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Viking: Battle for Asgard – PS3 Review

Following 2005’s Spartan: Total Warrior, The Creative Assembly return with another character-focussed action title that transplants its famous large-scale battle tech into something that isn’t a real-time strategy game. While Spartan had its focus on Greek mythology, Viking: Battle for Asgard transports us into Norse mythology, putting you in control of the Viking warrior Skarin, who is fighting the invasion of Midgard by Loki’s daughter Hel and her demonic minions.

The major shift in structure that Viking puts forward is a move away from the levels and missions of Spartan in favour of a vast, open world to explore. Your journey through Midgard sees you scouring a huge map, freeing your Viking brethren and building an army big enough to fight Hel’s legions. As you explore Midgard you will uncover various prisons and camps where Hel’s minions have enslaved your fellow Vikings and it’s up to you to either sneak in undetected or attack them head-on and free the prisoners. Once freed, the prisoners will fight alongside you to kill any remaining enemies before joining your cause.

There’s a real thrill to these moments as the moody atmosphere and lack of music emphasises a land that has been ravaged by Hel’s minions and completely emptied of resources and prosperity. Many have complained that Viking’s game world is an empty, boring thing to explore, but I think the sheer oppressive, bleakness of it all really makes the world stand out. You’ll be running around barren plains with nothing but the sound of your footsteps stomping through the snow, when suddenly an enemy fires a flaming arrow at you from nowhere and you quickly find yourself in the midst of a tense battle to survive.

Unfortunately, the battle system is where Viking really falls down. You’re painfully limited in what you can do. You have a light attack, a heavy attack, a block button and a jump button and for most of the battles that is all you’ll ever be doing. You can enter a rage mode once you build up the red gauge under your health bar for more powerful attacks, but the only real variation you get to battles is the later use of 3 magic abilities that basically function the same as the rage mode but with added fire, lightning or ice buffs. You also get limited use of throwing axes and fire bombs that will need to be replenished via the various shops that are only accessible in the game’s major towns. It’s certainly nice to have some options for variation, but when your standard attack is so effective you mostly just charge into battle by mashing the light attack and then changing to a heavy attack to finish enemies off via various gruesome scenes of dismemberment. Unfortunately it never feels particularly satisfying to pull off.

The action does occasionally change things up with a larger scale skirmish once you’ve built a big enough army to take part in them. In these huge, multi-man battles you normally have to find the enemy’s shamans who have the power to revive the dead. Defeating the shamans is always your number one priority during these skirmishes and they are normally surrounded by a series of totems that need to be destroyed first. Unfortunately, for all the visual flare that these skirmishes offer, putting an overwhelming amount of character models on screen just exacerbates the clunky combat. You often feel like you’re being pinged around the battlefield like a pinball between the various grunts, getting very few opportunities to get on the offense until you destroy the enemy’s shamans. Thankfully there’s some enemy variety in these battles with bigger, heavier enemies hitting so hard you can’t block their attacks. This makes for some interesting battles that reward patience as you find the best openings to do the most damage. We also get giant enemies that need to be slowly weakened before you can finish them off with a variety of quick-time-events that unfortunately boil the flashy action down to carefully timed button presses.

The combat is sadly Viking: Battle for Asgard’s biggest issue, as it feels extremely limited and quite unsatisfying to actually perform. That’s a big problem for a game that is largely about killing demonic armies through hack-and-slash combat. However, for the patient player that is looking for a more explorative adventure through a wide, open game world, there is still a lot to love here. The assaults on enemy camps are extremely enjoyable, especially as you explore a labyrinthine, enemy stronghold before slaughtering its occupiers and freeing its captives. The gloomy, harsh environments have a wonderfully bleak and overbearing presence that not a lot of games have managed to achieve, and once you unlock fast travel you can genuinely snap to any unlocked waypoint on the map in an instant, which is a seriously impressive feat for an open world action game of this era. As the story progresses we’re also treated to the booming, overacted tones of Brian Blessed, who narrates the various cut scenes that appear after major events. He’s the perfect choice for a dramatic, fantasy action title and his performance is everything you could want from the man.

Viking: Battle for Asgard has wonderful presentation that really sells its feeling of hopelessness, as you attempt to rebuild after a catastrophic attack on your people. There are fantastic moments of quiet, considered stealth and infiltration that are punctuated with uplifting moments of freedom as you heroically rescue your imprisoned comrades, but unfortunately it’s just not enough to save this title. The combat is dull, repetitive and extremely limited and the large scale skirmishes only exacerbate an already frustrating combat system, despite looking incredibly impressive. Just make sure you download the latest patch for the PS3 version because the unpatched game tends to crash during the skirmishes.

5/10

Written by Lewis “Sonic Yoda” Clark 18/04/2021

Cover, Instruction Manual and Disc Scans

Screenshots

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