Isentropic reviews the close quarter combat game 'War of the Vikings', the follow up to 'War of the Roses' by Paradox Interactive and Fatshark.
[ written review below ]
Hey everybody it's Isentropic here, and the time has come! So don your armour, grab your axe and follow me to war! To Valhalla!!!
Now that I've got that out of my system, War of the Vikings is the second multiplayer action game in the "War of" series, released on PC by Fatshark and Paradox Interactive. Now I must confess I didn't play War of the Roses, and am not very experienced when it comes to technical combat games, so War of the Vikings was all new to me. War of the Vikings is available through the Steam Store in a few different purchase options, Base Game, Blood Eagle Edition and Valhalla Edition. The major difference in purchase editions is the level of access to customisation options from the get go. Owners of the Blood Eagle or Valhalla Editions get access to higher level customisation options without needing to spend in game coins. These customisation options are still only obtainable when the player reaches the required experience level however.
The owners also receive, digital art books, soundtracks and edition specific Saxon and Viking helmets to further differentiate themselves from other players. It should be noted early on that all weapon and armour customization in War of the Vikings are superficial only and do not offer any combat based advantages. I like this concept for the purchase of the game, and am happy when companies give players options with how much they want to invest into a game, but in this instance I could not justify spending the large sum of money required to get the Valhalla Edition.
War of the Vikings is a multiplayer action game set during the time period of Viking invasion in Britain. In this game no time is wasted with pesky storylines and protagonists, the game's sole focus is its extremely technical close quarters combat system. Swinging a weapon in combat requires the player to click and hold the left mouse button and move the mouse in the direction in which you wish to swing from, before releasing and allowing the weapon to swing. While the left mouse button is being held a power bar fills in the lower centre of the screen displaying the intended swing intensity which in turn along with impact location determines the damage an attack will cause.
Similarly a player can parry by clicking and holding the right mouse button and moving the mouse in the direction they wish to block attacks from. Parrying in combat is essential and an orange on screen queue is used to prompt players as to what direction the opponent's attack is going to come from. I found this swinging and parrying system with the on screen queue to be a solid mechanic and allow for deep fighting strategies to be developed. An unblockable special attack is also available by pressing the F key but if dodged can leave a player open to counter attack with fatal consequences. While this sounds easy enough managing the direction of your attack and the associated intensity metre, while keeping a watch for incoming enemy attacks, all while negotiating your way around the battle field is extremely difficult and takes hours of game play to get used to, let alone master.
Using ranged weapons in War of the Vikings is far more straight forward in execution. If throwing a weapon the player simply clicks and holds the left mouse button, aims up the target and releases. If using a bow the player clicks and holds the right mouse button to draw the bow, a power bar in the bottom of the screen is then displayed showing the shot intensity, the player then at the correct timing clicks the left mouse button to fire. All ranged attacks needs to take into consideration arrow drop and travel time, to successfully hit the target. The game tutorial does an ok job of teaching these basics to the player in a static environment, but does not teach the player about advanced mechanics like dodging, or allow the player to practise on a moving opponent in one on one combat. I felt this tutorial was far too short and did not adequately prepare you for the battles ahead.
I recommend that new players to the series find a duelling server first up and practise some one on one combat with other real players. On the whole the game's community is supportive of new players and offer good feedback and help when you are playing on the duelling servers, but only if you ask.
After completing the tutorial the player can then join either the Saxon's or Vikings on a server in one of three game modes, team death match, conquest or arena. These game modes are what players have come to expect from multiplayer games. Team death matches involve the Saxon's and Vikings fighting it out with the winner being the team to reach the point cap first or have the most points at the end of a time limit. Conquest matches involve the two forces battling over specific locations on the map, with the winner being the team that controls all the locations or the most locations at the end of the time limit. Arena matches give each player one life per round with the aim being to have at least one team member still alive after killing the opposing team. Arena matches have varying amounts of rounds depending on the settings and all game modes support up to 24 players at a time. I found conquest mode to be the most entertaining with more strategy required for offensives and more team based play.
