Early Access PC Game
From Funatics Software and Daedalic Entertainment, VALHALLA HILLS is a simulation strategy game that is based around a group of dead vikings that are stood outside the gates of Asgard only for Odin to shut it firmly in their faces. You play as Odin’s son who’s been banished because of his love of building and his loathing of brawling and boozing. It’s your job to help these poor vikings regain their honour and reach Valhalla. To do this, you’ll need to build a community for the Vikings, consisting of trade buildings and homes, and transport the Vikings through the portals throughout the various landscapes to return to the gates and reach Valhalla.
The game is currently in Early Access which means that the game is available to buy on Steam and is in a playable condition but is currently being worked on so expect there to be bugs, which will be ironed out, and developments to the game as the devs seek to take on board player comments to create a final, release-ready game.
As it stands in Early Access, VALHALLA HILLS is a very well made, thoughtful videogame. Some early access games can be terribly unfinished and barely playable but this is certainly not the case for VALHALLA HILLS. Using a mouse, the game is simple to operate and very user friendly. Utlilising pictures and text together as well as symbols, the player can easily understand the game from the very beginning which allows the player to concentrate on the strategies during gameplay with the ability to act quickly upon their choices. The game also has a few tutorial levels which ease the player into the game to understand the reasoning behind the different choices such as where best to build structures, with green spots using the minimum requirement of materials and yellow and orange needing extra building materials.
The initial maps of the game are quite easy to master and allow you to become accustomed to the ways of VALHALLA HILLS. The main object of each map is to unlock the portal which will lead you to another world (map). However, there are two ways in which to do this. First you must ensure a Viking discovers the portal by being in the same vicinity as it. This will unlock the portal ready for you to open it. On the other side of the portal lies guardians. These guardians don’t let just anyone through the portal, therefore you can either open the portal and fight the guardians that travel through it to your map or you can create a shrine and make a peace offering to them in return for safe passage through the portal. A bribe, if you will. With the ability to make war camps to protect your commuity, your Vikings can defend your lands against the portal guards however the ability to make weapons in the initial levels is quite difficult. I found myself opting for the shrine option in the earlier stages. Each portal tells you the type and number of guardians on the other side and also what type of peace offering is required should you decide to go through that route instead. Usually the offerings required are easy to come by so this is an easier way to transport your vikings to the next map however as you travel through the maps, the peace offerings become higher in quantity.
As you progress through the maps, more and more structures and abilities are unlocked from the Production, Logistic and Military categories which you’re able to use. The Woodcutter is the very first structure that is unlocked at the beginning of the game. Like other simulation games, you can place the structure anywhere but it is wise to place it strategically depending on the conditions that the structure requires. Each structure has a specific usage and is best placed in a certain area that would meet its needs. For the Woodcutter’s house, the ideal location is near some trees so that they can be cut down and the wood can be used to build other structures such as tents to house the vikings, a fishery to feed the Vikings, a quarry for stone and a wheat farm to produce wheat that can be milled and eventually used to make bread. As each structure is placed on the map, vikings will auto-assign themselves to the task to build the structure, providing there’s enough materials to do so, with one viking deciding to either work there full time or if it’s a tent, occupy it. The Vikings that build or work at the structures receive honour when they complete their tasks and this honour will do them well in their quest to reach Valhalla. Vikings cannot be picked up and dropped anywhere on the map, nor can they be assigned to a job. As the game currently stands, the Vikings do everything off their own back which is different to a lot of simulation games but also kind of nice as it gives the little non-playable characters a life of their own. The game isn’t sexist either, happy to employ male or female vikings for any of the jobs including woodcutter, hunter or soldier.
As time goes on and you unlock plenty of structures, it’s so easy to get carried away and set them all in your chosen places at the beginning of a map. As I found out, this will not work. You start a map with a limited amount of Vikings to do your work so giving them more work than they can handle will mean a lot of jobs won’t get done. The Vikings will work on structures in the order they were laid down on the map, so those structures added later will not be attended to unless you disable the work project of earlier structures. So whilst part of you may want to lay out all your structures all at once, it is better to do a bit at a time and gradually expand otherwise your little community will not develop at all. Likewise, it’s important that the Woodcutter building is the first you build as any wood already lying around on the map will be used to erect the first structure you choose. Should that wood be used on a different structure and there’s no wood left, there’ll be no wood left to build a Woodcutter structure and that means no more wood available to make other structures. When that happens, you’ll have to restart the map from fresh. This strategic complexity evolves VALHALLA HILLS into a game that challenges you and makes you use your brain. You’re bound to make mistakes and then learn from them and it’s this sort of gameplay which pleasantly surprised me. Having played the opening levels, I thought the game was too easy. Well, I’ve certainly changed my tune now as more structures become available and with the introduction of varying terrain (snow-capped mountains, dense forest) creating a more complex map to plan and execute, not to mention the arrival of enemies on the maps that are keen to harm your vikings. This is a game that keeps you on your toes and that brain ticking over.
Away from the gameplay mechanics, VALHALLA HILLS is quite a stunning, visually enticing game. The gameplay constantly cycles through a day with three speed settings and a pause button. Witness the mesmerising sunsets and the little tents with glowing torches outside in the darkness of the night. It will take your breath away. Even the Viking characters that inhabit your maps will make you smile. A mixture of males and females, each have their own name and look to them and if you so wish, you can actually edit the characters to change their name or give them a different helmet or hat. The females generally look like each other except for different coloured hair and clothing to tell them apart whereas the men sport different coloured clothing, hair and style of beards.
VALHALLA HILLS, even in this early form, is very fun to get involved with. It’s not one of those games you need to really study and play regularly else you’ll forget the game controls. No, this is a game which you can either play regularly or you can dip in and out of it whenever you feel like to continue your hard work in getting the Vikings to the gates of Asgard. This is a huge appeal of a simulation game like this. Too often we find ourselves with little time to game but when the opportunity comes I can take comfort in knowing I can launch VALHALLA HILLS and instantly pick up where I left off without racking my brain as to where I was up to.
I’m very much looking forward to where the game develops from here with the hope of additional stats for the vikings and maybe a levelling system for certain tools they use such as the axe, fishing rod and the soldiers weapons. With Steam achievements and trading cards available, the game already has a lot going for it besides its endearing gameplay. The beautiful artwork, the gentle, soothing music and the addictive, if a little challenging, gameplay makes this one strategy simulation worth checking out for both newbies and experienced players of all ages.