Expeditions: Viking is the second in the Expeditions line from Logic Artists of Denmark. It is not a sequel to its predecessor, instead telling a new story of the player-character thrust into the role of clan leader of a group of Vikings living in Jutland.
While not orbiting around historical figures, the game takes refreshing care to make it feel like historical fiction, rather than fantasy. From the beginning the player is making choices that seem to have a bit more impact than similar games with multiple dialog options. Almost immediately, a character that could later join you may die, but the game seems to encourage the player to continue with the consequences, rather than consider these choices merely win-or-loss. Choices affect the morale of your hird members (read: adventuring party), as well as your fortunes, potential allies and potential enemies. These changes in status aren't broadcasted to the player; if you're not paying attention to the notations in the corner of the screen you might miss some of them, but they're meant to add up. It's rare to find a game like this that seems to take individual story choices a bit more seriously.
The early part of the game focuses on setting the player up for the titular expedition, helping orientate you on gameplay and the factions of the known world. There is an overworld map reminiscent of games like Baldur's Gate, though points of interest here tend to pop up after quest triggers. Each map location has item stashes and quests to complete, and often have their share of combat encounters. Combat takes place on a hex grid, with characters adjacent to each other provoking attacks of opportunity if they let their guard down in several different ways, as well as flanking effects and cover against ranged attacks, encouraging smart tactics. Equipped weapons dictate the types of attacks, and increasing in skill in those weapons will add to a character's abilities in combat.
It is predominantly a role-playing game, and follows some RPG conventions in more plausible ways than you might find in an FRPG. Magic is replaced with boons, curses, and herb lore, and weapons and armour sometimes have special properties because they're made well.
As you gain experience points you can spend them on skill increases in several categories that include psychological effects, weapon proficiencies, battle manoeuvres, crafting skills, and passive bonuses. It's hard to know the best choices at the start, but getting past the early bottleneck of battles helps the player prioritise what they should increase. The danger here may be the dreaded "Feat tax" one sometimes sees in other RPGs, where certain choices seem so much better than others that a player might feel pressured into following only certain builds, but this is eased by non-combat abilities being much cheaper, and the game expecting the player to fail sometimes without this necessarily resulting in a game over.
As you gather resources you are able to build up your home town with institutions which will increase the clan's wealth and improve your reputation, as well as using resources to craft arms, armour, rations, and poultices. Items sometimes wear down and need repair, characters become exhausted without rest, and characters may get lasting injuries that affect their stats until you see someone skilled in medicine. The characters you collect around you are a varied, colourful bunch, and knowing that some of them could have easily died due to choices you made helps make them feel a bit more precious. Story choices are made in dialog trees, which use several symbols that connote choices that are merely asking for more information, those which push the story forward, those that test your skills (with a chance of failure), and those that end discussions, possibly with bloodshed.
Most of the game is played in a near top-down perspective with those you've selected from your hird trailing behind you. You may spot things in the environment to loot or learn about, and people to talk to or battle, and you're allowed to rotate the map to get a better look at things, as sometimes tall trees will get in the way. The local map shows you areas of interest, similar again to games like Baldur's Gate, although unfortunately you can't set waypoints or click on the map to take the camera there, requiring players to either scroll through the map to find the place they want the party to end up, or incrementally click to keep them moving.
Combat can be fun but may be a bit exhausting if too frequent, and on combat maps line of sight and obstacles aren't always clear until you're next to them. Combat abilities also seem better geared toward larger groups of combatants than the rarer one-on-one duels. The conversations and their consequences are the strongest element in the game, with characters feeling more consistent and properly motivated than the usual evil/good dichotomies one often finds, and this extends to their views on the world, which affect what morale bonuses or penalties they get for some conversation options. It's sad then that some of the characterisation comes through incidental dialogs which, though interesting, are easy to miss if you don't happen to be looking at your characters when their words appear over their heads. As might be expected from an early build there were some bugs, including a few game stoppers, but the main annoyance was probably the load times, which will hopefully be reduced later on. You are also unable at this time to reload a save during combat.
The painterly loading screens, the beautiful music, the textured world map, the colourful character portraits, and the snowy wooded aesthetics all contribute to the game's pleasant-yet-dire hinterland feel. The characters, whether opposed to you or with you, are instantly discernible and interesting to see react to their surroundings and comment on events. The combat is varied enough that two back to back encounters feel different based solely on the layout and difference in enemy abilities and positions. Most characters go down in only a few hits, so even if combat isn't deadly per se, the conflicts still feel desperate because getting downed may result in debilitation for a while, and may alter the course of events if all characters are defeated. The conversation system with its frequent consequences, and the game's general philosophy of encouraging you to keep playing even if you fail, all make for a refreshing game experience, leaving us hopeful for the game's future.