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OK. I can think of some reasons to grumble about the battles. At times, the frame rate takes a hit due to the sheer amount of carnage going on on-screen, and there are times when it all gets a bit confusing or when you'd like a bit more control of where your comrades are going and what they're doing. All the same, I can't think of another action game that has simulated mass combat this effectively. Vikings and Hel's legions aren't just standing in the background and poking each other politely with spears - they're hacking at each other like their lives depend on it. There's a real sense of weight and momentum to the fighting, and something undeniably thrilling about being at the spearhead of a headlong Viking charge. We're not talking of some weedy battle like the one thrown in at the end of the Golden Compass movie; we're talking Helm's Deep in Peter Jackson's The Two Towers. And if the mano-e-mano fights that cap the major confrontations are a little anti-climactic in comparison to the big boss battles in God of War 1 or 2, the overall experience is still bloody great.
Overall, I'll admit to a little disappointment with how Viking has turned out, but only a little. Let's be clear. For all its blood and guts, Viking isn't as dramatic or magnificent a game as Sony's mighty Greek myth duo, but then they present a fast-paced, pre-scripted, linear chain of encounters, not a world you can explore as you will. Viking is a bit of a slow burner, and it requires a different kind of play. Arguably its biggest fault is that - even with a clearly marked map and plenty of onscreen help - it doesn't always make it clear quite what that play is. Were there a sequel (and I genuinely hope there is) it could do with a little more variety on the objectives front, a spot more in the way of interactive scenery and a few more genuinely impressive beasts to slay (I'm sure Norse mythology runs thick with that sort of thing), but this first instalment remains one of the most engaging and immersive games I've played so far this year. Have a little patience and prepare for an awful lot of blood, and this is one saga you'll be happy to see through right to the end.
Not quite the God of War/Spartan/Crackdown combo we might have hoped for, but still a fine hack-and-slash epic with impressive battles and a magnificent world to explore.