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Viking: Battle For Asgard

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: The Creative Assembly
Release Date: March 25, 2008 (US), 2008-03-28 (EU)

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Xbox 360 Review - 'Viking: Battle for Asgard'

by Chris Lawton on April 25, 2008 @ 5:06 a.m. PDT

Viking: Battle For Asgard is a hack 'n' slasher where you, as Skarin, get to experience the violent yet spectacular world of the Vikings and their gods.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Creative Assembly
Release Date: March 25, 2008

"Okay, let's take God of War, put it in a sandbox setting, change it to Norse mythology, and release it for millions of dollars!" This is the dialogue I have in my head whenever I play Viking: Battle for Asgard. When you read the description printed above, you might say that it sounds like a pretty solid idea, but I also have another piece of dialogue that, I believe, occurs a few months later: "Bad news. Our game is flawed, boring and monotonous. Those millions we talked about might have to wait."

Viking opens with the death of its main character, Skarin. The world of Midgard is in the middle of war, as the legions of Hel, ruler of the Underworld, have declared war and pretty much taken over. As Skarin, you've been cut down on the battlefield, and as you draw your last breath, you see Freya, the Norse goddess of love and fertility. Freya brings you back to life, with the order to fight Hel and her legion. This is really where the game starts to fall apart because this is about as deep as the story gets. There are a few minor twists and a little uncertainty in some of the plot points, but overall, the story is pretty bland. With such a lacking story, you would expect the gameplay in Viking to draw you in to keep you playing, right? Well, no. I used "bland" to describe the story, and it's actually a good way to describe the game as a whole.

The gameplay is split into two types: combat and stealth. The stealth missions are the better of the two; it's pretty exciting to break into an enemy fortress, knowing that a single alarm can bring an infinite army force down on you. Silently, you move from cover to cover, taking out enemies as you make your way to your objective. They're few and far between, but when you have to do one, it's pretty fun.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the combat side of things. While combat in Viking isn't bad, it's just kind of boring. It's a hack-and-slash action game, so all of your attacks are mapped to two buttons, which you mindlessly mash over and over as you cut down swarms of enemies. You gain new attacks as you progress through the game, but you probably won't use many of them since they leave your character open to attack. All enemies will exploit that weakness, so it's just easier to perform your simplest attacks.

After damaging an enemy enough, Skarin gets the option to deliver a brutal finishing move, and these are actually pretty cool. "Brutal" is definitely a good word to describe them, as each move usually involves cutting off limbs and/or heads. Against some of the larger enemies, the finishing moves get even more vicious: In one move, Skarin takes out the enemy's knees and proceeds to stomp his face into a bloody mess.

I have one major complaint about the combat system, and that's the lack of a lock-on mechanism. When you're surrounded by enemies, Skarin tends to attack whichever one he wants to, regardless of what direction you're facing or who's closest. This doesn't make too much of a difference in the large battles because there are enemies all around you, and hitting one is just as good as hitting another. Periodically, you'll fight certain types of enemies that require you to attack nearby objects, and not being able to lock onto those crucial objects means you'll spend a lot of time retrying battles because you can't seem to avoid hitting enemies that don't really matter at that particular point in time. Overall, the combat isn't necessarily bad, just kind of boring. You keep waiting for things to get a bit deeper and evolve as you play through the game, and it never really does. Every battle feels like you're just repeating things you've already done.

The sense of boredom doesn't stop there. As a "sandbox" game, Viking should provide you with a large world to explore and conquer, a world that's teeming with life. What you get is a lifeless world that provides no excitement whatsoever. You basically move through each forest toward your next objective, and you don't see any animals or people along the way. Occasionally, you'll come across an enemy or two, but it's more of an exception than a rule.

The lack of excitement doesn't stop there because on each island, your task is pretty much the same. You attack small legion encampments and free your Viking brethren, enlisting them in your cause. Once your army is large enough, you lead an attack on an enemy fort in a large-scale battle. Repeat that formula six times, and you pretty much have Viking: Battle for Asgard. Now, to be fair, the developers do shake things up a bit. At times, you aren't necessarily clearing out an enemy encampment to rescue Vikings but to search for an item. The end result is the same, though. You wipe out all legion troops in the area, open a treasure chest, and complete the mission. If this sounds boring, it's because it is. Eventually, all of the quests start to blend together, and you kind of forget why you're doing things; you just head toward the objective on the radar and cut down any legion soldiers that get in your way.

