
Be prepared to invest some time with Viking, because whilst the first hour is unarguably dull it’s certainly the weakest section and the game escalates progressively from there on in. Once you’re in control of an army and knee-deep in Hel’s minions you’ll never look back, and whilst combat can come off as a little repetitive it’s hugely enjoyable and you’ll unlock extra abilities as you move through the game. It’s a shame that some of the smaller tasks such as clearing camps and enemy distilleries get in the way of the fighting because the climactic seiges and battles are not only impressive in terms of scale but convincing and deliciously violent to boot.
Visually The Creative Assembly have pulled off an impressive world, with lush forests, mountain ranges and sandy beaches making up the majority of the three distinct islands. Viking is chock full of cool graphical effects such as a brighter sun in areas free of the enemy and the frame rate holds true through the bloodiest of battles. It’s also a consistent looking game, with great character modelling, decent animation and few environmental low points and barren areas to spoil the immersion, and best of all there are no load times once you’re in the game. Think a blend of Oblivion and Just Cause and mix in the aforementioned Norse mythology and you’ll be somewhere near.
So, with decent hand to hand combat, quiet stealthy sneaking sections and some epic battles surely Viking: Battle for Asgard is worth every penny? Well, it’s sadly not all perfect – there’s a little too much walking around for our liking, despite the teleportation stones built around the landscape, the missions can be quite samey and the slightly muted audio doesn’t quite carry as much weight as the graphics, but these niggles are easily outweighed by things like the rich characters (every single combatant has their own AI), well scripted storyline and some of the cooler tricks like the massive dragons. It’s a game that’s far better than most of the tat on the shelves just now, and certainly deserving of your attention and we reckon that a sequel could be stunning.