One of the Steam achievements in War of the Vikings is entitled Ragnar Lothbrok, who also happens to be the fabled hero of the current TV series Vikings. One of the games upgrades is called Blood Eagle Edition, another historical factoid illuminated by the TV series. Whilst some devs would try to hide their ‘inspiration’ under a veil of coincidence, it seems Fatshark seem keen to brazenly toss it in our faces. I cannot decide if I admire their honesty or deplore their impudence.
There has never been a cooler time to be a Viking though. Charging down a hill waggling an axe and screaming something about Valhalla is the flavour of the week right now. Gameplay in WotV consists of choosing what kind of warrior you want to play as (axeman, swordsman, archer, etc.) then hopping onto an online server to battle against other like-minded folk. Saxons vs. Vikings locked in an epic never-ending struggle.
There is no single-player mode aside from the very basic tutorial. Your only foes will be other human opponents from around the interweb. Gameplay revolves around learning how to use your weapons effectively, as well as figuring out how to stay alive long enough to use them. The basic mechanism of fighting and blocking is directional, and identical to most other historical battlers. You swing or block in one of three directions, and use the timing of your power bar to inflict more damage.
There are various types of battles with subtle differences. The main battle type allows players just 1 life, and once you die, you stay dead for the rest of the round. This discourages reckless digital bravery in favour of decent teamwork, sticking together to overpower the enemy forces. However, on deathmatch servers, things tend to be far too random. You spawn very quickly after dying, and it is all too easy to spawn right in front of a band of aggressors, to be dispatched once again before you can so much as soil your tunic. This has the added effect that when you carefully check an area for danger and turn away to fire an arrow at your foes, you can then be stabbed from behind by somebody who has just spawned right behind you.
There are also some servers that are purely for duelling. This is an interesting concept, as you face up against an enemy in a private battle, and other players are not allowed to join in until one of you has died. Then someone else can join in and take on the victor. So if there are 4 Vikings and only 1 Saxon, each remaining Viking must wait their turn to take on the last Saxon. Even when matching up against a potential adversary, you are encouraged to use a gesture to show that you are ready and willing to fight. This adds a strange but refreshing etiquette to fighting. There is a thrill to know that if you win, you do so through your own actions, not because somebody shot you in the head whilst you were exchanging bladed pleasantries with somebody else.
Whilst the overall concept of WotV is appealing, there are a number of issues to deal with. Firstly the lag problems. I have a completely average internet connection with no major problems. However, over all the matches I played online, I was auto-kicked from over 50% of them. Most servers have a ping limit, and the second you cross over that line, no matter how briefly, your match is ended and you are unceremoniously dumped back on the title screen. Extremely frustrating, especially if you’re having an intense battle with a really decent bunch of teammates. Even worse is the fact that a number of people lag considerably worse without getting kicked. It is a common occurrence to swing your sword right through somebody without any hit detection whatsoever. This may be less of an issue overall if there were more localised servers, but there are only ever a few servers that have a low enough latency for people to play on. And that is a common complaint from around the world, not just a European issue.
Perhaps the biggest issue comes when you consider the previous offering from Fatshark. War of the Roses is a historical 3rd-person slice-em-up in exactly the same fashion. Whilst there are indeed a few changes, it is worrying that just by renaming the sides, and adding Viking-esque character skins, you genuinely struggle to identify the difference between the 2 games. In fact it is debatable whether WotV is even a real improvement over its predecessor. And the killer blow is that War of the Roses is a Free-to-Play game so you can keep playing it for an almost identical experience, without paying a single penny.
So should you buy War of the Vikings? For most of the gaming public this is a superfluous purchase. There is little need to purchase something that is already available for free. However, if you happen to have an obsession with everything Viking, and some spare dosh just lying around, then there is certainly fun to be found. “Tonight, we dine in Valhalla!”