I have no idea why I’m playing Dead In Vinland so much. It’s 3am and I’ve just finished a four hour binge of it, but I don’t remember having any actual fun the entire time. I’m playing it a lot though, so...it’s good, I guess? Actually, no, it’s not good. Nothing in the game is done particularly well. Though nothing is done especially poorly either. It’s the very definition of average, but it’s weirdly addictive.
At its core, Dead In Vinland is a turn-based survival management game which follows a Norse family who are exiled from their home and shipwreck on a mysterious island. The player’s goal is to keep them alive long enough to take down the sadistic Bjorn Headcleaver, who claims ownership of the island (and by extension, everyone on it). Featuring a weird mish-mash of survival mechanics, dialogue choices/relationship building, and turn-based combat, Dead In Vinland suffers from not perfecting any single element of the game, resulting in a lot of half-baked ideas and mechanics.
In order to keep the family alive, you need to manage basic needs such as food and water, but also their physical and mental health. Each day is split into two “turns”, during which you assign characters to various tasks, which range from scavenging for resources to hunting game, cooking meals, finding (and purifying) water, and exploring the island. And that’s not even half of the tasks on offer. But before you can assign someone to a task, you need to build the appropriate part of the camp where said task takes place. This requires resources like rope, wood, and iron. So you better get to chopping, harvesting, and mining. But to do that effectively you need to make sure everyone is well fed and watered. And round and round we go. At night, the survivors sit down and discuss the day, which requires the player to ration food and water as well as make dialogue choices which affect group dynamics, individual character’s personalities, and their physical and mental health.
The survival management aspect of Dead In Vinland is easily the most fleshed-out part of the game. In fact, it’s overkill, and it would have benefited from some major streamlining. There are more nuances to this mechanic than my word count allows, but in a nutshell: Physical and mental health, skills, personality characteristics, backstories, temporary status effects, relationships between characters, and even the weather interact with one another to create moment-to-moment percentage chances of success and boosts/penalties for XP gains/status changes when completing tasks, engaging in combat, and so forth. This sort of overkill makes playing Dead In Vinland feel less like a tense survival game, and more like balancing accounts. I dare say even the most statistics-hungry gamers out there will find themselves tuning out at times while playing.
This monotony is occasionally broken up by finding fellow survivors who can join your party and form (or break) bonds with and between characters. Each of these survivors will need to be put to work and of course come with their own set of traits, attributes, and skills. So actually you can’t really escape all those numbers. Combat is kind of fun though, utilising a classic turn-based RPG format similar to the early Final Fantasy games. No wait, even individual turns in an encounter are affected by all of the above. Oh, actually, there’s this cool mechanic whereby you need to pay tribute to Bjorn Headcleaver each week, which involves…*sigh*…managing your resources and making sure you have enough to give him which in turn means assigning the right person to the right job and making sure they’re well fed and not depressed and...Look, what I’m saying is there’s a lot of number crunching in this game.
The overarching narrative is functional (if not particularly creative), and the family and other survivors they come across are interesting enough (if rather one dimensional). But the writing is woefully inconsistent. At times, genuine emotion and depth of character are on display, as you uncover more about everyone’s backstories and see how these affect their reactions to the current situation and in turn their relationships with other survivors. Yet at other times the dialogue is cheesy and the language not at all appropriate for a story grounded in Norse mythology (Vikings didn’t use Millennial slang). Occasionally individuals even behave completely out of character.
This lack of polish extends to the presentation. There are some really well-designed character models, but for the most part they just stand or sit around statically no matter what task you assign them to. It just looks cheap when you ask a big, burly Viking man to do some crafting, and he just stands there next to the crafting table while some numbers float above his head. Or when you ask his nimble daughter to go hunting and she just sits on a log as you watch your inventory dwindle and a progress bar fill up. It really wouldn’t have been that hard to include some animations for each activity, because as it stands, Dead In Vinland looks a lot like those cheap mobile clicker games, and it really shouldn’t have to. The music is pretty nice though, albeit repetitive.
But for some reason Dead In Vinland is weirdly addictive. I haven’t felt the urge to take “just one more turn” this strongly since the X-Com reboots. It’s deceptively easy to fall into a routine of assigning tasks, engaging in combat, managing characters’ needs, and exploring their backstories for hours on end. If nothing else, the game is good value for money. So, play it, I guess?
Dead In Vinland (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
A strangely addictive average game