Preview: Sons of Valhalla – Raiding With Odin’s Blessing

The developers of Sons of Valhalla have been sharing footage of the game on their social media for a long time, and the game’s beautiful art style and animations have caught many eyes. We finally have access to the first demo of the game, so we’re going to see if this indie title lives up to the hype. Developed by Pixel Chest and published by Hooded Horse, Sons of Valhalla is 2D action and base-building game set in the Viking era. With gorgeous visuals and multi-layered gameplay mechanics, the Sons of Valhalla‘s demo looks promising, but there are flaws that need to be answered for it to meet the expectations.

Sons of Valhalla‘s story is about a Viking called Thorald, and his mission to find his wife, Reya, who was kidnapped by raiders from England. Thorald meets an early demise on his journey, but with Odin’s blessing, he will be granted another chance at reuniting with his wife. This beginning actually sets the game up for an interesting respawning experience. With Odin’s blessing, we can come back to life, and find runes of power that enhance our abilities. But each time we die, we need to give up one of those runes to return once again. 

Sons of Valhalla a scene of green hills and trees
In the beginning, we meet an old mentor who gives us way too many tips throughout the game, but thankfully we can turn it off in the settings.

While this system is engaging and explained in Sons of Valhalla‘s lore, there are some issues with it. When we find a rune, we have no option but to take it, and some of these runes. while powerful, have extreme downsides that I wouldn’t mind losing. For example, one such rune doubled our melee attack damage, while reducing our maximum hit points by 50 percent. With this drawback, I would’ve died within three hits, and I didn’t hesitate to get rid of this rune as soon as possible. Another reason that I didn’t like that specific rune, was that we mostly fight the enemies with our own raiding party. Sons of Valhalla has a base-building and unit management system, and the core gameplay is about building larger and stronger parties, raiding enemy outposts and villages, and capturing them. While the double damage dealt by our attacks was devastating, in larger fights it’s easy to get hit and die before we have a meaningful impact on the battle.

The base and troop management in Sons of Valhalla felt similar to RTS games. We need to build production buildings for resources, and use those resources to upgrade our buildings and train new troops. Sons of Valhalla has a linear map with multiple outposts and villages in a line. We start on one side, and have to push forward and conquer these areas one by one. Each time we captured a new location, we could set up defenses and leave our troops to guard the new territory, while we go back to upgrade our base and train new troops for the next wave of attack.

Sons of Valhalla, jumping through the rainbow colored bifrost with a golden sky in the background
Jumping through the Bifrost to return to the world after death.

This gameplay loop seemed very fun and engaging at first, but over time, it started to get a bit slow. It felt like playing an old-school RTS game against an easy AI. When the enemy isn’t a real threat, we have all the time in the world to upgrade every building and troop to the max level and attack them with one massive and unnecessarily powerful army. I could’ve probably finished the mission available in the demo in one hour, but it took me more than double that just because I wanted to max everything out and see how it turned out.

It would be worth the effort if the enemy meets the challenge, but they didn’t get more powerful past a certain level. Power progression is a tricky aspect to balance in games. We like to feel like we get more powerful as we play the game, but we also need the feeling of overcoming a challenge even at the latest stages of the game. This challenge was present early on, and I even lost one of my outposts to the enemy, but after one hour in, I didn’t need to manage anything in the game; my troops were defending the frontlines with ease, and I was just waiting around to gather resources and finish the final upgrades. I even went away from my computer for a few minutes and came back to only a few losses that I replenished easily.

Sons of Valhalla two huts with a dark forest in the background
We can train soldiers, archers, and siege machines that help us take down enemy defenses.

After capturing the final enemy village, we came face to face with the raider who took our wife and had to defeat him in single combat to find out more about her fate. This is where we can talk about the combat mechanics in Sons of Valhalla. We have two types of melee attacks: one light and fast, and the other slow and powerful. We can block, dash, and use ranged weapons, and we have to manage our stamina or we will become exhausted and can’t use most of our abilities for a duration. It’s the tried and true combinations that many action games use to great success, but in Sons of Valhalla, it was just fine.

For a 2D game, the direction is crucial in combat, and it’s poorly handled in Sons of Valhalla. The direction of attacks and blocks didn’t follow the mouse cursor and I had to turn away by moving to the opposite side, and I couldn’t move while blocking or between attacks. I couldn’t figure out how to cancel my ranged attacks, and if I started to shoot someone and they died before I finish aiming, I had to waste my limited arrows anyways. Hitting enemies didn’t have a noticeable enough feedback, so I kept wondering if I’m doing damage or flailing my sword in the air. None of these were an issue in the final boss encounter as we only had to fight one enemy, but they do show themselves in larger battles when we fight groups of enemies with our troops.

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The art style and vibrant color palette create a beautiful scenery to explore.

Sons of Valhalla looks as gorgeous as the previous footage promised it to be. The art style and vibrant color palette create a beautiful scenery to explore, and even in the one mission that we had access to in the demo, we got to see multiple different biomes each with its own unique feeling and tone. I enjoyed my time playing the demo, despite the issues that I found. Hopefully, the development team can improve upon the feedback they receive during this time, and deliver a much better experience with the full release of the game.

Nima played Sons of Valhalla demo on Steam with a key provided by the publisher.

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