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The RPG Files: Expeditions: Viking Review

By Christopher Coke on May 05, 2017 | Columns | Comments

Expeditions: Viking Review

I decided to take down the horse’s head. My party had been traveling for a couple of days, it was the middle of the night, and I was on a hunt. In the darkness, I came upon the stranger lifting the severed head on a post, mounted in the animal’s broken body. It was meant to be a curse on a man who had done him wrong, but we were desperate and needed meat. I told him what he wanted to hear and even helped him raise the head before he faded into the trees. We started cutting as soon as he was out of sight. I’m still hoping that decision doesn’t come back to haunt me.

This is Expeditions: Viking, an indie you definitely won’t want to miss.

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Expeditions: Viking sings to me. This is the type of RPG I just love. It’s isometric yet atmospheric; written and has believable, likeable characters. It doesn’t over-rely on voice acting and enriches its dialogues with added descriptions to leverage your imagination. By itself, these would endear me, but it delivers a one-two punch with an excellent strategic combat system that rewards planning and preparation, if occasionally spiking the difficulty.

The game opens on your father’s funeral. The clan leaders have gathered for the honorific feast and give you words of sage advice as their new thegn. But this is a viking story, so thing turn bloody quick. After you secure your position as clan leader and earn the respect of your people, it’s up to you to decide its future. Will you build up diplomatic relations? Explore across the sea? Restore your crumbling defenses?

Expeditions: Viking is filled with interesting choices like this, both big and small. How you interact with the different factions changes how they will respond to you and the opportunities you’ll have down the line. Even within your own party, followers have personality traits, embedding every decision with subtle consequences in loyalty and happiness. You can recruit enough followers and forge enough paths that you’ll never find yourself unable to proceed, but you might find yourself on a different path than a friend making different choices. It’s a matter of consideration.

Thinking two steps ahead is a theme of Viking’s. Entering into a combat encounter unprepared will obviously make it more difficult, but from the outset you’ll need to consider how you approach a group of enemies, where your men are positioned, what items you have, and which party members will receive your per-battle limited buffs and healing spells. Battles can be downright hard, even on “medium” difficulty and the game isn’t afraid to outnumber you from its earliest moments on the campaign map and then top it off with mini-boss. Even if you think you’re ready, you’ll probably be spit back out until you get a sense of exactly how your character’s skills work together and what kind of challenge you’ll actually be up against.

Thankfully, the game is prepared for your defeat in its story beats. You will have to reload fairly often if you’re dying in between, like clearing out campsites, but I very much enjoyed how being defeated often just changed the course of the story instead of brickwalling your progress. It’s a novel twist when most games do the opposite.

There is a kind of slow unfolding that typifies Viking. The flipside to having such depth in its systems is that it can be downright overwhelming at times. Character creation hands 50 skill points to invest in dozens of multi-level skills with only the barest indication of how important they are. There are tutorials, but much of the game simply has to be explored to be understood. Take injuries. When your companions fall, they don’t die. Instead, they become incapacitated and take injuries that don’t go away and get worse until they’re healed. I scoured buttons and tooltips only to find out reviving wasn’t possible at that point and their injuries had to be mended back at camp.

Healing is something that can only be done when you make camp. One of the more novel ideas Expeditions brings to the fold is micromanaging your travelers in between locations and battles. While traveling the world, you’ll find places to make camp, each resourced with different levels of shelter, food, and resources. After you’ve fought off anyone who might already be there, every party member can be assigned different tasks for the night, from guarding camp to hunting, crafting, and healing. You have to provision your troops or else fatigue or hunger will weaken them in battle.

Camp-play is a wonderful layer of strategy that demands you think like a leader. It’s during these times that all of those skill decisions come into play. As you level up your party members and assign their skills, you naturally start thinking about the group rather than yourself. It’s also in these overnights that random events, like the one with the horse-head, take place. Scouts get caught in storms or fall through ice and become sick, forcing you to stay longer to address the calamities of the night before. Other events exist purely to build character and expand your understanding of your place in the world.

There is a richness in Viking’s world building that is worth applauding. Unlike most roleplaying games, Viking embraces history over fantasy. It hints at the supernatural in its edges but always in a way that can be explained by the less superstitious. Exploring the frozen Norse-lands means exploring the culture of those that live there. Later, in the British Isles, it literally feels like a world away. I have rarely ever felt like an explorer the way I have in Expeditions, and that’s an accomplishment I attribute to writing and world building and it’s groundedness above all else.

Expeditions: Viking is the rare RPG that eschews the fantastic and is better for it. Despite the small team behind it, there is a level of depth here that AAA studios should take notice of. The only downside is a tendency to spike the difficulty with no warning and a propensity for crashing that abruptly ended my adventure three separate times. Despite these issues, Expeditions: Viking is an RPG you won’t want to miss. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have villages to pillage.


SCORE: 8.5 / 10.0


Pros

  • Excellent world building
  • Deep systems that unfold over time
  • Addictive hex-based combat systems

Cons

  • Some crashes
  • Occasional difficulty spikes

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.