As I have stated in the past, there are a lot of AAA games that most of the general population downright loves, and I am in the camp that just finds them to be okay, maybe even mediocre. One of those games is Assassins Creed Valhalla. I can see why people love it, but after spending a dozen or so hours doing the exact same thing, it gets repetitious and dare I say, downright boring. In many ways, Song of Iron rights these wrongs and tells essentially the same story in a more streamlined, minimalist manner.
The game follows an unnamed warrior that cannot be customized outside of their gender, on a quest for revenge after enemy forces torch your camp in the traditional Viking fashion. If you opt to take part in this journey, you’ll spend the next four or so hours moving from left to right, dispatching enemies in the most brutal of fashions, and solving the occasional puzzle, with only short commercial-like breaks to push the narrative forward and introduce some supporting characters. Outside of the lack of voice-overs, I found this aspect of the game to check off all the boxes, delivering exactly what I wanted, nothing more and nothing less. Outside of the continuous motion from left to right I previously mentioned, your time is mostly going to be spent in combat busting in skulls and filling those that wronged you with arrow-shaped holes. Our nameless hero has a wealth of combat options at his disposal, but sadly it’s a mixed bag of satisfying victories and quite a few missteps that will leave you cursing Odin and all of his sons.
Our warrior is able to block, duck, dodge, and all of the normal defensive tactics you’d expect, mostly working as they should, with the exception of dodging. This is automatically assigned to the right stick, however, if you double-tap either direction with the left analog, it will send you into a roll – whether you intended to or not. This was far from game-breaking, but it did lead to a number of frustrating deaths, some caused by being left open to attack at the absolute worst time, others from rolling right off a cliff into nothingness. Actual melee attacks are slightly better, but are on the clunky side, with most weapon-based attacks lacking any oomph to them, much like you’re using some Nerf weapons in place of deadly swords, hammers, and axes; in some cases, the button is just didn’t register as being pressed. The same can be said for the bow and arrow, as anything outside of the occasional stealth attack feels like you’re shooting marshmallows, shrugged off as a slight annoyance and nothing more by even the weakest of enemies. Additionally, holding the left trigger while aiming in a 2D space, and then pressing the action button just feels unnatural, much like trying to land headshots in old-school survival horror-based games. These are all mild complaints that I could work around, especially when how downright amazing it felt to chuck an ax at a combatant and land an uber satisfying headshot, in which my ax became buried in what used to be their frontal cortex. The same can be said for the Spartan-Esque kick that breaks most blocks.
Visually, the game is quite stunning, especially when taking into account that this was the work of a single developer and does not support HDR or FPS-Boost as of this writing. I noticed some occasional clipping and wonky shadows, but they were intermittent and only present in the brighter areas and become an afterthought as you teach yourself to pay attention to both the back and foregrounds to catch enemies trying to sneak into your field of play. At its best, Song of Iron is going to draw strong comparisons to Limbo, which is a fair assessment since I want to say more than half of the game takes place in the dark, with muted blacks and greys making up all of the assets. The only issue I experienced with this is that the weapons, which break or get lodged into enemies over time, have a habit of getting lost in the background. While you can see small icons informing you that you can pick something up, it’s really hard to determine what exactly you’re picking up, and if this happens within the heat of battle, it becomes an instant death sentence. This same issue translates to some of the more brain-tingling of puzzles found within as well.
Most of the puzzles are simple and involves moving a block or box from point A to point B and then crawling over, or activating one of the few magical abilities that are unlocked later in the game. However, there are a few that the key area is so well hidden that without any guiding arrows or waypoints, they took me entirely too long to figure out, resulting in me just wandering to and fro, tapping the interaction button every now and then, hoping for the best. It’s a far cry from the platforming that was required in Playdead’s masterpiece, but it gets the job done… slowly.
Song of Iron isn’t the biggest or baddest Viking game on the market, but it does manage to tell a compact story that is presented in a downright stunning way by a lone developer. It doesn’t outwear its welcome, and despite having little to no replay value outside of a painstaking achievement/trophy to complete the game without dying, it’s well worth the meager price of admission.
8 out of 10
- Stunning Presentation
- A Tight, Well Written Narrative
- The Satisfying “Thuck” Sound Axes Make When Entering Skulls
- Some Assets Get Lost in the Background
- Some Attacks Feel Overly Weak
Song of Iron was developed by and published by Resting Relic. The game is available for PC, X1, and XSX. The game was provided to us for review on X1 and played on XSX. If you’d like to see more of Song of Iron, check out the official site.
Here at GBG we use a rating method that you are more than likely familiar with – a scale of 1 to 10. For clarification, we intend on using the entire scale: 1-4 is something you should probably avoid paying for; 5-7 is something that is worth playing, but probably not at full price; 8-10 is a great title that you can feel confident about buying. If you have any questions or comments about how we rate a game, please let us know.