Indie Developer Paranoid Interactive and Publisher Hyperstrange strike the Viking theme while the iron is hot! Frozenheim, a new Viking city builder with RTS elements. Players must build and expand upon their Viking settlement while defending against enemy raiders from the nearby Jarl. Take on side quests and fend off bandits from attacking nearby towns, or trade with harbors for access to boats to aid you on your expeditions across the sea.
Rather than the usual hustle to rush your army against your opponent, as is the case in most RTS games, Frozenheim offers a more relaxing experience with its slower pacing. Take your time to explore and gather, build and fortify, and draw upon mystical powers to buff your clan, accessed via the runestones scattered across the map.
Frozenheim is available on Steam at $16.99, with a 10% discount for the first week of Early Access. The price will increase gradually as more content is added and the roadmap discloses all updates until the planned launch.
STORY – A SPADE IS A SPADE, A TUTORIAL IS A TUTORIAL
Let’s be completely honest, the game’s tutorial is masked as the campaign. It is far from bad, and it definitely creates a point of accessibility for players unfamiliar with the RTS genre. But do not sit down with a full pot of coffee in the first week of Early Access expecting a full fledged campaign.
Now, this is a good tutorial with two missions, both including a (very) simple narrative. The first, a beginner’s run down of how to play and it provides all the information you will need to review how to control units, how to manipulate the terrain for cover, and how to interact with features outside of your settlement, such as watch towers to uncover a portion of unexplored map. Each time you encounter a significant hurdle in gameplay, your game will be paused automatically and text explaining how to proceed is displayed.
If you are an RTS veteran, you will likely hack through both missions before lunchtime, moving onto the skirmish and PvP. However, the tutorial’s easy-going nature will hopefully open the game up to a larger audience and a more lively online experience, right up to the full launch in early 2022.
THERE IS A DASH OF FLAVOUR WITHIN THE MISSIONS
Whilst the campaign generally reviews the basics of what to do, completing the first mission cuts to a brutal scene of your settlement up in flames as you sail away. The second mission sets you off to find the runestone to gain favor of the Gods. In order to build a ship sizable enough to carry a small raiding party to your destination, you must gain enough resources to build the warship, all the while fending off consistent raids from the nearby Jarl. The Jarl who betrayed you and chased you down in the previous mission.
When exploring this game’s gorgeous textures, and pausing to watch a few simple cutscenes here and there, it does add a little flavor. Admittedly, these are embellished objectives rather than fleshed out story, but it does a very good job at this early stage.
GAMEPLAY – CURRENT GAME MODES AND EXPECTATIONS
So far the combat is fairly straight-forward and units have enough diversity to flesh it out from the norm. Most have a unique ability that you can actively trigger at any point, before waiting for it to recharge. Axemen have Rage, strengthening their offense but leaving them vulnerable. Archers are able to slow firing rate down for more precise and deadly shots. A noteworthy decision from Paranoid is that archers can, and will, shoot friendly units when they are in the line of fire. In my experience, if you use their precision ability they are much more likely to hit the desired target. Currently, there is also a skirmish mode and basic multiplayer to test alongside this campaign.
Players have a great deal to work towards when building and expanding the settlement. Managing resources requires some thought, for example. You will need to assign workers to all gathering stations, such as a wood cutter’s hut or a tannery, and workers will need to be distributed to collect those resources and bring them back to your storage for use. Your Viking long hall acts as a storeroom immediately, and more can be built later down the line when unlocked.
NAVAL WARFARE COULD CATAPULT THE COMBAT TO NEW HEIGHTS
The ship customization tool is probably one of the most promising features in the game so far. There are a few issues with AI regarding combat that ultimately lead to a disappointing end when you manage to set off in your warship. I was thrilled, for a moment, when I accidently clicked on a nearby enemy ship and watched as conflict ensued. This was short lived, unfortunately, as the units took turns being inactive and the archers from either side gradually killed them. On the upside, fixing this during the Early Access period will undoubtedly catapult the combat to great heights.
As you upgrade through the technology tree, different ship components can be researched, enhancing your warship in a variety of ways. The potential in the naval warfare here can not be emphasized enough. More so with PvP; one moment you are colliding against a player’s warships, then, in the midst of it all, a third or fourth player arrives and a free for all begins. Moreover, the maps currently feel snake-like, surrounding these large bodies of water, it sometimes feels like running a circuit. This furthers the need for these warship fixes.
Aside from the alternative ship parts, the technology tree enables a multitude of enhancements. Increase your troops’ line of sight, maximize production to gain a burst in resources, or boost your units’ performance in battle. A smithy building is also available to further increase your advantage in combat with boost to armor, movement speed, and more.
As I said, the AI does need some work. The difficulties also scale poorly at the moment – easy is not so different from hard, both equally a breeze to conquer. This has been mentioned in the Discord server and openly picked up by the admins, much like the warships needing some love. The major issues at the moment are units being inactive when ordered to move. If you send multiple troops through a gate, for example, they will more than likely get stuck and shimmy rather awkwardly before finally breaking free.
Enemy units can also freeze when attacking palisade walls, although sometimes they will spawn inside of it if it is too close to the coastline. I reiterate the need for naval fixing, and additional options when battling on the water. This was probably the biggest disappointment for me, especially as I was ecstatic at prospect of Viking raiders duking it out on the open water. I pray to Odin that this comes to fruition!
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – SWEET, SWEET NORDIC VIBES
Frozenheim’s soundtrack is beautiful and ominous. The menu just emanates a lonely cold, one that you will soon be bracing. During gameplay, the music shifts from a playful melody to something more traditional of Nordic folklore. When you engage in battle, drums and deep chanting follow your troops as they race towards your foe. These combinations are a great accompaniment to the nature of the game and create that Viking atmosphere well. Some units, such as the berserkers, will often roar when using their ability too (and it looks pretty cool when they rush into enemy soldiers).
I will say that the soundtrack does not venture past the two songs from the menu and during play. As the game is bolstered with more content, players will need more of what Frozenheim already has in the way of audio.
As shown already, the graphics are incredible at this stage. There is also a photo mode available if you wish to get creative. It has ample effects to choose from and you can manipulate the camera positioning very well. I know I had my share of fun with it!
Frozenheim was previewed on PC via Steam Early Access.