HOLD THE HEATHEN HAMMER HIGH WITH A BATTLE CRY!
You know how it is, you lead a good respectable life raiding settlements and far away countries, cutting down Christians and stealing women for slaves and breeding stock, looting and pillaging to your heart’s content when eventually, you are cut down in a song of steel and blood, clutching your weapon to hand as you gasp your last breath to show the valkyries you died valiantly.
Now it’s off to Valhalla, the great hall of Odin where you will feast and fight eternal until called upon to fight alongside the Gods during Ragnarok, only, you don’t get to Valhalla, some ill wind of fate has blown and you awaken in the harsh and unforgiven land of Niffeheim! Now you must survive this brutal land by raiding dungeons and neighbouring lands, defending yourself against hoards of nightmarish creatures and find your way to the halls of Valhalla.
That, in a nutshell, is what Niffelheim task’s you with doing, build a stronghold from the ground up, fight for glory and gather all the pieces to open the portal to Asgard to take your rightful place in the hall of the dead. Survival games are tricky to get right, finding the right balance of resource gathering and management with exploration, combat and progression is a tricky business but Ellada Games have done a valiant job in combining most of these elements together.
Starting things off you choose your hero from a choice of, Viking, Valkyrie, Berserker and Shaman, each has specific stats to consider depending on your preferred gameplay style. Next, you generate your world from a choice of four:
The Ancient Bear Mound – Mountain terrain with rocks and ice as far as the eye can see, covered with cold mist. The land is rich with small animals which attract wolves and other predators in great numbers.
The One-Eyed Wolf Forest – Harsh dark woods, covered with snow and ice. Wild animals roam this land, rich with sweet berries and mushrooms.
Moor of the Desert Eagle – Deadly swamps covered with thick fog, where birds hide from ambushing predators.
The Ice Dragon Wasteland – Desert land surrounded by mountain peaks. High dry grass that harbours large predators and their numerous prey.
ODIN GAVE HIS EYE TO AQUIRE KNOWLEDGE, BUT I WOULD GIVE FAR MORE
Now you must navigate these harsh lands as best you can, gathering resources and supplies by chopping down trees, killing or catching animals and mining for resources that you can use to create and enhance your workshops. Upgrading sawmills, forges, alchemy benches and cooking stations will allow you to create and maintain better equipment as well as meals and potions to keep you in fighting shape.
It all works in a balanced cycle that keeps the pace of the game flowing along nicely. In the lands, you will meet a series of mysterious characters that will ask you to perform certain tasks for them, these usually consist of collecting a set number of items or crafting something specifically for them. Certain tasks take the form of ultimatums from a group called “The Death Priests” charming lads who may not take kindly if you refuse their request.
In the menu’s you will find a handy user guide for the basic controls and set up if you struggle to get started but the majority of the game must be learnt on the fly which is where survival games really shine. Being thrust into a harsh landscape and having to figure things out for yourself helps draw you into the experience and provides its own reward when you discover a new crafting technique or overcome a tough obstacle.
I NEVER LOSE. EITHER I WIN OR LEARN
Niffelheim is full of dangerous foes from undead warriors, creepy crawlies and all manner of monsters and bosses plucked from and inspired by the darkest stories of Norse mythology. They lurk in the dungeons and mines, roam the lands and descend upon your stronghold in hoards so it is always best to be prepared for anything. This again is where Niffelheim shines, it is likely you will face death a few times in the early going but once you start to craft better armour and weapons and plan ahead for each trip into the wildlands a sense of reward comes when you encounter a hoard of strong foes or a giant boss and overcome them, not just because of your fighting prowess, but because you came prepared with potions to heal and grant buffs and the right weapons to get the job done.
Combat in Niffelheim is common but sadly this is the only area where the game falls a bit flat. Don’t get me wrong, the enemy types are varied and memorable and will put up a good fight, however, for a burly Viking or Valiant Valkyrie, pressing X for a basic swing of a sword or to fire a ranged weapon and ZR a simple block mechanic take the weight and energy that should be in the combat away. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of a solid combat set-up, not necessarily God of War quality but something with a bit more intensity and weight behind it.
Presentation is top-notch, the world, as bleak and nightmarish as it may be, is brought to life in stunning hand-drawn art. Mountain ranges and swamps stretch out into the background while caves and dungeons loom menacingly ahead, even the loading screens have beautifully sketched artwork of monsters that make me wish the Switch would allow screenshots to be saved as themes. Sound effects are decent and bring the enemies, wildlife and ruins to life alongside beautiful music that draws you into the experience. I spent most of my time playing in handheld mode on Nintendo Switch and was impressed with how well the visuals performed on the smaller screen, writing font was just right so I didn’t have to strain to read dialogue or item descriptions.
Survival games are not for everyone but if you are a fan of the genre then you can’t go far wrong with Niffelheim. Despite its slightly lacklustre combat the true bread and butter of the experience is in the survival and crafting elements which truly suit handheld play as you can pick away at it in short bursts or get comfy for a long session. The Norse mythology setting is superb and your preference for the context may affect your overall decision to make a purchase but for fans of the heathen ways, there is plenty to enjoy here. Skol!
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Nintendo, PS4, Xbox
Release Date: 20/09/2019
No. of Players: 1
Category: Survival, Adventure, Role-Playing
Developer: Ellada Games
Publisher: IP Arutyunyan Andrey Aramaisovich
Download link: eShop