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Jeremy Jastrzab
30 Apr, 2008

VIKING: Battle For Asgard Review

PS3 Review | How could mass decapitations ever get old?
While Australia missed out on a shiny new console during the Christmas of 2005, we were instead treated to a number of games that helped cap off the last generation. One of the games that came along without causing too much of a stir was Spartan Total Warrior. We have no shame in admitting that the game had some enjoyable aspects, and now, the developers have come up with an indirect follow-up on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Viking: Battle for Asgard shares a few of similarities with its spiritual predecessor, though the end result suggests that it could have used a few more of its own.

Viking: Battle for Asgard is based around Vikings and Norse mythology. Following a very stylised opening, you witness the main character, Skarin, falling after a fatal wound. The Goddess Freya revives Skarin as her chosen warrior in the war against Hel and the forces of the Underworld. While the opening premise seems quite promising, the story devolves rather quickly from there, as you seem like nothing more then Freya's errand boy. While it's a tired saying, the story seems to exist only as an excuse to slay your way through the copious hordes of demons thrown at you.

Viking: Battle for Asgard had some rather nifty ideas going for it, but they are let down by a lot of poor implementations and seemingly amateur mistakes. Basically, the game is made up of a series of maps. On each map, you start at a home base and explore the map for other Vikings that have been captured by Hel's forces. Once you've either liberated a base or completed an objective such as finding a missing item, often the leader of the area will pledge you their forces. Once you've got enough troops and have satisfied the required objectives, your army can lay siege to some of the densely populated enemy camps.

One more bit that's almost epic.

One more bit that's almost epic.
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You have a reasonable freedom over what you do in the game. The objectives are scattered around the map and while a few need to have certain criteria fulfilled before they can be pursued, you’ll be constantly opening up new ones with each that you complete. So it’s up to you to check your map for pending objectives, and you’ve got the option to ‘mark’ places on you map so you can find the area of interest on your radar and get there easily. At the end of the day though, you’ll be completing all of the objectives that the map offers. Viking also makes good use of portals, that allow you to travel between discovered areas with relative ease.

As mentioned above, your objectives primarily consist of freeing Vikings from the clutches of the enemy or finding an item of interest. Sometimes, finding an item of interest will be enough to convince troops to follow you. Regrettably, there’s not as much distinction between the objectives as we could have hoped. At its essence, you go a place where Vikings are being kept prisoner, defeat the dozen or so enemies present and free them. Once free, the leader of the area will either pledge allegiance to you or send you off on some sort of fetch or eliminating quest.

Occasionally, you’ll come across some platforming or stealth-lite sequences. The platforming sections get you to clamber around discretely disguised areas (such as vines on a wall or rope nets) in search of an object of interest. Whenever you enter an enemy area, you’ll automatically enter a stealth stance and will be able to discretely kill enemies until you blow your cover. While these aspects are somewhat forced on you, their discrete implementation and the fact that they actually add something to the mix of the game work in their favour. Handily, you'll automatically climb over fences and some walls. While not groundbreaking, these are definitely welcome features to the game.

The highlights of the game are the large-scale battles that take place once you’ve gathered an army large enough. From there, Skarin and his army will take on Hel’s forces, where at times there can be hundreds of allies and enemies on screen at once. In order to progress, you yourself need to take down the enemy shaman (who summon more soldiers) as well as beserkers, giants and groups of archers. The battle dynamics are interesting, especially when you add the fact that you’ve got dragons at your disposal, which are great for taking out enemies at a distance. Furthermore, your troops move independently but their direction may depend on how well your going with the main objectives.

Tis' but a mere flesh wound!

Tis' but a mere flesh wound!
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While there are a number of moves to learn, a couple of magical enhancements and a few side-weapons, the primary combat is hack-and-slash based. There are two attack buttons, a jump and a block button. This is enough to take on most enemies, often several at a time. However, some situations you may stumble on will have you vastly outnumbered, and then you’re essentially stuffed. At least the checkpoints points in the game are fairly reasonably generous. There isn’t any real depth to the combat, though the clincher is the finishing moves. When an enemy is dazed, a prompt will appear over their head. Pressing the prompted button will perform a gruesomely satisfying finishing move, often involving head and/or limb dismemberment or torso separation. Bigger enemies require a mini-game to be finished off – re: quick-time event.

