Viking: Battle For Asgard is the second console title from the highly-acclaimed development studio, The Creative Assembly. Having begun rather humbly in 1987 handling conversion work for Psygnosis and EA, before cutting-their-teeth on the innovative Shogun: Total War, The Creative Assembly have since signed a publishing deal with Japanese gaming legends SEGA. As the Total War series moved from strength-to-strength on PC, the studio turned it’s attentions to developing a console-orientated spin-off, and Spartan: Total Warrior was born.
As with Spartan: Total Warrior – the title’s spiritual predecessor – Viking: Battle For Asgard is much less based in the realm of reality than its PC brethren – the Total War series. In fact, with its goddesses and demons storyline, Viking: Battle For Asgard shows clearly its inspiration drawn from the God Of War series – even more so with it being released around the same time as the PSP’s God Of War: Chains Of Olympus. Battling as Skarin under the command of the goddess Freya, you must vanquish Hel and her Legion army from the realm of Midgard. The storyline isn’t all-too engrossing, but surely was always intended to take a back seat to the gameplay.
As the spiritual successor to Spartan: Total Warrior, the progression that has been made is evident in almost every aspect of the title. Chaotic battles remain the order of the day; but with far more structure to their inclusion. No longer are they the bulk of the game, but now an event which the player can trigger at set times. Viking: Battle For Asgard most closely resembles the recent Conan and God Of War series, and unfortunately UBi Soft’s recent disaster BeoWulf, whilst moving the proceedings to a much more freeform Sandbox environment. Each Level takes place on a large Map akin to the size of the World Map in The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, and within this Map are the player’s objectives – each a Sub-Level of their own. The player is given many Objectives to tackle in whichever order they wish, before tackling the final battle on a Level once having recruited enough warriors from the Sub-Levels, and those hidden around each Map. Consisting of only three Maps, many may think the title somewhat light-weight, however, with each Map containing around five-to-eight hours gameplay, the length of the title is to little concern once the Maps expanse is unveiled.
Completing Objectives allows previously unavailable areas of the Maps to be explored, and navigating across their vast expanse is made easier by the use of your Brisingamen. This artefact allows for a Radar System, displayed in the top right of the screen, on which you can set destinations, and the use of Leystones. Leystones basically allow you to instantly travel between any you have discovered, greatly reducing the length of the trek-back after death during an Objective. There are areas in which the detail on the Maps appears to be included for the sake of it, with no real bearing on gameplay and often resulting in lots of time running across fields around mountains to find a clear path to your destination. Much like the sailing element in the GameCube’s The Legend Of Zelda: Wind Waker, this aspect will most likely divide opinion; some will see it as part of the adventure, whereas others will see it as a mild irritation.
The gameplay as a whole is really quite inspired. Gory and tasteless for being so’s sake, yet both inventive and inspiring. It’s good to see the Xbox360’s genre line-up finally expanding, and Viking: Battle For Asgard marks a turning-point in the Current-Generation’s history; the point at which this generation’s exploration of advancing the Third-Person Adventure genre truly begun. Assassin’s Creed may have demonstrated the power of the Current-Generation and Grand Theft Auto IV will no doubt showcase the depth which developers can create, but Viking: Battle For Asgard has upped-the-bar for the average Third-Person Adventure title single-handedly, and with a considerably smaller budget than the aforementioned titles. It seems that SEGA have made another wise decision in associating themselves with The Creative Assembly for their out-of-house publishing portfolio, and with Viking: Battle For Asgard, Football Manager 2008, Condemned 2: Bloodshot, House Of The Dead: 2 & 3 Return and SEGA Superstar Tennis all hitting the shelves within close proximity, SEGA certainly have their bases covered over the busy Easter period.
Viking: Battle For Asgard has a striking appearance. The player’s avatar is pleasing chunky and brutish, and in-game has an almost cartoon-like appearance; quite a contrast to the dim greys and blacks or your opponents. The Maps are well detailed and the only let down are occasional Draw-Distance issues, but a signature styling comes in the form of the weather conditions. Areas of the Map controlled by the Vikings is easily identifiable to the controlled by the Legion; bright sunshine and lush green fields or snow-covered mountain tops line your path in Viking territory, whilst thundering rain and dark night sky is your only companion while on Legion controlled ground.
The sound quality is fantastic, up-tempo orchestral scores when in the heat of battle, and calm, melancholic tunes when in the wilderness. Plus, with British accents in abundance and narration by non other than Brain Blessed, it truly feels like home.
Viking: Battle For Asgard is not an easy game. But then, it was never meant to be. The Creative Assembly have created a title with a clear-cut target audience: eighteen-to-thirty-five year-old gamers, and this audience will love every last minute of the title. With at least fifteen-hours of gameplay on the disc and the possibility of new Maps being offered as Downloadable Content, an arresting visual style and brutish combat, Viking: Battle For Asgard should be considered one of the best First-Person Shooter alternatives available on the Xbox360.