Vikings, and Jotuns, and Trolls! Oh, my!
Genre: Action, Adventure
Publisher: Wild River Games
Release Date: Feb 28, 2019
Fimbul is an action adventure graphic novelization with full-on combat sections based in Norse Mythology. You play as an old Viking traveling to Jötunheim on an epic quest. What is really eye catching is the low-poly presentation it uses with a moderately realistic environment, something along the lines of The Long Dark, but with no survival attributes involved. While the graphic novel portion of the game carries all the story and dialogue, the combat feels like the centerpoint of the game.
You find yourself as Ulf, an old man betrayed by his brother Knut. Ulf finds his village burning down and is quickly slain by his brother’s warriors, left to die outside in the snow. Yet, the three Fates have more in store for him and awaken him from death to fulfill a greater purpose. It turns out Ulf has a secret past that he must come to terms with first. You follow Ulf as he charges forward to seek revenge on his brother and deal with Trolls and Jotuns that wish to start the Ragnarok. Along the way, you have some decisions to make which affect the storyline and part of the gameplay. You can go back and change these decisions at a later time if you wish, or just play out the game as you choose.
All this depends a bit on whether you are familiar with any of these terms. I have a small amount of knowledge after watching three seasons of Vikings, but otherwise I had to look up what a Fimbul Winter was, what Jotuns are exactly, and what Ragnarok truly meant.
The story itself is fairly well done, though there is not quite enough depth about Ulf as a person or the Jotun characters involved. It kept me from being personally vested about what happened to Ulf, or anyone else for that matter, as the events unfolded. The graphic novel sections just glance over any expansions to the character’s thoughts or feelings, leaning more towards action-oriented dialogue and sequences. Overall, the story doesn’t go for much drama or detailed exposition. You mostly read about Vikings saying “You will die now!” until you get to the actual true story behind Ulf’s background, which was the best part of the story by far. Ulf’s story is the main focus here and I think that is a good thing because otherwise, it would be a random series of skirmishes without much linking things together. I would have liked to read more about Ulf and his life, but perhaps that will be a DLC for a later time.
Combat is handled with a sort of Batman or Assassins Creed style of fighting, using swords, axes, shields, and spears. It’s easy to pick up and fairly straightforward. I preferred to play with a controller and found it intuitive to fight with. You also have a roll and a block, of which I mostly used the roll to avoid being killed. Against men, the combat was great with the ability to move back and forth without hindrance and roll or block when needed. I was surprised how well it worked, very similar to when I was playing Assassins Creed Odyssey. Combined with the low-poly graphic style, it really gives the impression of being part of the graphic novel.
Yet, against powerful enemies the movement can be a little odd at times, as there is a slow-motion effect during combat that really hinders the ability to move quickly from one spot to the next. I’d roll one way, but have to wait for a massive enemy stomp attack to finish the slow-motion animation before I could properly go on to the next move, usually my roll. It works in contrast to the rather robust and quick moving combat against humans, so the monster combat come off a bit more clunky then it should. I’d rather fight waves of humans any day.
Trying to defeat Trolls and Jotuns usually ended up with me running in circles and throwing spears at critical points. This occurs over and over again, with sword or ax attacks doing little to no damage. Instead, you have stockpiles of spears that you grab, run in circles, and then hold the spear to charge up and throw when a bright red spot lights up on the monster. After several hits, the monster is stunned and then you could do some real damage using your sword. While I’ve certainly played many boss fights like this before, it just got old after several battles using the same method repeatedly. It would have been better to have some variety, but every single monster fight ended up the same way.
Health is generous, as you can charge up for a health refill after getting consecutive hits attacking monsters. Accidentally walk into the monster or fall down, and your charge disappears along with a bit of health. So, back to the method of circling around the monster, hitting some spears to charge up, then healing for 1-2 seconds before you have to roll and repeat the process over and over. There was one section near the end where I literally ran in the same circle about 100 or more times as I slowly killed the Jotuns with my spears. There was a bit of a combat change around that time for Ulf, which I will not describe in order to prevent spoilers, but it was also quite short lived as I’d be back at circling the monsters once again in just a few seconds.
