A risky raid.

In an ancestral mead hall in Scandanavia, a brave group of warriors take their axes and sing prayers to Odin. They assemble at the longboats with a lust for glory in their hearts. They are a plucky young swedish development studio called Fatshark, setting sail with their new game War of the Vikings, preparing for a daring raid. Their target, the king of the multiplayer hack-and-slash genre: Chivalry: Medieval Warfare.

Though the Scandanavian countries are now known much more for universal healthcare than universal pillaging, War of the Vikings harkens back to the time when the Nordic peoples preferred coastal raiding to progressive taxation as a way of redistributing wealth. War of the Vikings places the conflict between Vikings and Saxons front and centre, tasks you to pick a side and fight on one of its many multiplayer-only servers. It’s functionally identical to Chivalry in this respect.

Brothers In Arms

The most notable difference between War of the Vikings and Chivalry is how good teamwork is even more vital. Replacing the modern-day cliché of health regeneration is the bandaging system. If you hold down the bandage button and aren’t killed in the intervening six seconds, your warrior will patch up his wounds, completely refilling his health bar. It’s important to protect your team-mates and hold the line while they fall back to bandage. However, sometimes it’s an even better idea to patch up your team-mates yourself. It only takes three seconds to patch up one of your allies. I remember one game where I’d be constantly fighting back to back with another Viking warrior protecting each-other’s flanks and axing down countless Saxons, with us patching up each other’s wounds after every skirmish.

war of the vikings rock fight

“That be our rock!”

Though this emphasis on teamwork and positioning is something to be lauded, it also highlights how the game isn’t feature-rich enough to completely support it. There’s no key to call to one of your nearby squadmates for a crucial heal, nor are there any other shortcut keys to co-ordinate with your team in the heat of battle. As many times as I’d be thankful to my allies for helping me out, I’d have times where I’d watch them charge off into a 4 on 1 battle or move around restlessly when I’d be trying to bandage them. Unless you’ve brought some voice-chat-ready friends along, you’ll just have to predict your allies as well as your enemies.

Characterful Combat

There’s a wide variety of maps, but they are all characterised by being narrow, small and lacking in height. There really isn’t much scope for archers to set up dedicated sniping positions from high up or much potential for squads to go for wide flanks on enemy positions by using concealed routes. Still, what the maps in War of the Vikings lack in tactical complexity, they somewhat make up for in ambiance. From villages and strongholds to mystical glades and frost-bitten fjords, locations will never feel too samey. Likewise, it’s fun to play the different factions as they both have unique voice-work and music. I particularly got much amusement from the suitably authentic sounding viking narrator lady who yelled at me to “send the saxons back to their white Christ!”, or one of my fellow warriors crying “Thar, slayeth he!”. War of the Vikings is definitely a game with character.

You can give your character a mighty beard that would shame ZZ Top, dye their shield hot pink or make them taunt their enemies with the infamous techno Viking dance.

Speaking of character, character customisation is a real strong point. There’s a vast array of ways to personalise your devout Saxon or raucous Viking. You can give your character a mighty beard that would shame ZZ Top, dye their shield hot pink or make them taunt their enemies with the infamous techno Viking dance. Best of all, you can earn all these costumes through battle, meaning you’ve got motivation to actually play the game and do well rather than micro-transaction your way to the cool stuff. It is satisfying buying items through gold you’ve plundered in battles rather than entering your credit card details.

Better still, your character has unique abilities that have a major effect in games. Whatever your preferred style, you can build your character around it. For example, your skirmisher character can take an ability that makes them draw their bowstring more rapidly after kills, meaning you can chain together a rapid succession of terrifying headshots if you have the skill. Stealthy abilities also abound, with one making your footsteps silent, allowing you to backstab enemies, another letting you fake your own death. Straight-up combat abilities are there too, letting you tackle enemies who are fleeing or rise from being incapacitated even without being revived.

Faltering Strikes

Though character customisation strikes a decisive blow for War of the Vikings, variation in gameplay is where it ends up axing itself in the knee. There are four different game modes: Team Deathmatch, Conquest, Arena and Pitched Battle (which is actually just a liquorice all-sorts of Conquest and Arena modes). While these modes sound different, they all boil down to grouping up and clashing with the enemy at some central point. Unlike Chivalry, there’s no catapults or trebuchets to man, or siege rams to push across the terrain. Conquest mode, for example, is simply a matter of standing around one of 4 or 5 points and trying to kill the nearby opposition until the capture bar fills up. It’s disappointing the lack of game modes on offer as the setting gives ample opportunity for it. Why not have a capture-the-flag mode where the Saxons have to stop the Vikings carrying loot and pigtailed wenches back to the longboats?

The combat itself doesn’t quite have the emphasis on precision of War of the Roses, for example, where you can control the exact trajectory of your sword swing. It doesn’t have the emphasis on timing your blocks as Chivalry does either, as blocking is as simple as holding down the parry button in one of four directions (or one of three if you’re equipped with a shield). War of the Vikings does, however, place an emphasis on timing the strength of your attacks. Holding down the attack button charges your swing and releasing it at the right moment maximises your damage.

Ultimately, fights are much more about the movement of your character than the movements of your sword or axe. Backpedalling away from your opponent towards some allies and circle-strafing onto the bad side of occupied enemies is often preferable to a straight-up fight. Since the gameplay modes heavily favour group battles in areas with very little cover from archers, (the wide-open courtyard of the monastery map being particularly unforgiving) don’t expect many extended one on one battles. War of the Vikings has a strong pick-up-and-play vibe to it. It’s easy enough to get stuck into a good battle and catch an unaware enemy with a crunching swing from your axe without having to become an expert duelist. This might please some, but might disappoint connoisseurs of medieval warfare games.

A review code of War of the Vikings was provided courtesy of Paradox Interactive. 

Fetch Me My Axe