Action RPG, roguelite, survival game; all of these terms apply to Tribes of Midgard (ToM), the recently released Viking-themed hybrid from indie developer Norsfell Games. With both Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Valheim arriving over the last year, the Viking battlefield is pretty contested, but Tribes of Midgard isn’t simply a copy of what’s come before. The genre mash-up has already attracted a lot of attention, cracking the Steam Top 10 (also available on PS4 and PS5) and selling over 250K copies in the first three days of release. With a reception like that, one must ask if Norsfell Games has brought us a new Viking King? Or will Tribes of Midgard be a quick flash in the pan and ultimately fall to the prophecy of Ragnarok? We’ll get to the bottom of it all in our Tribes of Midgard review.
A Stranger To Midgard
I honestly knew very little about Tribes of Midgard when it came up for review. I was expecting another run-of-the-mill action RPG, and being a fan of the genre, I quickly raised my hand. I thought I was simply trading in the regular high fantasy setting for something a little more Thor-ish.
As I started the tutorial and watched the opening cinematic to Tribes of Midgard, my assumptions seemed to be confirmed. In summary, after creation, the gods hid the Seeds of Yggdrasil across Midgard. With the power of Yggdrasil waning, the Seeds have been discovered by an evil that has invaded Midgard. We, the Einherjar, have been sent from Valhalla to bolster the defenses of the village protecting the last Seed of Yggdrasil. Ragnarok has begun, and we must stop it. Fail to protect the seed, and the destruction of Midgard will follow.
You are guided through the tutorial by a pair of ram cats?
If that story doesn’t sound like the stuff of Vikings, I don’t know what does. Yes, Viking themes and Norse mythology are on display here, but that initial cinematic is virtually all of the formal story in Tribes of Midgard. After completing the tutorial and starting your first attempt at stopping Ragnarok, the setting and Norse names are all that remain, with the remainder of the story being driven more by survival than NPC interaction and dialogue.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The lack of a formal story to guide you along means you are making the story as you go. You are free to explore the land, take up whatever fights you desire, plotting your own path to success, or failure.
The Genre Mash-up
Tribes of Midgard didn’t turn out to be the ARPG I thought it was. Instead of an ARPG with survival elements, I got the exact opposite. In fact, other than the top-down view, ToM has very little in common with ARPGs like Diablo or Path of Exile. Fights in ToM are usually limited to a handful of opponents instead of the swarms of enemies in other ARPGs, resulting in a modest loot drop instead of glittery explosions.
Survival is the core of Tribes of Midgard. You begin your defense of Midgard and the Seed of Yggdrasil at level one without any equipment. As you explore the world, you will gather resources, craft tools, armor, and weapons. You’ll fight many enemies along the way to your final battle in which you must defeat Fenrir, the giant wolf offspring of Loki and Angrboda.
As I mentioned earlier, Tribes of Midgard also has a roguelite side to it as well. Although your progress is wiped each time you fail and Ragnarok destroys Midgard, you gain Season experience for your deeds which, like a battle pass, increases your Season Level. Each level earned grants you a reward which can be anything from cosmetic items to unlocking crafting recipes for future runs.
There are also challenges to complete, some of which require multiple runs to achieve. There are three challenge categories to complete - class challenges, achievement challenges, and saga challenges. Saga challenges are most straightforward, with a reward for completing the Saga mode one, three, and ten times.
Completing a class challenge unlocks one of the additional classes (you start with two default classes), like defeating three Jotnar to unlock the Guardian or activating all of the fast-travel shrines in a world to unlock the Hunter.
Achievement challenges are additional tasks that unlock through normal gameplay activities. The challenges in this group vary in difficulty, from easy tasks like crafting an uncommon item all the way up to reaching day 100 in survival mode. Rewards are similar to the Season Level rewards, with the difficulty of the challenge determining the worth of the reward.
There are two primary game modes in Tribes of Midgard, and both can be played solo or in a group of up to ten players. Difficulty scales with the number of players, but going solo can be the most demanding option since you have to manage every aspect of exploration, crafting, and village defense by yourself.
In multiplayer, people can enter and leave the world until the end of day three. At that point, the down elevator locks, although players can still use the Bifrost to exit the run early. You can reenter the world at a later time, assuming it hasn’t been destroyed.
Saga mode is the default story mode, and your goal is to beat the Saga Boss before the Seed of Yggdrasil is destroyed. There is no official time limit, but ToM progressively gets more challenging as the days tick by.
Are you finding life in Midgard too easy? Crank up the difficulty in Survival Mode.
Survival mode is very similar to Saga mode, but the goal is to survive as many days as possible. While the settings are fixed in Saga mode, the host can tailor a Survival session by adjusting multiple difficulty settings. Season XP adjusts accordingly, so you’ll want to find a good middle ground to play on.
