One of my favourite real-time strategy series of all-time is The Settlers. I started out with the first game on the Commodore Amiga back in 1993 and my favourite (like many players) was its 1996 sequel The Settlers II: Veni, Vidi, Vici. Subsequent games became overly complex and eventually changed the original gameplay that got me hooked on the series.
Tomorrow (August 24th) a new game called Valhalla Hills enters Early Access on Steam. Hearing that the game was inspired by traditional building games like The Settlers II was enough to get me interested on finding out more.
Valhalla Hills is in development at German developer Funatics with Daedalic Entertainment as publisher. Most exciting was hearing that the mastermind and lead developer behind Valhalla Hills is Thomas Häuser who led The Settlers II team 20 years ago. Several other members on the Valhalla Hills team also have experience on The Setters series.
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a few days with a preview build of the game which is an even earlier build than the one that will hit Early Access tomorrow. However for a game at such an early state I must say it feels rather well polished already.
Technically it’s also rather advanced thanks to the developers choosing to build the game on the wonderful Unreal 4 Engine.
Before digging into the gameplay it’s worth mentioning the story behind the game. If you hadn’t guessed already by the name this is a game based around Vikings. Dead Vikings have been arriving at the gates of Azgard to gain entry into Valhalla. However Odin is in a rather bad mood and refuses them entry.
Odin is annoyed at his son Leko who would rather play with bricks than do the crazy things that Vikings do. He decides to exile Leko to earth and appoints him as God of the builders. Leko decides to put his construction skills to good use and lead the Vikings back to Valhalla. It’s a bit of a bonkers story but it serves its purpose as a backstory for the game.
So your job is to lead the Vikings across various islands through magical portals until they reach the portal at the top of a mountain that leads them back to Valhalla.
The game has an optional tutorial that I highly recommend you keep turned on. At this early stage the tutorial could still use some work but it is still essential in learning the game.
You start off your quest on a tiny island with a handful of Vikings and few resources. As you summon Vikings they drop from the sky onto the island ready to do your bidding. Your first task is to build a woodcutters hut and then one of your Vikings gets to work chopping down trees. Wood is a very important resource that is needed in almost all construction.
You can also create huts for your Vikings to live in. As time progresses you eventually learn new skills such as building paths that make it quicker and easier for your Vikings to get around. After learning a few of these basic skills it’s time to jump into the magic portal to head to the next island.
With the first island out the way this is where the fun really begins. From the second island the portals are guarded so you must train your Vikings in the art of war in order to defeat the guardians to gain entry. Alternatively you can go for a peaceful option by offering sacrifices via altars to the guardians.
The further you progress the more things you unlock and the game just keeps giving you different options. You’ll want to create a hunter and fishery to keep the food coming as Vikings love to eat. Other options open up to you including military camps, altars, warehouses, breweries, merchants plus gold and weapon smiths. Buildings also eventually get optional extensions that you can build next to them to give them extra services.
Where you choose to place buildings is important too. For example you want to ensure a woodcutter doesn’t have to walk a long distance to get to trees, a fishery should be near water and hunter near animals. War camps benefit from being near weapon smiths. Similarly warriors gain life energy from drinking beer and gold enabled them to cause more damage. Also the terrain can have an impact on the resource cost of a building with steeper terrain requiring more wood to build a stable foundation.
Valhalla Hills makes great use of procedural generation. The islands gradually change in complexity as you play but are tailored to the individual player. Eventually near the end they make use of 24 different terrain types and 25 resource types resulting in a huge variety of islands.
Even the Vikings themselves are generated on the fly. The idea is that no two Vikings should ever look alike and the generation system is capable of creating more than 2 million different Vikings. The Vikings have a lot of character and go about their business all on their own unless you interfere. They all have Viking names but there is also the option of renaming them to whatever you like. For some reason using the names of your friends can be hilarious.
Clicking a Viking shows you some stats about them such as their Honor and Energy. You can also see their inventory as well as if they have a job and their mood. For players that really love stats there is a full stats menu that allows you to plot graphs of all the different things to see how you are performing.
If things become overwhelming you can pause the game at any time. Similarly you can also change the game speed with three different speeds available. This is useful if you are waiting on a time-consuming task to complete.
Graphically the game looks really nice with a cartoony aesthetic and everything is fully rendered in 3D. This allows you to zoom right in or out of the action as well as rotate the camera around the island. There’s also a complete day/night cycle that constantly runs which affects the gameplay.
I’ve been really impressed from my time with Valhalla Hills so far. It’s clear that the Funatics team know what they are doing and the game is off to a brilliant start. It will be interesting to see how well it does on Early Access but I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t get a strong community following. If you’re a fan of the real-time strategy and building genres and games like The Settlers then you should definitely check Valhalla Hills out.
Valhalla Hills will arrive on Steam Early Access on August 24th 2015. To find out more about the game check out the official Valhalla Hills website.