I’m a sucker for Nordic settings. Skyrim took my breath away, Howling Fjord was my favorite zone in World of Warcraft, I love the Freljord in League of Legends, and the Banner Saga stole my heart.
Mixing Vikings and ARPGs, then, sounded like an excellent combination to me—and that’s exactly what Vikings – Wolves of Midgard does. It’s a Diablo-like that uniquely puts its fjords front and center, making them an integral part of the game. Set in a cold, barren landscape, WoM introduces a mechanic on the first act where your surroundings actively work against you; your warrior will be frozen to death unless they periodically check in on fires that are hidden throughout each zone. It’s a very satisfying experience, creating a balancing act of both completing the level to 100% (which gives additional bonuses) while not dying to frostbite.
Unfortunately, however, that’s about as unique as the Wolves of Midgard gets. Other than that mechanic, it’s a fairly derivative action RPG without much spirit. You click, you move, and you spam a lot to kill mobs while being fed piecemeal of a very dry and poorly written story. With the exception of boss fights, mobs are brainless and the AI is weak. Bugs are plenty, in the review build we played, and we found them around each corner. Equipping items is a clunky process, multiplayer is exceptionally rough with its lag and rampant disconnects, and many mobs will fall from the sky only to stand still until attacked.
The breadcrumb of any ARPG is its loot. Sadly, Vikings – Wolves of Midgard is status quo and rote there as well. The end bosses drop the same legendary for each player in multiplayer. And even if you do get another item you think your co-op pal might rather have, it wouldn’t matter. For some reason there’s no trading system nor the ability to drop items in the game.
Vikings must not have heard of mercantilism.
Other backwards choices from the game designers include forcing players to hold shift to toggle to see loot on the ground—a mechanic last seen in Diablo II which, while one of the best games and the genre standard, surely shouldn’t be used as a strict blueprint for loot twenty years later. Blood orbs also drop from each mob and once you gather enough blood, you level up. It’s just a fancy way of gathering experience and it’s sort of cool. In theory, at least. In practice, orbs are scattered everywhere and their pick-up range is inexplicably short causing frustration and easily leading to missed orbs if you aren’t methodical. Or if your co-op player wanders away.
The ball is dropped on talents as well. They’re another streamlined system that lacks heart; builds aren’t that special and no ability we tried particularly stood out in strength or uniqueness. There are no abilities that change the class entirely and make it memorable, no frost versus fire version of a sorceress. You’ll be fine if you go down a tree and just follow the blinking arrows.
All this is to say it’s actually fun enough—in that mindless ARPG way. Cutting through mobs and breaking down their huts to loot gold, wood, and blood orbs isn’t torture. There’s still a mild rush when you get a shiny new drop that increases your DPS. The graphics are beautiful and the landscapes very much make an isometric Skyrim.
But with so many Diablo clones on the market that all seem to do it better—whether it be in their story, a better loot system, or simply stronger mechanics—why would you put time into this game? You wouldn’t, unless you were a giant fan of the genre.
And that’s the only way in good conscience we can recommend the game. Play it if you love hack and slashes, loot, and don’t expect much in way of a story. You simply won’t find a challenge here nor a game that rewards you for time spent. It’s as cold as the fjords themselves.
Disclosure: A copy of the game was provided for review.