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Viking: Battle of Asgard

Bulging with Norse power and ready to raid...

longboat packed full of hairy, sweaty Vikings gagging for a spot of raping and pillaging might not have been a pretty sight back in the day, but believe us when we tell you Battle for Asgard is more welcome than a refreshing mug of mead - it's gorgeous.

For instance, utilising a novel lighting system reminiscent of Pandemic's forthcoming WWII yarn Saboteur, Viking's islands resemble dreamy New Hampshire in the fall if you've conquered them but a grim, foreboding wet weekend in Bognor if you haven't. Rolling hills, verdant valleys, sprawling settlements, snowy peaks - it's almost Fable-esque with its chunky, oversized warriors and fairy tale landscapes, while the impressive amount of troops the engine can render at once puts even Dead Rising's zombie fest to shame.

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Hel's Highway
Much like their gripping Leipzig presentation a few months back, Creative Assembly's recent demo concentrated on how man-mountain hero Skarin set about raising a rebel army, before treating us to an epic finale out on the battlefield. First up: a mini-quest to liberate... erm, a quarry. Scouting around soon revealed a cageful of captured Viking pals who - after we beheaded a couple of grunt guards - flocked to join our jolly cause.

Now, instead of our lone wolf, we've got a band of baleful bearded behemoths who pack much more of a punch when it comes to taking on the patrols littered throughout the quarry. Still, we make sure to keep our heads down in the cover of grasslands (while keeping out a watchful eye for assassins lurking in trees) on the way back to home base, before the demo fast-forwarded to fight night!

Despite CA's heritage being inexorably bound up in their seminal Total War series, it's important to remember that Viking is very much an action game - and Skarin is commanding this army by his deeds, not his mouse clicks. So if you think the left flank of your forces should storm a certain point in the enemy defences, it's up to you to physically make it happen.

This might involve taking out a nearby Shaman (protected by four defence pillars in this new build), issuing a dragon strike or even going toe-to-toe with one of the many giant ogres. It's time management with added blood but, frankly, we rather like the idea of a tad more strategic influence instead of the dumbed-down fare on show here. Similarly, combat - though appreciably bloody in ways only Conan can rival - is a bit simplistic.

Skarin can't scavenge the battlefield for any weaponry beyond his trusty sword-axe combo, and we're concerned the one-trick-pony scrapping could get a bit repetitive fairly sharpish. A genre mishmash it may be then, but Viking still has every sign of shining, given that it's still early days.

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