Vikings: Wolves of Midgard is a hack 'n' slash action-RPG by Slovakian developer Games Farm, and as the title suggests, the game is themed around Norse mythology. This doesn't mean, however, that we'll be running up and down snowy mountain peaks all the time; Vikings is surprisingly versatile in terms of the scenarios it depicts, and from sunny beaches to glowing iron mines, you can expect to explore a lot of different and even unexpected locations.
The campaign contains around 30 levels, and these can be tackled solo or with friends in co-op (although unfortunately this isn't possible locally, because the co-op is quite strong here). Since areas are designed for a particular player level, it's definitely worth returning to previously visited missions at a later point in order to collect experience, gold, or resources. With the resources you'll find along the way you can build up a central village hub and profit from some diverse bonuses.
Some might say that dungeon crawlers can't tell deep stories, and in the case of Vikings: Wolves of Midgard this might actually be true. Here we have to gather strong allies in order to protect the world from Ragnarök, but the staged epic is used as a narrative element only, and the gameplay doesn't do much to convey the story. A far bigger problem is the protagonist; the main character is somewhat unappealing, in our opinion arrogant, and we found it hard to invest in him or form any kind of emotional bond.
As expected, monsters drop equipment and weapons which we can then equip our character with for coming battles, and this equipment determines our available skills, with each of the five weapon-sets having its own ability tree. Unlike other hack 'n' slash titles, Vikings' combat system is a combination of cooldowns and stamina, forcing you to manage your aggression levels, however, this will only become really important towards the late game as you need to own enough skills first. In addition, the cooldown timers felt overly lengthy, which we felt didn't quite fit the style of the game. Having said all that, Vikings becomes much more enjoyable if and when your hero is strong enough to the point where you don't have to care about the skills too much.
Vikings: Wolves of Midgard has its own visual style - the so-called exposure feature - and this reflects the condition of your character. During the early levels the effect of the cold slowly fades the screen, this because our hero doesn't have any warm clothes on. To prevent this we have to find warm places like caves and camp fires where we can thaw him out, and this mechanic is expanded in different ways later on, but it continues to operate according to this principle. It's also worth noting that when the exposure bar is completely filled, you'll suffer damage over time.
The control scheme is somewhat overburdened, which is a pity for this sort of game. You can swap between the two equipped weapon sets fairly easily and use the right stick to roll out of danger, but that means the left stick is responsible for both movement and aiming your skills, which can lead to some inaccuracy. We frequently went in the wrong direction or missed opponents as a result of this setup. However, if you are really into dungeon crawlers, you'll likely cope just fine.
Some levels feature a puzzle element as well, with caves and tombs guarded by runes or switch puzzles in order to prevent curious adventurers from entering. It's an interesting and refreshing addition, but the lack of hints left us frustrated at times. One time we ran into a lock in front of a mission objective, and we were stuck for more than two hours in front of one riddle. Maybe the fault here rests with us, but even after the completion of the puzzle we saw no connection between the hint and the solution.
Despite obvious parallels between Vikings: Wolves of Midgard and Diablo III, it's not a comparison that you need to spend too much time pondering. This game doesn't stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Blizzard's modern classic in any area. Don't get us wrong, the mechanics are okay and you can have a good time with it, but it lacked that certain something that would have helped it to stand apart. Basically, once you reached the maximum level, there's no reason to revisit the game.
Vikings: Wolves of Midgard struggled hard for this score. On top of a lack of clarity in the puzzle elements (which, we admit, might be on us), the game has some more obvious flaws. While it offers a few fantastic moments, these are unfortunately a little too few and far between. The game has cool ideas and some good boss battles, and it introduces us to new opponents and areas with impressive regularly. It's certainly good fun in co-op, but as single-player experience it doesn't quite hit the highs needed to make an instant impact. One for genre fans, then, but perhaps not an instant classic that transcends the ARPG niche.