Game Review: Vikings – Wolves of Midgard (Xbox One)

Released among the gaming blockbusters Persona 5 and the latest Mass Effect; Vikings: Wolves of Midgard may not get the attention it deserves. While the title does little to innovate within its own genre, Wolves of Midgard is a satisfying experience even if it is a bit of technical mess from time to time.

Whereas a game like Diablo III dove into the battle between heaven and hell, Vikings: Wolves of Midgard deals with attempting to stop Ragnarok, the end of the world. You’ll travel to Midgard, Utgard, Niflheim, Dvergheim and interact with a fair size cast of characters that can share in as equally weird names as those legendary locales.

While Vikings: Wolves of Midgard can come off as a bit of a Diablo clone, although, let’s be honest, Diablo is also a clone of other games as well, it just happened to be the most recent one to do the genre any real good, Wolves of Midgard does find its footing in offering its own spin on a few things to its players. When you drop the body of a frost giant or cleave the head off of a small imp-like creature, each of the fallen will drop orbs of blood, the game’s resource for leveling experience, and can be the source of a few grins in co-op, which I’ll get into a bit later. You can pull of multi-enemy kills to earn bonus blood orbs or equip better gear to increase the amount of blood earned.

The environments are also another part of the game that offers up something new; temperatures and status effects. Certain locations will be cold, hot, poisonous or electrocute you should the exposure meter fill up, and you’ll need to rely on safe zones to escape to and take a few seconds for the meter to go back down before venturing out again. You can equip items or spec your character out to create a stronger resistance to these effects, and while those effects occur in many of the game’s levels, it wasn’t until a level near the end did the electricity effect ever really bother me.

You play as the Chieftain to the Ulfung clan, creating either a male warrior or a female shieldmaiden. You’ll race into your village to find it under attack and once you rebuild, the story of stopping Ragnarok begins. Wolves of Midgard can at times feel incredibly generic; you have your two smith’s for armor and weapons, the shopkeeper, and an old man and a young woman who help out with runes and rings, not to mention the crazy old person who claims to see visions of death and chaos. You’ll be sent on quests from time to time from a few of them and you’ll even find items needed to level each of those vendors up and gain access to better gear.

You’ll need money and resources to buy better gear and while splitting a troll in half will net you a nice bit of blood, you’ll also want to smash and destroy your surroundings and leave no barrel, box or chest behind. One thing the game really impressed me with was the number of destructible items in the environment. You’ll gather wood and iron that are needed to craft most of the gear in shops, as well as a few other resources that will be needed in the late game. During the almost 30 hours of play, you will track down fragments of artifact gear; purple colored weapons that have amazing stats, and look pretty sweet as well. I constantly found new and exciting gear throughout many of my adventures to far off locations that I was constantly changing the look of my character with armor ranging from basic iron and leather to crystal and bone. While it may seem like something fairly trivial to critique, I found it rather unfortunate that I couldn’t favorite certain items of gear and this lack of a feature lead me to accidently dismantle or sell a high-end piece of gear more than once.

Vendors are not the only locations that you’ll upgrade as you also have an altar to enhance your skills with. Apart from using the blood you’ve earned to level up, you can upgrade your altar a few times and this will allow you to put more points into certain skills. I tend to play more with the bow and so I would put points into attacks that favored that weapon. You pick a deity at the start of the game to earn instant favor with; Thor, Loki, Odin, etc.. and that will set you on the path based on what weapon you tend to use most. You can, if you want, put points into another deity as well and have a balance of both, just don’t expect to fully level out a character during a standard playthrough if you tend to mix and match.

This system of advancement lacks a lot of depth to that of something like Diablo III, a game that the genre is currently weighed heavily against, but that’s simply because Diablo III is nothing short of brilliant. Blizzard’s giant of a game had a vastly deeper skill system that is just far more rewarding, more experimental and just better designed. While the skill system here isn’t bad in any drastic way, it lacks the variety needed to really set this game apart from the would-be Diablo clones. I do prefer what developer Game Farm have done here to make the game very easy to get into unlike something like Sword Coast Legends which can feel bogged down with stats and menus.

The skills you earn can be pretty satisfying to use but can border on being somewhat bland and uninspiring as well. As the archer you have a close combat kick that is pretty much useless later on, a powered shot that can cleave through mobs, a multi-shot arrow that is good for crowd control, a fire from above attack that launches down dozens of arrows to cause some pretty good damage, and finally an electrical shot that is just.. ok. While some of these attacks are great in practice, I’ve pretty much seen every single one of these skills in other games. There is also a rage meter that builds up and grants you a bit more power, but frankly, I hardly used it as it didn’t seem to be that effective, other than pausing any of the status effects from adding to the meter for a crucial few seconds as you race to one of the many safe zones across the map.

Apart from skills, you’ll have access to special items that are based on traits of characters like Thor or Odin and offer special abilities that any class can use. You can turn enemies into tiny pigs, become invulnerable for a few crucial seconds or lay down an area effect healing spell and just stand your ground. I found these fairly fun and while a few are present in other games of this genre, a small few are fairly original to this title.

