When presented with the opportunity to play Niffelheim I knew I couldn’t turn it down. A game about Vikings centered on Norse mythology? Sign me up. The 2D side scrolling survival game isn’t going to boast the type of gameplay like God of War and let’s be honest that is a terrible comparison. No, what we do get here is a beautifully created game about a Viking that has fallen but unfortunately didn’t go to Asgard and instead was sent to Niffelheim. Your main goal is to gather pieces to rebuild a portal to Asgard. In order to survive you will need to gather, build, craft, and fight your way through an unforgiving world. There is no permanent death in Niffelheim but dying in the game has dire consequences.
At the start you choose from four classes of characters and a starting position for your Citadel. There you will need to improve your Citadel along with its walls and towers. Failure to do so will once again come with dire consequences. Making haste in improving your situation is very important. Time waits for no Viking and you will learn this very quickly. Gathering food and supplies such as wood and various vegetables would be a good start as the more energy you expel the faster you become hungry. Yes you can starve to death, I almost did numerous times. Within your Citadel you will find storage boxes, an alchemy lab, a kitchen, sawmill, and a Throne that will heal you will sitting on it. These are important to upgrade as quick as possible so you can craft better items and food. The more you use them the more experience you gain towards leveling up. As you level up in the game your HP will go up and your overall food you can intake will rise as well. Do a good job with this and before you know it you will have a beast of a Viking.
Niffelheim is broken up into areas of interest if you look at it a certain way. There are dungeons, the mine (within the Citadel), the temple and parts of the land broken up into different areas. As you venture out across the land you will need to hunt creatures for food and items used to craft armor or weapons. You will also need to gather things such as wood, twigs and various crafting items to help with recipes. You can wait for the crow to come and give you a quest but the rewards are lacking for the most part. Still I recommend accepting them as they are easy. During the daytime you will run across small animals such birds, frogs and the occasional boar. Come night time the larger beasts come out and these pose quite the threat early on. While combat isn’t difficult with a mash of the button its best to keep your distance if possible. A good strategy is to get a few hits in and then run away until the creature stops chasing you. Repeat this until it’s defeated or keep a distance and shoot it with arrows. There is a pistol of sorts later on but the bow is just as good if not better in my opinion. Again it is very important to stay alive because days of leveling up can all be gone in a matter of seconds. Retreating is totally a viable option.
If you feel a little more adventurous there is always the dungeons. There you will find plenty of creatures to fight like the spiders which seem to be the most important early on. You need that spider meat, you want that spider meat. Of course there are many dangerous things lurking in the dungeons. If you can beat some of the larger enemies then you can get some pretty decent rewards from their chests. You also want to fight them because they can drop pieces of the portal as well. I never found anything amazing in the dungeons therefore I eventually started bypassing them a lot.
The mine is where the best of the best resides. There you will mine for copper, gold, silver, coal you name it and it is probably in there somewhere. The first few times I ventured into the mine I thought to myself, “I am going to mine this place dry really fast,” I couldn’t have been more wrong. The mine is vast and just when you think it is about to end, it keeps going. In the mine you will run across large creatures as well and once again it is recommended to defeat them as soon as you are capable. You can craft doors that will allow you to build one in the mine and take you down another level without having to find your way down. This comes in handy when you run into a foe that you might not want to deal with at the time. Avoid that bad boy and keep on moving. A word to the wise, take plenty of food with you and a couple of pick axes because it’s very easy to spend a lot of time down in the mine. If you run low on health look for the fire flies as the will heal you. Need to get out in a hurry? Don’t worry you can bring up the map and fast travel back to the Citadel for a few coins.
“Wait what are these coins that you speak of for?”
Great question and I’ll tell you. Remember the temple? There you can visit a shop that will sell you goods or you can sell items that you no longer need. You can buy anything form armor, weapons or spices for your recipes. The shop updates regularly and you will be notified when new items are available. Next to the shop is a place where you can go in and make a sacrifice to the priests. There you can get these charms that have all kinds of beneficial powers like healing or helping you become stronger against certain enemies. This is somewhat useful but nothing I used often throughout the game.