For those of you who might be drawn to Tribes of Midgard specifically for the Viking theme, you may be disappointed. To anyone unfamiliar with Norse mythology, ToM could easily feel like any other fantasy setting. The Bifrost is just an elevator to the heavens, the Jotnar are merely slow-moving giants, and the rest of the enemies have been given Viking-sounding names with more than their fair share of vowels. And even though I expected the high fantasy setting to get a thick layer of Thor, the typical swords and sorcery were replaced with, well, swords and sorcery.
Even if you can accept the Jotan, goblins, wolves, and other creatures as acceptable Viking lore (the final boss is Fenrir, so there’s that), Tribe’s visuals don’t do anything to pull you into the setting. It isn’t that the graphics are bad - I particularly like the aesthetic - but the hand-drawn, medium polygon look does nothing to convey a harsh and gritty Viking world.
The world immersion is further hindered by some janky animations and bugs. I often found enemies walking towards me backward, doing a poor impression of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. At other times, creatures like wolves would jump at me from above, only to land on top of my character and float above me as I moved around.
Stop hovering so I can stab you.
I had a similar issue where when jumping off a cliff. If I timed the jump incorrectly, I would get stuck on the cliff edge, unable to move until my character finally started sliding down the cliff face one pixel at a time. The whole process would take a good five to ten seconds but felt much longer.
So let’s put that lack of Viking feel aside for a minute and just hone in on where the ToM setting excels - exploration. The world is procedurally generated for each run. Your village is located in the middle of the map, with five distinct biomes filling the rest of the world. The gentlest biome is the Bright Forest, which is rich in basic resources and relatively weak enemies. From there, you have the Land of Pools, Ash Beach, Glacier Peaks, and Smoky Highlands. You’ll eventually need to search out each biome for the resources it holds. Just be prepared for more challenging encounters and even environmental effects as you wander into new areas.
Along with packs of wild animals to harvest, Midgard is full of goblins, Dark Elves, and other humanoid denizens to contend with. You’ll run into some of these enemies randomly as you explore, but they also group up in camps. Each camp has a chest that can be looted once, with larger camps rewarding you with better loot.
Along with some random encounters that will pop up every now and then, a quest board is located in your village. Completing any of the encounters or quests will reward you with loot and are your best way to quickly get some bonus resources until you are powerful enough to head into one of the dungeons you come across. Dungeons are multiple levels filled with all types of creatures and can be a source for rare items, but they do require you to be well equipped, not to mention that they can take a fair amount of time to complete (the importance of which we will discuss shortly).
A New Survival Formula
Unlike many survival games, Tribe of Midgard keeps everything fast-paced. Many survival games don’t really start the timer until you’ve had a chance to explore the relatively safe area around your starting position and gathered up some essential items. In Tribes of Midgard, you don’t have this grace period. From the moment you arrive in Midgard, you must always explore outward from your village, gathering resources and unlocking fast travel shrines if you wish to survive more than a few days.
In a sense, Tribes of Midgard is rewriting the survival formula. You don’t have to waste time with the over-used mechanics of gathering food or water to survive. There aren’t any weight restrictions to limit the amount of resources you can carry. And in the greatest evolution of the survival genre, you can cut down a tree or crack open a rock with a single swing of your axe. These concessions serve to heighten the fast-paced nature of Tribes of Midgard.
Day 9 of multiplayer and things are looking good.
In another stroke of genius, you can use the first-tier tools to gather any sort of wood and ore. Tools and weapons still have limited durability, but if you choose to risk it, you can immediately head for the more difficult areas and their precious resources as soon as you have axe and pickaxe in hand. All of your resources are dropped upon death, so you still have to make it back alive, but at least you have the option.
The Wild Card
If you think all of these conveniences will make ToM too easy, then you are falling for the same deception as I did. All of those time-saving changes made it seem like I would have forever to gather and craft. I didn’t. And all the time I leisurely spent gathering basic materials was for naught when I needed the rare materials for the good stuff.
Then there’s the issue of souls. All living things (and rocks, apparently) have this shared resource. Cut down a tree or kill a goblin, get some souls. Finish a quest, get some souls. You get the idea.
While other materials and resources are only used in specific recipes, you need souls for everything. They are used in crafting tools and armor, and more are required to repair your stuff when it breaks. You have to spend them on upgrading your crafting stations and base defenses as well.
Building village defenses will aid you when darkness falls.
Because of this, souls will almost always be in short supply. Even late in the game, when you have enough of the other materials to craft multiple legendary items, souls will be your limiting factor.
Now, here’s the kicker. Unlike other materials that can be recovered when you die, you lose all of the souls you are carrying. It’s not a big deal if you are only carrying a few souls, but if you’ve been out exploring for a while, a couple of thousand souls can go up in smoke in an instant. And if you’re playing solo, that can mean game over.
