When I was younger, at school “History” was synonymous for “nap time”. Perhaps it was the teacher, immaturity or the constant dragging up of World War Two as though that was the only thing the UK ever got involved in, but I just wasn’t sold on it. Now older, dulled and marred, I’ve been having a fantastic time diving into the past through a Youtube history documentary series (i.e. ExtraHistory) and tucking into various historical video games. Is this what adulthood is?
…Anyway, so during my binging ohistorically-based titles, I came across the game Expeditions: Conquistador. “Oh, what’s this?” I asked myself, lured in instantly by an unusual historical period to cover in games. Especially one that combined two things that always draws my eye to a historical game: Confronting pretty terrible things those before us did and, oddly specific, gunpowder weaponry.
In the end, I did have a good time despite ending early. It always struck me as odd how there were witch-doctors actually able to cast magic in a game that was otherwise seemingly grounded and straight-faced. Still, when I heard Expeditions: Viking was on the horizon, I felt conflicted. On one hand it was a developer that I had seen their previous work and enjoyed, complete with respect to the subject matter, but on the other hand I couldn’t shake the bad times I’ve had with prior games that attempted to do Scandinavian history and instead did pop-culture “Vikings”.
So I was happy when I managed to get an interview with Alex Mintsioulis, PR and Marketing Manager at Logic Artists, as it would help me find out what kind of game Expeditions: Vikings would be.
Kailan May (KM): A natural comparison to be made with Expeditions Viking is its predecessor: Expeditions Conquistador. For those familiar with the series, could you explain the mechanical differences between Conquistador and Viking?
Alex Mintsioulis (AM): Where Conquistador had more of a 50/50 split between Strategy and RPG, Viking is much more heavily leaning on classic CRPG elements.
- Character Creation: In Conquistador the player character was more of a commander, present in conversations but absent from the battlefield. In Viking the player character is fully customizable, and represented visually in the game world. Player character’s will also fight shoulder to shoulder with their party members on the battlefield.
- Exploration: Where most of Conquistador took place in a “world map” view separate from the combat view, where players explored a miniaturised world from horseback, the exploration in Viking takes place in the same view as combat, allowing players to actually see the locations they visit instead of merely reading about them. The world map movement that connects areas has been consolidated with the 2D map that Conquistador also featured, and you’ll still need to make camp and manage your crew on your way from location to location.
- Player Village: We introduce an upgradable player village at the very start of the first campaign in Expeditions: Viking, and the player will have to collect and spend various resources to upgrade the village, unlocking new bonuses and advantages, and representing the player’s progression.
- No Character Classes: Unlike Conquistador, in Viking there are no character classes, meaning that as long as the character has all the prerequisites it can unlock any skill or ability. Instead of rigid classes, characters will now be defined by their main stats: Strength, Endurance, Finesse, Perception, and Sense.
- Injuries: Character injuries are no longer a binary thing that puts a character completely out of commission until they’ve fully recovered. In Viking, an injury will reduce some aspect of a character’s combat effectiveness until treated, but you can still put them in a fight if you really need them.
KM: While the other main stats on your character seem self-explanatory, could you elaborate on what “Sense” governs?
AM: Sense has 3 main functions in the Expeditions: Viking:
- During conversations and events the Sense stat is used in instances where you as a player are trying to use your intellect or cunning to sway favor. In traditional pen and paper RPG terms this is a combination of Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma.
- It is the attribute which all support skills derive their quality and success rates, so healing, leadership, buffing and de-buffing during combat all draw from Sense as a base stat.
- Finally it is the core stat in a character’s Discipline score. We use this when checking to see if a character is effected by debuffs and status effects.
KM: While Conquistador was about exploring an unknown land as a Spanish Conquistador (which, I hate to spoil it for the historically unsavvy, didn’t end well for the locals), I’d imagine the themes of Viking will be very different (i.e. not so much exploring an undiscovered land, unless if Vinland is brought up). What type of tale and themes will Expeditions: Viking be discussing?
AM: Like Conquistador, Viking is divided into two campaigns: the first campaign takes place in Denmark, the homeland of the characters, which serves as a prologue where the player must prepare for their expedition.
The second campaign takes place upon the British Isles shortly before the infamous raid on Lindisfarne. In this period, the Norse of course knew that Britain existed, but they didn’t have much direct dealings with them – particularly on account of the Norse being pagans while the British were Christians. Where Conquistador was a tale of explorers and conquerors venturing into the unknown and clashing horrendously with a great and mysterious empire, Viking is a tale of opportunistic adventurers setting out to gain powerful allies or to raid unprotected coasts. The story deals with religious conflicts, political maneuvering, hit-and-run surprise attacks, and sectarian violence.
KM: I recall Conquistador had a grounded aspect of history, as it was based within a very real event, but also had parts that appeared to have a fantasy element to them (e.g. shaman magic). Likewise with Expeditions Viking, while it seemed grounded in a historically accurate part of Scandinavia, in the EGX Rezzed demo I came upon spirits in a cave. I wonder if you could elaborate on the application of history to the game and how/when you choose to perhaps deviate from it?
