And this preparation is where the brains come in. Charge into every fracas and treat Viking like it’s just another hack-and-slash game and you won’t often come out on top. Hel’s troops are frequently too numerous or too tough for you to take on large numbers simultaneously, so it pays to look for an alternative approach. Once you’re a third of the way into the game you’ll find yourself scoping out each enemy encampment with care, looking for possible points to infiltrate and working out whether there’s a way to free the captives without calling out every undead mongrel in hearing distance. Doing so is worthwhile, because once freed your men will happily fight their own way out to safety, tipping the balance of power back in your favour. It’s not that Viking is an easy game – there will be times when you feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall – but when those times arise it’s usually because you’re taking the wrong approach. Unable to infiltrate Hel’s barracks because the guards and champions are just too tough to take on your tod? Can’t free those prisoners without getting shot down by archers? Don’t just resurrect and transport yourself back to the nearest stone and try again – look for another angle and you should see a new way forward.
Stealth and exploration are important to the game and there are even a few sections that require sub-Tomb Raider platforming skills. All the same, combat is at its bloody heart. At first the fighting system seems crude and simple, particularly after the likes of God of War 2 or Devil May Cry 4, with only two basic attacks to kick off with. In fact, you can get through a sizable chunk of the game using just these attacks in basic combos, but you’ll have a fairly miserably time of it. Groups of goons will take ages to batter, and you’ll regularly find yourself back at your restart point. The trick is to find each island’s battle arena and then cough up your horded gold for additional moves. These, activated using combinations of the attack buttons and bumpers, will enable you to carve your way through groups of enemies in a shorter time, or tackle the bigger chaps with fewer carefully timed blows.
Even once your combo list has begun to fill up the hack-and-slash action never quite hits the heights that it does in GoW2 or DMC4, but it’s certainly capable and very satisfying. On top of that, it’s one of the few games outside of the God of War games to get finishing moves right. Sure, it’s still a case of whacking the right buttons in the right order, but the prompts are large, the timing isn’t split second, and the grisly slow-motion pay off always makes the effort worth your while. Frankly, I’m not 100% sure I want to see blood and guts this detailed, but it all helps to make Viking the highly visceral experience it is.