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Fimbul Review

Edited by: Tiffany Lillie

Fimbul, developed by Zaxis and published by Wild River Games, is a story-driven hack and slash, soaked in gorgeous low-poly artwork and comic-book-style cutscenes. But despite its brevity, Fimbul manages to overstay its welcome.

Lighting is Everything

Fimbul, taking place in the snow-covered mountains of Scandinavia, follows the story of a lone warrior who, at the hands of his brother, loses his village and must uncover his past to prevent Ragnarök. The first thing that caught my eye about Fimbul was, quite fittingly, the visuals. Taking full advantage of Unity’s lighting engine, the thick forests, bitter cold, and winding paths of the valleys you travel through are truly breathtaking. A liberal use of effects like god rays, bokeh, and textured vignettes breathe life into this world and earn it a spot among some of the best low-poly environmental art direction I have seen in a while.

Target Acquired

Most of the issues I have with Fimbul can be summed up by saying the 3D art direction is the single best part of the game and not much else comes close. Starting with the combat, Fimbul is a pretty generic hack and slash with light and heavy attacks, a dodge roll, and a few weapons to choose from. The problem is that the whole system feels as if it were constructed with the intent of exclusively one-on-one encounters. Attacks automatically softlock onto the closest enemy unless you give an input direction, thrown weapons automatically lock onto a specific enemy of the engine’s choice (an issue I could not find a work-around for), and your energy is tied to damage. You lose energy every time you take damage, making things difficult when you're surrounded on all sides, although you also gain energy every time you hit something else.

I was able to breeze through the first half of the game doing nothing but tapping the light-attack button until every enemy was slain, which was boring. But even worse — and bad enough to make me want to quit the game altogether — is the difficulty when facing several larger enemies that have temporary weak spots during their attack animations. Most of the time, these weak spots are the head or torso of creatures, when their kneecaps are at about eye level to the player character. While Fimbul does a decent job of providing you with spears (the one throwable weapon in the game), the timing on many of these is so brief that you usually need to have a throw charged before the weak spot appears. In later fights, these targets sometimes need to be hit twice to stun the enemy and do any damage, which can be even more difficult.

The real problem arises from the fact that thrown weapons choose their own targets, making these fights with multiple large enemies a painfully frustrating game of randomly getting the right target or just throwing enough spears that eventually they die. Sometimes this was a ten to fifteen minute ordeal for one stage of a multi-phase fight in a game that is only about three hours long. All of this is on top of a combat system that feels generally unresponsive, clunky, and extremely repetitive. Each new combat scenario made me sigh in the hope that it would only be a single phase, while most near the end were upwards of four.

The Other Half

For short scenes, Fimbul sends you into flashbacks of the protagonist’s past, allowing you to play through the events he is remembering in the present. While this is a fantastic idea on paper and does lend some substance to the events, they are even less mechanically complex than the present-day events and ended up being even less engaging because of this. These sections are typically more stealth oriented, but never move past skirting around the gaze of nearby giants, indicated by giant cones of light. A few brief sections have you waving a torch to drive back some small, imp-like creatures, but the torch-waving is generally not needed, as I found the dodge roll to be more than capable of getting you through these dark stretches.

Carrying A Story

The most interesting part of Fimbul to me was the story, gradually uncovering the past of two warring brothers and how they are related to the namesake of the game, Fimbulwinter, or the coming of Ragnarök. Nearly all of the story is told through comic-book-style scenes that pop up frame by frame and speech bubble by speech bubble. The artwork showcased was generally pretty interesting and somewhat contrasted with the low-poly style of the rest of the world, making it enjoyable from that standpoint. But these scenes ended up being a rather persistent interruption to the flow of the rest of the game, pausing your movement, taking their time to display themselves, and then rearing their heads again twenty steps later because they weren’t quite finished. This is all in addition to the branching narrative that can be changed by critical choices, which is implemented well with a timeline that highlights these choices and allows you to replay from those points. However, with as tedious as playing through once was, all willpower I may have had to attempt the separate branches was long since spent on throwing a dozen dozen spears.

As A Whole

Fimbul is undoubtedly a gorgeous game in both its 2D and 3D art, but that’s the best there is in the whole package. The combat was boring at best and tedious at worst, the story was okay, and the flow was stop-and-start the whole way through. Despite the short length of a playthrough, it still managed to overstay its welcome, particularly due to the sheer volume of phases in many of the fights. Had the game been half its length, cutting only combat, it would have been a far more enjoyable experience to work through each branch of the timeline and see how the story changed. But dragging yourself though each of those fights again just for a few different pages of a comic book isn’t worth the time it takes.

3

The Verdict: Bad

Fimbul has some gorgeous scenery and interesting story, but not much else. The combat is tedious, the story constantly interrupts the gameplay, and the branching story is hurt by the lack of variety in combat. On top of this, the launch price is quadruple what it should be.

Coal Fire
Written by
Friday, 29 March 2019 05:08
Published in Adventure

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CoalFire is an enthusiastic gamer who has spent the last few years digging for the hidden gems of indie gaming. A scientist by education, he breaks down the components of games sorting out what works, what doesn't and how it all works to create a cohesive experience. When he's not analyzing them, he's still playing.

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