Valhalla Hills was released on August 24th, 2015. It’s available for $19.99 on the Steam Marketplace.
It was developed by Funatics Software and published by Daedalic Entertainment.
What is this game?
Valhalla Hills is a building strategy game, similar to games such as From Dust or The Settlers. To begin, the player is placed in control of five Vikings who have landed on a small island. The objective of the game is to lead your Vikings to a portal placed on the island. In order to win the level and proceed to the next level, there are a few obstacles. The island is littered with enemies that the Vikings must kill OR appease. Once dealt with, they must open the portal. Once the portal is opened, more enemies emerge! The Vikings must then either kill or make sacrifices towards these enemies in order to win and step through the portal. Along the way, the player has to feed, shelter, and equip their Vikings. To do this, they must use the resources found on the island and build structures that they have at their disposal. What separates this game from other similar ones is the limited control the player has over his or her Vikings. This game features an indirect control system, meaning the player cannot tell the units where to move or what to fight, but can only indirectly influence their movements. This is a frustrating feature sometimes, but it forces the player to plan ahead rather than make immediate decisions. Every new island that the player encounters is larger and has varied mountainous terrain. The player is rewarded upon completing a level with new structures to build, new map NPCs (neutral animals, enemies, etc.), items, and more.
What Are The Pros?
Clean, pretty visuals.
Variety of play styles.
Interesting story and setting.
Where do I begin? I really like this game. The first thing to mention is the Vikings, themselves. They’re adorable. Not only do they look great and move fluently, they have littler interactions with each other and make cute sounds every once in a while. All of the character models are impressive, which goes well with the impressive graphics the rest of the game offers. Sticking to the aesthetic aspects, the game looks clean and is pleasing to the eyes. This is stated best by the Valhalla dev’s, themselves: “Technically Valhalla Hills is powered by the Unreal 4 Engine making its optical performance gleam”. Now, along with the graphics, this game offers quite an intellectual AI system. The system isn’t anything that we’ve never seen before, but the enemies, Vikings and animals all operate on a decently -intelligent set of AI rules. The enemies don’t endlessly chase you to the ends of the map, and your Vikings normally act according. With this AI system in place, the indirect control of your Vikings is not actually too bad. They make smart decisions when possible, and it’s up to you to give them the ability to do so. Next on my list of pros is the variability of play styles possible in Valhalla Hills. I give the developers a big high-five for interrupting the usual, linear style of playing games by giving the player many different options. When playing this game, you can decide to make peace with the ghostly Ice Vikings guarding the portal by offering them sacrifices and gifts, or you can instead go to war with them and march your Vikings into battle. Either way, you are not limited to one way of playing the game. I’ve found that I can go through certain levels and not use all of the buildings at my disposal, whereas on replaying those levels I can beat them using different structures for different strategies. It’s fair to mention that I have replayed some levels in this game, and it’s been equally entertaining every time. Before I move on, though, I must say that the story and setting of this game are very attractive. These Vikings that you’re leading are outcasts in the eyes of Odin, the Norse god. You play as Odin’s son, Leko, and are entrusted with helping these outcasts reach their eternal resting place. By doing this, you are proving to your father that you, yourself, are worthy in his eyes.
What Are The Cons?
Unclear directions led to time wasted.
Lack of objective on the first island.
I honestly had a tough time picking out things I disliked about Valhalla Hills. The first and only thing that majorly halted my first play-through was the “un-lockable” system implemented in the game. I’m not sure if it was just because of my cluelessness or rather out of the game’s lack of clear direction, but after I was told for the first time that I had unlocked new buildings, I spent around ten to fifteen minutes trying to figure out how to build them. I was not aware that you unlock the “un-lockables” upon entering the next level. This was just something that felt a little unclear and should be mentioned beforehand to the player. Stupidly enough, I also spent more time than I should have on the first island gathering resources and preparing for whatever was going to come through that portal. In reality, the first island can be completed in less than twenty seconds as there is nothing coming through that portal. All the player must do is lead a single Viking towards the portal, click open, and they win. I suggest allowing one Ice Viking to enter through in order to create some sort of objective on that island. Other than these two issues, I cannot name many more. This was quite an enjoyable and well-designed game.
Notes & Observations
Vikings fall from the sky!
No pause hotkey?
Can’t build while paused.
Interesting pathway system.
Here are just a few, quick observations that I wrote down while playing this game. First off, I like the delivery of new Vikings to your island. If you ask for extra Vikings, they fall from the sky! It’s a little thing, but I enjoy watching it every time. This next thing could have possibly been placed under the Cons section above. It would have been nice to have a default hotkey assigned to pausing the game. My thumb kept hitting the space bar naturally in order to pause, and unfortunately it never worked. This is a useful feature as it can be done in the heat of a battle or stressful situation. Another relevant observation to this one was the inability to build anything while the game is paused. This may be something that the developers wanted to have in the game, and if so, I understand. To wrap this section up, I just wanted to point out a few more key game implementations that made this game stand out. There is a pathway system in place that allows the player to carve paths out, with no cost or requirements, for their Vikings to follow. These paths increase walk-speed and will force the Vikings to move along a certain path. Lastly, I found it interesting that I could add ‘carriers’ to my buildings, whose sole jobs were to carry stuff to and fro the buildings.
This game is well made and deserves some attention for it. As it is with any game (especially new ones), there are a few kinks to iron out. I trust the developers will continue to work and improve on this game for a while. It’s only twenty U.S. dollars on Steam, and I think that’s a fair price for such a fun game. If you like building strategy games like Settlers or Cultures, you’re going to like this one too. I recommend it highly!
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