War of the Vikings – First Impressions

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The brehon handed him a hilted weapon,
a rare and ancient sword named Hrunting.
The iron blade with its ill-boding patterns
had been tempered in blood. It had never failed
the hand of anyone who hefted it in battle,
anyone who had fought and faced the worst
in the gap of danger. This was not the first time
it had been called to perform heroic feats.

– Beowulf

Devleoper: Fat Shark

Publisher: Paradox Interactive

Author: Jim Zabek

Vikings. What more needs to be said? Traders, raiders, and explorers, for over 300 years they dominated Europe’s imagination, if not their lands. Vikings have always laid a small claim to wargamers’ hearts, and with the heart-pounding new series on the History Channel, Vikings have made a resurgence into mainstream pop culture. Developer Fatshark didn’t miss a beat. Their action game of medieval combat, War of the Roses, grabbed the attention of Grogheads and we stormed into their servers in search of a great game of swordplay. Undaunted, Fatshark considered their next move and (to them) it was obvious: Vikings.

A few weeks ago I interviewed Fatshark’s Gordon Van Dyke and asked him about how the game was developing. Now with early access to the game I’ve managed to get some time behind the keyboard and mouse and see how the game plays myself. I wasn’t disappointed.

For gamers not familiar with first-person medieval action games, their mechanics can be deceptively simple. The player moves his avatar using the standard WASD keys. Moving the mouse changes the view – akin to turning your head or body. Left mouse clicking and dragging in a direction creates a sword thrust. A right mouse click either parries or brings up a shield, depending on the equipment. Using a bow isn’t much more complicated. Right clicking draws the bowstring. Left mouse clicking releases the arrow. As in real life you won’t be able to hold the bowstring for long and after a few seconds if you don’t fire, your avatar will tire and relax his drawn bow to rest.

Yeah, that's me. Dead. Again.

Yeah, that’s me. Dead. Again.

As with War of the Roses, players have the opportunity to attempt to bandage themselves up and partially heal. They also have the opportunity to attempt to revive fallen comrades or finish off wounded rivals. I say “attempt” because in most cases the action doesn’t quit. You don’t get any “time outs” and while you’re trying to pull off one of these actions, opponents will find you easy prey.

There are a few game modes. At present I only played Team Death Match and Arena. TDM of course is team-based killing, with the side having the greatest number of kills winning. Arena is a hard-core mode. Death means it’s Game Over for you – no respawning here. Other game modes are likely to follow, and a preliminary release schedule is one of the first things the player sees when he enters the game:

The preliminary release schedule, along with information regarding the next update.

The preliminary release schedule, along with information regarding the next update.

As with War of the Roses, War of the Vikings has an experience system where players progressively unlock perks and equipment. Experience is gained by successfully whacking other players.


Basic loadout of an archer.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is, but that doesn’t describe the fun. There’s a certain charm to running headlong into a melee, swinging wildly at every enemy you see and hoping for the best. Which is about as skilled as I am at the game. My results speak for themselves. Just as in real-life, swinging wildly rarely produces results. Or at least rarely produces results favorable to the wildman. Timing, distance, weapon type – these all have a part to play in the ballet to land a damaging blow on an opponent. In practice it far more difficult to successfully land a blow than it might sound in theory. But that’s most of the fun. Early on in the game I managed to throw a knife and kill a guy on the other team with a headshot. Beginner’s Luck it was, as I have failed to recreate that move again. But I know it’s possible and I’m eager to practice until I can do it again.


Headshot! w00t!

Players who pre-purchase War of the Vikings are granted early access to it. War of the Vikings seems to rely on Steam for its DRM, so some players may wish to take that into account as they calculate a decision to buy.

Personally, I’m having a lot of fun with War of the Vikings. If you liked War of the Roses you’re going to find a lot to love with its sequel (prequel?).

Aside from the action, the maps are beautifully done. The forest in autumn is worthy of a walk with a lady friend on a romantic stroll. That players have the privilege to whack, slice, and spear each other in this beautiful setting is a perk that shouldn’t be missed. The music is also enjoyable. The theme played as the game is loading is tribal and catchy. It nails the mood of the game as I wait to get in on the action.

A romantic stroll through the forest, or killing Vikings? Killing Vikings wins out today.

A romantic stroll through the forest, or killing Vikings? Killing Vikings wins out today.

What else is there to say? If you have a hankering to either raid Britannia or rebuff an assault of Vikings, War of the Vikings will make you berserk. In a good way.

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