Vikings - Wolves of Midgard is an action role-playing game stuffed with blood, beards, and loot. It's immediately comparable to other dungeon-crawling hack and slashers like Diablo, right down to the near identical radial equipment menu. Vikings certainly doesn't shy away from its inspirations, but it's so by-the-numbers that you do begin to wonder why you aren't just playing Blizzard's aforementioned masterpiece instead.
This tale of pillaging and mythical beasts isn't a bad one – it's just unremarkable. There are glimpses of greatness throughout the adventure, but the game never attempts to break free of its comfort zone.
Take the story, for example. Games of this nature definitely don't hinge on plot points and strong writing, but Vikings could have easily offered something a bit more memorable, seeing as it's already knee deep in Norse mythology. What we get is a loosely threaded narrative that's simply an excuse to throw you from one environment to the next. It also doesn't help that some of the voice acting is of a questionable quality, to say the least.
Even the music's underutilised. When you first boot the game up, you're met with an ominous song that sets a somewhat threatening tone – and then you hardly ever hear anything like it again. This trend carries on throughout almost every aspect of the release, with its bright spots flickering just long enough for you feel disappointed when they're smothered by mediocrity.
Having said all that, those looking to scratch their loot-heavy RPG itch will still be able to draw some mileage out of Vikings, regardless of its inability to truly impress. There's a decent amount of depth to its systems, with crafting and enchanting playing important roles in toughening your warrior or shieldmaiden. A range of fighting styles bring some variety to combat as well, and there's plenty of side content to chew through if you want to get your bloodied hands on rare rewards.
Sadly, the available skill trees aren't all that impressive, which does put a dampener on character progression. Each fighting style has its own tree, but unless you're flying through the endgame and you've been playing long enough to branch out, they feel overly restrictive. Despite a large number of unlockable perks, there are no real character-defining choices to make since your current level determines what perks you can and can't acquire, all but forcing you to take a set route.
Boring and basic stat bonuses make up most of said skill trees, but they're not the biggest issue here. For a game that sees you carving your way through an endless supply of enemies, Vikings just doesn't do enough with its combat. Decidedly lacklustre attacks and abilities take the sting out of what should be a ballet of blood and guts, and so we're left with battles that both look and feel uninspired.
Attacks just don't have enough weight to them, even when you're wielding a huge two-handed hammer. Slow motion shots sometimes play out when you finish off an opponent, but clumsy ragdoll physics usually suck away any sense of brutality. Once again, Vikings lacks that extra kick of satisfaction which makes the best games in the genre so addictive.
Unfortunately, the title's lack of ambition also bleeds into its all-important loot. Make no mistake, there are some great looking weapons to find, but the process of obtaining the best gear skews you towards the crafting system. Throughout the entire game, you'll be picking up wood, metal, and other materials that can be used to forge new equipment, which sounds fine, but the act of busting open a big treasure chest only for it to spew out materials in bulk rather than a legendary sword gets old really fast. When you're well into your adventure and the game's still rewarding you with blocks of iron, you'll start to question whether the life of a plundering barbarian is all that it's cracked up to be.
However, as you'd expect, co-op play does enhance the experience to a degree. Joining up with a friend or an online stranger makes the combat seem that much more dynamic, even if, at the time of writing, it's very difficult to actually find a pillaging partner online.
Vikings - Wolves of Midgard takes a fair swing at the loot-heavy action RPG genre, but its middling gameplay fails to leave a lasting impression. Going up against the likes of the mighty Diablo III on PS4, its dull blade bounces off the competition, but Vikings is just competent enough to survive the scuffle and live another day.