Imagine if you took God of War's Kratos, stuck him into a massive, free-roaming world, sprinkled some Kameo-style epic battles and made him a bit hairier for good measure. That's basically what The Creative Assembly's epic new action game, Viking: Battle for Asgard is like.
The game, due on PS3 and Xbox 360 early next year, is set in the world of the Vikings and their c-raaazy gods. The main Hero is Skarin, a golden haired Viking warrior who's been summoned to settle a nasty tiff between the Norse gods. The goddess Hel has been banished from the realm of Asgard, and to enact revenge on the gods she's invaded the mortal realm Midgard with a legion of undead nasties. Her end goal is to bring around Ragnarok - the battle that brings down the Norse gods, leaving the normal Viking blokes a bit buggered.
Along with the very Greek-like mythology, Viking's combat system also has the odd whiff of God of War. Various ultra-violent combos can be chained to splatter limbs and blood all over the place, a plethora of physics-bending magic powers are on hand, while QTE-style finishing moves are also liberally scattered and as violent as you'd like.
The real defining character is in Battle for Asgard's gorgeous and massive free-roaming world. Beautiful rolling hills stretch right to the horizon, alongside giant mountain tops, brushing shorelines and the odd 100ft tall siege tower scattered about the place. It really has to be seen in motion to appreciate.
Creative liberties have been taken with extend of the realism as well; the odd flaming dragon and magic stone hedge is common in Asgard's world, which thankfully goes a distance in preventing the game from ever becoming generic.
Because of this, the open nature and strategy found in Far Cry's island base assaults is also present in Creative Assembly's bruiser (useful because it looks to be all about siege attacks). In the demo we saw Skarin, looking very much like Thor with an axe and sword slung on his back, climbed a steep hill to scout out an enemy encampment, to decide which direction to go in all erm, axe blazing from.
This is where the stealth element comes in. Thankfully not the boring kind of sneak system that seems to make it's way in to every other action game these days - the king of stealth sequences that end with some bloke getting his legs chopped off (It's not for the kids).
The most potential area of Battle for Asgard lies in its massive, thousand-man army battles. In a scene straight out of Lord of the Rings, we were shown a few hundred soldiers standing in formation, while Skarin stalked them out like a harder, even more violent Braveheart. And where there's Braveheart, there's a big charge - a charge that leads us over a hill to a few thousand undead soldiers, all looking gorgeous and none mimicking another moves from what we could see. It's impressive technology.
On its own it looked like brilliant fun (imagine putting a few thousand grunts in front of Kratos and you'll get the picture); heads being lobbed everywhere,a booming soundtrack and the occasional QTE finishing move sprinkling a bit of cinematic flair on affairs. But these big battles are more focused and challenging than the likes we've seen in Rare's Kameo; a hulking, crimson-armoured champion soon emerges from the sea of undead grunts - and it's your role to run in and take care of him before he slaughters an entire regiment of your men in one swipe.
The grunts a best left to the attention of your own minions; Viking: Battle for Asgard makes sure your ample hands are swung at larger challenges like taking care of the devastating archer regiments round the back or shaman, who can turn the tide of a battle all by themselves via their annoying soldier-spawning magic.
The battles look to have more depth than anything we've seen of similar scale in other games - and they look absolutely fantastic as well. Later we were given a sneak peak at a massive castle seige, which had thousands of soldiers and massive siege weapons battling on the bridge to the castle gate - officially the most epic scene we've seen in an action game.
Then Creative Assembly had to go and top it all off by showing us its last secret of the day; Skarin's Dragon recruiting ability, which allows him to order fire-breathing monsters in from the air, to incinerate entire fields of enemies from as far away as he likes.
Couple all that with a excellent-looking combat system very similar to God of War's, and Viking could very likely turn out to be the action fan's game of choice next year - and the game Spartan: Total War should've been.