Developed and published Ellada Games, Niffelheim provides survival style gameplay and combines it with a setting taken from old Norse myths straight from the old Viking legends. The big question is whether or not the game manages to live up to the grand origins it takes inspiration from. Does the setting help it get past some of the issues that come with the survival genre?
Niffelheim is available on Steam for $19.99
Niffelheim takes place in the mythological realm of the same name, and the player takes the role of a warrior who, after falling in battle, ends up in the harsh realm instead of Asgard. Seemingly abandoned in this fog filled land, your only company will be the Ravens Hoog and Moon, the mysterious death priests, a disconcertingly friendly stranger, and the monsters and fiends that haunt the night. You must defeat the strongest of these creatures to rebuild a portal to Asgard and claim your rightful place there.
Despite its rather dark setting, being what is essentially the Norse equivalent of hell, a significant portion of the writing is actually lighthearted. This is primarily due to the raven brothers, who often make small jokes when giving quests or exposition. The only other characters you really speak to are the stranger and the occasional rogue death priest, and while the writing for them isn’t, it’s clear more focus went into Hoog and Moon than anyone else.
The one issue I have with the game's setting is that there isn’t a lot done to make it clear that you are in some kind of different world. Take away the monsters, and this could have very well just taken place in the regular mortal world. There are trees, animals, and even a city. For being a “land of the dead”, the realm of Niffelheim is pretty lively.
As mentioned before, Niffelheim is primarily a 2D survival game. As such, the bulk of the gameplay revolves around gathering resources, improving your character, and building your base. Ultimately, the main goal is to gather pieces of a mystic portal that will take you to Asgard, therefore winning the game.
When starting a game, you are given the option to pick a starting area and a character class. The former of these don’t really seem to have much of an impact on gameplay, with each area having the same types of resources. For the most part, it seems to only be there for the sake of multiplayer, (We’ll get into that a bit later).
The character classes available are the Valkyrie, Berserker, Viking, and Shaman. The main difference between these are some variables in their stats, such as higher health, lower attack, etc. One thing I was disappointed with was the lack of customization available for the characters. While it’s only a small thing, the lack of it, especially when the game has a multiplayer option, is a bit sad.
Most of your time will be split between the surface and in dungeons. The first of these is where you gather resources like wood and food, with it switching between night and day. During the day, you are safe to gather resources and hunt small critters, but during the night the big predators and evil monsters come out to play. While night time is more dangerous, it also presents opportunities to get resources you can’t acquire during the day.
Dungeons are split between two categories. There is the dungeon underneath your base, which is where you can mine for certain resources, and combat dungeons spread out through the game where you can go to loot chest laid throughout them. Generally speaking, the only real advantage I could find to exploring these other dungeons was that you could navigate through them a bit quicker. Otherwise, there was really no reason to explore past your own personal mine, as there aren’t any resources exclusive to the others.
Another aspect to the game includes completing quests. For the most part, these are simple, get a certain quantity of an item and turn it in when you have enough. Missions are given out by the ravens, the stranger, and rogue death priests. The rewards for these missions vary, ranging from weapons, potions, or simply money. There aren’t any time limits on them, and for the most part, they serve as a way to get some extra resources.
Events also occur during gameplay, which will oftentimes force you to drop what you’re doing and deal with them, lest you face the consequences. These events come in two forms, those being horde attacks, and ultimatums. The former alerts you to a group of undead that is attacking your base, trying to destroy it and steal your resources inside, while the other requires you to gather a specific item for either death priests or a witch, punishing the player if they fail to deliver in time.
While these events are meant to put some extra pressure on the player, the ultimately wind up being nothing more than minor annoyances. The punishments for the ultimatums get very unthreatening very fast. Failing the death priests leads to a horde being sent your way, but often times they are smaller and weaker than the ones that pop up randomly. The witch will send a drought if you fail her, which makes it so you cannot collect anything but sticks, logs, and dried up seeds. But because you can travel to other areas you can still collect resources, or just stock up on supplies and go mining until it blows over. Even the hordes become a mere nuisance after you acquire a certain ability.
You may have noticed earlier that I mentioned there is a city in the realm of Niffelheim. Said areas, named the Temple City, is in between the 4 starting points and serves as a place to buy and sell supplies. There is also a temple where you can make a sacrifice to the death priests, which will get you a very useful ability. Early on, when you’re low on options, this place is a good way to get food that will last you for a decent amount of time.
The core gameplay boils down to: get resources, make gear, get better resources, make better gear. Rinse and repeat until you beat the game, and try not to die too much. The problem is that the longer you play, the more repetitive the game gets. This is in large part due to the controls of the game. Most tasks go down to pressing a single key or clicking on something several times. In a game that can take several hours, this can get old very quickly.
This is an issue that comes into play during the combat as well. In the same way, that gathering resources is repetitive, so is fighting enemies, with the gameplay once again boiling down to pressing a single key. At best, you will sometimes have to switch from “mash F” to “hold C until you can attack again”. Most fights come down to a DPS race between you and whatever mini-boss it is that you’re facing.
The combat is made even simpler when you take into account that the enemy A.I. is dumber than a screen door on a submarine. Many of the enemies can be outsmarted by shooting an arrow, running away until they lose interest, and then shooting them again. Unless of course, you’re using a gun, in which case you may as well just sit in your base and starve to death. The amount of time it takes to get a shot off, you’ll get tagged 100 times before you can get another shot off.
With all this said, there are still definitely some good points to Niffelheim’s gameplay. For one thing, the UI and inventory system is great. Convenience features like a sorting button and quick use make the otherwise repetitive gameplay much more tolerable. Items, regardless of whether they are in your personal inventory or in your base storage, are available to you when you’re crafting, making it so the player doesn’t have to run back and forth between crafting stations and storage chests. They are small things, but when put together they make for a much more enjoyable experience.
Multiplayer is available, but other than adding something new to hit, there doesn’t seem to be much of a purpose to it. Finding a game to join can also be a bit of a challenge, with the few people who were hosting games having them set to friends only.
Graphics and Sound
Visually, Niffelheim stands out with its highly detailed 2D images. There is a bevy of monster designs, ranging from rock trolls to giant spiders, and while they are a bit generic they are designed well enough to get past it. Environments are also nicely designed, being dark and gloomy., but they tend to all look very samey. Animation quality could also use some work.
Music is good, though again a bit generic. It helps immerse you in the game, so it does its job. Sound effects are fine, though once again, nothing special. They give proper feedback to your actions, but this is a game you could very easily mute and listen to your own music or a podcast and not have to worry about it. (I recommend Keen Gamers own “Bits and Bytes podcast)
Niffelheim has great art and surprisingly good writing, but the sheer repetitiveness of the gameplay shackles it to just being another survival game. When brought up against other games in the genre, such as Don’t Starve, Niffelheim comes up disappointingly short. For fans of the setting, this may be a game you should pick up on sale, but as it is now I can't really recommend it to people expecting a groundbreaking experience.
|+ Good UI||– Incredibly repetitive|
|+ Great art||– Lackluster music|
|– Underused setting|