Ever since Marvel brought the hammer wielding god with golden locks to the big screen in 2011’s underappreciated Thor, Norse mythology has seen a huge spike in popularity. The names Odin, Loki and the hard to say and even harder to spell Jotunheim haven’t been this well known since the times of Vikings. There have been movies depicting Ragnarok, big AAA games about Baldur with the recent sequel-reboot of God of War, and now even the indies are getting in on the Norse resurrection with Fimbul. But have we hit a point of over saturation with this particular brand of mythology, or is there still glory yet to be found in Valhalla?
In Fimbul those pesky Jotunheim ice giants are at it again. Hating the perfect gods and their worshippers in Midgard (us), they are seeking a magical amulet that can help kick start Ragnarok (the apocalypse of Norse mythology) a bit early and in their favour. Unlucky for them (or luckily depending on your skill level) the fates have decided that you, Kveldulver, a now undead Viking warrior have what it takes to cancel the apocalypse and see the safeguarding of Midgard (good luck).
Being an action-adventure Viking game with a fixed camera that has some stylish angles and legions of marauders and big scary ice giants to brutally take down, the comparison to the son of Sparta is unavoidable. This really does feel like the aesthetics and world of last year’s God of War mixed with the combat and gameplay of the original PlayStation 2 God of War, just a lot more stripped down.
Unfortunately the best word to describe Fimbul is basic, which is both sometimes a positive and negative. When it comes to the focus of Fimbul’s gameplay, combat, it is unfortunately a negative. Taking down a group of murderers thirsty for your blood (again) with your sword, axe, throwable javelin and trusty shield does feel great. Animations of the diddy characters on screen are fluid, and most importantly satisfying, especially when executing one of Kveldulver’s four deadly special moves that take a buildup of energy from dealing damage without getting hit to be able to use. But very early on the basic nature of the controls, being square to do a quick and effective light attack and triangle to do an all too slow heavy attack, the game becomes a button mashing bore where your eyes begin to glaze over as you once again take down five more villainous sword and shield wielders. Maybe a levelling up system, whether it be of the character or gear you are using, would have helped the combat continue to be interesting, but as it stands with each encounter battles grabbed my attention less and less.
The only places that the combat is shaken up is in the boss encounters and few army skirmishes. In the latter you are backed by a horde of your allies to defeat a similar looking horde of enemies. While the idea sounds great and two lines of vicious Viking warriors running into each other looks awesome at first, it is very easy to get lost in the mound of bodies and flying swords, instantly taking the fun out of the scenario as you scratch your head wondering where the bloody hell you’re getting stabbed and slashed from.
While the horde vs horde gameplay is fast and confusing, the samey ice giant boss battles are slow and boring. The main way of attack is waiting for a small red circle to appear on the giant and throwing your javelin at the monster to stagger it, opening a window for you to unleash steal-hell upon their cold hard flesh. This sequence of gameplay is fine for a tutorial boss, but the formula is never changed throughout the approximately four hour game. The only thing that does change is that towards the end of the game the javelin throws no longer stun, but simply stop the giant’s devastating attack and take off a tiny amount of the giant’s health. And so you are left desperately waiting for your specials-bar to gradually fill up so you can unleash your final-ultimate-smashey move and actually get some engaging combat out of this climatic encounter, taking all of the drama out the situation.
Which is a shame because Fimbul’s story, while (yet again) very basic and simply about finding powerful object A to stop big evil plot, is a surprisingly emotional one. Kveldulver discovering his past to be able to safeguard the world’s future had me gripped from the very start. And with the game’s story being literally illustrated by digital comic book panels, with a varying level of quality, each emotional beat had time to breathe and land with a full stylish impact. There are inFAMOUS-esque choices in this game too of when to, and not to kill an enemy, but the impact they have on the story is minimal at best and seemingly only added for a shallow attempt at increasing replay value.
Being created in the Unity engine, an indie’s best friend, the visuals of Fimbul aren’t blow-your-socks-off photorealism, but the clay like style of the game really fit and helped add to the feel of this being a story time telling of an old Norse legend. Character models are (buzzword) basic, but having the camera placed so high above the rabble below makes the conflicts with the huge ice giants feel epic with a sense of scale that made every boss fight feel daunting. This distance also puts the visual focus on the environments which are at times stunning. Snowy peaks and forests lit by sun beams charging through the tree’s branches made traversing the land of Fimbul a treat, making the quieter moments just as engaging as the big bombastic battles.
What also helps engross you into the quieter moments of scaling a foreboding white mountain is the great atmospheric soundtrack employed. A constant drum beat and eerie tone really places you into Fimbul’s reality, but sadly the soundtrack fails to kick into high gear when the combat does begin, leaving those moments only visually epic.
Overall Fimbul is a basic stab at an action adventure game that sadly gets too samey in its already short four hour runtime. The limited visuals are used to their full effect, and when coupled with a great soundtrack and engrossing personal story the game does shine. But then you are thrust back into the monotonous battles that are punctuated by boring boss encounters that lack any hint of innovation.
Fimbul (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
A basic action adventure game with a great style and a surprisingly engrossing story that is sadly backed up by repetitive gameplay that never evolves into something great.