The game also offers replayable levels called Hunts that have a specific enemy type to kill and can also net you rewards of more resources as well should you complete certain objectives. These objectives, like killing a specific amount of enemies, smashing certain objects or finding iron skulls, are also present in the story levels and can net you the same types of rewards as well. I did find a bit of confusion on what certain objectives were as some of the shrines you have to smash can pretty much look like half the rocks in the game and finding them all in dark levels can be quite the chore.

Hack and slashing your way through much of the Norse mythology here can be pretty fun as who wouldn’t want to play a Thor-flavored Diablo game and what that would entail. The game works rather well on the controller in terms of combat and with the right stick offering a fairly impressive dodge roll, it can be a very fast paced game depending on your play style. The speed in which combat is offered here, and not to mention just how fluid the action is, can make this feel like an arcade experience for all the good reasons. You have your typical assortment of weapons; axes, staves, swords, shields and a bow. Picking certain weapons will put you at the mercy of a specific skill tree to be able to use skills related to those weapons, as I have mentioned. You can swap weapon sets with a simple tap of up on the d-pad and pull off some fairly good combo attacks. I found that while the game offers the bow that it was the only weapon that didn’t have some cool camera shot when I pulled off a certain type of kill and that the range you could shoot would vary drastically. I also found several instances of where my bow just would not fire and I’ll point out that I never had one issue with attacking with melee based weapons.

You can have a friend join in via online co-op as there isn’t any form of local combat, a mode that would have easily made this game far more attractive. The co-op sadly feels tacked on and not fleshed out in any regard. The person joining you cannot save their story progress nor can they trade weapons or items with you either. My co-op partner experienced several disconnects and despite putting my game to private, it would change it to a public match whenever they disconnected, and put a random player into my party, even if my friend was already loading into my game.  We also had several glitches where my co-op companion would see visual oddities in the level, but only on their screen, of things that are present in the village but are only supposed to be there much later on in the game like several NPC’s and visual effects from a portal that shouldn’t be there yet. I did find it rather amusing that should you become separated from your co-op companion, you need only to follow the blood orbs indicating the chaos that went on without you. What I rather liked about the orbs was as while you were not there for the battle, you can still collect in on the experience earned as if you participated in that battle. You never feel like you missed out on anything.

I would say that the weakest part of the game visually is your character themselves as I found them blurry unless you zoomed in or viewed them from the character select screen. Despite this, they just came across as far too blurry and lacking crisp detail. Environments look great and offer a fairly decent amount of variety to hack and slash through that are also fairly large scale in size. I did find that the game does artificially make itself longer by having you travel back to certain locations and I would have preferred a random level generator for the hunt levels as traversing the same levels again and again can lead to boredom. The enemy designs are fairly interesting and some of the boss encounters are rather impressive, with some of them having some very interesting mechanics behind them as opposed to just being creatures that are there solely to take damage, which of course the game does contain far too many of those kinds of fights. I did find the final encounter to be lacking as I didn’t even come close to being challenged and I took down the final foe without even dropping much in health. The battle lacked variety in its design and the ending that follow was sadly disappointing.

I can’t recall much of the music in the game as is the way to say there isn’t a single piece of memorable music what-so-ever here and the voice acting itself borders on ok to just downright cringe. NPC’s and bosses can have some entertaining dialogue and the occasional good bit of voice over, but your main character, oh my, what a pain they are to listen to. I played as the shieldmaiden and nearly all her dialogue was “Oh, stop your rambling old woman, just tell me what I have to kill.” or “Blah blah blah, just point me in the direction of where to go” and more amazing bits of dialogue like that. Nearly any interaction with my character and someone who would push the plot along was met with that type of response and it just made my character feel like someone who was bored of this game, which I rarely ever was. You’ll select various bits of dialogue in the game and while your answer may sound fairly innocent, be rest assured that they will answer back in the rudest way possible.

I had various glitches throughout my 27 hours with the game, apart from what I have already listed off, but none of them really blocked me from anything I couldn’t just reload from. I’ve had doors not let me pass, arrows not fire from my bow, enemies not take damage or mini-bosses just flat out disappear unless I stood in a certain area and let them come closer to me. Again, any of those issues were solved with me just reloading the game. The most bizarre glitch was losing all collectible progress in an early level and having to complete the level with no items found, which sucked as it prevented me from earning an achievement.

I do feel that co-op was tacked on late in development as some of the issue surrounding it feels lazy and the least amount of effort given to a mode like this. I hate the fact that if my co-op partner wants to use their character in a single player game that they lose everything story-wise they have experienced in my game. I’ve read articles talking about how they may add local co-op and that will certainly get this game more attention, but until they allow co-op to save the progress of each player, It’s hard to recommend unless you only play the game with someone else, or make a character for both single player and multiplayer, like I did.

I personally loved Vikings: Wolves of Midgard far more than my initial few hours with the title would have suggested and with how generic the game can totally feel. Sure, it can be a bit of a technical mess from time to time but the gameplay itself is solid and enjoyable, even if my character themselves isn’t. Combat, earning gear and slashing down enemies inspired by Norse mythology is satisfying here and the game is just fun to play, and that is a very important factor that is often overlooked. No, Wolves of Midgard isn’t as visually impressive as it could have been and yes it lacks some of the enjoyment found in the mechanics of something like Diablo III, but as for a tale about Ragnarok, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Vikings: Wolves of Midgard was played with a retail copy of the game on Xbox One and all screenshots were captured and acquired from the Xbox One App on Windows 10.

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