Time Is Not On Your Side
Although gathering resources to craft armor and weapons is necessary, Norsfell Games has made one resource more precious than all the others combined, including souls. That resource is time. Every moment of indecision, every inefficient step you take, every extra tree you chop down, every moment you aren’t doing something productive is a second you’ll never get back.
Not only is your inefficiency wasting precious time, but Tribes of Midgard is constantly taking it away from you. Every day you spend in Midgard, the amount of daylight shortens, and the nighttime lengthens. Eventually, whether you are ready for it or not, eternal darkness falls upon Midgard, bringing with it a freezing winter that will kill you in seconds if you venture out unprepared.
To make matters worse, even in the early days of a playthrough, nighttime is a double-edged sword. Some of the rarest crafting ingredients can only be collected while it’s dark, so you’ll want to revisit areas you’ve already scavenged to get new materials. The problem here is that as darkness falls upon the land, so do the Helthings. These creatures continually spawn outside of your village throughout the night and mindlessly head towards the Seed of Yggdrasil to destroy it.
As the nights grow longer the Helthing will bother you more and more.
These nightly attacks work as a simplistic tower defense mini-game. You can fortify each entrance to your village by building and upgrading a gate and two archer towers. The village NPCs will also join in on the defense, and upgrading their crafting stations also improves their attack and defensive capabilities. A couple of quick upgrades will keep the Helthing from the Seed for a while. However, once you reach the point of eternal darkness, Helthing attacks will continue indefinitely, making it that much harder to leave your village unattended.
Attack On Jotnar
If all of that isn’t enough to make you kick it into high gear, there are also Jotnar attacks. Every few days, a Jotunn will arrive in Midgard and start making its way towards your village. When you encounter your first Jotunn, and the view has to zoom way out for you to see more than just their leg, there is a moment where you question how you will ever be able to take the giant down. Then, when you smack it a couple of times and the health bar barely moves, you can feel the impending defeat.
The new Jotunn dance move: swing, swing, dodge.
A minute or two later, once you’ve seen how slowly the Jotunn moves and how easy it is to avoid their attacks, some of that bewilderment fades away. Each Jotunn has devastating special attacks, so the intensity of the battle isn’t completely lost. Still, after encountering them all and learning their attack patterns, it was no longer a question of whether I could defeat them but rather how long the slogfest was going to take.
There’s a particular cadence to most survival games. Your first few days are relatively safe as you go about the mundane tasks of pulling grass, punching trees, and picking up rocks to make your first set of primitive tools. Then, as the days tick on, you gather enough sticks and stones to make the three little pigs jealous, build a makeshift base, and head out in earnest to start collecting better gear from whatever baddies inhabit the world.
Taking this approach in ToM is a recipe for certain death. It's all go, go, go here. You only need a small amount of flint and branches to craft your first set of tools, after which it's a mad race to find fast travel points and the precious materials needed to craft better gear and upgrade your village defenses.
The learning curve in Tribes of Midgard plateaus way too soon. ToM went from frustrating, to interesting, to repetitious after just a few sessions. Once you figure out the correct priorities for crafting and defenses, the start of every run becomes a mundane task. The four Jotnar are painfully predictable, and the only chance of death comes from trying to squeeze too many hits in before dodging away from their slow, telegraphed attacks. And once I was able to put together a simple A-B-C formula to prepare for the eternal darkness, even the deadliest creatures and inhospitable areas of Midgard were little more than an inconvenience.
The truth of the matter is the procedurally generated world doesn’t serve to make each run unique. There are still going to be the same “random” encounters every run and the randomized map put too much emphasis on luck of the draw for biome placement. Don’t believe me, just wait until a Glacial Peaks or Smoky Highlands is butted up against one side of your village.
Worst of all, though, I never had that urge to play just one more round. Making it another day or two before the Seed of Yggdrasil was destroyed didn't give any great satisfaction, nor did failing to progress further than a previous run strengthen my resolve to do better. The lack of random loot meant I wasn’t playing late into the night hoping for that legendary piece of gear that would push me over the top and get me to the Fenrir battle.
With nothing pulling me back in, it’s enough to play through the Saga once or twice (or ten times for the achievement), with the fun of multiplayer adding a bit more time on the clock before moving on to another game. There is survival mode and the 100-day challenge reward for anyone willing to go that long, but for me, there isn’t enough substance to keep me interested for that long of a session.
Is Tribes of Midgard fun? Yes. Is it all it can be? Not yet, but there's hope. This is the first of several scheduled seasons. We don’t have long to wait for more content either. Season 1 has a mid-season patch scheduled for September, followed in November by Season 2. ToM has room for growth, and those upcoming seasons may hold that one piece of the puzzle that gives Tribes of Midgard the longevity it deserves. If they don’t, Norsfell Games will find the excitement surrounding the launch of Tribes of Midgard will be overcome by Ragnarok.