"I live... again..."
A few years ago, I attended Pax Prime and interviewed Monster Couch about their upcoming game, Die for Valhalla!. I was impressed by the art style, the fun pick-up and play nature of the game, and the variety that was shown off for each Viking class. While these aspects remain as strong as ever, the repetitive nature of how the game plays brings it down to being a fairly mediocre and forgettable experience.
According to Norse Mythology, Valkyries are those who decided who lived and who died. Their actual Norse name, Valkyja, literally means "Chooser of the Slain". They were responsible for choosing who entered the holy gates of Valhalla; the paradise for those who gave their lives in glorious battle. Now, while there are various iterations of lore depending on where you go about looking for it, Die for Valhalla! essentially borrows from that bit of lore I looked up on Wikipedia.
The main story presented here is very thin and is basically about trying to stop an ancient evil called the Great Old One. You'll have a few cutscenes that show the Valkyrie's spirit pushing you forward to stop said evil and a few scenes that cut to a location in a dark fog, with a few mysterious beings chatting among themselves. Every few levels will have a short comedic cutscene like a Viking testing out a pressure plate and assuming it doesn't work as his fellow allies are torn to shreds behind him, or another Viking warning another of this huge rock monster, only for the other to doubt the monster is real until it kills the original man and the cycle begins anew. While these scenes will make you chuckle, the actual story presented here just isn't worthwhile or remotely interesting.
As a Valkyrie, you will inhabit the bodies of the dead to do battle across multiple clans and classes. While the entirety of your time will be controlling one of these mad warriors, you can also inhabit the forms of tree's, barrel's, steel traps, and even some smaller enemies. While it can make for some solid laughs as you bounce around through your life as a barrel, it literally serves no direct purpose and the novelty wears out fast. Each battlefield will be littered with tombstones as far as the eye can see, each fitted with a top that indicates the class of the once proud, and alive, Viking. As you interact with the tombstones and take over their body, you will then take on the traits of that class of Viking. By swapping in and out of bodies you can approach an encounter with a certain weapon tailored to your play style. This body swapping can also be used to refresh your stamina or abandon a body that has an ailment like dizziness or poison. Jumping in and out of bodies can be a clever tactic to stay alive, but doing so will also leave your Valkyrie vulnerable. While dying as your Valkyrie will simply have you start the level over again, it can be permanent should you play via the Hardcore mode.
Die for Valhalla! is certainly designed around being a multiplayer experience and only a few hours of my time was fighting alongside another player as I am usually more of a single player gamer. Encounters and the amount of health a boss or sub-boss has is certainly designed around having at least one other player and if you plan on playing this solo, just be prepared for a long and tedious grind. While you do get some assistance with some AI companions, at least for a little while, as they strangely went away a few hours in, they tend to charge into battle and neglect all environmental hazards like explosive barrels or raging pits of fire. There was a moment where I saved three of them near the end of the level, hoping to get their assistance with the upcoming boss. They all charged at a single foe who was behind a few explosive barrels and one Viking took a swing and set off a chain reaction killing not only their target but the whole lot of them as well. Any time I rescued a fellow Viking, I was surprised if they lasted more than 30 seconds and I was rarely surprised.
Combat will vary depending on the class you choose and those classes work via the clans you associate your Valkyrie with. You will start with the basic clan and unlock more as you play. While that sounds simple, it can take hours upon hours of grinding to unlock more than a handful of them. Each clan you unlock has three possible classes within it. While some clans are similar to one another, they usually have variations on which three classes make up their roster. You will be able to try out certain classes before you invest in the clan via special story segments that require each of their unique abilities. The varied classes range from an archer, an axe wielder, staff, musical instrument, and a few more. My favorite class hands down is the archer as while the bow can certainly help via its ranged attacks, the traps you can lay down are a lifesaver when you are attempting to lead around a series of creatures to their doom. Each class has a special attack and this comes from your character's stamina, which can also help with dodging and jumping attacks, which are insanely helpful when getting attacked by mobs. While stamina doesn't take too long to refresh, it can be quicker to leave your body and re-enter it when you have a spare moment to breathe.
As you clear levels and grab the rewards that fill up the screen upon completion, you will have the chance to grab a variety of items such as potions. In normal mode, these potions make your Viking much stronger and a far more efficient killing machine. In Hardcore mode, which has a permadeath feature, some potions may come with a penalty. These potions do stack, but your characters death will reset the buffs that they grant. While you may be able to go a few levels before your character dies, it's incredibly difficult to complete entire areas with a single character. Apart from potions giving your Viking some enhancements to their stats, you can bash various barrels or objects in the environment to collect some much-needed healing hearts. These are usually very plentiful, but given the randomness to each location, your mileage may vary.
Die for Valhalla! will vary in its difficulty, and this is largely due to the procedural systems in play. While the game is far easier in co-op, there are moments where the single player aspect can come across as being very unfair. With most encounters with tougher enemies, you can utilize body swapping techniques, jump attacks and swapping to the archer when you need some space. But the smaller enemies, especially the spiders, can continuously knock you down and prevent you from getting back up. While I felt that some sub-bosses had far too much health, these spiders were the only enemies that felt drastically unbalanced and I recommend taking them out before anything else can approach you.
As you progress through the land, you will collect Glory. The Glory orbs that you pick up work as your experience points and you'll gain access to some additional skills and stat increases each time you level up. The leveling system is fairly interesting and yet unconventional. When you enter the upgrade screen, you'll have to choose a skill from a few that are randomly generated. You are only able to select one at a time, but they will remain active and join your previously selected upgrades. The other skill menu is through boosting attributes like Health, Defence, and Spirit. When you select a rune on the skill board, you must continue a connected line to the next skill, as seen in the picture, so picking your first choice is important as empty spaces will use up a potential skill point. It's a very clever system that had me trying to find the best starting point on the board.
Each location that you visit in Die for Valhalla! is procedurally generated and this can cause each environment to become stale and repetitive, lacking the charm of a handcrafted experience. Background assets, generic objects like barrels, fences, mushrooms, and even the enemies and Vikings themselves, can often repeat themselves ad nauseam. Now, that being said, I still quite enjoy the art design itself. The repetition that comes with these assets can certainly lose a lot of its impact, but the enemy and Viking designs are the best aspects of the title. You will encounter various enemies, but what goes to hurt these creative designs even further is many of the level bosses are simply the same enemy with a different color palette and a boosted health bar.
I really wanted to dive in and enjoy Die for Valhalla!, but it just repeats too much of itself too soon. Other games can certainly have issues with repetition, but here, there just isn't enough of everything else for that repetition to not be so apparent. The classes and clans and leveling system are certainly solid aspects to build from, but it is hard to get excited about utilizing those gameplay mechanics in a game that can look the same for hours on end. The large boss encounters are fun and can offer a nice breather from the same ol' enemies having their health bar boosted, but even that can't hide the fact that there just isn't a worthwhile game here. With a big group of friends, I can certainly see this being a cheap buy-in for a solid party game, but If you only play with 1-2 people, it may just not have what it takes to keep your attention for long.