Management games are not scarce. Most hardcore gamers have spent hours in countless other titles building up resources, ramping up military production, or just doing their best to keep citizens happy and alive. Valhalla Hills attempts to take the hardcore aspect out of strategy games, offering bite-sized scenarios that attempts to appeal towards a more casual audience, and in doing so it suffers just enough to keep it from ascension.
Valhalla Hills has a simple premise: lead your rag-tag group of banished Vikings to the glory of Valhalla. It’s not much of a catalyst, but it’s enough of one to get the action started. Players will immediately be put in control of a handful of cute little Vikings that rain down from the sky and land on relatively small-tile maps. It’s up to the player to guide the Vikings through thick-and-thin, making sure they’re well rested, fed, and happy all while you try to climb the tech tree and progress to the next scenario.
Progression is relatively easy; players just need to access the enemy portal by exploring the areas nearby. Once the portal has been explored, it can be opened, but upon its opening fire will spew from the sky, bringing numerous enemies in its wake, which if left unopposed will wage war on the Vikings until none are left standing. Conflict isn’t the only path to victory though, a more peaceful option lies within the ability to build shrines that will appease the new creatures, pacifying them so that they allow the Vikings through unopposed.
"Valhalla Hills attempts to take the hardcore aspect out of strategy games, offering bite-sized scenarios that attempts to appeal towards a more casual audience, and in doing so it suffers just enough to keep it from ascension."
In fact, pacification seems to be a general theme in Valhalla Hills, even going so far as to extend towards unit management with a questionable hands-off automated approach. Rather than controlling specific units, players utilize their buildings, assigning Vikings to produce new tools, resources, and other necessary progression points. Even military is automated, as your Vikings will regularly patrol the area and immediately respond to threats on their own accord.
Valhalla Hills is a bright and colorful, filled with luscious worlds of green, icy tundras, and sandy beaches. The vibrant palate compliments the cutesy Viking appearances and animations nicely. Though the graphical quality certainly isn’t going to match the prowess of more financed titles, there’s something charming about the inherit quirkiness of world that Daedalic has presented. Watching the Vikings interact with their surroundings can still be fun at times, even if it is a little too hands-off. The maps are fully realized, and can be rotated, zoomed, and interacted with to a high extent. Though they’re a tad small in general, it’s still fun to plan and explore the map as your base expands.
"Though the graphical quality certainly isn’t going to match the prowess of more financed titles, there’s something charming about the inherit quirkiness of world that Daedalic has presented."
The music and sound effects add to the atmosphere that Daedalic is going for. The game comes across as something animated by Dreamworks, complete with a score that certainly isn’t perfect, but is adequate enough to communicate the little Vikings’ adventures effectively. There are multiple sound cues that help players recognize when battles are happening, when things are calm, and where there might be danger lurking nearby. Considering the passive nature of the game, the sudden change in score did help to immediately communicate things I probably would not have paid attention to otherwise.
The passive approach to Valhalla Hills’ gameplay can be frustrating at times. Micromanaging particular units is generally what makes successful strategy titles such a blast to play, but given the fact that unit control is not an option here makes aspects of the game a lot more mind-numbing than they should be. Here’s an example: let’s say you assign a few Vikings to build a fishing lodge in order to produce food. Upon completion a Viking will be randomly assigned to become the fisherman. In order to fish, the assigned Viking will require a fishing pole which can be crafted by a toolmaker. The fishing pole will obviously require resources to build, but you’re low on one particular resource -- let’s say… stone for instance – you then have to wait until the Vikings randomly decide to gather that one resource, rather than micromanaging a group to immediately begin harvesting stone to alleviate your problem. There is a limited amount of control via unit assignment, but it’s just not enough and can make simple tasks an exercise in tedium, especially as the game progresses.
"It’s not guided enough to be friendly to casual gamers, but it’s not deep enough to keep a hardcore audience engaged."
There are a number of other aspects Valhalla Hills attempts to employ with little-to-no explanation, largely due to the relatively poor tutorial system. Even seasoned RTS players may find themselves scratching their heads at a few aspects of the game – mainly building progression, and honor (seriously, I’ve put hours into this game and I still have no idea what honor does, or how to go about getting it reliably). Because of the casual nature of this game, the lack of an in-depth tutorial system really does hinder the overall experience and will probably turn unseasoned strategy gamers away before they even have a chance to start.
Valhalla Hills is actually a lot of fun, but suffers due to a bit of an identity disorder. It’s not guided enough to be friendly to casual gamers, but it’s not deep enough to keep a hardcore audience engaged. It sits in a bit of a limbo, which is quite a shame because the title deserves some attention. I could see this being a very successful mobile title, though, and maybe that’s what it should aim for in the future.
Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC