Expeditions: Viking hands-on – hardcore mix of RPG and turn-based strategy

Expeditions: Viking Preview

Game PreviewOct 5, 2016 at 7:00a PSTby Jakub Mirowski

Expeditions: Viking hands-on – hardcore mix of RPG and turn-based strategy

Expeditions: Viking is a complex mix of RPG and turn-based strategy, where the fans of the previous installment in the franchise – Conquistador – will feel at home.

EXPEDITIONS: VIKING IN A NUTSHELL:
  • Historical RPG with turn-based strategy elements;
  • Sequel to Expeditions: Conquistador;
  • Set in 8th-century Europe;
  • Gives you an opportunity to expand your villages and pillage those of your enemies;
  • Turn-based combat system;
  • Hex-grid maps;
  • Diplomacy and commerce.

Writing a preview for such a complex game as Expeditions: Viking is a tough nut to crack. A 30-minutes presentation at gamescom will usually give you an idea of where a given game is headed, what looks promising, and which elements still require some tweaks. Still, everyone who’s ever invested some time in playing the previous installment, Conquistador, is perfectly aware of the fact that half an hour with these games is hardly enough to even give you a glimpse of all their aspects. Hence, in Cologne we saw only a tiny bit of the final product developed by Logic Artists from Denmark. The initial impressions are mixed: many elements seem to have been expanded as compared to the game’s predecessor, which is certainly good news for the veterans; probably not so much for potential newcomers.

On the other hand, focusing on hardcore players doesn’t have to be an issue. During my conversation with Alex Mintsioulis, who gave me a rundown of in-game solutions, I was prone to believe that the Danes are more interested in catering to the fans of the previous game than trying to make room for new players. That’s the reason for implementing a complex character creation tool, for example, with which my Viking experience begun. The player always assumes the role of a new chieftain of one of the Scandinavian clans, who first has to fight for maintaining his dominance, and then lead his men across the sea, but how he looks and what he’s like is completely up to us.

The life of a Norse Warrior

Having your own band is not all fun and games. At any moment, one of your buddies might question your leadership. - 2016-10-05
Having your own band is not all fun and games. At any moment, one of your buddies might question your leadership.

Contrary to the previous installment, where poor character creation system was a major disadvantage, here we have many settings available. Apart from adjusting the color of the clothes, the hero’s avatar, or such vital details as length of the beard, there are also five values that can be adjusted: strength, stamina, finesse, perception, and wits. Which of those you decide to emphasize will not only influence the character’s stats, but also the way his past deeds will be described. An interesting detour from the classic character development system is the fact that there are no classes: depending on the skills the player decides to invest in, a class is automatically ascribed; the classes can be combined if need be. Initial bonuses to diplomacy and combat abilities can also be set. You can really spend a lot of time in the creator – the more grumpy Conquistador fans will surely appreciate the enormous changes in this aspect.

This is the only case when playing a beardless character is justified. To some extent. - 2016-10-05
This is the only case when playing a beardless character is justified. To some extent.

Almost immediately after creating my Viking protagonist I was forced to fight. Some warriors who were discontented with the choice of their new boss (myself) decided to shatter matters with their own axes, and launched an assault on the village. Turn-based strategy lovers will immediately know what’s what on the battlefield. Each move has to be diligent, haste can make you lose a chance to attack; and taking risk often doesn’t really pay off.

Even such a (seemingly) trivial decision as which swordsman should stand in the front row has its consequences – for me, it once meant blocking the way of another unit. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep our warriors’ special abilities in mind: some of them can, for example, shoot twice in one turn, some can use a long spear to reach an enemy standing two tiles away. This whole system is complex enough as to force the players to utilize their brains during every encounter, and at the same time intuitive enough as to be clear for everyone after a couple battles.

Neon-pink clan chieftain

Some enhancement is clearly visible, but the graphics are still not a show-stopper. - 2016-10-05
Some enhancement is clearly visible, but the graphics are still not a show-stopper.

Similarly to Conquistador, the developers have tried to believably recreate the presented historical period. The game takes us to the turn of the 8th century, when the Vikings stole the show in European politics, so those of you who expect fighting alongside Odin and Thor, or witnessing Ragnarök, may feel disappointed. However, if you always wanted to recreate the assault on the Lindisfarne Priory, the game by Logic Artists may be just up your alley.

Unfortunately, the interface legibility proves to be an unexpected setback of Expeditions: Viking. The Danish game can often look pretty bad, and not due to the technology used. Much like it was in the case of Conquistador, Logic Artists have enjoyed a rather modest budget, so we can all agree that the game doesn’t have to have cutting-edge graphics (which, by the way, are still a whole lot better than in their previous game). The interface turns out to be the biggest problem, or a couple of decisions that I fail to understand, to be exact.

Dialogue options have different colors, and after looking at them for a longer while you can almost experience a vertigo. During combat it’s even worse. Where Conquistador used some more desaturated colors, Viking storms your iris with neon green, red, and yellow shapes and arrows, which often occupy much more screen space than they should. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a problem if the theme of this game were different – but we’re talking about Vikings after all, the color palette should really be low-key to match the cold, wintry landscapes populated by bearded warriors headed to ransack some village.

Due to rather poor choice of colors, the battlefield is sometimes lit up like a Christmas tree. - 2016-10-05
Due to rather poor choice of colors, the battlefield is sometimes lit up like a Christmas tree.

Still, the whole game can’t be disregarded just because of this one – nonetheless cringe-worthy – element. This article could have even been much more optimistic, had it not been for the limited time during the German showcase. Alex Mintsioulis himself admitted that he wouldn’t be able to present the whole spectrum of the game’s content even if he had twice as much time. Thus, we haven’t seen some really important elements such as village management and expansion, and the more complex dialogue system (the game can be really nonlinear and a single event can sometimes prevent us from reaching a certain path later on in the game). The same goes for preparing a pillaging expedition or dealing with discontent in the player’s band. Not a word was spoken about commerce, diplomacy, or survival either, despite the fact that these can often be much more important than combat.

Rated H for hardcore

Sometimes the nature will be a tenfold fiercer enemy than all the other clans combined. The survival aspect is supposedly very important in Expeditions: Viking. - 2016-10-05
Sometimes the nature will be a tenfold fiercer enemy than all the other clans combined. The survival aspect is supposedly very important in Expeditions: Viking.

All in all, I left the showcase by Logic Artists with a feeling of moderate disappointment. Half an hour with Expeditions: Viking allowed me to see the merely the framework of the game’s direction. One thing we know for sure, though: Compared to every other game presented at gamescom, where often twenty minutes was enough to know exactly what most of their elements were going to look like, the Danish production stands out with its complexity. It’s a game made by people dedicated to their passion, whose main goal is not necessarily to convince crowds of players who are not so big on blends of turn-based strategy and RPG. And that’s just one of the reasons to keep an eye on Expeditions: Viking – just change the darn interface already!