It has been an intriguing few years for games meant to evoke nostalgia. Despite the fact that recent statistics show gamers still place a heavy priority on graphics when they are deciding which titles they want to purchase, developers have been increasingly aggressive in pursuing throwback aesthetics and gameplay styles.
Perhaps one of the biggest beneficiaries of this suddenly broadening niche market has been top-down strategy games – those with a distinctly RPG flavor to them, like Pillars of Eternity, have even found financial success despite remaining firmly rooted in graphics that were cutting edge over a decade ago.
As far as strategy goes, however, one of the best titles to emerge in the new era of top-down, old-school productions was Expeditions: Conquistador, a 2013 tactical role-playing game from Logic Artists. The game found its footing as an accessible blend of historical narrative and strategic battle, quickly winning over a cult following of fans after being partially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign.
That success has allowed Logic Artists to turn its brand of turn-based tactical combat into a series, and the company’s follow-up to its cult hit is Expeditions: Viking. Trading in the Spanish Age of Exploration for the Viking attempts to colonize North America, Expeditions: Viking is an improvement on the formula that Logic Artists established in its first release that is, unfortunately, hampered by technical issues and a generally unpolished presentation.
First, however, the positives - Expeditions: Viking is an absolute joy to watch unfold from a history buff’s perspective. The game absolutely, and critically, nails the tone of an uneasy exploration of a foreign land, and the ability to live out stereotypes that North Americans have of Viking culture or to be an unexpectedly diplomatic leader is a refreshing decision to make. The politics of the game are also engaging, and at their best, they’re the exact right homage to early seasons of Game of Thrones. There’s a mysticism underlying a lot of the superstitions and cultural beliefs on both sides of the political world, but magic isn’t actually there – it’s more about the way different people believing different things can find common ground.
Naturally, however, the ability to avoid battle isn’t always present, and battles are seamlessly integrated with exploring the map or entering a new area. The main character, a Viking clan leader with a small group of warriors called a Hird, is fully customizable and can take on any role in combat, much like every member of the Hird as well. Battles are very deep and enjoyable, and working out specific strategies – like forcing enemies to clump together so that your archers can pick them apart with a hail of arrows – is immensely enjoyable. There’s a lot to like in this game for those who enjoy patient, intelligent approaches to turn-based combat.
Likewise, there’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained from the way the game tasks players with micromanaging their Hird. Players will have to frequently make camps as they explore the world of Viking, and those camps aren’t just simple rest stops that recharge everyone’s health bar. The player character has to assign roles to each member of the party ranging from guarding the campsite, cooking food, hunting more food to be rationed for later, and scouting out cool little bonuses on the world map. All of these things can be a little overwhelming at first, but it only takes a few tries to get the hang of it, and afterwards players can construct an efficient, meat-producing, ration-making machine that ensures everyone is always in good shape.
All of this makes Expeditions: Viking sound like an enjoyable tactical roleplaying game, and in some sense, it certainly is. Those who are able to look past the game’s early 2000-era graphics and clunky, overloaded interfaces will find a world that has environments that are very carefully crafted, but they aren’t particularly memorable. Most towns look the same, forests are interchangeable, and the limited number of portraits available to a player’s Hird, which consists of a number of recruited warriors the player rolls stats for themselves, makes them pretty nameless and faceless as the story goes on. The only characters who feel “real” in the Hird are the ones that are forced to be there from a story standpoint.
That would be a forgivable offense, especially given the intent of Logic Artists to make Expeditions: Viking a callback to older, iconic strategy games, but that would be ignoring the game’s biggest issue – bugs. Too often, dialogue options suddenly invoke a reaction that was clearly meant for another choice, and at one point, after hours of playing a specific quest line in a certain way, the finale culminated in my character being forced to fight and kill the NPC I had aligned with amiably.
These hiccups are frustrating, and create the sense that the game really needs more polish in its current form. That’s compounded by the fact that some of these bugs aren’t just annoying, but they’re downright game-breaking – one instance of a quest saw my character completely locked out from finishing it, urging me to speak to a character that was already dead. Only reloading – which had to be a save from over an hour prior, since a battle had just been fought before the cutscene that prompted this glitch – was able to fix it.
While it remains difficult to whole-heartedly recommend a game that demands upwards of 30 or 40 hours of their time and can instantly render that progress meaningless, whether through weird dialogue tree outcomes or reloads, the decision not to do so comes with a caveat. Logic Artists has made every indication that they are working on patching out the bugs players have experienced already, and without those glaring errors, Logic Artists has put together a strategy game that has some extremely compelling bright spots. As it stands, though, Expeditions: Viking is simply a solid and at-times frustrating entry into tactical role-playing games, and should only be seriously considered by diehard strategy fans and history buffs – at least until it has been thoroughly rebuilt.
Expeditions: Viking is out now for PC. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.