You don't judge your progress in Viking by high scores, percentage complete or rankings. You measure it in blisters - that old school badge of honour. The more pus you have swilling round beneath your swollen fingertips, the more pallid thick white skin that's built up on your digits, the harder you've fought.
Because in this game if you can still feel your thumbs midway through the first level, you aren't anyone.
This is old school hacking and slashing. Swords cleave skulls and axes rip windpipes as each enemy is reduced to man-mixed-grill. And it's all performed by a barbarian whose genes seem to stem from a sordid bunk up between the World's Strongest Man and a Transit Van.
So with a swift tap of a someone loses an arm, a couple of stabs of x and a skeleton finds himself deep-throating a broadsword and with a flurry of b taps a drawbridge comes down or a door swings open. Yes, every part of the pad takes a pounding, but don't mistake this rapidity for vapidity. Just because the button-presses are numerous and fast, doesn't mean that they are brainless.
Because while Viking has as many hacked off heads as the Bayeux Tapestry, it's nowhere near as one-dimensional. Sure, it wears its heart on its sleeve, a liver in its top pocket and a fashionably knotted scarf of entrails, but there's enough roaming to garnish this gore. Because while the tightly scripted story of Norse gods has a plot to push and set-piece drama to deliver, this is a game that knows when to funnel and when to let you wander.
Be Thor And After
So each one of the three hefty islands begins by allowing you to stroll around taking on small missions, light fights and seemingly unimportant side quests. But along with earning money, skills and (sadly, but predictably) magic, you'll also find yourself liberating a beer hall full of identi-bearded Viking warriors.
It's because our hero Skarin is more than just a deceased warrior, resurrected by the gods to hold back the massed forces of the underworld and protect their realm from Evil's incursions - Skarin is also a leader of men. So throughout the game these liberated square-jaws join your unshaven army. And while they never fall directly under your direct command, they are vital to your progress - along with plasters and Savlon.
Each island of the three then climaxes with an epic set-piece battle, or two. Well, 'battle' doesn't do them justice - these are wars. They make Dead Rising's mass retail ruckuses seem like playground slaps. And even with literally hundreds of warriors shambling about, all fighting, all blocking and all dying, somehow everything remains fluid, detailed and HD-pretty. The only real comparison is with an RTS but those collective crusades tend to be seen from eight miles high, not within eyeball splattering-radius.
The only thing that lacks lustre as these warrior automatons make a believable stab at swashbuckling is the sound. This is meant to be Good-vs-Evil clashing on the cusp of Armageddon but somehow its lacks so much atmosphere as to be eerie, not scary.
War should be louder than this, not least to compete in tera-decibels with the legendary Brian Blessed's bellowed voice-over. Where are the clinks of mace on chainmail, the howls as Viking bone is twatted into powder and the banshee screams of Berserkers in battle? Sure, the score is good and the vocal acting more than up to scratch, but the SFX are just too mimsy and sparse both on the frontline battle and while you wander.
Perhaps a little more smoke and a few shinier mirrors might do the trick, because without the wailing of war or perhaps a few dramatic but harmless trebuchet shots landing nearby, you don't always feel the drama in your very marrow, as you surely should. This is a fight for the survival of your people but you don't feel part of the whole, just the 'hole who started this war.