Fimbul – Review
Fimbul is a Norse-themed action game in which you must save the world of men from Ragnarök. Is it time to dust off that horned helmet? Here’s what we think.
Norse mythology has it that there will come a day when the world will be enveloped in the cataclysmic battle of Ragnarök. Brother shall slay brother and even the great gods shall die. You’ll know it’s coming when the world is plunged into the fimbulvinter, or the “Great Winter”. “Fimbul” here is an Old Norse prefix that means “great” or “big”. Fimbul the game on the other hand, is anything but.
The game is set in the aforementioned great winter and centres around Kveldulver, an ageing berserker who finds himself on the wrong side of his brother’s axe. Thanks to the providence of the weavers of fate, the Norns, Kveldulver learns of his past and his destiny. The Norns resurrect him, and off he treads through snow and ice to both confront his brother, and to prevent a premature start to Ragnarök itself.
Fimbul may be steeped in mythology and it may feature a grizzled, angry hero, but those aren’t the only similarities it bears to the classic God of War games. Like them, you’ll find yourself fighting hectic brawls, building up combos, and taking down foes several times your own size.
These turned out to be skin-deep similarities, as Fimbul does not bear any of the nuanced combat mechanics that make God of War an engaging game.
The controls are intuitive enough: there’s a light attack, a heavy attack, block and roll, and a ‘combo’ button that you hold down to unleash special moves using the face buttons. You are also presented with good aural feedback as Kveldulver’s weapons sink into flesh, drawing blood and staggering foes.
The game’s mechanics seem promising at first, too, favouring a streamlined approach. For one, there are no power-ups or collectibles in the game. To heal Kveldulver, you must first build up a combo metre (which happens very quickly), and then plant a ‘Health Banner’, which supplies health in an area of effect. Higher combos allow for offensive moves as well.
In practice, it all crumbles to dust because Fimbul’s combat is caricaturishly easy.
Although Kveldulver’s heavy attack does more damage, it is slower and provides the same combo benefit as a light attack. This means that there it’s never a bad idea to use the light attack to quickly build up a combo and then unleash a special attack.
Even that is not particularly necessary for much of the game, because the human enemies of Fimbul are frail. They get staggered easily to your light attacks, and they die without much resistance. Even if you take damage, you can always heal at any time, as the health banner can be planted even with the shortest of combos.
The human enemies of Fimbul all behave the same way, so rather than having you face unique challenges, the game just throws more and more of them at you. That changes when you come face-to-face with the game’s jotun enemies. These ghastly foes are bigger, have way more health, and can perform powerful attacks. They dominate the second half of the game, and should very well provide the challenge the game sorely needs. Instead, they just frustrate.
Each time a jotun attacks, the game slows down for dramatic effect, breaking the pacing of the combat. Here, the challenge is not so much in actually fighting them as it is in keeping your patience with the awkward pace.
There are several times when the game tosses multiple jotuns at you. In these grating battles, every single enemy attack breaks the flow of the fight. The worst is when the jotuns attack one after another, initiating slowdown after slowdown, turning Kveldulver into a fly trapped in amber.
For a game that is so focused on its combat, some of its behaviour is plain out unexplainable. In boss fights, the game couldn’t make up its mind on whether my hits should count against the boss’ health bar or not. In larger battlefields, allies that have gone off-camera would do absolutely nothing to help you until you moved Kveldulver enough for the camera to include them again.
My experience with Fimbul wasn’t particularly unpleasant. The snow-blanketed landscape is admirable to look at, even if an overused depth-of-field effect causes much of the game to be a literal blur. The battles are brief and movement is swift, which makes for a very urgently-paced adventure that lasts only a few hours.
The game also provides a ‘life string’ that lets you replay the game from any previous point, allowing you to make different narrative choices. The choices really boil down to letting a fallen foe to live or not, and without spoiling too much, the consequences don’t matter much. You will see a different cutscene or two, but the core story will remain the same.
Fimbul is a case where I have to commend the developers for effort, but I also have to advise the customer to steer clear of this bland, snowed-out adventure. Literally everything Fimbul attempts to do has already been done better by a different game. It’s best if you leave this one buried in the snow.
Country of Origin: Denmark
Publisher: Wild River
Release Date: 28 February 2019
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch
This review of Fimbul is based on a copy provided by the publisher.
For more information on Fimbul, have a look at our coverage of the game.