It appears the old-fashioned isometric RPG is seeing a bit of a resurgence in popularity, with games such as Divinity: Original Sin, Tyranny, and Pillars of Eternity seeing great critical and commercial success in the past several years. Expeditions: Viking continues this revival of the genre, acting as a spiritual successor to developer Logic Artists’ Expeditions: Conquistador. From the title of the game, I had expected something more akin to an RTS with a touch of historical simulation such as the older Total War games. However, Viking is a story-focused RPG through and through. There are full-fledged characters, side quests, etc. on top of creating your own character and allocating skill points. It all shows strong potential, but unfortunately the game is held back by a variety of troublesome factors.
The game’s prologue sets up the story nicely: you play as the son or daughter of a leader (“thegn”) of a viking clan who never returned from a voyage to Great Britain and is presumed dead. As you step up to be the new thegn, some of the other clans of Jutland doubt your leadership and begin conspiring against you. Most the game has you travelling to the lands your father traveled to and you are given the option of establishing trade, battling, or allying with the foreign kingdoms across the sea in order to ensure the survival of your clan.
The game has received a decent amount of praise for its writing. For the most part, I tend to agree that the dialogue and storytelling is well done, although I did find it a bit immersion-breaking whenever a character would speak an old Norse saying immediately following perfect English. The plot doesn’t offer much of anything special to speak of, instead choosing to stick to the fairly safe path of “young hero must prove himself/herself to his/her subjects.” It’s nothing that hasn’t been done by many other RPG’s as of late, but it’s not bad, either.
The gameplay itself involves you controlling a typical party formation across each open area of the world, allowing you to manage the inventory and skills of your party members. One unique aspect of the game is the camping system. Whenever you fast travel to another area using the game’s map, in-game time passes. (In fact, the entire game basically puts you in a race against the clock as other clans prepare to take over yours.) As the hours go by, your party members will become fatigued, hungry, or injured on the road. Thus, every now and then, you must pause your travels to rest at a campsite. Here, you can assign each party member a job to do during any of the four shifts of camping, including hunting for food, resting, guarding, healing injuries, etc. It may seem like a nuisance at first, but I found it to be an interesting addition to an otherwise by-the-numbers game.
I also enjoyed the game’s turn-based combat, for the most part. It seems simple on the surface, but there is a surprising amount of strategy to be utilized. There was a decent number of fights which were challenging for me because I simply rushed in and tried to take the enemy head-on. Often, you’ll have to consider the placement of your party members, their skills, and their abilities in order to succeed. (I only wish there was a way to control each character individually outside of combat.) There is also the interesting option of changing your attacks to “nonlethal mode,” which disables your characters from landing critical hits but can also allow new plot-related events to unfold. For example, if you spare a certain enemy after battle, you might be given the option of recruiting them into your party. Just remember that in viking culture, sparing one’s enemies can be seen as a sign of weakness…
This brings me to what are by far the most significant problems the game has – its loading times and bugs. I don’t have a problem with long loading times in general if they are infrequent (like they were in The Witcher 3). But in Viking, this is not the case. Every time you want to fast travel to another area or enter a building, you will be faced with a loading screen that can take what feels like forever to disappear. You will be fast-travelling frequently and along with having to stop for a camp every now and then, the loading screens will simply get torturous.
Many reviewers and players have given the game heavy criticism for its bugs, and I will be no different. I didn’t encounter any game-breaking issues and my game only crashed one time, though others have had worse experiences. The one bug that gave me the most frustration causes combat to take twice as long as it should – sometimes, the game will simply idle. When the enemy’s turn arrives, the screen will remain focused on your characters, no controls will be responsive at all, and every character on the screen will be standing still. Note that the game did not freeze in this scenario, it simply sat idle. This would sometimes go on for as long as two minutes. The same thing would occasionally happen in between the enemy characters’ turns. These problems were what caused me to grow tired of the game after I had gotten about halfway through. I no longer cared for doing any of the half-decent side quests because I knew that they would only cause me to have to sit through more loading screens and idle time. It goes without saying that this is not what a developer wants their game to be like for players.
While I did enjoy my time with Expeditions: Viking overall, I still don’t feel that I can make a strong recommendation for it. It could have easily earned a 7/10, maybe even an 8/10, if it weren’t for the absurdly frequent and obnoxious loading times and bugs. Until then, I hope Logic Artists can patch out most of the game’s current issues. However, I should mention that for the cost of $30, there is a huge amount of content in this game. I spent 26 hours with it (on the easiest difficulty), and I didn’t even play through everything it has to offer. If you have already played the more popular games of this genre or if you are interested in the Viking Era you’ll probably want to check it out. Otherwise, I would at least wait for the bugs to be patched out.
Final Rating: 6/10.
Expeditions: Viking is available on Steam, GOG, Gamersgate, Humble Store, and in selected stores worldwide.