Viking: Battle for Asgard Review
Game: Viking: Battle for Asgard
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Reviewed on: Windows PC
Viking: Battle for Asgard, released originally for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 back in 2008, was met with mixed reviews. Some people loved it and others couldn’t see what the appeal was. The one thing that almost everyone was agreed on was their surprise at the fact that the game never saw a release on the PC, which was even more surprising given that the developers, The Creative Assembly, are better known for their PC strategy games; namely the Total War series. It’s taken four years but that oversight has finally been rectified and Skarin’s personal war has been released on PC via Steam. Is it still the same game that everyone remembers, even with a new graphical lick of paint, or will it finally take its place in the halls of Valhalla.
STORY: The story in Viking: Battle for Asgard follows Skarin, a Viking that has been saved from the brink of death by Freya, one of the gods of Norse mythology. The act seems like one of salvation at first, as if Freya has done it out of the kindness of her heart alone, but it’s not long before the player realises that Freya wants Skarin to save Midgard from the forces of the Underworld; led by Hel. Skarin is to accomplish this heroic feat by saving his kinsman, retaking areas of the landscape and leading massive assaults on strongholds held by Hel’s armies.
The story serves its purpose in the sense that it directs the player from area to area, as well as giving them a reason to be doing it, but it’s nothing particularly special. The use of Brian Blessed as the voice of Odin, as well as the narrator for most of the game, will keep people more interested than they would have normally been, but at the end of the day the story does just revolve around a giant, unspeaking Viking, stabbing, slashing and decapitating the vast majority of the things he comes across.
GRAPHICS: The only thing that’s been added or upgraded from the original release over four years ago is the visuals. Making full use of modern systems, with anti-aliasing, scalable resolutions and other graphical effects, Viking: Battle for Asgard looks as good as it’s ever done before. That being said, the models themselves haven’t been upgraded or redone in any way. If you were expecting the characters that you come across to be animated or look any better than they did the first time around then you’re going to be a little disappointed. The only thing that’s been changed is that the lighting engine looks much better than it ever has done. It shouldn’t be downplayed how much of a difference this makes to the overall look of the title though. While the sea itself looks a little bit unrealistic, the lighting on top of it, where the waves break and crash against the land, move it all towards a more realistic look. The parts of the visual presentation of Viking: Battle for Asgard that players will find starts becoming a little bit repetitive soon after they’ve started playing are the slow-motion kills that occur when the little ‘X’ symbol appears above the enemies. Pressing ‘X’ at this point will cause Skarin to instantly kill the enemy, and a slow-motion camera will accompany the takedown most of the time. These look good the first couple of times you see them but they soon get a little old, especially when there are a lot of enemies on screen. You’ll find yourself just wanting to get on with the game instead of having the gameplay slowed down all the time.
SOUND: The audio design of Viking: Battle for Asgard is one of the more underwhelming aspects of the entire package. While you’re walking around the game’s world, completing quests, rescuing the other Vikings and just generally playing the game, there’ll be no musical accompaniment. Sure, there’ll be the sounds of your weapons clashing with the enemy, the sound of your steel cutting through their flesh as well as the sounds of all your Viking comrades in and around the settlements that you’re liberating. It’s the fact that there’s sound in all the other areas of the game, as well as in the epic battles at the end of each stage, that makes the lack of sound so obvious when you’re playing all of the aspects of the game. Even a looping soundtrack, one that probably would have gotten a little bit annoying towards the end of the game, would have made the world feel a little bit more cinematic by the mere fact that it was there at all. Having nothing makes everything feel empty.
GAMEPLAY: In each zone that you’re placed in, there’ll be a single stronghold to take control of. When you take control of Hel’s settlement in that particular zone, you’ll move on to the next area of the game and do the same thing again. When you first start in an area you’re not going to be strong enough to take on Hel’s armies. In fact, doing so will be a quick way to end up in multiple smaller pieces as the Legions rip Skarin limb from limb. The correct way to take on each of the strongholds is to free all of your Viking brethren that are being held captive. Freeing your men will increase your army and enable you to succeed in that final fight against your enemies. As well as freeing your Viking kinsman, you’re also tasked with collecting various other objects that will help towards your war effort, you may be tasked with securing a forge for creating weapons, a quarry for creating various other aspects of war, among other things. The gameplay itself is extremely linear and a lot of people may take that as bad thing, but at least you’re always going to know what you need to do in order to advance further towards the goal of your cause.
The weakest part of Viking: Battle for Asgard is when you’re asked to traverse the environment in a platforming fashion. The camera has a tendency of doing the opposite of what you want it to do and this, coupled with the fact that the controls can be a little bit too sensitive at times, means that if you’re asking to do any kind of platforming within the game, you’ll find yourself on the floor more than you’ll find yourself on the tiny platforms that you’re supposed to be walking across. Thankfully these areas of the game are few and far between but when they do come up you’ll wish they hadn’t.
The most enjoyable part of the game – apart from chopping an enemy into small pieces during the normal combat – is the epic battles that you’ll get the opportunity to take part in if you manage to accomplish all of the prerequisites. The items that you’ll have to finish before you get to take part in the battles are simple enough, and they’re usually things that you’ll be doing anyway, things such as freeing Vikings, recapturing certain aspects of the map and summoning dragons. Once you’ve ticked all of the boxes you’ll be able to activate the battle, which collects together your entire army, along with any of the weaponry you’ve collected and you’re given the task of taking back the stronghold from the legions of Hel. Taking back the settlement is as easy as killing specific enemies scattered throughout the area, usually Shaman who have the ability of pulling more enemies into the fold. Once all of the targets are eliminated, you’ve won the battle. These epic battles really do feel as epic as they sound, the frame-rate drops a little bit during them but it’s never enough that it affects gameplay.
LONGEVITY: While the game itself will last most players between 12 and 16 hours, depending on how much you explore the game’s world when you’re not doing the more linear quests, there’s no reason to stay in the world once the credits have finished rolling. There’s nothing to spend your time collecting except the various bags of loot, urns and treasure chests which contains gold coins with which to buy things with. However, once you’ve purchased all of the upgrades (which doesn’t take too long) there’s no reason to collect any more money so you’ll quickly stop doing so. If you’re absolutely in love with the combat, you may want to start playing the game again, but for most people, the game go back on the shelf and stay there for a good long while.
VERDICT: Anybody who’s listened to an episode of Ding! or the Godcast will know that Viking: Battle for Asgard is one of my guilty pleasures. I couldn’t say what it is about the game that keeps me coming back for more and more but the fact remains that I do really enjoy playing this game. The story is lacklustre, the sound design is non-existent in some areas of the game and the frame-rate during the epic battle scenes, even on a relatively top-end system, leaves a lot to be desired, but the combat is hugely enjoyable, and I could listen to Brian Blessed read the phone book and I’d sit there happy. Viking: Battle for Asgard is an enjoyable game, and it’s a good thing that it’s finally made an appearance on the PC, but it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s been out so long on the home consoles though, you might be able to get it for cheap.