While this is a written preview, you can also watch a whopping 50 minute preview of character creator, RPG and combat here.
A couple of months back, you may recall I interviewed Logic Artists about their up-and-coming Viking RPG, Expeditions: Viking. No, no, no, come back, it’s safe. There’s no horned helmets here. It’s that type of Viking RPG where Scandinavia is less screaming “FOR THOOOORRRR” in blood lust and more eyeing up English coasts like a drunk eyes up a kebab on a Friday night. There be no fantasy around these parts, just historical navigation with choices that have repercussions. Lovely.
Expeditions: Viking is a turn-based RPG by the same developers of Expeditions: Conquistador, which fortunately I got to preview. Coincidentally to the intro, you play as the new leader of a Viking clan after your father took a trip to the British Isles and never came back. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for people to eye up your leadership spot and the fertile land your clan lives on.
Although this game doesn’t start with a feast ushering in new leadership. Instead, it begins with character customization. You pick a name, the name of your father, gender and general rough appearance. Although there is an emphasis on “general rough appearance” at this point, as I kept hoping for more faces and clothing options.
Where Expeditions: Viking lacks in cosmetics, it makes up in mechanical choices. You get 4 points to fling into your five attributes, and 50 skill points to use on weapon, offensive, support, utility and passive skills. Each skill costing differing amounts of points, with some offering multiple tiers of increasingly expensive amounts. Even with a large portion locked off (due to it being an early build) I had a lot of freedom to build for any role I wanted (even non-combat). So, being a simpleton, I went with the classic axe-‘n’-shield build.
Despite aiming to keep myself alive with a heavy combat build, apparently combat success wasn’t in the cards for me as I died. I died a lot. It seemed like each NPC was built with the same prowess as my character. This may sound like a criticism, but I was happy to be on level footing rather than tearing down hundreds with each lethal swing. Instead, I had to fight smart. I tried to force the enemy down tight areas as to allow my archers to tear into the enemy, with success every so often.
Interestingly though, well, I think it was meant to be like that.
My experience was dying a lot, but it was also about recovery. Even if the battle ends with a total wipe, the story doesn’t stop. Usually you’ll just slink back to a camp where you try again, leading to hit-‘n’-die tactics as you wear the enemy down one loss at a time. Sometimes though, if it is story based, the tale will continue on keeping in mind you lost. Your combat failure, interestingly, being a choice in of itself that is able to impact the narrative.
While the game emphasizes choice, it is with an eyebrow raised. Oddly, the most potent ones I saw was “if you live or die in important combat scenarios” (usually die though). Maybe this is showing how cheeky I am about preview play length (i.e. less than 5 hours), but I couldn’t catch any moment besides once where a choice I made changed things.
Coincidentally, perhaps don’t dangle character death over my head like a pair of car keys, eh? Yes, I thought it was genuinely honorable to kill my friends, and yes I was disappointed where I was honestly given two options which were two different ways of saying “okay, I wouldn’t kill you and him.” Perhaps this was done so I wouldn’t end up soloing fights, but the game gave me the option to consider slaying my dishonorable allies. So I think we’ve got at least shared blame in this.
Although choice is a tricksty individual, the good ones don’t come fast and thick within the first few hours. They wink at you every so often, saying “oh, maybe THIS time I’ve made a difference.” Usually bold face lying, which makes it all the more sweeter when something you did has significantly changed the world around you. So perhaps a preview isn’t the best place to mention about agency, at least besides forcing me into a “yes or yes” choice that one time.
“But what’s the combat like though?” I wish I could inject some in-depth analysis, but Expeditions: Viking is a turn-based strategic RPG with hexagonal squares. Besides the statistics the character creator throws in that makes things rather spicy, and the occasional environmental effects or traps, we’ve danced this song before. It is satisfying in a way that works but does not stick in your mind.
So it probably sounds like I’m not sold. Well, oddly, I am sold on this. Where the game climbs up a cliff especially is its writing. While I doubt it will strum on the heart strings like a banjo, it has the type of attention to detail that feels alive, of its era and unique. Perhaps it is due to how the Viking era gets thrown about like a stress doll in pop-culture, but seeing it represented in a believable way feels just so fresh and interesting.
So I am curious in it. Through all the broken ribs the fights keep leaving me, the not-choices at times that have yet to pay off, and narrowed cosmetic choices, I do want to see this narrative through. I want to see what becomes of the Vikings who decided to traverse the land of my ancestors to pillage all they could. Maybe see someone sharing my surname choking on a deeply-inserted sword as blood seeps out between their lips.
Expeditions: Viking is looking at a 2017 release date onto PC.
A PC Review Code for Expeditions: Viking was provided by Logic Artists for the purpose of this review