Valhalla Hills: Impressions from the outside (Blaugust Day 30)

Just a quick warning: I will start with Valhalla Hills and detour to Cultures in the end. :p But there is a very good reason for this: The developers of Valhalla Hills are “Funatics“. The very same Funatics that made the Cultures series. There is only a German wikipedia article, but the table of the games they developed is readable either way. The first Cultures game was released in 2000. The add-on followed in 2001, Cultures 2 came out in 2002, as did Cultures: Northland. The last of the series, 8th Wonder of the World, followed in 2003. The Cultures versions after that were mostly bundles and one new mission if I remember correctly. But let’s not forget about the Settlers games! The guys working on Cultures – and now, Valhalla Hills – are the very same who worked on Settlers II and some of the following Settlers games. Their website also has an “About us” (and it’s in English). If you want to read more, head to their website. :)

Now Funatics is “back” (they were never really gone, it seems, but I thought they were as I hadn’t heard from them) and they are working on “Valhalla Hills“. The game is also already available on Steam Early Access. As the title says, I can only tell you about my impressions from outside the game. I just recently wrote about “backing games” and since it’s in early access, this is a perfect example of a game that I follow, quite intensely even, but that I have not decided to back yet.

They launched on Steam Early Access on August 24, so only a few days ago, and there is already an abundance of information available in German, but not as much in English. I found a handful of videos. The first one I’m embedding here is from the developers talking a bit about the game and showing it in the process.

So in short, it is a game inspired by and thus, in a way also related to the Settlers and Cultures. You have your little vikings and build a village/settlement with them. In this case, they wanted to enter Valhalla, but Odin did not let them in. Now they are trying to prove they are worthy enough to get in there! You cannot directly control your vikings, but you can tell them to build something and so on.

The second video shows… some guy playing and commenting. I don’t know that YouTuber. I just tried to find any reasonable video in English, to be honest and his is what I found. :p

A German Twitch channel was streaming yesterday and the guy there had two of the developers in his stream. Of course, it was German only. They answered several questions, but the most important one for me was about the DLC. I don’t know if they have made the information available on Steam as well by now. I would certainly hope so! The most expensive of the game versions you can buy on Steam comes with “the first DLC for free” whenever they are going to release said DLC. The developers were asked what this DLC will be and they said that they haven’t planned this far ahead yet, but that it’ll be more “expansion-like” and less “here, have another costume, give us 3 € now!”.

While I liked hearing that – and the stream in general – here is why I haven’t bought it yet: I am skeptical of where the game is heading! Quite a lot of things are still “not decided” by the developers, for example.

Don’t get me wrong. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they know what they are doing… The Cultures series is my favourite game series ever and I played these games for so many hours. They were my trustworthy partners while I studied for university. I should probably add here that the Cultures games are rather slow sometimes and you can easily play them while reading texts, making notes, memorizing said notes and so on. :p They brought me the right amount of entertainment and distraction. But from what I have seen so far, it looks as if Cultures is the “better” game (for me). I like that I can choose which of my Vikings does what, especially as I gave them surnames in order to find my Baker, Miller etc. again later. But there is more than that. The graphics of Valhalla Hills remind me of a game made for a tablet or something and I do wonder if we will get as many features as we had in Cultures. How big will the economy be in the end? Will there be bigger maps than the ones we have seen so far? Also, you cannot rotate the camera freely. You can move some way to the left and the right, but you cannot get “behind” the island. Buildings can’t be rotated,…

Of course, those things could turn out to be rather minor and the game could still be great fun. Their FAQ list does not actually help to lift my skepticism, though: No map editor, no free building mode (you can continue playing on a map once you have finished your mission, but that’s it), currently no multiplayer mode – but they are thinking about that one, at least. But here’s the biggest issue: Why should I pay 16 € (20 when it’s not on sale anymore) for a game when I have the full set of Cultures (re-bought it on gog.com a few months ago) and the games all still work flawlessly? A new game should give me more than the previous ones and that is what I’m missing at the moment.

By the way, Cultures is on sale on Steam until August 31: 3,59 € for 8th Wonder and Northland. 1,99 € for each if bought separately. If you prefer gog.com, you can also buy them on there (DRM-free even): Cultures 1 + 2 for 8.79 € (currently not on sale) and Northland and 8th Wonder also for 8.79 € (not on sale). Recommendation? Yes! I know the subject line says “Valhalla Hills” but I just have to write about Cultures at this point. Those games released years ago, so it’s quite safe to say that they are what they are, while the Early Access game could still change in direction. They are old, yes. But they work perfectly on my machine (Windows 7, 64 bit). In fact, while they don’t have a windowed mode, you can choose your monitor’s resolution, at least. Or so I assume since I can choose 1920*1080 and I know that back in the early 2000s, I did not have a monitor with such a large resolution. ;)

In fact, I reinstalled 8th Wonder yesterday and started playing the campaign again. Cultures has a campaign mode, single player maps, a map editor (Valhalla Hills won’t have one as maps are generically created), multiplayer mode,… As I said, those are feature-complete. I also like the soundtrack and the 8th Wonder has a nice setting: There is a dark threat looming. Some children stopped growing for unknown reasons. You arrive on the new land which gets shaken by strange earthquakes and you are asked to help rebuild the Seven Wonders of the World and stop that dark threat. I can’t actually say more about the story, as I never got that far in this game. I’d lost my save games at some point and then didn’t want to continue playing anymore, because I’d been too annoyed with myself. ;) But here I am now, playing Cultures again! So, if this is your kind of game: Go for it! The sale lasts until August 31.

Also, don’t let me keep you from investing in Valhalla Hills. I don’t want to talk bad about an unreleased game that is still in development. I am just sharing with you why I haven’t bought it yet, even though this is the kind of game I should buy without thinking twice (especially as it is from the very same people who gave me Cultures). It is on my wishlist, though, and I am following their development steps to see if it turns out to be a game I want to have. :)

This post is part of Blaugust 2015.

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