Say what you like about Gordon Van Dyke, but it’s pretty clear that the former producer for Battlefield and current exec producer on the War of the Insert Demographic Here series knows his stuff. A few minutes into the little pre-game stream that Paradox and Fatshark set up, he was happily chatting away about the cultural differences between the Saxons and the Vikings and talking details on the javelins used in combat. Did you know that they were designed with barbs so that if they hit a shield they’d stick into it and render it useless? Van Dyke does. Which probably explains why, if a javelin hits a shield in War of the Vikings, that shield is probably going to get tossed away.
This particular pre-game stream and play session were in honour of the December update for War of the Vikings (or, as we like to call it, War of the Horny Hairy Blood Men), which to my mind is the one that maybe makes it into a bit more of a game. When we had a bit of a play of this title when it first hit Early Access we rather liked it, although we were a tad disappointed that the only game modes were Team Deathmatch (which felt a bit pointless) and Arena. There were only three classes. It was enjoyable enough and proved the game had a solid base in terms of melee combat that actually functioned rather well, but there was a lot of work to go.
There’s still a fair bit of work to go, but this update has added in Conquest Mode, battle chatter, spears and javelins, and some new maps. It’s not a revolutionary update, but all of these things work to make the game feel a lot more… cohesive.
Conquest Mode, for instance, has the Vikings and the Saxons battling over five control points that have to be captured in linear order. Take control of all five, and your team wins. Two things make this otherwise fairly standard competitive mode interesting: first, it creates very definite flashpoints. Unlike Team Deathmatch, you’re not just roaming a map looking for people to axe in the face. You’re trying to take and defend very specific points. Secondly, the game’s focus on melee combat means that you have make a conscious decision as to whether to try fighting in the rather small capture zone, or to wander out of it to hack up an opponent. Particularly when people start bombarding you with arrows.
Battle chatter, on the other hand, is straight into “this makes things feel more polished” territory. It’s not something that’s ever going to get a big bullet-point on a game’s description, but having the Vikings and the Saxons shout appreciation/threats/warnings/taunts automatically as the battle wears on is one of those things that makes everything feel more cohesive and sensible. The same goes for decapitations, if you’re lucky enough to land a neck-level strike.
And then there are the spears and javelins.
Spears, Van Dyke told me, are a high-risk, high-reward weapon. I noted that if you’re as bad as me they’re more high-risk, no-reward. These aren’t weapons that you can swing around wildly – as far as I can tell, in fact, there isn’t a way to swing them at all. You’ve got a high stab, and a low stab. That’s it.
The disadvantages, then, are pretty visible. Accuracy is king, and if you miss you’re left pretty open. They require a degree of skill to use appropriately. Despite having a bit of range to them, they’re not the most defensive of weapons, and the game’s wonderful directional blocking system becomes important.
But then, in the hands of a skilled player, none of these really matter. Spears can hit above or below your shield with relative ease, completely bypassing an opponent’s defence. Getting in range of somebody who’s good with a spear is not an easy thing, particularly if he’s not alone and there’s some bastard standing in front of him with a shield. You can throw caution to the wind and just charge right in, hoping to overwhelm any defence he might be able to mount, but you might just wind up with a spear in the face for your troubles.
Javelins are kinda the ranged counterpart to this. As far as I can tell you can’t carry more than one, and they don’t seem to have spectacular range when compared to throwing axes or bows, but the aforementioned ability to wreck shields means that opponents have to actually dodge them. Sure, they can block, but they’ll lose their shield. The only other alternative is eating a javelin to the face, and that hurts. While none of the weapons are really “easy”, these and spears are the ones that seem like they’ll require some serious practice. And I’m not just saying that because, when I decided I was going to master spears and choose nothing but them, I got about one kill and died far too many times.
None of this stuff is a huge, major, massive game-changer, but it all adds a bit more coherence and cohesiveness to what is already a rather accomplished PvP melee combat game. The base mechanics all work, which is a rather massive point in War of the Vikings‘ favour; it’s pretty telling that, even when I gave up on spears and switched back to trying to split Van Dyke’s head open with an axe, I was thoroughly enjoying myself and spent a fair bit longer on the press servers than I really needed to.
If I understand correctly, this particular update is live now. If I continue to understand correctly, War of the Vikings will be free to play on Steam this weekend. If any of this has piqued your interest at all, you might want to give it a look.
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