Players can choose from three basic character types, the warrior that can use all weapon types but most often uses a sword or axe with a shield. The skirmisher, who uses a bow primarily with a sword or axe as back up or the champion that uses heavy armour with a two handed axe. After obtaining enough experience and in game coins players can, through the load out editor, build their own character class based off these three main archetypes. The load out editor allows players to choose what weapons they wish to use matched with the perks that help them most in combat. These perks have only a minor influence to the combat, and the weapon and armour changes within each category are only superficial, therefore ensuring those that purchased the more expensive game editions do not have an unfair advantage. I had a lot of fun with the load out editor but it alone is not a good enough motivator to keep slaving away in punishing battles for a new cloak or taunt, even though the taunts are pretty hilarious.
The combat in War of the Vikings is complex, players must think strategically at all times when in battle. Managing stamina, which if depleted leaves the player open to counter attack and disarming is key. Running, parrying, using ranged weapons and swinging weapons all use stamina, which takes time to replenish. In one on one combat players must be patient, having an attack parried or missing an opponent with a strike often leaves the player open to counter attack and in this world one axe swing is all it take to send you to Valhalla, or the spawn point. I must say I was torn with this combat system, the level of detail and skill required is amazing and offers a great challenge to players. However often when an inexperienced player comes up against a seasoned fighter the battle is over so quickly that you don't feel like you learnt anything at all, and this can lead to rage quitting quite often. Due to the online nature of this game a huge amount of winning one on one combat is based on the players' lag. Ping differences over 100ms often mean the difference between life and death.
To try and decrease the rate at which my character was mounted on the oppositions swords and axes I decided to try my hand at archery. Archery in War of the Vikings is difficult as to be expected, leading a moving target while compensating for arrow drop and firing at the optimal time for maximum power takes some practise but is far more accessible to new players. Archers can be devastating in large battles but are extremely vulnerable if snuck up on by melee characters or caught in close quarters combat. I found archery a far more entertaining option in battle that offered a faster path to advancement but this still was not enough to stop the die rinse repeat frustration from creeping in .
The ability to revive downed players, bandage comrades or yourself in battle offers another layer of battle planning and is a great addition that promotes team play. Players that accidentally damage friendly characters in combat have their experience penalised, which is a great mechanism to teach players to be more careful when fighting in large groups. Battles are hectic and teams that do not coordinate their offensives and carefully attack are punished by teams that support each other and plan before running into battle.
The game as a whole looks good, with all of the Viking and Saxon armour and weaponry looking and feeling how it should. Environments vary in size and are consistent with the point in time the game is based around. Character models are good as well, and move fluidly in combat with only a few collision detection issues. Australian servers are sparse though due to the size of the community playing the game, and I did suffer from some connection issues early on that are slowly being rectified.
The complex combat of War of the Vikings is simultaneously the reason I hate and love this game. The satisfaction you feel every time you land that perfect arrow, or strike down a player in a duel is unlike anything I have experienced before but the problem is that it doesn't happen very often, especially when you are starting out, and this can make the game a chore to get into. Deaths too often feel cheap and happen without warning, while some players will find this their motivator to keep playing, most will find these deaths do not help them grow as a player and will alienate them from the game. The customisation options are quite good but are drip fed at too slow a rate for new players, after pushing my way through more than 20 hours of game play I still had access to barely anything fun to use or wear. While players would argue that items like cloaks and taunts are for the devoted payers only, I feel that more lower level items should be available to help motivate you early on to keep fighting.
All in all I had a good time with War of the Vikings and will continue to dabble in this game in the future. But due to its complexity and punishing nature I would only recommend this game to players who are familiar with the technical combat genre or who enjoy highly competitive games with steep learning curves. With my lack of technical combat gaming prowess, and tendency towards titles that offer better rewards for grinding I can only score War of the Vikings as 6.5 out of 10.