War of the Vikings preview: deadliest warriors

I don't know much about Vikings, other than the fact that they probably killed a lot of people. War of the Vikings is developer Fatshark's follow-up to War of the Roses, and it fulfills my vision of what Viking life was probably like: filled with murder.

While War of the Vikings is a multiplayer melee combat game much like its predecessor, Fatshark promises that the game will appease hardcore historians. "We really focused on factual stuff, there's no Asgard cr-p in our game," executive producer Gordon Van Dyke explained to us. "This game is focused on what we know is plausible and factual. We spoke to an archaeologist... this is a warrior culture."

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One of the pet peeves of the Fatshark team is that "Vikings speak in Icelandic and Saxons' Olde English... Vikings NEVER have a Scottish accent." And with the newly-added Battle Chatter feature, you'll be able to hear squadmates automatically call out pertinent details a la Left 4 Dead"--"archers!" or "get this guy!"

Fatshark's focus on realism has resulted in one of the game's most interesting additions: the ability to play as a female. "They didn't discriminate, they didn't care about gender," Van Dyke noted. "It didn't matter in the Norse culture. They had a flat hierarchy." Playing as a female is not unlike playing as a male--even down to the armor. "We don't want them to look like they care about their looks... all her jewelry should reflect that she's a warrior."

The focus of Vikings is "raw skill." With its analog translation of sword combat, and its potential for one-hit kills (and decapitations!), it's reminiscent of a modern-day Bushido Blade. Or perhaps, a large-scale online Deadliest Warrior. Using your mouse, you can hold left click and swipe to mimic sword swings, right click to move your shield. Predicting how your opponent will move and finding openings in his defense will be central to winning.

In addition to melee, you can outfit your character to wield a bow and arrow. As you battle across the four game modes, it becomes clear that team coordination will be crucial. A team solely made up of archers, for example, will be rather ineffective when a dude with a giant axe runs in and makes quick work of everyone.

During my hands-on session, I largely stuck to the archer, equipping him with a perk that lets him shoot shield-burning fire arrows, and highlight enemies to teammates by aiming at them. As is so common in modern multiplayer games, there's a rather extensive perk and unlock system. Some affect gameplay, like your speed and whether you get knocked down by arrows, for example. However, other unlocks are purely cosmetic. It seemed that many in attendance were mesmerized by the plentiful beard unlocks. In addition to a traditional XP system which unlocks tiers of gear, new items must be purchased with in-game coins which are earned for every minute played. "Everybody has a fair chance to get those coins to unlock stuff," Fatshark explained.

The game is already available on Steam Early Access, but Paradox is aiming for a full release in early March. And yes, there will be multiple editions of the game, with the "Valhalla Edition" being the most primo version available. Described as a "lifetime pass," it will bypass the game's coin economy and will make sure that all digital content, from soundtracks to graphic novels to expansions, will be unlocked throughout the game's life.