Viking: Battle for Asgard – Autopsy
Looking back on old and forgotten games is something we rarely do in games blogging/journalism/criticism. We do of course look back on the classics regularly, entire books have been written about certain Mario games and across every episode of my Podcast so far the name Ocarina of Time has popped up. From some of these games, we can often see the roots of game trends that followed. But what of the games that were forgotten but also altered the way games were made and played? How often do we remember them?
One game I’ve found that suffered from this issue was Creative Assemblies Viking Battle for Asgard, a completely forgettable 2008 game that in my view shares much of the DNA of games that have gone on to be wildly popular and beloved.
So what is VBFA (Yes I’m now calling it that) It’s an open world, hack and slash adventure game with a distinctive setting thanks to the rich lore it draws upon, in this case being Nordic Mythology. Personally, I’ve always been more into Greek Mythology but the Nordic pantheon could certainly be a good place to start with. Unfortunately, the story of VBFA is so dull I’m only sure the main character’s name is Skarin after looking it up to check. But here is the thing. What other games in recent years have had a heavy dose of a particular set of canon and used it to create a compelling world and story for the player? The Arkham Games. The Arkham games took 3rd person combat and stealth and gave it a Batman flavor by marinating it in the tone and mood of the comic books that informed it. Would those games be as good without the Batman lick of paint? Probably not (Still good though).
VBFA open world design makes it surprisingly similar to many games released these days but which at the time was still a rarity. In 2008, these sort of games were still rare enough to be noteworthy so having VBFA be one is interesting. As a game, it would have been fine if it had just had linear levels and the open world lends it nothing thanks to the world being so dull and uninteresting to navigate. This being down to the fact the world is just a series of grey and green hills with the occasionally town or mine full of goons with swords. AC could have been similar if not for the way you moved being rather good fun and having the environment being carefully designed for natural pathways to be discovered.
The combat takes few cues from Assassin’s Creed, instead being close in style to that of the God of War games but with a surprisingly modern twist. For the most part when you get into a fight you’ll be outnumbered and will need to find a way to control the crowd, dance through them and take out the weaker members until the battle is done. A system which brings to mind the Arkham games again. Of course the combat is nowhere near as tight or satisfying, instead feeling like a rough draft of what the Arkham games would go on to perfect a year later.
So what’s been the point of this Autopsy of this game no one really remembers? We as someone who didn’t play the game when it was first released and is now playing it in 2015 I see so many similarities between it and modern games I was really rather amazed. Is it as good as any of them? certainly not, it was forgotten for a reason. But it does show that developers at the time of 2005 (Let’s say it took 3 years to make) were aware of where gaming was heading thanks to the power the then new consoles gave them.