Some things in Viking: Battle for Asgard are so infuriatingly useless that you have to take notice. The biggest offender is the camera, which is quite possibly the worst camera in any action game, ever. For starters, it pulls in real tight during combat, which prevents you from seeing a lot of the enemies that you're supposed to be killing. On top of that, it swings around uncontrollably, making it almost impossible to orient yourself and keep track of where your enemies are. You can control it with the right thumbstick, but I shouldn't have to do that when I'm surrounded by enemies that are all slashing at me with swords.

Don't look for any direction from your map or radar, either, because the two items are pretty much worthless. There's no way to just look at the map to find out where you are and what direction you're facing. The map is littered with the various objectives that you must complete before you can move onto the next island. The cursor can only rest on these objectives, and when it does, it brings up a large, obtrusive window that describes the objective and covers up your icon and location. The radar can lead you to the general vicinity of your objective, but don't expect it to give you any idea of exactly where you're supposed to go. There was one case where my objective was to talk to a guy in these ruins. The radar led me to the center of the ruins, but my contact was nowhere near there. I had to run all around the ruins trying to find this guy because the radar was no help.

While these two items may seem like small nitpicks, they really aren't. Sandbox games are a terrific idea, but they hinge on being able to find your way around the world. If you can't do that, then the sandbox effect becomes a major detriment, rather than a plus. It's just not fun to the player when he has to run around aimlessly, hoping to stumble across what they were seeking.

Not everything in Viking: Battle for Asgard is bad. For one thing, the game is very pretty; the graphics are pretty detailed, and, while empty, the world is pretty well-rendered. There are still quite a few graphical hiccups throughout the game, most of which occur during the large battles, where the frame rate drops and the action slows down pretty badly. This only happens a few times during the game, though, and most of the time, the visuals run smoothly.

The controls are another aspect of the game that does its job pretty well. The smaller fights are pretty fast-paced, and Skarin moves from enemy to enemy quickly, cutting them down along the way. The controls are all responsive and pretty intuitive, meaning you won't see a lot of frustration in this department. If I had any complaints, it's that the shoulder buttons are a little too complicated. You use the triggers and bumpers in conjunction with other buttons to power up your weapon, use inventory items, or do special attacks. The problem is that it gets kind of hard to keep track of which button does what, and in the heat of battle, that can be fatal.

Viking: Battle for Asgard also does a pretty good job of giving you some options when you're playing through missions. For example, in one mission, I was coming up against a heavily guarded front entrance. I searched around the back of the area and found a fence that I could jump over, and my imprisoned brethren were located on the other side. I jumped the fence, stealthily took out some enemies, and freed my fellow Vikings. We then proceeded to wipe out the enemy scourge from within the base. Instances like these keep you playing for just a little bit longer. It departs from the traditional hack-and-slash and leaves you with the opportunity to use your head, but like other things in the game, it never really gets much deeper than that. It's definitely nice to have, but it doesn't bring that much excitement to this otherwise boring endeavor.

In terms of length, Viking: Battle for Asgard is quite hefty, clocking in at 10 to 12 hours. While the missions tend to run together and the gameplay is boring, there's certainly plenty of it, so if shallow hack-and-slash games are your thing, you'll definitely find a lengthy experience here. Once you're done with the game, there's not a lot else to do, other than the standard Xbox 360 Achievements. There are bags of gold and treasure chests scattered around the world, and you can buy maps to find all of them. Like everything else in the game, though, the replayability falls on the boring side.

Viking: Battle for Asgard is not a terrible game. There may be a good game in there somewhere, but it falls into a standard hack-and-slash rut of boring and uninspired gameplay that leaves you wanting more from the experience. Norse mythology is such a rich setting that if the game had been done well, it could have been incredible and boasted a terrific story, characters and gameplay. Unfortunately, Viking never quite achieves this, leaving you with a pretty mediocre action title that's hard to recommend to anyone, except those who really enjoy shallow action games.

Score: 6.5/10


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