There are also some other special attacks that can be charged up and used, but I never used any of them. This was mostly because when I tried, nothing happened as I’d be shy of enough charge because I’d use it up on health. It would be nice if the same charge for health did not apply to special attacks. However, you can finish the whole game just with the basic combat system in place.
The AI is aggressive as well and they do not mess about, you have to roll away from them and section enemies off to the side as often as you can. You’ll get a few breathers from NPC’s helping, but they die off pretty quickly, leaving the hordes of men or monsters to you alone. It’s a good combat system against several enemies at once, and it’s fast with action right at the forefront. It’s the boss fights that were super repetitive and could be difficult for those without quick reflexes because you have to attack as soon as the critical point pops up and you only have a second or two at most. I just got really tired of running in circles and throwing spears, for one boss I can see that being good but for every single boss it’s not fun.
Beyond the combat, there are a handful of sections where you activate rune stones as a very simple puzzle or are simply escaping and have to avoid the gaze of the Jotuns. Those are easy to get around by using a smidgen of stealth tactics, though they feel a bit out of place compared to the fighting.
Graphics & Sound
Fimbul is one part graphic novel and one part action adventure. There is no voice acting, the written dialogue is all you get. I think this is fine, especially with the somewhat simple graphic style, and it is certainly better than in-game graphic cut-scenes would have been. I loved the low-poly art style and the view from above as Ulf ran through the snow was truly a good angle choice.
However, and a big however to be honest, the camera angle is fixed and you are unable to adjust around it much. With that, there will be several areas where you disappear behind the environment and only see an outlined shadow. I didn’t get stuck on geometry, which was a real surprise, but often I would be unable to make out where I was on the screen. When in the thick of combat, if I got close to trees or between the legs of a Troll I’d have a good deal of trouble locating where Ulf was on the screen. This did kill me a few times because the camera angle would not give me the viewpoint I needed. The worst of the experiences was against the second Troll boss as I would get lost in the snow he stomped up, then roll to wherever I could in the hopes I’d show up on screen again. Another difficulty was simply going up the Jotenheim mountain and Ulf stopped moving behind some rocks. All I could see was a shadow, so I rolled over and over until the camera suddenly clicked into view and I could move into the cave.
Additionally, there is a lack of animated movement with the Trolls and Jotuns. The female Troll wasn’t too bad, but most all the others were quite stiff. I can understand that they are larger and move slower but combined with the low-poly graphics it came off a bit lower quality than it needed to. If there was more subtle movement in the way they moved to and fro or limbs swaying it would look substantially less stiff. They sort of looked like waddling toys at times.
For the sound, the music is very dramatic. Perhaps too dramatic lol. I was playing in the living room with my kids around and both of them had to leave because the music was too scary for them ( ages 10 and 11 ). I didn’t mind it, never bothered to turn it down, but it’s quite foreboding if you have any anxiety issues. Otherwise, it did a good job of conveying the tension even if every track sounded roughly the same and quite similar to the Vikings TV show.
Overall, Fimbul is not terribly hard if you have experience with Batman or Assassins Creed combat and the graphic novelization is entertaining even if it can be a bit difficult to follow at times. It was also very stable, with no FPS drops or crashes on my meager PC setup. I was surprised by how well it ran.
My biggest complaints were the fixed camera I was fighting all the time and the repetitive boss fights that ended up feeling all the same. There was just too much running in circles and throwing spears. It is also a short game, and I clocked in at five hours total, but I actually mark that as a positive because I hate games that are purposely made too long for no reason. While there is some replayability in the game due to the branching choices, it still feels like a game you play once and that’s about it since the combat is rather basic and there are no RPG elements. While you *could* go back to see how different decisions change the story, I don’t think it changes things that drastically. I feel neutral about the game because I didn’t enjoy the boss fights, but if you like action adventure games this is something to consider down the road.