Publisher: Paradox Entertainment
Considering the success of War of the Roses, we weren’t too surprise when we learned Fatshark were to create another multiplayer slaughter-fest. Its large scale battles, providing up-close sword slinging alongside raining arrows and mounted cavalry, were an impressive sight, mainly thanks to its high-performance netcode and unique hit detection. It may have been chaotic, but it was the closest any of us would get to a real battle. Well, unless you like LARPing. And foam weaponry, but that takes the danger out of combat, really.
But I digress – War of the Roses was a brutal but unique multiplayer experience, and its move to Free to Play last year meant everyone could get involved before deciding if they want to spend any cash. So, a spin-off exploring a different battlefield in history was inevitable, and a setting where Vikings battle Saxons over monasteries and/or mead seemed like the perfect place to set it. With the ground work already laid with the game engine, all Fatshark needed to do was make the weapons and characters fit the period, create some new maps, and perhaps throw in a new game mode that makes sense to the conflict. Not exactly a simple undertaking, but not as huge as designing an entire game from scratch.
The problem is, even after using Early Access to help develop the game for some time now, the end result is a smaller and frankly more restrictive experience for your money.
For instance, the player cap has been reduced from 64 to 32, meaning the maps are a much smaller affair for the most part, with mounted combat being left in the stable (almost certainly as a consequence of the smaller maps and player count.) While it may be in keeping with the setting, ultimately it made the combat more restrictive in terms of scope, with the available maps (of which there are about three per mode, and some of those are recycled) tending to funnel players down a few select routes. Again, considering the reduced player size this certainly makes sense to ensure a consistent flow for matches, but it’s a little disappointing when you consider what came before it. Smaller combat options are good to throw in, but making them the only choice means that WotV does feel like a smaller affair, even with its bigger game modes.
The initial tutorial experience certainly allows players to learn how to move and how to use the various weapons available, but it does very little else. No game modes are explained, and don’t even think that it will prepare you for any actual combat. No, you learn by doing in WotV, and much like with WotR you’ll pay the iron price repeatedly until you know how to survive an axe-wielding maniac, and it is in-game that you are initially presented with your three archetypes – the nimble and lightly armoured Skirmisher, the all-rounder that is the Warrior, and the juggernaut that is the Champion. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages in terms of protection, weaponry and speed, but while each of them will cater to individual play styles or situational moments, they die all the same when the metal starts flying.
And that provides a lovely segue to the combat itself. It remains largely unchanged from WotR, with directional movement dictating which way the sword swings and the mouselook providing which angle a shield is held. It’s a system that has been tried and tested, and providing players have the patience to learn its foibles (much like you would have to with, say, the Souls games) it can be an incredibly rewarding one. Personally, I found myself swinging between moments that were of brilliant skill (ie. luck) and absolute chaos (ie. being completely terrible at everything.) When several player converge it can become more hectic than skilful, but then that surely highlights the unpredictability of war during that time period.
Unless it’s you versus a Zerg of four or so opponents. That ending is pretty easy to predict.
There is an issue though – despite the way you could be dispatched via a sword to the spleen, or an arrow to the head (none of the knee nonsense) or a spear through your gut, it all lacked the impact and weight I was expecting. Sure, there were moments when a two-handed axe made short work of my virtual face, but dismemberment has actually been a rare occurrence. It perhaps doesn’t help that the infamous executions from WotR have not returned, which again takes away some of the impact of death in the battlefield, but it is lacking that extra oomph that could have made the fighting far more meaningful. Or horrifying. Either or. At the very least they could have improved the animations to look less stiff, but that is sadly not the case.
As with WotR, a progression system lies at the heart of longevity of WotV, meaning landing a knockdown and/or killing blow earns you XP, or achieving long shots with ranged weaponry, or even reviving an ally before he is brutally dispatched by the enemy. That said, the inclusion of friendly fire means players are deducted XP if they hit a friendly player – which, if you are having a hard time with the controls, will seem excessively punishing – but on the whole the system works as it encourages players to strike true and not flail around like they’re playing Octodad.
Damn it – now I’m imagining Octodad running around holding several axes. That would probably be the best game mode ever.
Anyway, for the first few levels players will be able to sample the three archetypes before being able to create a custom loadout to create the ideal virtual fighter. Although the majority of the options available are purely cosmetic (with more extravagant options unlocking as the player levels up) the perks system allows for additional fine tuning. Upgrades such as faster movement or better range with a bow add some welcome variety to the fold, and I honestly found none of the perks were overpowered in the grand scheme of things thanks to their situational nature.
The lack of variety in game modes in something that really suffers considering the reduced scale and size of the game, and while Team Deathmatch and Conquest provide familiar modes and objectives, it would have been good to see something other than Pitched Battle (or ‘last man standing’) to mix things up a bit. Sure, there’s Arena mode for those that want to kill indiscriminately, but something akin to Rush mode in Battlefield would have fit so well here. Make it Stopwatch-based, have the Vikings burn and pillage objectives, and then switch teams at the end. Bingo. Instead we’re left with the same-old which is disappointing for a game that is asking for £15 when its predecessor is cheaper, has larger scale battles and an established community, is already available with a generous demo to download absolutely free.
And therein lies the issue with WotV. By reducing the scale of the fight and not replacing removed battlefield options with something else, it makes it hard to recommend at its current price, especially when players can jump into WotR at any time. Reskinning the game to be all about Vikings is all well and good, but the lack of any general improvement across the board makes it seem (for lack of a better word) lazy. For instance, why isn’t there a way to team up with friends outside of matches so you can join a game as a group, instead of hoping the auto-balance feature will allow you to join the same side? Why haven’t Fatshark at least attempted to tidy up the animations a little? Had some extra polish been applied the reduced scale could have been overlooked, but instead it just adds to the problem, which is a shame for a game that could have made a great alternative to fighting over the English crown. It’s certainly capable of being fun when the stars line up, but for the most part I’m not sure this one is worthy of entry to Valhalla.
I would complain that the best beards are not only hugely expensive, but require a high level to unlock, but in fairness I understand why – great beard is not given, it is earned.
- The hit detection from WotR continues to provide unique and interesting combat.
- The customisable loadouts & perks system allows player to adjust to their own playstyle.
- Fans of Fatshark’s previous work will be at home here…
- … but lack of new game modes & additional polish, or even addressing existing issues, is disappointing.
- The reduction from 64 to 32 players severely affects the scope of the gameplay.
- Despite a tutorial sequence, new players will still have to learn how to play the hard way.
- War of the Roses is cheaper and is more feature-complete. This is not.
The Short Version:
War of the Vikings takes what made its predecessor a standout multiplayer title and fails to build upon it - in fact takes a few steps back for reasons we’re unsure of. Still, if you’re looking for more brutal hand-to-hand combat or fancy running around a virtual Viking, Fatshark’s latest will do the trick, but with War of the Roses available at a lower price - and far more feature-complete - it’s hard to recommend at full price to all but the most dedicated of genre fans.