Expeditions: Viking is like a cheating ex-lover. With every promise of “I’ve changed” and every memory of how good they looked and how good it was to be with them, they’ll always break your heart in the end. Logic Artists’ game is an excellent choice-based RPG that is sadly riddled with so many bugs that the experience is almost totally ruined.
Viking is the spiritual (if not direct) successor to Expeditions: Conquistador by the same developer. In it, you play as the unlucky son or daughter of a distinguished Danish theign. Your father, a great warrior, has nonetheless neglected his holdfast on continuous foolhardy expeditions to mystical islands in the west. When he disappears, you are left to inherit his holdings and forge your path as a new and powerful theign.
The game is presented from a familiar isometric camera angle and does well to capture the gritty, cold climate of Dark Ages Britain and Scandinavia. Characters are detailed and well-designed, with neat touches like your hirdmen (soldiers) wearing your custom clan colours and sporting varying levels of armour. Movement is performed via point-and-click, while the camera can be shifted using the WASD or arrow keys.
Once outside of the initial tutorial stage, the player splits their time between exploration, quests and dialogue with the holdfast’s many inhabitants and combat with varying enemies. The combat system is turn-based and will be familiar to those who have played Conquistador or other hex-based RPG titles. It’s a surprisingly complex and nuanced beast, and relatively unforgivable to new players. An otherwise decent tutorial manages to inadequatly explain all the status effects given in battle, effectively shrugging its shoulders and telling the player to look it up themselves. Often the difference between a character’s incapacitation and death will be a role of the invisible dice. Prayers to the RNG gods will be offered up on many an occasion in Expeditions: Viking
Battle involves the careful positioning of your units, who have two actions per turn. The system is reminiscent of XCOM and allows a player to move and attack in the same round. A rudimentary overwatch system is also in place, named “attack of opportunity”: if you try to move past a warrior or move through an archer’s field of view, they’ll get a chance to attack you. Like the status effects, though, this is never really explained and I had to conduct a number of (failed) experiments before I got the hang of it.
In their quest to grow the holdfast (and their reputation), the player will build a longship and sail across the North Sea to discover the riches of the British Isles. There are plenty of characters to meet on this side of the water, and each faction has fairly well-fleshed out storylines that the player can interact with. Trade and diplomacy can be the name of the game if the player chooses, or they can simply decide to go full viking and burn, loot and pillage.
The initial stages of the game give the player a countdown timer, with an ominous warning to “prepare themselves” before their “true enemies” strike. It’s a bit unfair, as if the player hasn't met the conditions by the moment the timer runs out they lose the game outright and can’t get access to the rest of the campaign. The mechanic is obviously put there to add some tension, but in the end it feels more like being prodded by a sharp stick reminding you not to have too much fun.
Character creation in Viking is impressively robust, with a number of routes to take your prospective raider. Combat and dialogue is governed by strength, endurance, reflexes, sense and perception. Your rank in the attributes determines whether certain skills will be available or not. Players can create a dual-wielding berserker, a stoic shieldmaiden or a sneaky backstabber. Sense and perception will also affect dialogue choices and allow diplomatic ways out of seemingly deadly situations.
Crafting weapons, improving the holdfast and equipping your retinue all comes at the cost of nine resource types. A stockpile can be gained by looting boxes, crates and dead enemies in locations, as well as finding things on the overworld map while traveling and camping. The system, like many mechanics in Viking, is impressive and never really becomes too tedious or grindy. Items on dead enemies are also frequent enough for those who don’t want to trawl through crafting menus.
The voice and sound work on Viking isn’t by any means exceptional but it gets the job done. Voice acting is limited to a few lines here or there, but the dialogue system is so deep that the costs to get it all voiced would no doubt be exorbitant. The music is a bombastic affair of banging drums and warsongs intermixed with period-accurate drifts of lute and lyre. While it never heightens the tension or creates a proper atmosphere, it’s a welcome background.
The problem with Expeditions: Viking is no matter how well it does and no matter how much it shines, it’s riddled with game-breaking bugs. In the character creation screen I tried to reduce my character’s strength rating and it crashed to desktop. I reloaded, tried it again and got the same result. Finally on the fourth try I managed it. The game then crashed as it was loading the opening stage. I fiddled with video settings, reducing graphics to as low as possible and then as high as possible but it didn’t make a difference. What’s more, the effect of losing progress on a crash is doubled by how immersed you are and how much you're enjoying the game up until that point. At the time of writing the review I would estimate that I’ve lost around an hour’s’ worth of gameplay due to unforeseen crashes.
The title’s autosave system is also fairly random, often refusing to save in the middle of two-stage battles. This is frustrating if you're defeated in the second fight, forcing you to redo everything again. When later battles last between 20-40 minutes it can be infuriating to have to start from the beginning, especially if you end up doing worse in the first fight than you did the previous time. Mixed in with the unpredictable crashes, it can create a truly disappointing experience. On the plus side, Logic Artists is extremely vocal with the game’s community and at least four patches have gone live since the game’s release date late last month. Hopefully within a few months most of the glaring crashes and issues will be zapped out.
Behind some rage-inducing problems Expeditions: Viking is incredibly good. It enhances everything established in Conquistador and brings the setting to real life. The combat is challenging and deep and the characterisation of your heroes is excellently done. Whether players will want to struggle through a sea of crashes and mistimed saves to experience it all is another factor altogether.
Expeditions: Viking (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Behind some rage-inducing problems Expeditions: Viking is incredibly good. It enhances everything established in Conquistador and brings the setting to real life. Whether players will want to struggle through a sea of crashes and mistimed saves to experience it all is another factor altogether.