Review: Expeditions: Viking28 Apr 2017 0
Review: Expeditions: Viking
Released 27 Apr 2017
Norse explorer trader warriors – commonly known as vikings – are all the rage these days, yet blessedly they are in little danger of getting as played out as zombies. For one, any entertainment that tries to be gritty and realistic can actually teach us something about these varied peoples that influenced the (Eastern) Roman Empire and started Russia. That's why Expeditions: Viking is such a welcome game.
It's the 8th century in Juteland, which will one day call itself Denmark. Your father, chief of the clan, went out on an expedition to the fabled lands to the west (Britain) and got himself and half of his crew killed. It now falls to you to lead the clan, quell any discontent among the ranks and save your people from the machinations of a noble that aims to take over your holdings. To do that, you'll need wealth and power, both of which can be gained if you trace the steps of your father: sail west, set up trade or do some raids, return filthy rich and maybe with an alliance in tow. It's an expedition worthy of a viking!
Somewhat ahistorically, the peoples of this game are equal opportunity employers: while norse warrior women existed, they are far more common in this game. This is no Mount and Blade, so it seems! It's also not M&B in that Expeditions: Viking is an isometric, hex grid turn based RPG. Most of your time will be spent looking at your tiny pixel norsemen (and norsewomen) running around various settlements (pathfinding is amazingly good), looting the endless crates and piles of crap, or in turn-based combat. You'll also spend some time in the world map and camp screens which are a nescessity of travel: your troops get hungry and tired while traversing great distances, they suffer injuries if they fall in battle (and those injuries worsen if left untreated), and they need a chance to take care of their equipment and to craft consumables.
And no matter how silvertongued a devil do you make your character to be, you will end up fighting battles, so most of the skills in game are geared towards that. The game doesn't feature classes; rather, it assigns them to describe your set of skills, all of which can be chosen and leveled up freely. Sword and shield is considered to be a defensive set up while taking an axe an shield will gear you towards offense; the skill abilities reflect that, since swords give melee overwatch while axes allow you to strip enemy shields or even weapons. You can also opt to use two weapons, leaving you vulnerable, but a lot more offensive. Another take on vulnerability is grabbing a spear (which acts more like a pike, seeing how it's two handed and precludes the use of shields) or a dane axe, both of which give you more reach, allowing you to strike foes over the hexes occupied by a friendly (and probably shielded) characters or intervening terrain. Knives are usually handed out to supporting characters, though they can also be used in dual weilding set ups (as dual wielding skills are separate from whatever weapons are used that way).
Support classes usually have either a sling – in which case they will usually concentrate on buffs, debuffs and healing rather than shooting – or a bow, in which case they become death, the destroyer of worlds. Most RPGs nerf bows be reducing range, imposing ammo limits and dropping damage as a way for the saggitarius to pay for his relatively safe spot and a role that doesn't risk axe in the face. In Expeditions: Viking, bows are no less and maybe even deadlier than melee weapons. In good conditions, a bowman can strike down a foe multiple screens away, though battles that would allow them to show off this provess are few and far between. They also have early access to quick shot skill, which allows an archer to deliver two, slightly less accurate shows in a turn, allowing you to despatch a healthy opponent in one turn of shooting. Fear the archer! Consider the fact that you have two weapon sets that you can change willy nilly mid battle and give everyone a shield in the first slot, just in case you don't get the first turn.
Ah, shields, the iconic denizens of the famed shieldwall (not appearing in this game). They are situational at first, as chances of blocking the attack are not guaranteed, and even if that happens, it's not that hard to get through a shield's health. However, a character that has the required stats (strength and such, which don't really increase past character creation) and the skill level (each skill has five levels, with first, third and five unlocking abilities alongside skill increase), you will not only block more often, but also deflect damage, not even damaging your shield. You will also gain powers that let you restore shield and maybe even make it impervious for a turn. Let me tell you that some of the sweetest moments in Expeditions: Viking come from those perfect archery blocks.
You will usually have six warriors in battle – the protagonist and five of your hirdmen that you chose when transitioning from world to regular map – with two action points each: one strictly for movement, the other for attack (and movement). A characters movement rate describes how many hexes one can move for a point, and the attack point will be spent before move point. However, he game is generous: you can attack as long as you haven't totally used up your attack point, and you can move afterwards while using your movement point. Some actions (and consumables) are free, meaning that you can, say, throw a jar of tar (a viking Molotov) in addition to moving and attacking.
This freeform movement is important, since enemies have zones of control in which they can execute opportunity attacks, while the maps can feature traps as well as ice patches and fires. And you bet that automatic movement will take you right through them – it's up to the player to avoid dangers while in battle! So the maps are interactive to some extent – though not nearly as much as in Blackguards – and you can sometimes be unpleasantly surprised by what happens.
It will be your companions who will be unpleasantly surprised by the choices you make in your dialogues, tho! Each character – both actual ones and create-an-NPC hirdmen – has a set of values, selected from a list of polar opposites. Greedy or altruistic, superstitious or sceptical, peaceful or aggressive – depending on your actions, your hird will gain or lose morale, which affects their effectiveness in battle.
Meanwhile, factions will react to you based on your actions and your reputation. Unfortunatelly, the game can be a little on the nose with that, as people in some British town will tell you that “I am in the business of <being some sort of vendor in an RPG>, but I won't trade with you/will give you bad prices until your reputation improves.” Of course, reputation improves with quests and the details of your approach to quests, for example, whether you do or don’t kill certain enemies in battle (there's a button that toggles your warbands fighting style between lethal and non-lethal, with non-lethal preventing critical hits, but also hilariously letting you incapacitate people with arrows and flaming pots). And Expeditions: Viking is a smart game, giving you far reaching consequences and non-obvious turn outs.
Moving to the more technical side of things, I believe that that Expeditions: Viking is a beautiful game. Sure, it's not a AAA, GPU melting monstrocity – though the likes of Mass Effect: Adromeda are setting that bar ever lower – but the level design is absolutely beautiful. The sheer difference between the towns in Northtumbria and Juteland is amazing, and there's a bit of visual storytelling to boot! The character models might not all be that great, but you're not watching them up close. Also, the game does the Morrowind thing in that all the NPCs – even the random people you have to fight in occupied campsites – are named. It's a small detail, but I love it. The music is decent, too. If the game falters anywhere, it would be in the NPC barks, which are a little silly in both writing and acting.
Expeditions: Viking is an awesome game and a great addition to our ever-expanding library of Turn-Based Viking RPGs. It breathes authenticity, it offers fast and brutal combat, and the options that you are given are truly fun. It's a game that's hard to save scum or to put down. I can't wait till the creators take us to new places, like the colonization of Africa or China. After all, they have shown that they have the deft touch needed to show what things happen when different worlds meet during expeditions!