Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Platform: PC [Reviewed], Mac & Steam OS+Linux
Release Date: Dec. 2nd, 2015
Price: $29.99 [Dec. 2nd+] $23.99 [20% Off Autumn Sale on Steam, ends Dec. 1st]
From Funatics, the makers of The Settlers and Cultures series, comes the newest building strategy/survival game: Valhalla Hills. Players take on the role of Leko, Odin’s outcast, disappointment of a son. His preference for building over traditional Viking pastimes such as drinking mead, chowing down on some roasted boar, or just plain ol’ heroic conquest has gotten poor Leko banished the Viking’s promised land. Now it’s up to the Odinson and a group of ragtag rejects to gain honor in the eyes of their almighty dad by defeating various Ice Giants on a quest back up the mountain. If deemed worthy by the Allfather, the clan may re-enter the gates of Valhalla and sit with Odin at his table of endless feasting. And drinking. And wenching.
Sounds pretty great, huh?
I wish I knew. Unfortunately, I never gained enough honor to receive that privilege. Putting it plain and simple, this game is tough. Being a veteran of some classic survival games such as Minecraft, Rust or Ark, I thought I had this one in the bag. The tutorial immediately made me feel like Leko, a true god of builders. Pop up a woodcutting stand here, throw a tool shack over there, reel in a couple of fish and I was good to go.
Once I got into the real deal mode; however, it was a whole different ball game. While I might have been a veritable veteran in the aspects of virtual survival, it turns out I’m a huge noob when it comes to RTS (Real Time Strategy). Though I came in expecting a bit of a struggle for the learning curve, I quickly found out the entire game was an unending, precarious balancing act.
That being said, I could never stay mad at the game due to a few redeeming qualities. Powered by an Unreal 4 engine for some reason, Valhalla’s simplistic animation is, in a word, sublime. Pair that with an audio soundtrack that put my spirit directly into the Viking Age and I was dying to throw on that horned helmet and start growing out my beard. Players immediately become enraptured in the fascinating back story, gaining the motivation to persevere through all the obstacles keeping Leko from his place at the table. Trust me, there will be plenty of obstacles.
Thematically, Valhalla Hills was a grand success, bringing in an all-consuming mood of rowdy Viking chaos, in the best way possible.
Unfortunately that desire to plague and pillage the Ice Giants on the way up the glorious hilltop is often interrupted by the never-ending drama within the Viking village. If dealing with wild beasts, ghostly residents and Ice Golems didn’t seem like enough trouble, Leko also has to worry about keeping all the villagers fed, clothed, employed, protected and happy. Yikes! It’s like trying to manage a miserable mashup of Jon & Kate Plus 8 meets The Sims, with no convenient endorsement deals. Think the rejected “Valhallan” heroes are going to be an ambitious bunch of warriors, scholars and engineers? Think again! This second string lineup consists of some of the whiniest and laziest bunch of Vikings I’ve ever seen. To say that often their “work is left undone” is the understatement of the 10th century.
On the other hand, I have to give this game its due props. The goals are straight-forward, the UI is refreshingly clutter-free and the game feels unlike anything I have tried before. Player creativity is highly regarded in this strategic environment as well. Leaving how the game’s progression is achieved, highly up to personal play-style.
Will the clan become a warring tribe of merciless vanquishers or will they seek out a more peaceful solution by utilizing sacrificial altars? It’s all up to the individual player. As the game progresses forward, so do the settings, buildings and of course the enemies. This all sets the game up as an ever-evolving entity of a creatively challenging difficulty, making the mechanics of the game play out quite nicely, while easing new players into the realm of strategic success.
Would-be Vikings could even find themselves attached to some of their little lazy dudes as they unlock an expanding set of achievements, including naming one of the little buggers. Proceed with caution here, though; perhaps avoid being clever. Maybe naming the greatest warrior Thor, only to have him humiliatingly stomped by an Ice Golem five times his size, isn’t the best idea –it’s downright embarrassing. So I think I’m just going to stick to protecting Heimdall, my chief courier/scout. He and his fellow brethren traverse with me from sandy shores to snowy peaks in the beautifully diverse landscape of Valhalla Hills.
It is true, the Unreal engine powering this game makes it beautifully scenic but that does not mean it is without errors. While I will admit for an early access game, Valhalla came off as a well polished and nearly complete gem. But there were a few faults that were too hard to ignore here and there. Text overlays block out entire sections of the UI at times, making it illegible. The camera controls were all out of whack, making it hard to actually focus on what’s going on while my view is flying from a cloud in the sky to the depths of the ocean. The AI sometimes reacts sporadically, leaving the user confused because he or she spent so much time crafting such an organized city with clear-cut roads that the little Viking just spasms all over. Not to mention, for a game that would at first glance appear highly combat-centric, the actual battle mechanics and graphics leave a lot to be desired.
The Bottom Line
With the release date so close at hand, it seems like most of these bugs should have been ironed out by now. Though the game does seem to be looking into the issues, I can’t fully support it until they’re eventually fixed. I respect the Indie developers of the game and the genre they’re working in, but as someone who’s admittedly not the biggest RTS fan, I cannot fully endorse this game. I think the audio and visuals are spot on, creating an atmospheric environment that should leave some bigger titles out there taking notes. The steep price-tag (even on sale) and relatively difficult learning curve of the game seem to make it unappealing to the general amateur gaming audience. If strategic simulations are where your heart leads you though, this game could be the one for you.