Viking: Battle for Asgard – Xbox 360

Review by Johnus Maximus

Viking box art 360Released at the end of March 2008, Viking: Battle for Asgard, developed by The Creative Assembly and published by Sega, is a third person perspective sandbox style hack’n'slash adventure game where you play as a Skarin, a tough and recently resurrected viking warrior whose mission is to liberate his captured kinsmen and destroy the vast legion forces of the goddess Hel.

Available on both Xbox 360 and PS3, Viking offers very simplistic game play, immense battles and is rated 18+ for the sheer amount of graphical violence depicted on screen, don’t let that put you off though, because this game is brilliant!

The story in Viking is quite simple and enjoyable, and presented to you by a mixture of animated storyboard style cut scenes and cut scenes rendered using the in game engine. In the mythical Norse realm of Asgard, the goddess Hel has been banished for trying to overthrow Odin. Obviously not too happy about this, she decides she’s going to amass an evil army of viking warriors and cut a swathe through the mortal realm of Midgard, her ultimate goal being the release of Fenrir and the onset of Ragnarok, an apocalyptic event which will destroy all the gods and the world itself.

When Hel and her forces show up at island of Niflberg, our hero Skarin takes part in a battle to protect his kinsmen, unfortunately he suffers an onset of vivid hallucinations and is killed by one of Hel’s champions. Not wanting Hel to succeed in her plan of starting Ragnarok, the gods decide that Freya, goddess of love beauty and fertility, should be responsible for stopping her. Sensing that his strength and courage will serve her well in the impending battles, Freya resurrects Skarin and appoints him as her champion, so now taking down Hel is his job.

Being a tough Viking warrior, Skarin is already adept at using weaponry, he is armed with a sword and an axe, each of which he uses to dispatch his enemies in as bloody a manner as possible. Combat is very simple, but usually involves fighting multiple enemies at once. The left trigger is the block button (you will use this a lot), the A button is a fast, light attack, the X button is a slow, hard attack.

Usually it takes three or four light attacks to wear an enemy down, when they are about to die an indicator appears over their head. This is your opportunity to finish off the enemy in a bloody and satisfying way. Enemy limbs are cleaved off, heads get detached from necks, sometimes enemies are split asunder from the waist. Occasionally this happens in bullet time, and it’s gory stuff, but quite often I found myself chuckling at the messy ways Skarin dispatches his foes.

Viking killing enemy
Skarin, you’ve got red on you…

There are 3 levels in the game, each is an island of increasing size, on each island there are several tasks that you will need to complete in order to build up an army big enough to commence the final battle. These include rescuing ally Vikings, liberating quarries, distilleries and farms, collecting treasure from caves, killing traitorous Vikings who have gone over to Hel’s side and also finding legendary rune stones with which to summon some really cool fire breathing dragons!

Although there’s a lot to do, the game actually goes out of its way to tell you how and when to do everything, so you won’t need to consult a walk through or guide about any aspect of this game because it is a doddle to play, although it is up to you to figure out how best to achieve the goals – do you use stealth or just run into the middle of a fight with all axes blazing!

Your map screen shows you almost everywhere and everything on the level (there are a couple of hidden secrets to discover by yourself), you can set markers on your Brisingamen – an enchanted piece of jewellery which also serves as a minimap – and additionally, thanks to the power of Freya, you are able to teleport to and from certain locations, all of which makes navigation in Viking very easy.

Thanks to the game being simplified in such a way, you can spend a lot of your time enjoying some of the games finer aspects, such as the graphics. Apart from a little bit too much bloom around some objects, on a whole the graphics are excellent. Everything both natural and man made looks very realistic and nothing seems too anachronistic for the olde worlde setting the game has.

The Vikings and their enemies all look fantastic. Skarin is a hulk of a man (think Conan the barbarian crossed with Marcus Feenix), but some of his enemies are even larger and you get a real sense of accomplishment when you take them down. The animation is controlled very well, and one thing I really loved was that when fighting in the massive battles I experienced no slowdown at all, and these end of level battles literally have hundreds of on screen ally and enemy units, and they’re all moving and fighting one another independently. It’s this level of excellence from the developers that really contribute to your enjoyment of the games key moments.

Skarin assesses the situation
Assessing how best to approach a situation can lead to better results

One of my gaming pet peeves makes it into the game, Quick Time Events (curse you Spiderman 3), which are activated when fighting certain boss characters. When I got my first one my heart sank, but surprisingly in this game the events are very simple and don’t break the flow of the combat at all. In fact, I actually think they are one of the best parts of fighting the bosses, because of they look so damn good and because of the over the top goriness that ensues once Skarin as you hit the right buttons.

The sound in this game is okay, not fantastic, but not rubbish either. For the voice acting, there’s a large mix of accents present, mainly northern English and Scottish, but they do sound quite fitting for the Vikings. Brian Blessed narrates the key story parts, which is fun. The sound effects are on the whole very good, the noises of limb severing and sword impaling really sound gruesome, but sometimes the noise of Skarins footsteps could get irritating, or some sound effects wouldn’t play when they were supposed to – often I would smash open a door in total silence, which was probably not the game makers intention.

The only other things that irked me about this game were the fact that you couldn’t fall very far without dying, if you were on a high ledge sometimes you would get an animation of Skarin teetering on the precipice, allowing you to back away and find a safer route down, but other times it would just let you plod off the edge and plummet to your death. I also didn’t like that it was too easy to drown, I would have thought that Vikings could swim.

These things aside though, the overall game play is exciting and paced well enough to allow you to pick up and play for both short periods and longer sessions. The over exaggerated violence is entertaining and often amusing. If you’re looking for an easy to pick up, fun action adventure game that isn’t afraid to show its guts, then this is a title you should buy.

Viking: Battle for Asgard gets a respectable 4 blood soaked stars out of 5.

4 stars