Viking: Battle for Asgard Review

Dan Webb

Pop quiz hotshot… The free world as you know it has been taken over by an evil goddess and her undead army, what do you do? I'll tell you what you do; you join up with the forces of good and smite everything in your path. This is exactly what you and our hero, Skarin, do in SEGA’s latest Viking adventure - Battle for Asgard. From the minds behind the classic Total War series, Creative Assembly makes its debut on your Xbox 360 with this free-roaming action packed hack-n-slash adventure with some RPG elements thrown in for good measure. Time to unlock your inner Norse.

It's a little hot in here love.

The story is essentially a classic battle of good versus evil. The evil goddess Hel who was once banished to the fiery underworld has now returned for revenge and wants to enslave mankind and destroy Asgard. You step into Skarin’s shoes (mankind’s last hope) and work your way across three huge islands defeating the armies of evil and liberating fellow Norse folk who have already been a victim of that evil bitch. The aim of the game is to build an army and take back Midgard, one area at a time, eventually restoring peace and sending Hel back where she belongs.

You’ll spend the majority of your time liberating villages and freeing captured soldiers, persuading them to join your army all for a noble cause. The rest of the time is spent doing errands in return for items and gathering dragon crystals to give you the upper hand in battles. This is fun at first but the lack of variety starts to grind a little as you progress further through the game. But it’s all worth it in the end.

As you complete your tasks you’ll eventually have the resources to take back the major cities and towns of that island… Using force of course! By opening up the map and pressing A on a location, you will initiate one of the single greatest experiences on the Xbox 360… War! I say war, but it’s more of a battle. As you look across the battlefield, left and right, there must be at least 500 enemies just eyeballing each other. As soon as you make the first move, that’s it; armageddon breaks out. Let’s get this straight first, you do not control your army, but you do most definitely shape the outcome of the battle. The objective is to take out the shaman who occupy heavily guarded points throughout the towns and cities. In order to get close you need your guys with you, so taking out the huge Legion key men is a must if your troop is to advance with you. In addition to using your mob and your sword, you can summon the might of the dragons that accompany you to deal devastating blows. Of course, you won’t have many of these to use, so use them sparingly and apply some tactics.

Throughout Viking's battles (and rather surprisingly) the frame rate is solid. You may notice the odd stutter and screen tear as you take down a shaman's shield but that seems to be whenever or wherever you take them on. Other than that, you can slash the hell out of those undead souls without fear of a frame rate crash ruining the experience. Once the shaman are dead you will have to restore peace to the town by summoning your own shaman and protecting her as she does her little dance. All in all, a fantastic gaming experience, one that is equally as exhilarating as it is intense and one you will want to repeat over and over again.

The game could be said to have a fairly steep learning curve, not the controls though as they are simple as hell to get hold of, but actually realizing what you need to do and where you need to go can become an arduous task even at the best of times, so you really must make use of your trusty map and for Pete’s sake… Pay attention to what’s being said. Drift off while you’re involved in conversation and it could spell trouble for you. Once you get used to the map and the way the game works, it’s a breeze working out your next objective.

Skarin is equipped with an axe in one hand and a long-sword in the other so he’s more than equipped to take on the evil forces of hell. The combat system on the whole is quite basic but that adds to the fun of the game; no complex combos involved even with the unlockable moves. Just a simple tap of the A button and you unleash a quick attack whilst a tap of the X button makes Skarin put a little more effort in to it with a slower yet more powerful attack, remembering to block (left trigger) and that is all you’ll need. As far as health goes, so long as Skarin has his weapons sheathed and is not in view of any adversaries it will regenerate itself. Sometimes, a dead enemy will leave a green orb behind that can give you a much needed short fix, but don’t count on these. Don’t even think about running away when you get low on health because Skarin is blessed with the speed of a sloth attempting to mate with a dead snail.

Viking: Battle for Asgard also has an RPG style element to is as previously mentioned; as you traverse Midgard, you can pick up gold and ale (which can be sold - no time for drinking) that is lying around which you can use it to upgrade your health or purchase some handy powerful combos that will assist you on your adventure. In addition to that, Skarin is equipped with a fancy ‘fatality’ move to use when his foe is near death. It is worth noting that the ‘fatality’ move is purely for show (and achievements) and a simple stab would usually suffice, but of course it’s nowhere near as satisfying. When attacking the Legion soldiers (and by pressing X when prompted) our hero can dish out a deadly combo that severs limbs, the head, or even chops the soldier in two. The game is a bloodbath most the time and these nasty moves can happily be blamed. If there is one problem with the combat, it’s when you are in enclosed spaces and the camera seems to become a right pain… Good job most of the battling is done out in the open then isn’t it!

This is why I hate blind dates!

In addition to the normal hacking and slashing of this action/adventure title Skarin has the ability to add magic to his attacks. The three normal elements are covered; fire, ice and lightning. I say three, because since when is water a good weapon? Magic adds a little spice to your attack and if you have allies around you, it will benefit them as well. The ice attack can prove invaluable if the odds are stacked against you. In order to build up enough magic to perform these moves you will have to pick up the red orbs that every enemy you’ve dispatched has left behind, so the more you get stuck in to the game and rack those kills up the more often you can use it.

