As the indie game market evolves into why the video game medium can be considered an artform, oftentimes we also see that video games don’t need huge sandboxes and 40+ hours to tell a story. Some stories just ask a few hours of our time, rather than a huge commitment. We see it a lot, from the often hit and miss nature of “walking simulators” to games like Undertale, which, despite bursting at the seams with different endings and outcomes, only takes a few hours to complete.
Fimbul comes straight out of the gate with an intriguing story to tell and some lovely visuals. However, there are a few bumps in the road that prevent Fimbul from being a true darling.
Set during Nordic times, you are Kveldulf, an aging berserker who is destined for greater things.After being ransacked by his brother, Knut, and his army, Kveldulf is ready to embrace the afterlife — that is until he is brought back to life and is taken on a bloody quest that will not only help avert Ragnarok, the viking apocalypse, but also reveal who he really is. It’s a tale we have heard before, a tale of chosen ones and defeating a greater evil, but one that is told in a unique way so that it doesn’t outstay its welcome or start the eyes rolling.
The story is presented in a graphic novel style, the artwork complimenting the narrative very well and while there was no spoken dialogue, that didn’t really phase me. Personally, it was a nice little throwback to the early 90s that left a little more to the imagination. The art style to Fimbul is pleasing to the eye with a cel-shaded aesthetic that helps keep Fimbul’s often barren snowbound locales glisten and lively to look at. The colour scheme also includes swathes of reds and blues on the character models, so none of the visuals blend in with the backgrounds, which would otherwise make them hard to find.
Fimbul starts off with a bang, or in this case, escaping Kveldulf’s burning log cabin. Here is where you learn all your combat controls and they are fairly simple to understand. You have your light and heavy attacks, block and parry controls; fairly standard stuff. The combat in Fimbul does provide a fair challenge: while you won’t be tearing your hair out in frustration, if you do run in head first into a group of enemies without planning ahead, you’re going to have a really bad time.
Blocking and parrying are crucial to gaining an upper hand over your foes, but there were a few instances where there were delayed reactions to the button inputs. Sometimes I parried and blocked, but for whatever reason the game just didn’t register, leaving me open to a flurry of attacks from the sometimes unforgiving AI.
Another option in battle are the special attacks gained as you progress. Players need to knock up a string of successful attacks in order to access these moves, represented by a blue stamina bar, but you do need to be careful as getting attacked yourself will deplete this bar. This was a welcome addition to the combat system, as it forces you to think a little more strategically, rather than just winging it and hoping for the best.
Sadly, one big bugbear with Fimbul is with the lagging framerates, especially when there are a small army of human foes and Jotun giants to tackle. This made the battles more of a grind than a pleasure, and when paired with the aforementioned unresponsive controls, there were moments that left me flustered and annoyed – especially during boss fights. Speaking of the boss fights, this is where I found yet another unfortunate blemish.
Each boss carried the same strategy: you are in a closed area, fighting someone 50ft tall, and there is an infinite supply of spears waiting for you. All you have to do is pick up a spear, wait for the boss to show its weak spot, throw spear for maximum damage, rinse, repeat. While this was OK for the first couple of bosses, this was the strategy for most of the bosses in Fimbul, and was disappointed as a result. I understood why the giants of Jotun were the main bosses as it is explained very clearly in the narrative, but I was hoping for something a little more than just chucking spears and the odd cheeky swipe with my broadsword.
The last feature in Fimbul to talk about is probably meant to be their jewel in the crown – the multiple choice system. I must admit, I am a huge sucker for multiple choice games, whether that be a Telltale or a David Cage game; just let me know and I’ll be there. I was hoping that their multiple choice system would be Fimbul’s redeeming quality, but sadly it wasn’t. In my two playthroughs of Fimbul, it appeared that I made all the choices that were meant to be available and I only know that because at the time of writing this I have pretty much gained the Platinum trophy.
Add this dilemma and that this game does not take very long to complete – clocking in at around four hours a playthrough – and there might as well have not even been a multiple choice system, as any reverse choices made didn’t really impact the game hugely; the most disappointing criticism of Fimbul I have
Whether there were time constraints or just not enough manpower, only Zaxis can tell, but with a bit more love, polish and greater impacts in its multiple choice system, Fimbul could have been a true indie gem for the year. Zaxis do create some great lore any budding Nordic scholar would love to sink their teeth into and a world full of possibilities if there are to be any sequels in the works. Sadly, it’s hard to fully recommend this game in its current form. Hopefully Zaxis will learn from this and hit back stronger and harder with a mighty axe swing.
Fimbul offers a compelling narrative and a beautiful world, but it is hindered by poor controls and a loosely weighted multiple choice system. Worth a look for the Norse scholars among us, though maybe at a discount.