Packed with epic stories, Norse mythology is ripe for the pillaging. So for those who felt Conan was too tame, it's time to sound the battle cry as Viking: Battle for Asgard hits you with all the subtlety and candour of an Uwe Boll movie.
The game is unflinching in the belief that its solid, if uninspired, mix of hack 'n' slash and exploratory gameplay is enough to waver the hours ahead of grinding. Funnily enough, despite following so many other titles in the genre, such as Conan the Barbarian and 17 million Dynasty Warriors games, it does succeed... but barely.
The enforced progression (by way of rescuing Vikings from captured settlements, then using your swollen numbers to tackle larger strongholds) does start to get wearing after you've liberated your first island. But it is initially enjoyable and, to a certain extent, does separate Viking from the rest of the brainless hack 'n' slash horde.
A generous upgrade system, by way of purchasing new moves and magic, has you learning new skills every hour or so, while your attackers gradually increase in number and strength. All this stops the combat from getting too boring, while the fighting is coupled with a skeleton-thin stealth mode that is less tacked-on than it initially seems to be.
Needless to say, numbers are usually against you, and once the move is unlocked, you can sneak behind foes for a one-hit kill. It's the developer giving you a bloody big nudge in the 'stealth is a gameplay mechanic too you know'.
And when your objectives take you through the enemy-ridden strongholds, stealth is an absolute necessity. Circumnavigating prolonged battles isn't a stunningly original addition by anyone's standards, but it is a welcome extra here for variety's sake, if nothing else. The same can be said for the small amount of platforming action. According to Battle for Asgard, Vikings enjoyed climbing ruins looking for misplaced coinage.
That's (Viking) life
Creative Assembly's interpretation of Viking life channels the bravado of 300 rather than the gratuitous nudity and gore of Conan, and the visuals are decent enough to warrant pleasure rather than embarrassment for your TV. Be prepared for countless Fable comparisons, as dark skies and rainstorms give way to vibrant colours and blue skies once you've liberated an area from Hel occupation. Sadly character models are repeated en masse, making the massive sieges that are the climax of each island's liberation less spectacular and more unpleasant reminders of Kameo.
These massive battles are both the game's crowning glory and, unfortunately, its weakest moments. While both the graphics and its soundtrack do a pretty decent job in translating the grandiose scale of the events, we actually found it quite hard to differentiate between friend or foe, leading us to button-mash through the crowds and charge straight for the key opponents instead.
If you die - and trust us, you will - you'll be resurrected outside the battle with all the damage so far caused by you still in place. It grants you leave to spam attack until you eventually win, leaving precision combat entirely to the player's discretion.
Viking: Battle of Asgard is a quintessentially average 'alright for a one-night stand but don't even think of proposing' game that your Xbox 360 has had the pleasure of experiencing at least a couple of hundred times before.
That said we can't deny the enjoyment that we had while playing - it's a complete shift in gear after all the more highbrow entertainment we've had recently. Accept that now, so that when you're looking in the bargain bins a few months down the line, searching for something that isn't going to challenge the brain, you'll know exactly what to pick.
No virtuoso Viking victory for this game
- Initially enjoyable
- Massive battles are fun
- Decent visuals
- Gets repetitive
- Not much depth