Developer: Funatics Software
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment, Kalypso Media (Console)
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Rating: T for Teen
I have become somewhat of the resident Viking fan around these parts. I have covered Viking-themed video games such as Trial By Viking and Northgard. Of course there are many more that I would like to get my hands on, but these days there are so many video games to play and so little time. At the end of April I was ready for a break, but then Valhalla Hills was brought to my attention. When I gazed upon some trailers and gameplay videos I saw a strategy game, and yet it looked much more relaxed than other games of the genre.
Valhalla Hills first made its way to Steam in December of 2015, that is almost a year and a half ago. It took some time, but it is now available on PS4 and Xbox One as the Definitive Edition which includes all previously-released DLC. While most of these indie games only get digital distribution, Valhalla Hills is also being released in stores. That being said. all of that comes with a price tag of $39.99—is the price tag worth every dollar?
Spiritual Content: Valhalla Hills is centered around Nordic Mythology in which there are many different gods. According to the story you play as Odin’s youngest son Leko, a God. The objective of the game is to get to a portal that leads to Valhalla, the Norse version of Heaven. An altar can also be place to gain favor with the portal guardians so they won’t attack. The very same altar can be used to gain access that also grant you in-game bonuses called Spells.
Violence: Due to its toon-like art style, Valhalla Hills features a lighter tone compared to other titles. During battles, the characters swing their weapons and don’t actually make contact. Hit point numbers appear above their heads as small splashes of blood can also be seen. Upon being defeated, a character becomes a tombstone sitting over a spot of blood. Characters use a variety of weapons such as axes, hammers, and bows.
Sexual Content: None
Drug/Alcohol Use: Players have access to a wide variety of buildings, one of these happens to be a brewery. Players can grow wheat in order to make beer in the brewery for their Vikings, some of the previously mentioned spells also require the use of beer.
Valhalla Hills is quite a different strategy game than any other I’ve played. Not as precise as Northgard or Age of Empires, and not as complicated as something like Civilization or Simcity. What we have here is something way more relaxed. The mechanics focus entirely on buildings and resources. If you build all the right structures that make the things you need then you are in business. Buildings such as the woodcutter and quarry are meant to manage resources, while buildings like the toolmaker and armory provide workers and warriors with what they need to do their jobs. There are other types of structures that focus on keeping your vikings satisfied, like lodging, campfires, and even a brewery for example.
However, I was pleased to see that the vikings operate on their own. Rather than having me meticulously manage each and every unit, your vikings are assigned to a job once they finish building a structure. For example, a fisherman will focus on that job without the player having to direct them at all. Your army will not even go out and fight unless they are provoked by an enemy attacking the village.
The main objective of each session is to make your way up the mountain to a portal that leads to Valhalla. A small bit of story is even provided to set the stage. The player is Odin’s youngest son, Leko, who has lost favor with his father. As a result, Leko is banished to Midgard/Earth and must regain the respect of his father by literally building his way back up to Asgard. A band of vikings join your quest in hopes that they gain favor with the gods and make it to Valhalla. The story is rather elaborate, but is only there to explain the objective. There is not much else to it, but it at least gives us a backstory on why we need to make it up to that portal.
There are two ways to play, and either one is really up to the player. The first is classic mode; I found this mode to be the most helpful since it helped me ease my way into the mechanics. The first scenario starts off on a small island and later grew into a mountain. Classic mode teaches how all of the various buildings and resources work and unlock as one completes each scenario. Those who feel like they have a good grasp of how to play can move onto open mode where everything is unlocked, and they can get to the portal in any way they choose.
The biggest caveat brings the challenge, which is that the landscape is procedurally generated. Every time a scenario is started, players have to examine the area and think about where they need to place their buildings. The key strategy is to place them in all the right spots; whether or not it is executed wisely can determine a player’s success or failure—I had to hit the restart button more than a few times due to poor placement. The generated maps remind me of the Worms series, since I didn’t know what I was getting until I entered a map which could be my worst enemy or my greatest ally.
After playing long enough, some of your vikings will gain enough favor and actually make it to Valhalla. The amount of favor a viking has is shown through a ranking system. The rank is based on how many times a particular viking has been spawned and how much work they have been active. At the point of achieving 100% favor and reaching Valhalla, a viking can respawn later with increased stats and help you even further on your journey back to Asgard. I found that this feature gave an amount of personality and attachment to my vikings by showing me who were the most loyal and hardworking.
There are a few areas that could possibly keep Valhalla Hills from climbing that mountain toward the greats of the gaming industry. First of all, the tutorials provided did not help quite as much as they should. In certain situations I found myself going to google to find out more details when I would hit a snag with one of my buildings not operating properly or one of my villagers not working. Another problem is that repetition has the potential to cause people to lose interest after a couple of hours with only one core objective and very little story.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to find when starting up Valhalla Hills. I definitely enjoyed what I experienced, but didn’t absolutely love it either. My biggest issue is that the game may be too relaxed, which means that most players may go looking for a deeper experience from another video game. That may be because strategy games are not my preferred genre, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t put quite a few hours into one. The price of $39.99 is also something that will likely be detrimental and cause itself to keep flying under the radar. I am personally grateful for the opportunity I had to play Valhalla Hills, but these days it has become hard for a good video game to stand on its legs when there are so many great ones out there.
Review code generously provided by Kalypso Media
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The Bottom Line
Valhalla Hills is a surprisingly good, relaxing strategy game that is great for those who aren't well seasoned in the genre. Unfortunately, it has flown under the radar—the price tag will keep many from giving this one a try.