The city builder genre has ebbed and flowed in both quality and popularity over the past two decades. From mid aughts titles like Black & White 2, to modern titles like Tropico 6, and indie titles like Banished; city builders are a varied genre with many different nuances and innovations made to make them fresh again.
Vikings have become a recent focus for city builders, their sprawling civilization becoming ample inspiration for the mechanics used in the genre. Valhalla Hills follows the trend, and has a player lead a tribe of Vikings to the glory of Valhalla itself.
Developer: Funatics Software
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release December 2, 2015
Valhalla Hills comes to us from Funatics Software, a German game developer known for the Cultures series. The game was produced by Daedalic Entertainment who are known for the Deponia point-and-click adventure series.
Players take on the role of Odin’s youngest son, the god of builders, who has been banished from Asgard for his lack of martial prowess. At the same time, Odin has turned is back on the mortal Vikings, as he claims they lack the honor to ever join him in Valhalla again.
By fate or providence, the young god of builders and the outcast Vikings meet at the foothills of Valhalla. The two team up in order to prove their worth to Odin, by defeating or appeasing the monsters that lurk on the hillside.
To do this, players will need to explore, build weapons and amass soldiers. They can also hoard resources in offering to the beasts of the hills, rather than fight them.
Instead of being about creating a long lasting settlement, Valhalla Hills is more casual and fast-paced. Once the monsters are killed or appeased, you move onto a new island to start all over again.
The only attribute that carried through islands are achievements and Honor. Achievements are used to unlock new technologies, and the game bases the difficulty around what has been unlocked.
Players can choose to play with all achievement technologies unlocked. However, the game is more difficult and doesn’t progressively teach players how to play and develop their settlements in this mode.
Honor is a permanent stat attached to a specific Viking. Vikings that have achieved enough honor will be able to enter Valhalla, and when they are resummoned will have greater stats.
The gameplay is shallow and frustrating in Valhalla Hills. Players begin with some logs and stone to begin building, but every start is basically the same.
It’s easy to become resource starved without following a specific build pattern. If the pattern isn’t followed, players will end up with half-finished buildings and starving Vikings.
For instance, a wood cutter needs to be built as the very first thing. If they aren’t, you can run out of logs and be unable to get more without demolishing the things you’ve already built.
Vikings can also become too hungry to work at all (even to produce food), which can completely sabotage a map. If food isn’t handled quickly, players will hit a wall where they have to wait for hungry Vikings to die and fresh Vikings come in to produce food, or for wild berries to regrow and sate them long enough.
This problem is made even more frustrating by not being able to manually assign workers. If you have a baker who’s too hungry to even make himself bread, and an unemployed Viking who just consumed a whole bushel of berries, the fed Viking can’t be made into the new baker manually.
The lack of micromanagement might be welcome to more casual players. However, the lack of control will quickly become a source of frustration to those familiar with city builders.
Resource management and unit management are also obtuse and strange in different ways. Resource management requires the use of couriers to transfer goods from buildings that are far apart, but the game does a poor job explaining how they work. It’s much easier to make multiple villages centered around a resource stockpile than to use couriers.
Units can’t be targeted and moved individually like in many city builders with combat. Instead, players control their movement by moving their camp wholesale; the process is done instantly and feels more like they tried to jury-rig unit controls and the building system together rather than make a way to control units.
The game encourages players to “Look after your Vikings’ needs,” but the information given isn’t useful at all. Notifications scroll by of “Tiredness -2” or “Hunger +4” too quickly to really pay attention to, and needs are basically either taken care of or they aren’t; this makes this kind of detail utterly redundant.
Valhalla Hills is a low-resolution world with minor details obfuscated by shading. The Vikings themselves are silly little men and women who are indistinguishable from one another unless you’re zoomed in completely.
Structures are also difficult to tell apart at a glance. However the game thankfully tells you what is what with immersion breaking solid text overlaying everything you’ve built.
Resources like wild animals and enemies aren’t highlighted unless moused over. So it can be difficult to not realize there’s tiny rabbits to hunt in the forest nearby, or if skeletons are hanging out just off-screen from your fledgling village.
Terrain effects are also difficult to determine, and later once players unlock wells and irrigation they’ll need to worry about where their farms are built. Though most of the terrain is grass there are mysterious craters with gray dirt, and the game makes no attempt to tell what ground is which when moused over.
Valhalla Hills has no noteworthy music, but it does manage to do one thing right. Battle music plays whenever your Vikings are engaged in combat, which is a good way of knowing something’s amiss when it plays all of the sudden.
However even that feature is somewhat buggy. The music doesn’t fade much, and it can be annoying for the first few notes of battle music to play, then stop when your Viking runs away, and then start again with renewed intensity 2 seconds later when the enemy catches up.
Ultimately, Valhalla Hills fails to be an engaging city builder, and at best is a mediocre casual game better suited for mobile devices. Players who want a fast-paced and casual city builder might be this game’s niche audience and will enjoy it; but I doubt a majority of players will find anything in Valhalla Hills that isn’t done better somewhere else.
Valhalla Hills was reviewed on Windows PC using a personal copy. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.