Viking: Battle for Asgard is a one trick pony; its only trick being the ability to immerse players in real time epic battles that span vast fields involving thousands of participants. It would have been a novel concept to begin with, but developer Creative Assembly already pulled off this kind of feat on previous generation hardware with Spartan: Total Warrior, in which the protagonist took on hordes of Roman soldiers on the battlefield. You’d be justified in thinking that the move to new hardware would benefit this sort of a mechanic, but sadly the game’s wafer-thin budget and lack of soul or substance make it a mediocre hack-and-slash title at best.
In Viking: Battle for Asgard, players step into the boots of one ticked-off warrior called Skarin who fights alongside Freya, daughter of Odin and Goddess of War, to overcome the evil engulfing the land of Midgard courtesy of Hel, daughter of Loki (God of Mischief). To do so he must rid three of the game areas off undead Viking soldiers using an army of fearless (living) Vikings that must first be rescued from various Legion camps spread all over the area.
While the concept sounds pretty interesting, its execution is anything but. For starters, nearly every camp looks the same, populated with the exact same character models for both the undead as well as the living Viking soldiers. The actual act of rescuing soldiers plays out exactly the same way too. Sneak into a camp, kill a couple of guards using stealth, break open the cages harboring the captured soldiers, and use them to finish off the rest of Hel’s minions, thereby banishing evil from that particular area. From time to time you’ll also indulge in some boss fights that play out the same way every time; slash away at them for a while until context sensitive actions pop up, after which you kill them in violent ways. Hurray for monotony!
Once you amass a large army you can take out camps that cannot be infiltrated individually. Such skirmishes elevate the game momentarily, as watching hundreds of your troops converge upon an unsuspecting camp only to slaughter its inhuman inhabitants mercilessly can please the sadist within for a while. Once you’ve liberated all the suppressed parts in an area, you move in for the final battle that seems like it’s stepped out from a Lord of the Rings flick, one that was made with a shoestring budget. Sure, you can summon dragons to help you out and all, but as expected each of these battles play out the same way and if monotony wasn’t bad enough, frame rates during such battles reduce to a slide show.
After experiencing Ninja Gaiden II’s deep and satisfying combat, Viking not only feels archaic but painfully shallow as well. You have one button for quick attacks, while the other one dishes out heavy attacks and, well, that’s about it. Forget about pulling off insane combos a la God of War or DMC, because that’s not a possibility in this game. On the plus side, combat is extra gory, so limbs, heads, and entire torsos are lopped off constantly... sometimes in slow motion. While slicing an enemy in half and watching his innards fly all over the place in slow motion is fun for the first ten times or so, you’ll get a bit bored of this move after you decapitate Hel’s thousandth minion the very same way.
Perhaps Viking’s biggest issue is its limited budget, which hampers nearly everything in the game. In-game cinematics are tacky and presented in the form of horribly done graphic novels, and characters while talking never feel the need to open their mouth. Also for some weird reason the game is devoid of any sort of background score, and the sound effects (that by the way are barely audible) seem as if they’ve been drummed up in someone’s basement. Voice acting is virtually non-existent and the game looks pretty bland and boring with the same architecture, outdoor surroundings, and player models being repeated continuously.
In case you haven’t got it by now, Viking isn’t very good. It had some cool ideas but none of them ever make it to the game itself. If the game had a bigger budget, a better combat system, maybe even a small RPG-ish upgrade system, a better story line, varied missions and improved production values, we could have been looking at the next God of War killer. But as it stands, Viking is nothing more than a mediocre hack-and-slash game that may just about amuse you for a couple of hours.
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