Dead in Vinland is a survival RPG where you’re in charge of leading a small of people who’ve been exiled from their homeland. It’s one of those games where the more I played it the more I started to question whether I was either enjoying myself or bored out of my mind. Playing it left me left wondering if the saying “too much of a good thing” applies here.
You’re introduced to Eirik, whose family has been attacked by raiders and have driven them out of their homeland. They hop on a ship and set sail for greener pastures, but their luck doesn’t holdout after crashing onto an island. Though everyone makes it out alive they begin to figure out how start making this new land their home.
Just when they start to feel settled in and wonder if the worst is behind them, a brute calling himself Bjorn pays them a visit. A quick battle ensues; Eirik’s family loses and Bjorn demands they pay him tribute if they don’t want to die and if they hope to survive, they’ll keep paying until he decides they’re no longer worth his time. Faced with these odds, Eirik and his family decide they’ll bend the knee for a while…but in the shadows, they’re looking for new allies and building up their strength for the day they’ll kill Bjorn and claim the island as their own.
The first hour of Vinland is overwhelming and the tutorial wasn’t much help since you’re bombarded with information. Everything from figuring out how to place people at their workstations and how to improve their skills clutters the screen with arrows pointing at stats or menus that need to be accessed. I slogged through and learned the basics and armed with this new knowledge and set it to an easier difficulty before restarting the game. Once I calmed down I began to appreciate the amount of detail that went into this survival management title, but along the way started to notice glaring flaws.
There’s a lot going on, from managing resources to improving character skills by performing the same task over and over. Eirik has high crafting so I used him when making new buildings like a lumber station for gathering wood and a quarry for collecting stone. His daughter Kaira, on the other hand, has high stealth and forestry, making her perfect for exploring the map and hunting.
When tasked with making a new building, Eirik would have it done in one day while another character assigned to crafting could take twice as long to finish a new building. Eirik’s family came with a good mix of skills to work with so you can either focus on having them specialize in certain areas like scavenging to gather supplies from the wreckage of their ship or have them well rounded to perform other tasks around their home.
You’ll manage resources like food and water to keep your people alive, but also keep an eye on their emotional health. Characters will get depressed throughout the day and their mood will start to drop. Just like in real life, you have to balance work and play so characters don’t die if their mood drops too low. It took me the longest time to figure out I had to build a tavern where people could sit and talk with one another. Over time, their depression decreased and I was able to put them back to work, putting them on a roster to keep a steady flow of supplies coming in so my characters didn’t starve while making sure they had off-time to relax and shoot the breeze with other family members.
Adventure elements are sprinkled throughout Vinland – this is where Kaira became my favorite all-around character to play around with. Each day you have a chance of uncovering parts of the island and slowly expanding the map that lets you explore new areas. These new areas were filled were plenty of treasure, supplies and uncovered mysteries about the people who used to live on the island. The dawn of each day brought with it a new surprise and another chance to discover secrets about this new land.
Where Dead in Vinland falls short, sadly, is with a turn-based fighting system that felt out of place and left me dreading the moment I got a notification Kaira had entered battle. It felt primitive for a game that goes into great detail about how to manage people and provide a good balance of work and play in their lives. Each character has a certain amount of “points” they can spend on either moves or attacks. You can choose to perform basic attacks, buff your characters, or end your turn early to accumulate points to perform a more powerful move next turn.
Despite paying tribute Bjorn’s men attack on sight so each time one of my people ventured out they had a chance of an encounter. Fighting was nothing more than seeing your characters face off against generic enemies who were barely better than swaying pictures. You can position soldiers forward to protect archers and healers in your group, but this seemed almost fruitless since my characters seemed to be targeted at random.
It’s clear a lot of thought and effort went into Dead in Vinland, but it’s not a game I’d choose to play again in my spare time. While I did come around to appreciating some of its more nuanced elements, and I’m a sucker for the Norse theme, the need to constantly micromanage precious resources and moods often felt overwhelming. The lackluster combat system only adds to the sense of despair; there’s only so many hours in the day, and playing Dead in Vinland makes you feel every one of them.