Normally when I start writing a review I think of something that serves as a byline for what’s to follow, something to encapsulate the meat of what readers are about to partake in. I usually try to be as optimistic as possible, never wanting to prejudice the review with front loaded opinions before I’ve presented my case. When attempting to talk about Fimbul, however, I found myself having to restart a few times. Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to seem too harsh, or to come off as too condescending toward a development team that clearly wanted to make something close to them.
The fact of the matter is, Fimbul isn’t a good game. There are nuggets of what might have been a good game present, but these are hindered by mucky gameplay and unwieldy level design that makes attempting to find anything positive to say a lot more challenging than necessary.
The game’s story centers around Norse mythology and a revenge plot set before the events of Ragnarok, though is never explored in any great detail. I realize it’s become fashionable in games to call back to the most familiar mythological terms, but Fimbul never really takes full advantage of this setting and, instead, everything feels all-too-familiar and routine, like a side story to Jotun or even God of War.
Admittedly, the presentation – outside of the gameplay – is intriguing, presented in comic book illustrations with fairly good panel work as well. Dialogue during these moments is well-written and I found myself waiting for these well-drawn, yet underutilized cutscenes to rescue me from the main game itself…never a good sign. Once they concluded, sadly, I felt the downright dread of getting back to the gameplay. But for those all-too-brief moments, the game shines brightest.
Things didn’t begin well, and quickly devolved from there. With only the first few steps, I felt like I was running in sludge. Combat is fairly typical but is bogged down by the speed and deliberate approach that never feels right – or even good. Inspired by what can be found in Dark Souls and God of War (2018), you’re given light and heavy attacks as well as a defensive roll. Light attacks are quick enough, yet never feel like they connect properly while heavy attacks require such a build-up you’re left feeling exposed most of the battle. Rolling would be useful if they didn’t feel delayed, or like your character was sloshing around in a puddle of chili.
Even when you’ve adapted to the clumsy mechanics, there’s not much you can actually do with them. When you’re not fighting dudes, you’re trying to make it to other moments when you’re fighting dudes. This rarely varies. Also not helping are map layouts that are confusing and directionless. I found myself lost much quicker than I thought possible for a game that feels like you’re walking on a short path through a small park with invisible walls.
I also found the amount of loads throughout the wondering to be a huge bummer. Remember the loading structure of Half-Life where different areas were essentially stitched together via short ‘waiting’ periods that masked the load times? Fimbul employs this trick, except you can be walking and get two of those loading screens. Its bizarre to experience this kind of thing these days.
On a positive note, something I’d like to see implemented elsewhere is a option in the menu called ‘Life String’, essentially a timeline of your game that doesn’t just tell you where you are but also where you’ve diverged from the main story and lets you jump back in time and give it another go. It’s an interesting progress meter and checkpoint system that encourages players to explore more, though its inclusion in a short 4-hour campaign feels spartan.
It also doesn’t help that the game’s performance suffers greatly on the Switch. The framerate is choppy and bogs down more often than it should, even during those small moments when little is happening on screen. Animations feel just as choppy and feedback from each attack swing is as unsatisfying visually as it is mechanically. The whole just package feels technically inadequate. Even during the comic book-style cutscenes, where I felt the game performed best, I had a hard lock between one speech bubble to the next. I can’t remember ever having a game crash during a static cinematic before and yet there I sat…bewildered.
Fimbul tries hard to be something bigger than it is, clearly reaching for the epic scale stars but only gets off the ground with its use of the comic book design. Here is a game that desperately wants to be spoken of in the same breath as Dark Souls, yet will have players screaming for all the wrong reasons. It’s also a poor representation of the Switch hardware, and while I can’t say for certain if the game runs better elsewhere, my suggestion is to stay far away from the snowy hinterlands of Fimbul and seek your adventuring thrills elsewhere.