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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.


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.