December 2, 2016 11:22 AM | Thomas Faust
The thegn is dead, long live the new thegn! That's you, by the way. New Viking ruler on the block, having inherited the reign over your lands from your father. However, some of your fellow tribesmen don't seem too happy with that, and before you know it, your inauguration is interrupted by unfriendly northmen, crashing your party. This is merely the start of a grand adventure, but it sets the tone of Expeditions: Viking from the get-go. Cold weather, mead, and the sound of battle. If that sounds tempting, you should read on.
While Logic Artist's previous game, Expeditions: Conquistador, looked and played a lot like a King's Bounty title, Expeditions: Viking goes full-on "Bioware RPG, Infinity Engine era". If these words excite you... well, you should be very excited indeed.
Vikings is divided into two campaigns, the first of which has you consolidating your power in your northern home. Questing about in isometric view, leveling up a formidable array of different skills, and slowly getting ready to depart for Britain's shores, ripe for raiding and plundering - or so you've heard. While you're following a fixed storyline, it doesn't really feel like you're traversing a set path. There are numerous optional quests and enough decisions to give you the illusion of freedom. It's worth noting that you're not bound to a good or evil path - you can be the nasty brute, the wise ruler, and everything inbetween.
You're starting out with a fixed cast of characters, and a few hours in you can also recruit fully customizable mercenaries. Build a boat, get some men, and travel the high seas towards Britain. This is where the game's second campaign, which has you raiding along the British coast and even venturing further inland, starts. Travelling the northern roads is no walk in the park, and you often have to make camp, which involves guarding, hunting, fixing wounds, and generally trying to get a good night's sleep before the marching continues. All of this makes secondary, non-combat skills feel like more than an afterthought. In fact, you're going to run into trouble keeping your warband alive if you don't take care of these things and delegate the nightly tasks to suit your characters' abilities.
The turn-based combat has you moving your characters on a hex-grid and trying to keep them from getting seriously injured - and it feels just great. Injuries don't just disappear after a fight; they can cripple you and even get worse with time if not treated. This danger always looms over your party, which makes it all the more important to plan ahead carefully. It also turns every flying arrow and every swung weapon into a nail-biter, which is exactly how turn-based fights should feel.
One minor annoyance is the frequency of the encounters. Whenever you make camp, you need to drive the campsite's previous inhabitants away (read: you slaughter them and grab their stuff). If you have a long march ahead of you, that could mean two or three stops to make camp, and consequently two or three battles you have to fight. This gets less challenging the further you play. But then, I haven't made it to Britain yet, so I cannot speak for the challenge of British camping sites. In any case, this is merely a balance issue and might get resolved before the game is out.
It's a shame that the game is not quite ready yet, as it would be just perfect for long, cold winter nights. (Crackling fireplace and drinking horn full of mead optional.) The Viking theme is well done, the writing is good, and the combat and exploration mechanics complement each other in the most satisfying ways. If the full version can keep up with the preview build, Expeditions: Viking will proudly stand amongst genre greats when it releases next spring.