Fatshark and Paradox Interactive are back with another ‘War of’ game, this time pitting the Saxons against the mighty Norsemen. War of the Vikings retains much of what made the previous outing (War of the Roses) successful, but this time around has a far less pansy name. The online multiplayer brawler is currently in alpha, and is set for release early next year. That said, it is surprisingly polished for a game in such an early stage, so it does inspire confidence that the finished product will be up to scratch. This limited preview code contains 2 maps (a forest area and a village) and 1 game mode; a straight up team deathmatch.
Whether you choose the Saxon defenders or Viking invaders, there is little difference between the two in terms of gameplay. Both sides offer 3 classes, Thane, Huscarl and Scout. The Thane is the bog standard footsoldier, armed with shield and sword; the Huscarl is more of a ‘heavy’, foregoing defensive accessories for a large, powerful axe – and the Scout is a fast & light archer. Classes also have secondary and tertiary weapons, such as daggers and throwing axes, but they aren’t that useful and should only be used as a last resort. There isn’t much difference between the Huscarl and Thane, aside from shifting balance between speed and power, and the Scout seemed a little underpowered and vulnerable compared to the other two. But there is just enough of a difference if you find one class becoming stale and fancy a change.
The control scheme is something that definitely needs to be looked at. Left mouse button is your main attack, which can be charged for more damage at the cost of more stamina. The problem is that it’s not as simple as just clicking it. Instead, you must also move your mouse either up, left or right to dictate the direction of your swing. But mouse movement also controls the viewpoint so while you’re swinging wildly at an opponent, the camera is swinging just as wildly too. It’s disorienting, chaotic and a bit of a design flaw. Controlling the archers is a little counter-intuitive too, as it requires holding the right mouse button to aim and draw your shot but also needs you to click the left button to fire instead of simply releasing the button – it just doesn’t feel right.
There are other abilities such as sprinting and tackling, and the ability to heal oneself and revive others. But with up to 64 players in a match, it’s difficult to find a moments peace in the fray to do any of these. Special attacks are much more useful, dealing a hefty amount of damage if you connect, but leaving you very vulnerable if you miss. More abilities can be unlocked such as counter and dodge moves but in the the early levels with a limited skill-set, 1 on 1 battles quickly devolve into awkward circle-strafing with desperate, aimless slashing.
Things in the audio/visual department are competent but not exactly noteworthy. The game handles the larger battles quite well without any noticeable drop in frame-rate. Character animations are fluid and lifelike, and the two maps I played had some interesting layouts complete with choke-points and ambush opportunities.
War of the Vikings is still in an early stage, which is good as there is plenty room for improvement. It’s a little inconsistent, as it seems to have some aspects nailed like the user interface and environments, but it falters slightly when it comes to its core combat mechanics. I also fail to see the longevity in a game like this. The alpha didn’t seem to have that many unlockable abilities and unless XP is drip-fed then an ambitious player would have most of these unlocked in a matter of days. But with any game this young in development, it must be given the benefit of the doubt. For now, at least.