gdc 2018

Hands On With Human Head's Hack-N-Slash Viking Adventure

by Matt Bertz on Mar 25, 2018 at 03:30 PM

After 18 years in the drawer, Human Head Studios has dusted off its Viking-themed action adventure series Rune with a new open-world, hack-n-slash adventure.

Rather than pick up where the original game left off, Rune: Ragnarok picks up in the midst of the Nordic apocalypse. Legends foretell the fiery death of all the gods during Ragnarok, but the cataclysmic event is not playing out as believed. The hellscape has taken hold, lasting nearly a decade. Giants, dragons, and the undead lay waste to the Scandinavian countryside, but somehow amidst this chaos, Loki has fiendishly prevented the end of the world from occurring. Your job is to take down this trickster god and get the apocalypse back on track. 

I ventured into this battle during a hands-on demo of the alpha build at GDC. The game is still very rough around the edges, but I still came away with a basic understanding of what to expect from this Viking adventure, which allows you to play single-player, cooperatively, or on PvP servers.

The first thing I noticed about Rune: Ragnarok is the frantic pace of battle. After breezing through a fairly basic character editor that allowed me to pledge allegiance to one of several Nordic gods or valkyries (each of which offers different skill traits), I took to the killing fields as an ax-wielding, tattooed Viking rocking a braided beard. Using the mouse and keyboard, the attacking controls are fairly simplistic and rather inexact given the third-person camera and lack of a lock on during attacks. Once you get close to an enemy the fights commonly devolve into a series of sloppy swings and misses from all the parties involved – don't expect the choreographed melee combat of a game like For Honor here. Scrolling the mouse wheel gives you quick access to a variety of weapons like swords, spears, and bows. A collection of hotbar commands gives you easy access to items like mead for health recovery, as well as the runes you may pick up along the way. My Viking was equipped with a berserker rune, as well as a health rune.

Fighting alongside the demoer from Human Head, we are hunting one of Loki's frost giants. Many enemies cross our paths, including rival Vikings, demonic animals, and undead. We pillage the dead for gear and also stumble upon a fair amount of chests sitting right out in the open. These typically give you crafting supplies or new items you can equip should they be better than the armor or weapons you're currently using. The amount of skill buffing loot gives Rune more of an RPG feel; throughout the demo constantly returned to my inventory screen to see if the new items were worth equipping. As you explore the world and level up you also gain god favor, which can be used to unlock new skills. The skill tree is one unified tree, featuring crafting, new skills, and even quests that you can unlock. 

Rune: Ragnorok extends beyond the RPG systems to integrate survival elements as well. The game has a hunger and thirst system, as well as dangerous weather effects like hypothermia to worry about. If you're in a frigid part of the land you will start to get frostbite over time, so it's important to equip warmer armor. Mead can stave off the cold as well, but if you drink too much you will get drunk. You can find mushrooms in the world that have psychedelic properties if you digest them as well, so be careful what you eat.

As we head toward our objective marker, we eventually need to board a Viking ship to reach another island. Pulling up the world map, I get a sense of the scale of the game. We ventured through the largest land mass in the game, but it's also surrounded by a variety of archipelagos. The furthest north locations will be covered in snow, while the southernmost regions may have more flora and fauna. Boarding the ship, we set sail toward our destination, but not before I use the ship's crossbow to kill a wolf chasing my partner as he tries to board.

Landing on the new island, we finally locate the frost giant in some stone ruins. This battle takes some savvy, dealing with crowd control while plucking away at the giant's health from afar with a bow and arrow. He eventually gets caught up on some of the ruins' geometry, allowing us to fill him full of arrows and emerge victoriously. The dozens of arrows hilariously stay lodged in his skull, making his corpse a sight to see.

Rune: Ragnarok is scheduled to come out on PC later in 2018. Human Head says it's also considering a console release, but has nothing to announce at this time.