AM: The Expeditions Series is rooted in historical content and authenticity, but we’re very keen to not let realism get in the way of a dramatic story with plenty of surprises. The Vikings were a superstitious people with a powerful and complex mythology, and in order to reflect that, players will experience content that appears mythological or magical. Depending on their personality traits, the characters in the game are likely to believe gods walk among men and that supernatural creatures are real, but there’ll always be hints that point towards a more rational explanation.
The example with the spirits you encountered occurred in a neolithic tomb filled with noxious gas. Reading the status effects on your characters reveals that they were drugged, and once the “Underground Ones” are defeated, players may choose to attempt a Perception check to see what (or more aptly who) they really are. Just be careful what you reveal to your followers, as the superstitious are never happy to have their world view challenged.
KM: While on the subject of historical representation in games, I believe females to be an interesting part of it. Medieval Europe was, to put it lightly, unfriendly to the sex. I believe games like Mount & Blade: Warband utilise this aspect of history to good effect, making conversing with NPCs more difficult if you’re playing as a female character. Considering this is a historical game, have you taken into account the attitudes to gender of the era? For example, will the game be any different if I choose to play as a woman?
AM: It’s difficult to find much real evidence of women’s place in Norse society, particularly in the early part of the era before Christianity supplanted the old ways. We know women could be quite powerful, and could own land and other property, and free women enjoyed quite wide-spread rights in terms of marriage and divorce. Whether they could be chieftains and go into battle is disputed. Sexism will occasionally appear in some form in Viking, but it won’t be a major factor in the game.
KM: As you adventure around dealing with situations that occur to your Viking clan, will there be different ways of solving the same problem? Will these different ways have potential repercussions?
AM: Yes. Our focus is very much on ensuring that the narrative is internally consistent, so things pan out the way you’d expect based on the choices you make and the actions you take, and this naturally leads to a fair bit of both long and short term consequences.
Will you be able to customise who is in your party through-out the game? What will happen to those who aren’t part of it (e.g. dismissed or simply turned down)?
AM: In the very beginning of the game, players are restricted to a certain group of storyline characters. After a certain point in the main storyline, however, you will be able to dismiss party members and replace them with custom followers which you can create via the Character Creation System in the game. Of course custom-built characters have no story arc or personal quests, but the personality-trait-based system of dialogue interjections we also used in Conquistador will ensure that you still hear from them when you’re about to make a decision they have strong opinions on.
KM: How customisable will your allies be (e.g. compare their trousers with the trousers you picked up to see which trousers has the most numbers on them)? Will you be expected to level them up?
AM: All party members gain skill-points and players may allocate those points as they wish. Skill-points can be used to upgrade existing skills or select new ones, and skills are divided into Weapon skills, Offensive skills, Support skills, Utility skills, and Passive skills. Inventory items (ie. loot) may also be allocated by the player’s choice, and we have a much more fleshed out inventory system in Viking compared to Conquistador – less strategy game, more RPG. We haven’t quite split things down to the level of trousers being separate from shirts, but each character now has several inventory slots and you will have to compare stats to make decisions about equipment.
KM: Do you have a release date? Will this be for Windows PC only? Any plans for future ports after release? Is there a price in mind yet?
AM: Our current release window is Fall of 2016 (this year). And first release will be for Windows PC. We will be looking into Mac and Linux builds post release.
Trying it out at EGX Rezzed, fortunately I was getting that familiar sensation of Expeditions: Conquistador. This isn’t to say it was like playing the exact same game since, as Mintsioulis mentioned, they play very differently. Rather instead it felt like it had the same respect to the past that Conquistador offered, while making its own interpretation via gameplay. Rather than presenting historical facts and being lead tightly down the path of how things were, there is some room for you to breathe and make your own path.
While it may seem odd to suggest that having the freedom to make your own tale (such as the cave spirits encounter I mentioned in the interview) is respectful to history, I believe that by doing so it allows the user to not only understand what happened but also why it happened. For instance, while particular behaviours and Norse beliefs may seem peculiar, applied to the scenario where you can attempt to peel back the veil (as well as there being potential consequences if you share the knowledge) the culture of the time is more understandable.
Gameplay wise, I admit that I found the UI in a somewhat clunky state. While the doors were open in terms of how I wanted to build my character, I never felt quite sure what options would do what in terms of things such as accessing abilities or working out what made a good or bad stat score. I also couldn’t detect much tactics within combat, at least beyond “surround and pummel”. Although on the RPG end, it handles excellently as depending on your own character you can discover new information that can re-contextualise the situation.
Still, by the end, I have a lot of hope for it. A lot of my complaints are the type I could see either being fixed or getting to grips with over time. While the RPG end could end up fading out as the consequences of your actions don’t live up to any form of noteworthiness by the player; I believe that as long as there are enough moments of consequence, it’ll create the illusion of being able to affect your surroundings. It is through this illusion of choice (as not even AAA games can offer true freedom, just illusions of it) that I think Expeditions: Viking could end up being deeply engrossing.
This is in addition to what I believe to be a very interesting approach to historical interpretation. It is one that I believe factors in interpretation of events by the people at the time, as well as the facts of what happened. If you’re looking to explore Scandinavian history, ready to be part of a raiding party within the UK (while I spot my ancestors being pillaged), then Expeditions: Viking looks inclined to deliver with full force.
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