Viking may look like the sort of game where you can plough in and take on hundreds of foes at once, but I can assure you it is not. There are times in the game where stealth and tactics will be of more benefit than brute strength, although when you do get in a punch up Skarin is more than able to take enemies on.

Be careful though, Skarin is not as clever as once thought. If your character nears a fence he’ll automatically try to jump over it - even if there is a 60ft drop the other side... The words, “hugely frustrating” are an understatement. We should mention that our man Skarin can take many an axe in the back of the head, but he is another controllable character in this day and age that can’t swim. What is it with our heroes these days? Look out for the x360a Hero’s Swimming School opening in a town near you!

The undead army come in an assortment of sizes and shapes and have different strengths and weaknesses. As you progress through the game the standard soldiers get better armour and shields, but instead of them having visible health bars as they get weaker you will see their shields shatter and even better, their limbs will be easily cut off signaling they are close to defeat. As well as the standard soldiers, across Midgard Skarin will be asked to deal with both Champions and Giants, beasts that are huge yet slow which is a blessing. Instead of the standard X button ‘fatality’ move, you will be required to do a series of different button presses and taps on these huge monsters to finally put the nail in their extremely bloody coffin! The foot stomp blood frenzy is a personal favourite of mine.

The world you start in is a different world you end up in. You start the game in a really muggy, dark and dreary place, but as you liberate the local villages the fog starts to lift and harmony is restored. The draw distance in the world is fairly impressive but for the most part the fog and mist will hamper your vision. The environment is fairly sparse in between the main places on the map leaving plenty of walking space, but thank God for the Leystones - a magical Norse teleportation system that allows you to move from one place to another in an instant. It’s a pretty good job considering the three islands are at least a kilometre squared! I know what you’re thinking, “Wow, an island that big, the load times must be killer!”. Well, in actual fact, they’re not. You only have to endure one load time per level and that’s right at the beginning.

The audio featured throughout Battle for Asgard is fantastic in all departments and is by far one of its strongest areas. As soon as you fire up the single player campaign and hear the deep, powerful tones of Brian Blessed, you know the game is going to be wonderfully narrated and he always delivers without fail. The accompanying music is a nice touch and adds a great sense of atmosphere to your adventure as do the characters you encounter along the way. At times though, the footsteps of Skarin can seem a little out of place and inaccurate but as soon as you hear the clinking of swords and crushing of skulls, that thought is a distant memory.

The game does look fairly impressive, from the wide open spaces with lush vegetation to the rough Norse sea that surrounds you, Midgard is a place that you’d like to bring your mini Norse kids up in… After the undead army has been cast back to hell of course. The mini “fatality” cut scenes are feature detailed bloodbaths that are a joy to behold as you marvel at the limbs getting sliced clean off. The cut-scenes lip-syncing however is a little too “Terrence & Phillip” in all honesty but you won’t have to put up with it long as the cut scenes are few and far between. The Creative Assembly team have done a great job with the lighting throughout the game as it seems to really embellish every surface it touches. The flickering flame torches in the caverns underneath Midgard create a nice eerie atmosphere that puts you on edge every time.

The achievement list is fairly balanced in Viking. You will get the vast majority going through the game on your first play and you will be rewarded for doing various things tied in with the destruction of enemies, of which the numbers of each needed may seem quite steep but trust me you’ll have most of those before the end of the second island and they are not a chore at all. I really couldn’t tell the difference in difficulty levels so that makes the difficulty achievement a little easier and yes, these ones are stacked (thankfully). There are three achievements that are REALLY out of place in this list though and those are the “Skull” achievements that require you to find skulls dotted around the main city… Which doesn’t sound bad but the only time you are there is at the end of the level when over 1000 enemies occupy the place. Of course, you can sneak in before the battle, but again, you’re seriously outnumbered. Such a shame, because it really taints a decent list.

Viking: Battle for Asgard is an impressive game that provides one of the greatest gaming experiences I’ve had in a while, producing some of the goriest bloodbaths featured in a game to date. It is a fairly short lived adventure taking roughly 15-20 hours to complete and really doesn’t offer much in replay value (except maybe to relive the epic battles over and over again) but it’s certainly a game that needs to be experienced.

A fantastic narration from the legendary Brian Blessed accompanied by a musical score of epic proportions. Very fitting.

A wonderful vivid world you live in is sometimes let down screen tear and frame rate drops when attacking the shaman. Watch out for the "Terrence and Phillip" style cut scenes. Other than that, a fantastic gory bloodbath!

Easy, simple combat controls. Can get a little overwhelming at times when out numbered and not knowing who you hitting. Camera can get awkward in enclosed spaces but because most of the battle is done out in the open, doesn't really pose much of a problem.

Simple character upgrades are complimented by a much needed Norse transportation system, but still a little too much walking alone for my liking, may be one for the hopeless romantic. Who said being a Viking was going to be easy though eh?

Not a bad list... Plenty of thought and for the most part a list that rewards the player at regular intervals throughout. Whoever added in the Skull achievements though needs to be fed to Hel and her minions!

Viking is a great title and one that everyone should experience. The epic battles will have you stopping and looking around the battlefield in awe, not the greatest time to marvel, that's granted, but you can't help it! Who could ask for more... Vikings, blood and full scale battles. A few problems here and there, but nothing that takes the shine away too much from a great title.

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