You don’t judge your progress in Viking by high scores, percentage complete or rankings. You measure it in blisters - that old school badge of honour. The more pus you have swilling round beneath your swollen fingertips, the more pallid thick white skin that’s built up on your digits, the harder you’ve fought. Because in this game if you can still feel your thumbs midway through the first level, you aren’t anyone.
This is old school hacking and slashing. Swords cleave skulls and axes rip windpipes as each enemy is reduced to man-mixed-grill. And it’s all performed by a barbarian whose genes seem to stem from a sordid bunk up between the World’s Strongest Man and an eighteen-wheeler. So with a swift tap of a button someone loses an arm, a couple of stabs of another button and a skeleton finds himself deep-throating a broadsword and with a flurry of taps on yet another button a drawbridge comes down or a door swings open. Yes, every part of the pad takes a pounding, but don’t mistake this rapidity for vapidity. Just because the button-presses are numerous and fast, doesn’t mean that they are brainless.
Because while Viking has as many hacked off heads as the Nth Highlander straight-to-DVD movie, it’s nowhere near as one-dimensional. Sure, it wears its heart on its sleeve, a liver in its top pocket and a fashionably knotted scarf of entrails, but there’s enough roaming to garnish this gore. Because while the tightly scripted story of Norse gods has a plot to push and set-piece drama to deliver, this is a game that knows when to funnel and when to let you wander.
So each one of the three hefty islands begins by allowing you to stroll around taking on small missions, light fights and seemingly unimportant side quests. But along with earning money, skills and (sadly, but predictably) magic, you’ll also find yourself liberating a beer hall full of identi-bearded Viking warriors.
It’s because our hero Skarin is more than just a deceased warrior, resurrected by the gods to hold back the massed forces of the underworld and protect their realm from Evil’s incursions - Skarin is also a leader of men. So throughout the game these liberated square-jaws join your unshaven army. And while they never fall under your direct command, they are vital to your progress.