Game: "Viking: Battle for Asgard"
System: Xbox 360
Published by: Sega
Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Review: Pirates and ninjas have been getting more than their share of attention lately. Let us not forget one of the greatest proponents of swordplay and dismemberment: the viking.
Strong as they are, Vikings arenít invincible, so itís always a good idea to get the backing of a god or two. In this case, our hero, Skarin, gets into the good graces of Freya, and is sent to battle the armies of Hel, including her champion, Drakan. He starts out at a bit of a disadvantage, what with Hel having all but conquered the Norse world, but thatís what immortality is for.
Itís not much of a story, and the voice actors donít seem to be that impressed with it either, but thatís not important. The bottom line is that youíll need to hack and slash your way across the Scandinavian wilderness in order to turn things around for mankind. Each of the three major locals in the game is more or less completely open for exploration. Therein, youíll have to liberate a host of locations being held by Helís forces (theyíre being ďHelídĒ) in order to mass enough troops and resources to assault the larger strongholds that Hel has made.
The game tells you that by freeing certain locations, you can gain access to better items and even increase your health bar. This is technically true, but youíre going to have to free all of them in order to commence the great siege battles and move the story along. Really, the only variation is in what order you liberate said settlements prior to the bid battles.
And what about these huge battles? By now youíve ripped the doors off of half a dozen cages filled with Viking warriors, and untied the hands of dozens more, how about you put those ingrates to good use? Hereís where the game really shines. Battle for Asgard was done by the people who gave us the Total War series, and if thereís one thing they know how to do, itís cram a screen full of battling NPCs. And itís done well on the 360, apart from a couple of crashes I experienced during a couple of the big battles. Each battle is divided up into sections wherein you and your troops (read: you) must defeat two or three of the enemyís most powerful troops, typically the troop-spawning shaman. You can call in some dragon-made air strikes, but only if you can lay your hands on enough gems, which the enemy has been keeping around just in case you needed them.
The other place where the game looks its best is in the brutal combat. Limbs are routinely hacked off, and when the enemy is most vulnerable, thatís when itís time to lay into them. Sure, his sword arm is gone and all he can do is clutch at the bloody stump, but what if he decides to pick up that sword with his remaining hand? In the words of Mortal Kombat: Finish him! Skarin will execute a random finishing move ranging from a simple stab and chop, to splitting the enemy in half width-wise, and even a decapitation that is inexplicably followed by more dismemberment. Youíll be doing this a lot, but that still doesnít stop the game from going into slow motion every time you finish off the last enemy nearby. By the end of the game, Iíd say I spent at least an hour watching slo-mo executions.
The biggest problem with the game is how little variance there is in combat. You can learn a fair number of different moves to spice things up and keep your opponents off balance, but thereís no variation in either armor or weapons. Skarin uses his same sword and axe combination for the whole game, and while certain quests involve ďpreparingĒ your sword for a fierce battle, such quests do not strengthen the sword in any tangible way.
The game tries to add a little more depth to combat by giving you a rage meter: You kill enemies, the gauge fills up, then you unleash it. Youíve seen it a million times before, and it usually works. The catch here is that you can use the gauge to enchant your sword with elemental damage: fire, ice, or lightning. Ice, however, is the only one you should bother with, as the others merely increase the damage you deal. An ice-enchanted sword, however, will kill almost any enemy in two hits: one to freeze them, and one to shatter them. And if it doesnít kill them, it slows them down so significantly that you can beat them mercilessly until they finally do keel over.
Itís really disappointing to see a game with mediocre combat mechanics when combat is supposed to be the main focus. If they do ever make a sequel to Battle for Asgard, which they probably wonít in light of the ending, the very least they can do is give poor Skarin another weapon. Or hey, how about some armor? Even a nice bearskin shirt to cover his hairless chest would be appreciated.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
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