Nidhogg – As We Play

As we play offers the thought strands of the reviewer as they’re going through the game. This offers unique content for the reader so they can come to understand the conflicting feelings of the reviewer as they’re playing a game for the very first time. All feedback on this concept is welcome.

For the video version of this As We Play, view here…

 

Games have evolved into massive, expansive worlds, with incredible attention to detail, subtle features and intelligent characterization. Looking at the worlds created by the likes of Bethesda, Crystal Dynamics, Irrational Games, Naughty Dog and others, one would be forgiven for thinking that bigger is always better.

Yet the early days of gaming offered something much lighter. It doesn’t get much more basic than Pong and even the likes of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man had simple ideas but immense replayability. Arguably, that’s something the modern day game lacks. No matter how many New Game + or difficulty sets you add, one playthrough is usually enough to satisfy most people.

It’s fair to say that many modern games lack a long-term ‘hook’ and rather are a showcase for developers to try to bring this industry more in-line with movies and TV with the quality of narrative and set-pieces. And that’s fine, but every once a while, it’s important to be reminded of where we came from.

That’s where Nidhogg plays its part perfectly.

En-Guarde! 

At first glance, you’ll wonder how the hell this took four years to develop, but the physics, balance and intelligence that have gone into developing this game bring things into perspective

You’ll also likely wonder what place a game like Nidhogg has on the modern-day market and why anyone would be willing to pay more than 69p for it. Basically, it’s two stick men duelling to the death with swords. As a casual, first-time observer, you’ll probably switch off quite quickly. Nidhogg is not going to blow you away with visual quality, the levels in the campaign are repetitive and the concept will initially seem quite bland.

But the magic comes in the playing and the moment you get involved, suddenly time will start to fly. When you understand the tactics, learn the maps and see how games play out, itsoon starts to click. Sure, the keyboard interface isn’t best suited for a game of this type, but fortunately, full controller support has been added, making everything a lot more manageable.

There’s no expansive campaign to hack and slash through. Your guy will face off against different coloured stick-men in the same repetitive level-cycle and the aim is to beat all your opponents in the fastest time possible. To do that, you have to push your opponent back three screens, run your victory mile, then get munched up by a dragon. No, seriously. The game takes cues from Norse Mythology, with Nidhogg roughly translating into a dragon that gnaws at the root of the World tree, Yggdrasill. The name, Nidhogg, is also believed to identify the role of a horrific monster that chews the corpses of those guilty of murder, adultery and oath-breaking.

But interestingly, the campaign takes on more significance the more often you play the game. The AI opponents become progressively more challenging and will force you to adapt and change up your fighting style and tactics in order to breakthrough their guard. This will help prepare you for the main event: human competition.

There are three stages of deflecting attack. A low guard, a mid-level guard and a high guard. Players raise or lower their sword with the up and down arrows (or W and S if you’re one of them WASD lot..) in order to challenge an incoming attack from another player. Sometimes it’s better to be slightly lower with your sword so you can lift it up for a quick disarm, or be slightly above so you can power down and power your enemies weapon to the ground. However, a player is not automatically defeated once they’re disarmed. In fact, they’re potentially more dangerous.

In addition to being a fencing champion, your character can assume ninja-like qualities which can also disarm an enemy and suddenly turn the whole confrontation into a punch-up. For instance, leap in the air and you can descend down on an enemy with a flying kick which will knock them straight to the ground. Or, if you’re feeling bold and daring, you can produce an athletic forward roll or cartwheel and leg-sweep a foe. Once an enemy is floored, you can then snap their neck on the ground and continue moving towards the finish line.

Or you can pick up any of the dropped swords on the ground and get back to duelling. You can even throw swords at the enemy.

Nidhogg doesn’t punish you for playing a certain way. In fact, you’ll need to be mindful of multiple ways to kill in order to outlast the competition. And it’s all tactical. Standing across the battlefield from an enemy creates a fresh kind of human chess. These battles won’t play out in the same way, and to win, you’ll need to be resourceful, mindful of your environment and clear on ways each enemy fights. For instance, one map conceals your enemy from you behind blades of grass. Another map has travellators and another features a long, straight corridor, forcing a winner through duelling.

By giving you three screens retreat each, the game ensures there is enough time for a feeling out process between you and your opponent. But just because you’ve pushed an opponent to the final screen, doesn’t mean the game is over.

Nidhogg2

Touche 

My first few games saw me and my AI opponent go back and forth. I was familiarizing myself with the jutting movements of the sword, initially trying to mirror my opponent move for move. To begin with, that seemed a logical thing to do, then lunging in every now and again to see if I can catch them off-guard. Most of the time though, our duels ended out pretty evenly, and I didn’t make much progress. The Right of Way went back and forth, and the majority of our time was spent battling across only two of the screens.

Battles lacked pace and killer instinct, quite honestly. Any half-experienced player would have come in, and taken us out in a heartbeat without even trying.

Eventually, after a ten minute battle, I finally beat my first opponent. Having gone into the game completely cold, I’d taken longer than most to acclimatize myself to the style of play and get a better understanding of how everything handles. But I won. So, there.

And after that first victory, I found myself becoming more and more confident. I started to charge at my enemy with reckless abandon, sometimes even rolling into battle and striking my sword outright. However, like a charging bull, I found that strategy would get me outsmarted and killed 9 times out of 10.

So I changed up my tactics again, going for aerial assaults mixed in with standard duelling. I soon noticed the difference. My opponent was struggling to keep up with me and I was starting to build momentum. Again, this was enough to ensure victory.