There are aspects of Viking: Battle for Asgard mentioned above that are good and allow for the game to be acceptable. However, there may be a few too many detractions for some. In terms of gameplay, the game doesn’t really explain itself particularly well. We weren’t provided with a manual, so we were forced to figure a lot out ourselves. Probably the biggest detractor from a gameplay perspective is the lack of variety in the game. A lot of the battles and objectives are essentially the same, shamelessly dragged out and often feel rather sloppy. Most gamers are likely to realise that they've seen pretty much everything after the first few hours. Other minor detractors that get in the way include a weak camera, the usual brain-dead AI and loose mechanics. Funnily enough, the game can be somewhat satisfying in short bursts.

It’s not often that a game comes along and specifically has its gameplay flaws directly pointed out. However, there is a reason for this. In this the HD era, a game is able to get away with numerous gameplay flaws if it looks and sounds brilliant. Gears of War is a prime example of this. One of the major failings of Viking: Battle for Asgard is the visual and audio presentation of the game, particularly as masking agents for the weaker aspects of the gameplay. While the game can graphically make par well, the failing is in the sound.

Yes, there are that many on screen at once sometimes.

Yes, there are that many on screen at once sometimes.
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The game’s visuals are somewhat reminiscent of the Xbox hit Fable, but still manage to hold their own. Also, we can understand and accept the decision to have all ally and enemy minions look so similar, particularly when we’re watching large scale battles in action. There are a number of nice touches, such as the detail in the finishing moves. Unfortunately, the game is at times hampered by the usual technical downfalls, such as a dipping frame rate and screen tearing. One odd thing though, we could figure out whether the slow-down in the major battles was intentional or a stylistic choice, because it really could have been both. Either way, it is somewhat awkward.

Ok, so the graphics can pass, but the sound cannot. For lack of a better phrase, the sound presentation in the game is an epic fail. The lack of decent sound effects, and at times, lack of sounds in general, kill the atmosphere completely. Swords that sound like wooden planks tapping against each other is just one example, but there are too many points in the game where there is just no sound at all. Major scale battles are slightly saved by passable music. Furthermore, the voicing in the game is passable but you’re often forced to sit through a lot of mindless babble from the few people that actually speak to you. It's probably the worst sound presentation of the current generation.

While the gameplay isn’t going to set the world alight, it does enough right to make Viking: Battle for Asgard a serviceable hack-and-slash game, even if there is hardly a compelling story to drive it. Had the game been able to provide a compelling visual and audio presentation, the gameplay flaws could have been overlooked by some. Then again, you know somethings wrong when you just about seen everything in the first few hours. So even if the game can look impressive in the large-scale battles, the visual and especially the audio failings kill the overall atmosphere, the gameplay is never able to rise out of being derivative and an otherwise decent game is condemned to obscurity.
The Score
Viking: Battle of Asgard is a passable hack-and-slash that would have left a stronger impression if the style managed to outdo the substance.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related VIKING: Battle For Asgard Content

Viking: Battle for Asgard media released
11 Nov, 2007 Tonight we dine in hell.
LGC 07: Viking: Battle for Asgard announced
22 Aug, 2007 Creative Assembly's new title revealed.
5 Comments
5 years ago
"Tis' but a mere flesh wound!" I literally LOL'd.

Might pick this up as a rental.
5 years ago
Disappointing game to say the least, as the theme definitely had a lot of potential.

Nonetheless I exchanged it for GTA IV anyway, which is proving to be well worth it. Good review.
5 years ago
Don't you mean, "substance outdoing style" rather than the other way round?

This game seems to be a lot like Dystany Warriors but with better visuals.
5 years ago
^No I meant what I said. It's with reference to the 4th last paragraph.

This genre inherently has no substance, so you'd at least expect for the game to make up for this through a great style. It starts well, but ultimately doesn't make the grade.
5 years ago
Fair enough, nice spin on an old cliche.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  27/03/2008 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
Publisher:
  SEGA Australia
Genre:
  Action Adventure
Year Made:
  2008

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