Continuing with my theme of exploring the Norse Mythology and Vikings this month, I was lucky to come across Expeditions: Vikings. To be honest, after playing through The Great Whale Road I was reluctant to dive right into another historical strategy-driven RPG adventure so soon. I didn’t want my dreams of being the ruler of a Viking village to come crashing down around my ears again or to deal with frustrating combat system.
I’m so glad this didn’t turn out to be the case.
The premise is simple: you’re the new chieftain of a small Norse village after your father passed away. He was quite the leader, having sailed across the ocean in search of riches, but only half of his crew returned. Your new role as chieftain is to take over where he left off by forging new alliances, establishing trade routes, and even launch raiding expeditions along the British Isles.
Steamrolling your way through every encounter does not guarantee victory. Your words can be just as effective as your actions and, in many cases, may be the only weapon you have on hand. Be careful with words and keep your daggers sharp – and welcome to the world of the Vikings.
Remember what I said earlier about words being just as powerful as a sharpened axe? Well, it’s true since from your first day as chieftain you’ll have plenty of decisions to make. Your responses carry a lot of weight within the village and during dialogue-heavy interactions with NPCs. Dialogue trees range from simply gathering information to deciding whether a man should be killed for challenging your position as chieftain. Decisions and the way the story plays out along with how characters react to you in later interactions all way on your responses.
Strategy-RPGs aren’t my favorite genre, but man oh man did this one exceed my expectations. Right from the start the ball is rolling as characters are introduced along with the abilities they can be granted.
Characters can be customized to have an assortment of abilities ranging from passive skills that increase accuracy during combat to improving skills with certain weapons. There’s no limit on abilities that can be upgraded from being able to heal in the middle of a battle to demoralizing the enemy so their weapon accuracy is decreased. Points are used to upgrade each ability and can be earned by participating in battles and winning.
One of the biggest gripes I had with The Great Whale Road was its combat system and I dreaded having to deal with another kind with Expeditions: Vikings. While the two are similar in design, I was glad to see it considerably polished here. Heck, it ended up being a debate whether I loved the story aspect or the battle system that worked almost flawlessly.
The combat system is turn-based as both players and enemy take turns positioning and getting ready for action. Abilities can be activated during each turn, attacks can be made, and characters can be moved to another location after they’re done attacking. Skirmishes vary in difficulty from going one-on-one against another character to dealing with waves of enemies coming after a few turns have been made.
Strategy does play a big part during these battles since characters can use the environment to their advantage. For example, Archers can take cover behind objects in the environment and fire from behind cover while other characters can charge head on into battle. One touch I liked is being able to have two weapon sets that characters can switch between in the middle of a skirmish. Say, keeping a shield and sword on hand for up-close encounters while for others characters can be switched over to wielding a bow and arrow. This made gameplay SO much easier and meant being able to switch up strategies halfway through battles and adjust accordingly.
My only issue was due to enemies’ AI when it was their turn to start moving. They could take a few minutes to move around (gauging a strategy on how to take my guys down I imagine) and there were times I’d just tab out of the game to check my messages or visit a few websites until my turn came around. Still, this is a small complaint compared to how smooth combat usually flowed.
There are main and optional quests that can be done too to further the storyline. Side quests can involve gaining an edge in a fight to just chatting with NPCs to gain their trust. The village can even be explored and observations made by the player’s chieftain who will provide information on a chosen object.
I enjoyed doing the optional quests most since this introduced me to more NPC characters that were surprisingly well fleshed out. From a grizzled Blacksmith I have to convince to lend me better weapons and armor to an old witch who appears to be suffering from dementia, it’s easy to believe these characters are living people. They have personality, day-to-concerns, and morals they strove to live by. Learning their small, everyday stories felt like talking to actual people. Sure, it’s a small detail, but it’s so easy to overlook. Talking with NPC characters felt organic and helped to immerse me in this cruel, cold world the Vikings lived in.
Can I just say I love the graphics too? The world of these Vikings is beautiful to gaze upon and within the first five minutes I just had to stop and gawk at the surroundings. Snow falling down softly from the sky, the messy and lived-in longhouse my Chieftain possessed, and even NPC characters strolling about having their own conversations. The atmosphere truly felt like a small village and people are just going about their day.
The Chieftain even has to deal with insubordination when a few drunkard brothers show up at his father’s funeral challenging him to a fight. Later, the Chieftain goes directly to the homestead of the brothers with the choice to either burn the house down, exile the entire family, or force them to swear fealty. So many options to choose from in a typical Viking day!
Even the vocabulary is different; the village Chieftain is constantly referred to as ‘thegn’, which is an Old English word meaning ‘servant, attendant, or retainer’ or ‘one who serves’. The term was used to describe people of an aristocratic nature like a king or nobleman. That the game used these terms in their correct context is pretty cool and a wonderful touch.
There are so many details Expeditions: Vikings gets right that it’s easy to recommend to both fans of strategy/RPG and history buffs alike. From the authentic writing to detailed character creation, there’s much to love and admire here. The storyline is well-paced and keeps players engaged by adding elements of mystery and high adventure scattered throughout this ancient world. This is the REAL Viking experience I craved and got back in spades.