That’s Nidhogg in a nutshell. Never be afraid to change if one strategy isn’t working out for you. Naturally, playing a human opponent means they’ll respond to your movements quicker than AI, but the campaign does help you get used to how the game will play out in the online space. The thing with Nidhogg? There are a surprising number of ways to win. Hell, you can even take the cowardly route, get a kill to claim right of way, then sprint to the finish-line by continually leaping over your opponent, occasionally surprising them with a quick disarm. Your right of way only disappears once you’ve been killed and that makes any enemy extremely dangerous once they’ve managed to get one up on you.

Nidhogg3

Oh, that is so cliché…

Unfortunately, the online space is horrifically unstable at the moment. For starters, unless you have friends already playing the game that you can jump in with, the matchmaking system is slow and questionable. The menus are also barely legible. You can set parameters but the font makes it difficult to read certain numbers and words. The interface is also quite clunky, and especially frustrating when the game identifies that there is one person playing online, but for some reason will not pair you both up. Why?

When you finally manage to get matched up, there’s a chat box separating your names. You can either use that to talk smack or slap the ready button and get straight into the action. There are no additional maps for online gaming, so you’re set with the five found in the campaign.

Unfortunately, the problems don’t end on the menu screen. You may get a few seconds stable action, but I found just as I was about to start crossing swords, the lag was horrendous. I was forced to watch my character repeat the same motion of walking towards my opponent at least four times over before I was able to properly interact with the game again. Naturally, this made us both easy prey, but in that instance, his reflexes were slightly sharper than my own, and I found a sword piercing my gut in seconds. The juttering and stammering continued through the whole match. I couldn’t even complete the final run of glory, without the game hiccuping and stammering. Not exactly a satisfying conclusion to my hard-fought skirmishing.

Unfortunately, this continued through several games against a few different opponents.

Believe me, it’s not my internet connection. I had no download interruptions in the background, am in a good location barely interfered with by other networks and routers, and, let’s face it, this isn’t exactly the most data intensive game you’ll play online.

Nidhogg is in urgent need of network maintenance, especially through the matchmaking service. For now, the best way to play the game against friends is locally in Tournament mode or one-off battles. That’s how the game was originally built, that’s how its best experienced, but unfortunately, if you have no willing local combatants, you’ll probably find yourself quickly becoming bored of the limited features in the game.

This is good and bad news for the game. Good, because network almost always suffers with any game at launch, even the big ones like Battlefield, and can be fixed overtime. Bad, because over 2/3 of the game is reliant on you playing other people and if you drop £10 right now, you might just regret it.

 nidhogg-game

Areas for Development

  • Focus on online stability and overall interface
  • Redevelop matchmaking system
  • It is possible to get stuck on some parts of the environment when leaping, leaving your character exposed and vulnerable
  • Add additional levels
  • Four player, one kill elimination mode. Just for gimmicky chaos!
  • Further variable flexibility could add even more to the multiplayer component
  • Modification opportunities to allow people to make even more of the game

 

Final Analysis

Nidhogg is genius. It’s a celebration of our gaming yesteryear, with a hardcore difficulty curve and a truly addictive multiplayer component that will keep you coming back for more. The implementation of tournaments is local gaming at its finest and the game differentiates itself considerably from anything else in the online space.

What’s more, it’s a game that can fit on ANY format – even mobile – making sure it will stand the test of time.

Still, if you don’t have a group of friends with the game, or a regular group of willing couch-buddies, Nidhogg doesn’t have much to offer right now. The online component is poor and needs extended, urgent maintenance and speed-runs against the AI are limited.

But controversial price point, limited levels and juttery online aside, Nidhogg is simply brilliant. Nostalgia burns bright here, with a fantastic tournament mode, simple pick up and play controls and gameplay and heart-stopping, blood pumping speed-runs. A wonderful start to, what promises to be, a fantastic year for independent games.

Technical Competency – 9/10

Graphical State/Sound Quality – 8/10

Network Stability – 5/10

Overall – 7.5/10

Sound hiccups, menu issues and network stability need to be a focus in a future update

(These grades assess our playthrough, taking into consideration how many (if any) bugs were encountered, whether there were any interuptions in gameplay and the product’s final technical state. These scores, coupled with the Final Analysis and Areas for Development, are suggestions for future patches and updates which the developers could (and in our opinion, should) explore. These scores are separate to our DLC/Expansion Reviews but link into our Patch/Firmware Reviews.)

(These scores are not designed as a grading system to determine the entertainment value of a product and should not be treated as such..)

Issues you’ve encountered

  • Reports of people mapping their control settings to different keys and there being no response in-game. Then getting stuck in an infinite loop when trying to revert back to default settings and the game not recognising the command at all. User has deleted local content, re-installed game, but problem reoccurs  (not tested due to indications of semi-permanent problems)
  • Online instability (Already documented)
  • Menu cannot be navigated properly using controller (Tested, but now fixed in today’s patch)
  • Ceiling Glitch – Some players reporting you can jump through the tunnel ceiling on one or more of the maps and end up on top of the map, remaining permanently stuck and rendered unable to move (Testing this, but yet to encounter the issue)
  • Character cannot perform cartwheels online (Tested and recognized as an issue)

Have you encountered any bugs and problems in your playthrough? Anything we missed? Add them in the comments below and we’ll slot them in!

About the author

Ray Willmott

Ray is the founder and editor of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer, PG.biz, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,