Now comes the part where the game likes to throw you a curveball. Say you are out pillaging a dungeon or mining for some clay. What would be the best way to get your attention? How about sending a horde of enemies to your gates? Sound good? Well it happens and while most of the hordes are fairly easy to dispatch there will be times when things can get a tad dicey. You do have plenty of time to prepare for this horde which I think the timer might be too long however, if there just so happens to be some skeletons already in the area it can make things quite difficult. This happened a few times but I never lost my Citadel. To up the ante if you will, the game also enjoys a few ultimatums as well. This is where the priests say “Hey, you Viking. Yeah you. If you don’t craft this item for us we are going to send a giant monster that will destroy everything you own.” This happened to me early on and I had no idea what to do at first. I had to craft this type of potion but I had no idea where to find all the ingredients. This is one of the frustrating parts of Niffelheim. The unknown can be difficult and tedious to find out. I got all but the last ingredient because by the time I found out it was in the mine, it was too late. They sent a giant to destroy my Citadel. Luckily I had built up enough to hold it off while I bashed away at the thing. Unfortunately I died several times defending my Citadel. Looking back I probably should have just let the thing destroy it all. Like I said, dying has its consequences. While everything in the game stayed at the same difficulty my character was no longer a beast. My Viking warrior had become sad and pathetic. The only thing that saved me was at that point I could craft some really good armor and weapons.
Niffelheim provides you with an easy way to sort through your inventory and I even enjoyed the fact you didn’t have to be holding an item in your hand to craft something. If you had all the ingredients to whatever you wanted to craft in your chests you could craft it at one of the stations. I didn’t know this at first and it made for a lot of back and forth early on. Don’t do that, put it in the box and let it be. Equipping your tools, weapons or a useable to the quick buttons was also made fairly easy. Switching between weapons never posed a problem and accessing the menus worked well. One of the complaints I have though would be the repetitive grind. It hardly felt like there was anything there to help break up the monotony. Gathering, combat and mining all began to run together with repetitiveness. It wasn’t bad enough to ruin my experience but I certainly felt the weight of it.
The game also seemed to have a few minor performance issues with the game lagging and enemies appearing or disappearing. It wasn’t an issue that happened continuously but it did happen a little too much. This was also the case when interacting with crafting stations or items. At times it wouldn’t let me craft a chest or use one of the stations. Again not something that happened all the time but definitely needs fixing. It would have been nice to see a tad more added to the story of the game as well. Perhaps something else besides the crows or the priests. It might have helped flesh out the game more.
The game looks fantastic with awesome backdrops and detailed creatures. The sounds are really well done and for the most part Niffelheim is a gorgeously crafted game. I mean it should be because it is a crafting survival game, right? I am only kidding of course. The character models do look great though and I was pleasantly surprised with the detail of some areas. The only advice left to give is don’t get distracted by the nice scenery because time is not on your side.
Niffelheim by developer Ellada Games is definitely one of the most recent Indie games to keep my attention the way it did. I lost hours upon hours grinding to find items just so I could craft a set of armor. I really enjoyed playing the game and discovering all the recipes or new items to craft. The combat was a little underwhelming at times but the well-designed enemies made up for it. Crafting and building worked well enough for me to want to continue my improvements and the vastness of the mine was quite the spectacle. I can’t say that Niffelheim will be a game for everyone or even for the casual survival game fan. However, it is a delightful game that deserves the attention it receives. The thought behind the crafting alone is something worth applauding. It is easy to get lost in the survival aspects of the game. So for now you can find me somewhere deep within the depths searching for all that is mine.
Rating: 8 out 10 (Buy)
Niffelheim releases on September 20th, 2019.
A copy of the game was provided for review on the PS4.