War of the Vikings Preview: Valhalla Awaits

“I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know how to make a Viking game.”

War of the Vikings producer Gordon van Dyke’s opening words during Tuesday’s private press stream were refreshingly honest. After all, van Dyke is a game developer, not a PR professional. He may not have always looked at the camera, and his demeanor betrayed an underlying nervousness, but that just added a level of authenticity to his presentation.

Like its predecessor War of the Roses, War of the Vikings pits two teams against each other: Vikings and Saxons. Players select from a number of “classes” with different equipment loadouts and engage each other in third-person melee and ranged combat.

After van Dyke’s brief presentation, in which he explained how the team reworked and enhanced War of the Roses’ objective-based Conquest game mode for WotV and hired Icelandic and Old English-speaking voice actors for added immersion, attendees were welcomed into a private press server to try out some Team Deathmatch.

My initial impression of the gameplay wasn’t positive. Melee combat is notoriously difficult to execute in any 3D game, and WotV’s controls felt sluggish and awkward. I would run up to a Saxon and spam my left mouse button, then watch my character take awkwardly-timed swings with his sword. There seemed to be no rhyme nor reason between input and output — sometimes the attack would land when I wanted it to, sometimes it was delayed, and sometimes it didn’t register at all.

I swapped to a ranged class and took potshots at enemies with bow and arrow. Finally, I was drawing blood, but enemies would spot me and chase me down before I could fell them. After accumulating a grand total of two kills and an embarrassing number of deaths by the end of the round, my frustration was impeding my ability to derive any enjoyment from the experience.

Next round, I decided to try my hand at melee again. I figured I should at least sample every class before resolving to never play again. Sword and board, two-handed axes, longspears… With every respawn, I began to notice nuances in the way the weapons handled. Different game mechanics started to become apparent to me, and I realized that there was much more depth to melee combat than I had initially believed.

My kill count rose.

Patterns in player movements began to emerge. A wave of enemy would advance, with ranged attackers peppering our ranks to draw us out into their awaiting line of melee troops. Divide and conquer tactics reigned supreme, and I made sure to be the divisor, not the dividend.

My kill count rose.

By my last match, I was topping the score board with over 20 kills, a far cry from my pathetic first attempts. I gleefully hunted down lone and wounded Saxons with a blood thirst befitting a viking warrior. While I knew I had yet to scratch the surface of the depth of mechanics and gameplay War of the Vikings has to offer, I realized that in a matter of 30 minutes, I went from being ready to cast the game aside to actively enjoying my experience.

Being thrown to the wolves may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but for players willing to give War of the Vikings the time of day to appreciate its nuances, it’s a great change of pace from today’s FPS offerings.

This weekend, War of the Vikings will be freely available on Steam for all to try out. See you in Valhalla.

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