Expeditions: Viking Review - Somewhat Viking-y, Somewhat Broken
Editor's Note: Since the writing of this review, developer Logic Artists has made numerous patches to the game that have remedied a majority of the bugs mentioned below. More patches are still to come, as well.
There’s a part of me that wants to give every new CRPG a break, just for existing in the late 2010s. I grew up in the heyday of the genre, and between games like Baldur’s Gate II, the early Fallout games, and Avernum, that period around the turn of the millennium was absolutely brilliant for fans of complex, story-heavy, party-based gaming. After that period, though, there was a long period in which there weren’t as many giant, beautiful CRPG titles, as things moved more to MMOs, first-person RPGs, and action-heavy titles.
Your friendly writer here was very sad, spending his days dreaming of crawling dungeons with a motley cast of characters, each of their own fantasy race complete with the requisite varieties of pointy ears.
But, hurrah, it’s 2017! And within the past few years, my original favorite genre is back and then some, with not only beautiful remakes of my original favorites, like BG II, but also an array of new CRPGs of staggeringly high quality, such as Wastelands 2, Tyranny, Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin. This resurgence in CRPGs, it might not surprise you, is downright thrilling, and I’ve been riding on an orc-slaughtering, pocket-picking, spell-slamming high for a few years now, as I play through all of these gorgeous new adventures.
So when I picked up Expeditions: Viking, a new indie CRPG featuring a (you guessed it) Viking-era setting and storyline, there was that nostalgic, high-riding part of me that wanted to give the thing a break for its mistakes, simply for being what it is.
But even with my love for the genre, Expeditions: Viking is simply not a very good game, and it might not even be worth the trouble of trying to play at all.
It's Lackluster. Everything is Lackluster
I realized I was going to have to lower my expectations and look for the subtle strengths of this title right when it started up because there were some immediate weak spots that didn’t bode well for the rest of the game.
The first issue was that Expeditions: Viking throws you into character creation with very little information about how the actual combat and gameplay works. A lot of CRPGs do this, but in Viking, it became a problem as my choices ended up keeping me from being able to complete the early game. More on that in a bit.
The Uninteresting Tale of Vikings Pt.1: The Graphics
Once I got to the actual game, I have to say, it wasn’t exactly thrilling in the early going, either. The visuals stand out as sub-par right away: the actual graphics look at least 10 years old (very, very simple textures and detailing) and the sets, characters, weapons etc. are flat out uninteresting.
I mean, I get that these are straightforward Vikings, those without the need for a lot of aesthetic embellishment, but just about nothing in this game is visually memorable. The village you’re from is forgettable, with no distinguishing features; the characters all look vaguely the same except for different colored hair and clothes; the weapons are basically just sticks with bits of gray on their ends. And the list goes on.
The supposedly mighty Dane Axe is particularly anticlimactic, making your character look like they just found a stick and stuck a wedge-shaped rock on the far side of it. It doesn’t seem to get better as the game progresses either; I saw camp site locations reused within the first four that I visited, and the next big location, the town of Ribe, is literally just a ton of buildings in a semi-grid that look almost identical.
It wasn’t even just ugly: it was hard to get around, and it even gave me a bit mental strain just looking at all of those super-similar roofs... one after another after another after...
The Uninteresting Tale of Vikings Pt.2: The Story (Potential Spoilers)
Story-wise, it’s the same issue.
There’s nothing surprising here at all: Dad dies, you get the clan, someone doesn’t want you to get the clan, you get it anyways, then you fight to make it more powerful. There are few somewhat interesting characters, but none of it was very compelling.
In games like BG II and Divinity: Original Sin, characters feel alive because of complex backstories and interactions during quests and side quests that allow them to talk to each other and the player extensively. After a good eight-ish hours of play (hard to know exactly with all of the bugs and reloading I dealt with), I kind of know that my brother is not a good fighter and is sad about it, and that my sister is a good fighter and is happy about it, and there’s like, a witch that seems available for romance (maybe) and a fighter I convinced to join me that is loud and big.
But that’s mostly all I know. I mean, these guys do talk a little, but it’s not much, and it didn’t draw me in anyway. After a decent amount of time spent with them, I don’t really care about the characters in Expeditions: Viking, nor do I care what they are doing, which is not what you want from a game. And certainly not from a narrative-focused CRPG.
The Uninteresting Tale of Vikings Pt.3: Combat
Combat is okayish, but it could be better -- and sometimes it breaks
It might be acceptable to be weak in the story and graphics departments if the combat part of a game is good, but there’s nothing to write home about here, either.
Viking goes for a turn-based hex-grid style of play, which seems interesting at first, but it makes some mistakes in design that cause it to be mostly a boring, frustrating slog to the end. For instance, you’ll spend a lot of time just moving around the map chasing guys because, for some reason, the AI likes to either run right at you or run right away.
When you do run into someone, combat basically just devolves into hitting them, them hitting you, and back and forth until the guy who can do a bit more damage or has a bit more life is left standing. There are a few special moves and synergistic combos you can do, but they tend to just ramp up the damage, and you usually can only do one action outside of your movement per turn, even if it’s something like a buff or poisoning a weapon.
That means that you often have to choose between buffing/healing/other spells and actually hitting someone. And considering your characters are dying all the time, you usually have to choose hitting. That makes most of the spells useless in a big way, which is neither fun nor indicative of a well-built combat system.
Combat becomes pretty straightforward at that point, and it gets worse when you get into fights that you realize you can’t win.
This happened to me a lot when playing, especially before I gave up and totally respec-ed my first character, which made it better (for a while). I shouldn’t have had to do that, but even with a better understanding of the needs in combat, and what abilities are basically useless, I still found myself in fights later in the game that I was completely unprepared for. That might be okay if it seemed like it was something I should come back to do later, but for the most part, these fights fell along the path of the story. Each very much seemed like I was taking them at the right time.
The problem was twofold: I simply had not acquired the specific gear or skills to win them, plus the RNG of being hit (or not) would often destroy half my party before I even had a chance to attack. Again, not good.
The Worst, Though, Is That It Is Just Plain Broken at Times
It took me far, far longer to get through this game and be able to write about it than it should have, not only because I had to start over with a new character that was better prepared to take on the early game, but because this game crashed on me at least 12 separate times.
This came in the form of freezing loading screens, and bugging out then freezing during conversation and responding to an alt-tab to write a note down with a total freeze and crash. My machine is way over the requirements — and honestly, considering the low-end graphics and lack of features here, they shouldn’t be as high as they are anyways — so this was definitely the game just bugging out.
Not Worth It, Even If You Love Vikings
I simply can’t recommend this game in any way. It might look like a CRPG, but all of the bits of magic that take that genre from a plain combat system with various locations and some dialogue to something that’s engaging just aren’t there.
There could be a fan of the genre out there that can put all the clunky, junky parts of this game aside and just dig that you can gain stats and use skills and take a long, combat-filled journey across a land filled with swords. But for everyone else, I’d suggest that you put your money into one of the proven recent entries into the genre, or even revisit an old one with one of the remakes that we’ve been seeing.
Because between uninteresting visuals, boring writing, very boring and sometimes broken combat, and being just plain buggy at times, this is not a title worth buying. It is a deeply mediocre entry in a storied genre, and there are far more interesting lands with far better combat out there to spend your time exploring. Find those, not this.