Reposted from a review in HamsterSpeak #16: http://superwalrusland.com/ohr/issue16/vom/vom.html
In the very first issue of HamsterSpeak, I reviewed Fenrir's newly released RPG Vikings of Midgard. Now, over a year later, I'm sitting down with a new version of the game. A lot has changed, and what we have here feels distinctly different from what we played in March of 2007.
For those unfamiliar, Vikings was developed as a game to introduce new users to the OHR engine. It features a group of warriors sent by Odin to retrieve four stolen gems, battling Norse monsters, Lovecraftian horrors, and OHR cameos along the way.
In the original version of the game, the eight playable characters were blank slates, with no personality of their own. In this way, it felt like an old Ultima game; you form a party, get a quest from your king, and go off to slay evil. This is the biggest change in 2008 version; every character now has his or her own unique personality, and each hero joins your quest as the story unfolds rather than the player just selecting his characters from the tavern. Each has his own cutscenes and side-quests (though not all are implemented yet). Some characters get a lot more of a focus than others, but all of them are well written and entertaining. Frumpy the Priest is my personal favorite. In addition to new personalities for the heroes, there is also an assortment of new villains, including a party of OHR heroes turned rotten.
What's most impressive about this is that it wasn't necessary; Vikings, in its original form, was already a good game, just one that needed some gameplay tweaks. Fenrir already had a quality product, and instead of just fixing what was broken and making a good game better, he went above and beyond, infusing it with a ton of life and turning something good into something fantastic.
While the story and characters are what changed the most, I'm happy to say that the gameplay has also improved significantly. Gone is the horrendously high encounter rate of the original version. Gone are the maps that forced you to take long detours to cross a river. The maps now feel much more organic, and the lower encounter rate makes exploring them far more enjoyable. Plenty of sidequests have been added to make the old makes more exciting, too; in the Ironwood Forest, there is a quest that involves going underwater to rescue a trapped dwarf. The underwater stage looks distinctly different from anything, and offers a nice challenge early in the game.
You'll find plenty of new enemies in these new maps, but you'll also see a lot of new graphics in the maps from the old version. Fenrir hasn't just added content to the game, he has gone through and revamped pretty much everything. He has taken advantages of new features of the OHR engine, such as sound effects and layers. You can now hide behind trees, watch a pretty snowfall, and listen to the sound of metal whacking the head of a robotic ex-president (I won't spoil any more about that, but it's my favorite monster in the game). There are also big, flashing WARNING signs that appear before bosses in the style of the Darius games, which made me both laugh and get excited for the upcoming fight.
Character balance is much improved over the previous version. You can no longer use the Berserker's Power command and mow through battles instantaneously; his speed has been reduced enough that he's no longer the Vikings of Midgard equivalent of the Hulk, and Power doesn't seem to make him quite as strong as it used to. Magic is also far more useful now; while I played the original with mostly brute force characters, I found it necessary to keep a magic user in my party to survive. Hitting enemies with the proper elemental attacks matters a lot more now, and certain enemy types are almost completely immune to physical attacks. With these changes, the world feels more dangerous and more organic, and creates a good reason for the player to control a varied party.
Experience is more balanced in this game as well. In the previous version, killing weak enemies yielded just as much, and sometimes more, XP than killing monsters that can devastate your party. XP gained is more proportional to enemy strength now, but it should also be noted that leveling up doesn't matter as much. It affects HP, MP, and teaches you new skills, but equipment you find, steal, or buy makes a far greater difference. I appreciate this, since it encourages exploration and experimentation over level grinding. Likewise, level grinding isn't the only way to gain skills; several come from scripted battles with mini-boss enemies, or from completing side quests. These too made exploration feel worthwhile in a way almost no other OHR games do.
While it has improved dramatically, and is most certainly one of the best games made with the OHR engine, Vikings still has its problems. The only one that really hurt the gameplay was the often, enemies would use skills that either healed them or increased/decreased some stat, but I couldn't tell what these skills did. You eventually figure out, "Hey, this guy's stronger now," but there's really no reason not to use captions to say, "DISGUSTING MONSTER has increased its DEFENSE!"
Another problem I have is that characters still don't come with any items equipped, so you still have to go to a shop and guess at what type of weapon and armors they can use, which wouldn't be as big a deal if there wasn't such an enormous number of items in the game.
That's a shot from roughly half way through the game. Note that nearly every item is a piece of equipment. While I do appreciate a variety of items, this is just way too cumbersome. There are also odd technical problems, such as NPCs and locations that do literally nothing. I understand they will be implemented in a later version, but it feels sloppy to walk through a large, empty house with nothing to interact with. No battles, no dialogue, no items. There's a joke near the end of this version where a servant of evil says, "You can't come in here! This is a demo!" I would have liked the other unimplemented areas to have bits like this, or else simply be locked off.
Other issues include missing animations. For example, Kitt's elemental attacks could really use a dash-in animation associated with them. Or anything at all, really. He just stands there, completely still, while his attacks go off. This wouldn't be as noticeable if the rest of the game didn't include such nice animation.
There's also the issue with the way the Vikings sleep in their beds, which really doesn't look comfortable at all.
I would also like to note that while the new version of the game is longer and features more content, it's not complete like the older version. You can't fight the final boss, and you can't see the end of the story. This version cuts off at a point that leaves the player with a cliff-hanger ending to be resolved in a future update. I can't complain, since there is so much new to the game now, but I was a bit startled when it suddenly booted me back to the title screen.
These issues aside, the 2008 version of Vikings of Midgard is one of the finest OHR games I've seen. If this much can improve between versions, I can't wait to see where Fenrir takes this game next.
Super Walrus Land: Mouth Words Edition