Niffelheim is a harsh world of ancient spirits, a place for fallen warriors trying to reach the celestial halls of Valhalla. This side-scrolling resource management game is based on Norse mythology where you can choose from four playable characters who are trying to ascend to the dizzying heights of martyrdom. Join your ancient ancestors by fighting fiendish foes and building a strong fort to protect your totem.
A host of characters are at your disposal including several burly bearded men with hands the size of hubcaps and bellies like beer barrels or a Valkyre, the only female character who has a sure aim, wears war paint and generally looks formidable. There are four side-scrolling worlds you can explore:
The ancient bear mound
The one-eyed wolf forest
Moor of the desert Eagle
Ice dragon wasteland.
None of the aforementioned worlds are particularly friendly places, inhabited by wild wolves, walking skeletons and other beasts that you have to fight. However, there are plenty of trees to fell and rabbits to skin for feeding your belly and building your Fort.
Niffelheim is an Indie title developed with the Unity game engine and uses hand-drawn animation techniques that give it a quick and jerky feel similar to traditional stop-frame animations. Its mechanics lack fluidity in some areas, for instance when you die your character falls over unceremonious like a sack of potatoes accompanied by a moan like your passing a kidney stone. However, its simple side-scrolling levels are detailed in a quirky illustrative way that sets it apart from other games in its genre and there’s no denying it’s artistic style.
A slow burning Indie title
As you explore the ethereal world of Niffelheim a strange crow flutters down to a nearby perch and gives you some advice, well it’s not really advice it’s more like a mini-quest that you have to complete to unlock more resources. There are many other characters throughout the game that give you other quests which push the gameplay forward but the ultimate aim is to form the portal to Valhalla by collecting different magical pieces.
I have heard some people refer to this game as an RPG. In my opinion, it’s more of a 2D resource management game similar to Kingdom with elements of an RPG. Yes, there are skill sets and weapon upgrades but there’s no multiple choice dialogue options that change the flow of the game. Everything you collect helps to upgrade your Mastery level whether it’s cutting down trees or killing animals and collecting herbs for cooking. In general, the gameplay is quite linear and you can walk or warp to different areas to forage for more resources.
If you kill enough wolves you can upgrade your at the forge with a wolf helmet, boots, and a bone harness and as the game progresses your armor becomes more elaborate and sturdy. You can place items in a quick access menu for when you need them during combat or for food. The other items that you collect are easily accessed by scrolling through the menu with the R1 and R2 buttons on the controller.
There isn’t much voice acting, most of the speech is in the form of written excerpts. However, the intro scene has some narrative exposition by a gravel-voiced actor introducing the game. “Holy flame destroys all Earthly ties.” Kinda makes you feel like brandishing a sword, growing a beard and renaming yourself Bjørn Schniffelheim. Okay, perhaps I was getting a bit carried away but the narration is still good and worthy of a mention. The transition scenes have nice static artwork that reminded me of Pillars of Eternity and the melodic music and bagpipes fit this stoic retelling of, a Norse legend – Niffelheim The World of Mist.
Your fort is your stronghold and within its infinite walls, there are plenty of strange devices for creating new things such as a sawmill, a forge and an Alchemy workshop for creating spells. You can also make some home improvements by chopping down more trees and upgrading your building to a castle or citadel. The stronger your fort the easier it is to resist the attack of the hoard which spawn periodically and lay siege to it.
Food is one of the main focuses in Niffelheim and you have to kill animals and gather resources or you will starve. It is a constant battle to fill your belly throughout the game. In fact I had to eat so often that I felt like a diabetic who had to keep their blood sugar under control. However, be careful what you eat when your roaming, raw meat isn’t recommended and can reduce your health points by 40 causing nausea, promptly followed by death. Ouch!
Combat is quite tedious and when I say this I mean it’s like having a slapping contest with your little sister. The mechanics are basic with the square button assigned on the controller for either kicking enemies to death or using one of your weapons such as an Axe or Bow. You can easily switch weapons with the L2 button on the PS4 controller but combat doesn’t feel like it was the game developers first priority and as such feels lacking.
The game has some frame rate issues and stuttering which did start to bother me the longer I played it and the worlds could do with some expanding. However, there is a wide variety of different weapons and spells that you can upgrade or buy from the merchant’s shop in Temple city and the gameplay does become quite addictive once you get in to it.
The action tips which were added in an earlier mod are welcome and help flesh out the overall mechanics of this videogame creating something that is a slow burner with some intricate survival mechanics. Anyone who wants a quick fix combat game will probably be disappointed as this isn’t its aim, survival, and consolidation of your resources is more of a focus. there are many different beasts and baddies to discover if you put in the time and effort.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.