I’ve previously written about Valhalla Hills and my impressions from the outside, but now you can get an impression piece from me from the inside!
I was the lucky winner of the grand prize of Blaugust and received a Steam game that I could choose. While I have lots of games on my wishlist, only one came to my mind that I really wanted to have and play: Valhalla Hills (and I also got the Contributor Edition from Belghast and not just the regular one! O.o). The timing was also quite awesome, as all of this happened on my birthday. :D
TL;DR: It feels a lot like Cultures to me, but each map plays very similarly to the previous map which feels a bit repetitive. There is no sandbox either. Altogether, it has potential and I hope they can fill that potential with more content.
Now that this is out of the way, let me get into more detail. I mentioned in the previous post who Funatics are and why this game even caught my attention in the first place. So, I’ll skip that very basic introduction part and get right to the game.
You play as Leko, one of Odin’s sons, and need to earn honour (through building, fighting and so on) to prove to Odin that you’re a worthy son. You do so with the help of Vikings who get rejected from entering Asgard as well and who, just like you, need to earn more honour before they are allowed to enter. And with that, off to the adventure you go. The first few maps (all of them are islands) are really small. I am on map 9, I think (I would check, but Steam isn’t loading currently). In the beginning, you don’t have many buildings available yet. You basically build up an economy, so your vikings have food and soldiers. The goal is to go through the portal on the island. You can choose between two options: You either build an altar and gather resources to sacrifice for the portal guards to be calmed and let you through or you can instead invest in a small army of soldiers and attack the portal guards instead. I chose the peaceful option, simply because it seemed much easier. On later maps, there will be enemy NPCs on the islands, too, so you will have to have soldiers to defend your vikings anyway.
I said that you only have a few buildings in the beginning. You get unlocks in the game by playing the game which then give you access to more buildings later on. It’s important to note that the new buildings are not available on the island you are playing on at that time. Only when you start a new map can you build that new building.
One of the issues I see with the game currently is that it seems to be very repetitive. For the first few maps, all I did was build the most necessary buildings, build an altar, fulfill whatever was needed to calm down the portal guards and open the portal to get to the next map. There are even (Steam) achievements that support this “repetitive goal”: “Your Vikings managed to climb the Valhalla Hills x times!” where x is 10, 50, 100, 250. While I don’t mind having these achievements in general, I am not sure how much fun it will be to do the same thing over and over again with no change in between. In Cultures, there were story campaigns with maps that usually had at least slightly different goals to achieve (defeat your enemies on the map, gather enough of x resource, find NPC y and so on). And the single non-campaign maps also had different goals or no goals at all.
I finally reached a map that I could not succeed on. What I do find an interesting feature is that each map has a maximum of vikings you can get. Well, there are two numbers, actually. One is the maximum amount of vikings you can have at any given time. For example, after you build some huts for your vikings to live in, you can have up to 26 vikings on your island. When one dies, another one appears. But there won’t be more than 26 unless you buy another hut. But the maximum total amount is an important factor here. If you have 26 vikings and one died, this total is at 27 out of 55 vikings. If too many vikings die, no new ones will appear. So there is a definite end to the map if you let them starve or they die in fights with NPCs (those are the two ways they can die, I think). On top of that, the game lets you create three profiles which all have a different progression. But each profile only has one save slot and the game has an auto-save function. While auto-save is good, once you realize you made a wrong decision, you cannot go back. You can only start a new map (but as long as you continue playing with your current profile, all progress – that is, all unlocked buildings and your vikings honour – will be saved).
One thing I love is that you can rename your vikings and choose different helmets for them. The character screen is also quite cute and shows you how much honour each of your vikings has earned already and how often they spawned on your maps. This gives a nice little touch as you can get quite attached to them. What is sad is that within the game, you have no control over the vikings at all. For comparison, in Cultures you could tell each viking where to go. But more importantly, you had to assign a viking to a given job. The bakery was finished, freshly built, but nobody started working there unless you told somebody to do so. If you had more open professions then vikings, this was no issue as you assigned the available vikings to which professions you needed the most. In Valhalla Hills, I have to disable a building (no production there and thus, no viking working there), so no viking chooses this work place. But once I have more vikings, I have to be fast and enable it again before the viking goes to do another open job instead. There is no window that tells you which buildings are currently enabled or disabled, so you need to memorize which you set in the disabled state. Also, professions further down the skill line (that is, every profession but the very basic ones like farmer, hunter, forester) had to be learned somehow first in Cultures. A viking that had no prior experience (in the case of the baker, this would be a miller), he had to be sent to school to learn the appropriate profession there. But for me, the main aspect is that I could choose who should work at which place. Not even because I wanted to give my favourite vikings the best jobs in town (although I certainly did exactly that :p), but mostly because it just felt like I had more control over the game and it was much easier than the “micromanagement” in this game.
Oh, as this is early access, a word on why I am not writing about bugs: There were none. Seriously. Not one single bug. Okay, a few issues did arise… Sometimes, the game doesn’t load. Closing it in the task manager and restarting it solves the issue. And then some text is not fitting 100 % in its tooltip. I am also certain that some things need to be tweaked as I was frequently annoyed by vikings not finding food even though they are close to a building that stores food. But I’m not sure if that counts as a bug per se or rather something like “pathfinding issues” which to me, belongs to the “needs tweaking” category. :p
In closing, I could probably just repeat what I wrote in the “TL;DR” section above. I was pleasantly surprised as the game is much more fun than I thought it would be. But my concerns were also correct in that it has unused potential and does get a bit repetitive. In my opinion, they did a lot of things much better with Cultures and I hope to see some of those features return, so the game gets more depth and content and less repetitive gameplay.