If you are sick of competitive military shooters and would rather engage in a little brutal stabby-stabby, then you may be interested in hanging up your AK47 and checking out the upcoming War of the Vikings, a third person slash 'em up from Fatshark and Paradox Interactive.
Vikings' predecessor, War of the Roses, went head-to-head with Torn Banner's Chivalry: Medieval Warfare when they both launched in October 2012. While Chivalry may have crept slightly ahead in terms of general acclaim, War of the Roses established itself as a firm favourite amongst fans of a more strategic, skill-based, and ultimately 'hardcore' melee combat simulator: something that War of the Vikings seems determined to build on.
While at gamescom 2013, two of us from GameGrin got the chance to go one-to-one on an early alpha version of the game, and experienced for ourselves the depth of skill involved in this upcoming title as our vicious Viking stood his ground against a Saxon warrior.
Anyone familiar with War of the Roses, or with TaleWorlds' Mount and Blade series, will already have a pretty good idea of how the complex combat system works. Mouse control is key. The direction of attack is determined by the directional movement of the mouse as you press the right button, allowing for lunges, overhead swings and side-swipes accordingly. Similarly, the left mouse button and direction of movement prepares a parry in the appropriate direction.
The system immediately adds a level of depth to the combat, as going toe-to-toe requires precision timing and careful mouse control. It also necessitates that you keep a close eye on the subtle movements of your opponent, so as to predict their direction of attack and react with lightning speed in order to block. Essentially, it's very difficult to play well, and very rewarding when you finally get the hang of it.
For an easier time of things, you could always take a shield into battle with you. This will increase your survivability and make defence a much easier prospect. Having a shield equipped removes the need for precision blocking, and provided you have your shield raised and make sure it gets in the way of a swing you will avoid damage. However, equipping yourself in such a way will mean you can't use the powerful two-handed weapons, and will lose the reach and damage advantages that they bring. If you survive long enough, eventually your shield will break from excessive damage, so even then it's necessary to have some basic defensive ability as a back up.
Ranged combat also features, with both archer classes and thrown weapons being available for selection. A well placed throwing axe can be a great battle opener, or can even finish things before they start, although you can only carry a couple at a time. The archer classes are powerful in skilled hands, and with skillful arrow placement (which is not easy, taking arrow drop and raised shields into account) can take down an enemy before they get close enough to pose a threat. They are weak in melee though, so in a larger scale battle will need to be defended and avoid the thick of the battle in order to survive.
War of the Roses required that 'downed' players be finished off with a brutal, cinematic, killing move; else they could be picked back up by a friendly player. War of the Vikings does away with this, and a final blow is a killing blow. This could be a divisive move, as the more bloodthirsty players (myself included) appreciated the visceral and savage nature of such a kill. However, from a purely tactical and 'realistic' point of view this speeds up the combat, and allows you to effectively combat the enemy without having to leave yourself vulnerable to execute that finisher and make sure they don't get back on their feet.
The overall impression from War of the Vikings was more of the same, but with some minor gameplay tweaks and an interesting new setting. It's a game that fans of its predecessor will no doubt appreciate, while anyone who disliked that original title is unlikely to find anything to excite them in this sequel. If you've never played War of the Roses and so are undecided - it's free to play on Steam, so why not download it and try it out for yourself? Just be prepared to take a beating while you get to grips with the combat!