We last played Expeditions: Viking back at the PC Gamer Weekender earlier this year, and we were impressed. Now that we’ve had a bit more time with the game and have had the chance to experience its opening hours, we’ve managed to get a better look at the world that developers Logic Artists have crafted.
When starting the game, the player is faced with a rather typical character creation screen. You can choose your character’s gender and hairstyle – along with facial hair, an important feature of any game featuring Vikings – as well as features such as skin tone and body size. You then name your character, as well as their father, and spend some time putting attribute and skill points into various different areas. These are mostly what you’d expect: proficiency in different weapons and abilities to damage foes or buff allies, as well as a large selection of passive abilities to give you that edge in combat. You’re given a great many skill points to spend at the beginning of the game, which may come across as a little intimidating at first; the rate at which these points are earned is rather rapid, however (at least at the start of the game), and with a fight breaking out mere minutes into the game’s story, it’s easy to respect into a role that feels right for you.
Just as you were feeling pleased with the choices you’d made, you are regretfully informed that your father died in battle in a distant land, and that you have inherited the title of thegn. You walk about the longhouse, chatting with your guests but, as you’d expect, not everyone is particularly fond of your inheriting your father’s throne (if you can call it that). Those gathered there will give you some insight into your father’s past and how he ruled his people – which, you soon find out, he didn’t do a particularly good job of. Right as you’re assuring everyone that you’ll do a much better job (or defending your father’s honour), a fight breaks out; this is where you get your first taste of combat.
The battles of Expeditions: Viking are presented as a simple affair: parties controlled by both the player and the computer take turns hacking or shooting at one another while moving across hexagonal tiles. As with the rest of the game, the UI is slick and unobtrusive, allowing for a full, detailed view of the battlefield that never feels overwhelmed with information. While the basics are easy to get a handle on, some interesting mechanics are presented early on. Movement, for example, is more than simply the means to maneuver about the battlefield as you please. Enemies’ positions must be carefully considered so as not to trigger Attacks of Opportunity when getting too near or fleeing from melee range. Relatively soon after, as more character archetypes join you on your merry (or not so merry, if you so choose) quest, new mechanics come into play such as status conditions, healing, buffs and more. All in all, it’s a neat, smartly designed system that doesn’t feel like a drag, and can at times provide some truly epic encounters.
For all the attention to detail that has gone into the game’s combat, however, it is the world and narrative that really shine. It’s evident from the very beginning that the game’s story and characters serve as the foundation for the rest of the game and its systems. Right from the beginning, the player is constantly given the choice of whether they would like to kill, spare or, in some cases, exile other characters, often those defeated in combat. Where this triumphs over many other games is the fact that the player is not restricted to binary concepts of good and evil; you are a Viking, after all. Rather than an arbitrary moral compass that does little but break one’s immersion in the game world, the player’s actions are instead judged by their followers. Those more prone to violence might be disappointed should you choose to spare a defeated foe, while those with softer hearts will laud you for your compassion. This is a feature that is becoming increasingly common in games with moral choices, and is a perfect fit for this Viking adventure.
Of course, what’s a good saga without a heroic band of fierce warriors? Expeditions: Viking certainly doesn’t skimp on the companion front, allowing you to gather together a great number of party members before you even set off on your first foray across the briny blue. There’s the usual childhood friends, of course, but it’s the ‘optional’ characters that prove more interesting. A warrior of your clan will challenge you to a duel at your father’s funeral, for instance: after winning the duel, you can choose to kill him or send him into exile. If neither of those options appeal to you, you can have him join you on your adventure as one of the major characters that makes up your party.
Similar choices come up later with other characters, meaning the events of the story can be tailored uniquely to each player depending on who they decide to take along with them. These characters each have different, often conflicting views on how your clan should be governed. Some are enticed by the promises of a rich, undefended kingdom to the west, while others would rather see strong alliances built up at home. While we didn’t reach a far enough point to see how this all pans out, the initial signs seem to promise a great wealth of character interaction that could help shape the future of your Viking clan.
There are some features we still haven’t had the chance to explore fully, such as the Homestead system. While we were able to make use of what resources we had to make some minor changes to our settlement, the feature boasts a wealth of options, from upgrading your longhouse to building roads and marketplaces. Some of these options even have multiple branches, meaning that, working alongside narrative choices, Expeditions: Viking could turn out to have a great deal of replayability.
Expeditions: Viking boards makes landfall on Steam on the 27th of April, so you’ve still got time to sharpen your axes and reinforce your shields. Thus far, the signs are all very good indeed, and if the game’s quality holds up with what we’ve played thus far, it should be smooth sailing to the shores of Northumbria.
Note: Due to some technical issues, the screenshots initially captured from the game were lost. Those featured in the preview have been taken from the game’s Steam Store page, but still serve as an accurate representation of the game.