You might not have heard of the Slovakian studio Games Farm before, but they’ve been quietly turning out quality action RPG’s for the last couple of decades. In 2017, they released Vikings: Wolves of Midgard on the PC, PS4, and Xbox One. The Unity-powered game is an impressive show for an engine that’s been wrongly-branded as bad by some folks due to one or two individual titles’ performance. It’s also a wonderful example of the classic Action RPG genre, and I wish I had played it sooner.
At the start of Vikings, you’ll customize either a male or female warrior, and set out on a grand quest that starts with small regional squabbles among warring bands but eventually involves mythological creatures and the fate of the world. The game features five unique skill trees themed after different Norse deities, and each one also corresponds to a type of weapon. So, you can mix and match provided you’re willing to switch weapon types throughout your adventure, or go all-in on one particular play style.
Combat is the core of the game. You’ll wage violent war across numerous large maps from an isometric perspective and collect lots of random loot. The combat is a little bit slower than in genre-stalwart Diablo III, and it reminds me of the heavier and well-animated battle in the recent Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem. It’s a very easy system to learn, with one main attack button and extra buttons for unlockable skills. On consoles, the right stick activates a handy dodge roll, and in a nice touch the speed and effectiveness of this roll is impacted by the weight of your current gear.
That sort of detail extends to every aspect of Wolves of Midgard, both in gameplay and in graphics. The game uses the Unity engine, which I’ve seen regularly derided for its alleged shortcomings on consoles. There’s no sign of that here. The game runs locked at 30 frames per second, and if you have a PS4 Pro, you’ll get slightly better lighting effects too.
Character models are sumptuously detailed and animated, and every piece of gear you equip will change your warrior’s appearance. Although the camera is sadly locked to one zoom level and angle, the environments are still realistic and varied. The game doesn’t look as technically good as Wolcen or as atmospheric as Path of Exile, but it still has well-composed visuals. Many of the game’s levels contain snow which realistically deforms as you run through it and bash enemies around. I know that’s not the newest effect in the world, but it’s something I never get tired of.
The story is surprisingly robust for a game with such a generic title. It’s fully voiced, and each area is set up by a narrator who explains what you’re about to face and how it ties into the conflict going on in the larger world. You’ll also meet a whole cast of friendly characters, some of whom will move to your home village. You can upgrade the village throughout the game, which unlocks access to better weapons, crafting recipes, and further layers of the game’s skill tree.
Although the core combat design is very similar to genre norms, there are a few fun design tweaks. Experience comes in the form of blood orbs you have to physically pick up, and they also heal you a little bit once you collect them. The game world is full of breakable physics objects just as in Diablo III, but where in that game you mostly break them for fun or to try and knock down enemies, here these objects are full of crafting materials. It’s a satisfying loop to break a bunch of barrels, watch wood fly out of them, and use that wood to make a better shield.
I’ve glossed over this game a number of times in the last few years. I first heard of it when I saw a retail copy at my sadly defunct Fry’s Electronics, and I mistakenly thought it was a strategy game based on the popular TV show Vikings until I picked it up and realized it was an action RPG. I tried out the free demo briefly on Steam after I got home from that Fry’s run, but I was playing a lot of other games at that time and it got lost in the shuffle.
However, the game is currently part of the PlayStation Now subscription service, and that’s what finally made me download it and give it a proper go. I’m so glad I did. It’s a wonderful action RPG with real heart that became a favorite overnight this past weekend, and I can tell it was made by a team that cared about its creation. As I mentioned above, Games Farm is best known for their Heretic Kingdoms franchise, which I am more familiar with and which I’ll be writing about soon. Wolves of Midgard is just as good and detailed a video game as you’d expect from the makers of a long-running action RPG series, and it’s fascinating that they took a break from their own franchise to make a different game about Vikings.
If you’re looking for a fun, deep action RPG that will shatter your preconceived notions about how good a Unity game can look on a console, Vikings: Wolves of Midgard is an excellent choice. It has around 20 hours of gameplay for your first run, and the different skill trees and a new game plus mode encourage replays. There’s also local and online co-op available if you want to play it with a friend. It normally sells for around $40, and I think it’s worth that price…though you can regularly find it on sale or get it “free” through PS Now.