For reasons probably lost to the mists of time, we started calling this game War of the Horny Hairy Blood Men on last week’s podcast. There’s just something about burly, bearded warriors prowling around and ramming axes in one another’s body cavities that lends itself to our more descriptive moniker. War of the Vikings has only just appeared on Steam’s ‘Early Access’ section, so if developers Fatshark act fast they can probably make the switch to our new name without ditching too many art assets.

Of course if they wanted to go for super historical accuracy, it should probably be called Farming of the Vikings and have mini-games for sewing barely and animal rearing. But maybe that wouldn’t have been quite as exciting as rampant bloodshed.

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You can recreate the final scene of The Breakfast Club. Except with Vikings.

Instead, we have a game that slots somewhere into the Chivalry and Mount & Blade melee-multiplayer genre. The closest comparison, of course, would be Fatshark’s own War of the Roses, though that had fewer beards and more factional Northern English rivalry. Direct comparisons aren’t really fair to make yet, as this is in the earliest of Early Access stages. But that’s ultimately where War of the Vikings will want to end up.

At present there are just two game modes in place, and one of those is the multiplayer stalwart of Team Deathmatch. If you’ll forgive the somewhat overdone food analogy, TD is the margarita pizza of multiplayer modes; revolutionary at the time, straightforward, but ultimately a bit boring and surpassed by more creative ventures. In War of the Vikings it’s also a bit of a clusterfuck, with up to twelve people per side swinging pointy objects at one another in a heaving melee mass of bodies and blades. Not much room, then, to try out the nuances of close quarters combat.

It has a certain chaotic charm, but there’s a point at which you get tired of having your awkward Saxon-on-Viking dance interrupted by some unnoticed joker ramming an axe through your back. That, it should be said, is a totally legitimate tactic. It’s just more entertaining to be spending time engaging in proper melee duels than hoping someone can revive you before you get your eyes slashed out by a sword. Again.

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Yep, that guy is screwed.

The second mode, Arena, feels superior. This one restricts teams to (at most) 8v8, and removes all respawning. If you’re being attacked by three people at once or getting a sword shoved between your shoulder-blades, it’s probably the direct result of someone else in your team screwing up rather than just part of the random maelstrom of Team Deathmatch.

It makes everything seem as if it matters that little bit more. Taking the time (and risk) to revive someone on your team in Arena could be an action that wins or loses the round. In TD, it may save your side one point out of 100. Handy, but not necessarily a knife-edge tactical choice. Mind you, the role of experience points hasn’t really been defined yet in this Early Access build, so reviving people may end up just being worth it for the 200xp.

As well as giving decisions more tactical weight, Arena provides an environment where one-on-one or two-on-one duels are the norm. In these situations, it’s easier to experiment a little with War of the Vikings’ melee system of powered attacks, directional blocks, parries and special attacks and develop a style more subtle than ‘wailing on a scrum of guys with a big weapon.’ It’s also a better situation for learning about the distinctions between the game’s (current) set of three classes.

Whether you wind up on the Viking or Saxon side, you get the choice of being a Thane, Huscarl of Hirdman (affectioned dubbed Bane, Carl and Birdman by the IncGamers team.) The latter is an archer, so the benefits and pitfalls of taking him are pretty obvious. You get a powerful ranged weapon, but no shield and your melee backup is a small axe.

Bane and Carl are a trade-off between speed, defense and power. Carl has a large, two-handed axe that can (in this build at least,) manage single-hit kills. But he has no shield and seems a bit slower than Bane. When I took a Bane up against Tim’s Carl I managed to get a couple of damaging hits in with his unique dodge-n-slash move, but was eventually smashed down by a well-placed, heavy axe blow. As more classes, and presumably skills, get added to the game it should increase the combat variety and lead to more diverse and complex melee encounters.

That’s drifting into speculative territory, but it’s supported by Fatshark’s development ‘road map’ for the game which seems to include a couple more maps over November and December (good idea, since Docks, Forest and Gauntlet won’t keep people entertained indefinitely) and a mode called Conquest before Christmas. You’d imagine that will be some sort of objective-based affair. Capture the longboats, perhaps?

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Loadouts, character customisation and all that stuff is still to come.

Given War of the Roses’ current free-to-play status, it’ll be interesting to see whether War of the Vikings eventually goes down a similar route. If so, those who put up the $20.00 USD for Early Access to Vikings will probably be assured a bunch of extras (just as there’s a special $20.00 USD ‘Kingmaker’ version of Roses,) but it’s perhaps something to keep in mind for anybody planning to dip in.

Those who do so will find a multiplayer melee combat game with a reasonable base to work from, but currently lacking much long-term depth (unless you really love Arena or Team Deathmatch.) The fighting may not yet be able to compete with the move-set and dismemberment fun of Chivalry, or the sheer horse-riding joy of Mount & Blade, but it does have grunting, sweaty Vikings and the promise of a fair bit more to come. That’s enough to be worthy of interest, but you should maybe hold off for a month or two until a few more of those Early Access promises have been delivered upon and there’s more to sink your angry Norse weaponry into.

If you missed it higher up, you can watch the IncGamers staff do their best Viking and Saxon impressions in this IncGamers Plays video.

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