War of the Vikings Early Access Preview

Fatshark have really made a name for themselves when it comes to designing and developing good online multiplayer games. Their initial foray was the well received shooter, Lead & Gold: Gangs of the Wild West and, after developing three single-player experiences, they came back with the medieval version of Battlefield, the very well received War of the Roses.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who has played War of the Roses, specifically in its later patched states, that Fatshark have caved in the same golden skull with War of the Vikings. This is a result of the same system for combat found in War of the Roses being used here, it hits the same sweet spot too. To make it abundantly clear, this is a brand new game in its own right, not a glorified expansion pack or reskin.

Although this may not seem to be the case when you start up. Superficially, it looks and plays very much like War of the Roses. Your initial foray will probably leave you with the impression that the only changes are that the visuals have been improved and that the battle system is much of the same, still having near perfect directional control over your weapons and shield, choosing where to attack, block and parry, as well as the use of ranged weapons like Bows, throwing knives and axes.

The visual side of that argument is true. This is still War of the Roses in that regard. A group of faceless sacks of meat, all conspicuously of the same weight and stature, charging at each other with swords, axes and shields while other identical people fire arrows, or throw axes and knives, over their heads towards the enemy. The major changes come with much improved detail and textures. Blockly features of the man you’re fighting has dissapeared, replaced with a nice detailed face for you to stave in, even if he may as well be your twin brother. Granted, this will be sorted out when the game is further through development and customisation is included.

This attention to detail has also been expanded across to the armour, weapons and the battlefield. Both the weapons and armour have a finer detail to them than before and have been designed to have a more battle-worn look. Other cosmetic additions that lend to the impression of a battle being waged is the inclusion of blood, which may not seem like much, but it adds a nice continuity as you chop through one person and move your bloody axe onto the next

All of this taking place in nicer environments, either in a hilltop monestary, lush woodland or a small outcrop on the edge of a mountain, adds to the strong aesthetic appeal that Vikings has going for it. Like the characters features before, the few selection of maps – three that I have encountered – will also be expanded as the development process goes on, giving you more land to brutally murder other fighters for.

Where War of the Vikings really stands out is in the combat. The list of old features are there to be ticked off, from the tactical depth of the combat system in both attacking and defending, the basic style of weapons on offer and even the fact that unless hit by a direct kill shot, you’ll go down and wait to be revived or executed. The major change found is how it feels, the combat now feeling heavier, while being faster.

For the uninitiated. The combat system is one of almost perfect precision control with your mouse. What this means is when you start to pull back your sword you move the mouse in a specific direction as to how you want to slash. Do you want to perform a backslash from the left, then move the mouse to the left. A simple swipe from the right, move to the right. A swoop from above, move the mouse upwards. This same system also applies to your parrying and blocking, only with the right mouse button while directing where to aim your defense.

There is a real weight to the found in the fighting. Each swing feels like they can and will kill, especially those taken with the larger weapons. Of course they can be blocked with a shield, a heavy enough attack sending both you and the attacker reeling backwards from the shock or simply breaking your shield. A lighter attack, especially with a sword, will simply bouncing off of your shield and drag the hand with it. Though in a move away from historical accuracy, enough light attacks can have you drop your shield from what I assume is pain from the repeated blows.

The accurate system can still be used to great effect when parrying with your weapon instead of blocking, allowing you to quickly riposte and deal damage before the other person can get their guard up. However, your sword only covers a small area and is easily flanked unlike a shield. This, combined with the special attacks, which vary from weapon to weapon, allow for the same methodical combat that was present before.

What makes it feel faster is the inclusion of two new features, the ability to dodge and also to sprint. Dodge is the more functional of new features, before you simply evaded an attack by moving in the right direction as quick as you could while holding your shield and weapon in place to take whatever impact there would be. Dodging here has you quickly duck and move in one direction, helping you evade a strike and giving you a positional advantage to land a hit of your own, albeit you are left with a small window of vulnerability at the end where you have to stand up and ready yourself, it also uses a large portion of your stamina.

Sprinting, on the other hand, has more in terms of weakness than uses. The use is the obvious, to get yourself somewhere much quicker. However, the disadvantages are quite staggering. It is impossible to attack or block while sprinting, leaving you wide open to attack, and any attack will knock you off balance. One such attack is also a new addition to combat sprinting, that is the ability to tackle. Tackling is specifically performed against a person sprinting, with their back turned to you, knock them down. This leaves them laid on the floor with no means of defense for a few seconds, which is effectively a death sentence if you jump into the attack.

This faster movement is also complemented by the removal of the old fixed execution cinematic, which tore you out of the action and took a long time to perform a killing move. Now instead of entering the cinematic to execute the enemy, you can simply finish them off through a normal attack, hitting them in whatever way you please. This is both faster to do and can actually lead to more brutal, but amusing, finishers than found in War of the Roses.

Where I have run into a problem is in the only thing that can’t really be controled by Fatshark, the lack of online activity. It is probably a result of this simply being in the early stages and the resulting lack of varied content available as a result, but the game is sparsely populated at best. I’ve logged on around eleven seperate times, each time there has only been two or three active servers, totalling around fourty people. Hopefully it’s just a case of people waiting to buy, or those who have bought are waiting for new updates and content.

All things considered, this being in very early access stages and the official planned release not being until sometime early 2014, War of the Vikings is looking to be another strong showing. The previously great combat system has been refined into that of an excellent one and when merged with the significantly improved visuals, which includes a much sleeker and less intrusive UI, it makes for an engrossing experience to say the least.

To find out more about War of the Vikings, visit the game page.

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