Last Thursday, I finally got a chance to play the alpha build of Montreal indie giant Jotun, an action-exploration game immersed in Norse mythology and set in Viking purgatory. I’ve been excited to sink my teeth into this title since I first wrote about it’s Kickstarter campaign a while back, and the atmospheric Viking adventure not only delivered, but has me anticipating it’s Q3 release this year. Created by Will Dubé, Jotun has you playing as Thora, “a Norse warrior who has died an inglorious death and must prove herself to the Gods to enter Valhalla.”
If battling Gods who tower over you in the same spirit as David vs. Goliath seems daunting, it is- to a certain extent. I’ll get to the combat in moment, but ease your mind knowing that you’re in great hands by playing as Thora. She’s a wonderful main character. Kissed by fire and has the strength to wield Mjölnir (albeit for a short period of time), Thora’s brawny and tough demeanor is a refreshing change to both (anti)hero and female tropes in video games. As a woman who plays copious amounts of vidgee games, Thora is more relatable (well, as relatable as an axe-wielding Norse warrior trying to get into Valhalla can be) than most characters.Though she may seem eclipsed by the giant Winter Jotun in the alpha, Thora’s skill and strength will prove good enough to appease the first god.
And I cannot put more emphasis on the notions of “skill and strength”. If you’re looking for button-mashing combat tactics, you won’t find it here. If you try, you will die and get a giant message across your screen stating “You have failed to impress the gods”. I got the message four times. Four times did I bring shame to myself and the gods. The combat demands you to use your axe-wielding skills (both heavy and light attacks) and the gifts given to you by the gods which in the alpha’s case was Thor’s hammer and a speed boost (which I initially thought was directional aid – womp womp). The trick to defeating the winter giant is to both recognize his attack patterns while paying attention to your own timing and execution. The strategic use of your god powers is essential; you need to summon Thor’s Hammer (for example) at the appropriate time in order to deal maximum damage. Also, headshots do way more damage than my own tactic of attacking its supposed Achilles heel (Spoiler: it didn’t work). But on the bright side, while the the combat may seem unforgiving, it’s not cumbersome; it makes you recognize your own errors and gets you pumped to do it all over again.
From what I’ve played, the combat aspect of the game culminates in fighting the Jotuns. As I explored, I found myself itching to find baddies to slay as I trekked through the two levels, Niflheim and Jormungandr. But as the creator Will pointed out in the Twitch chat, the game isn’t a run of the mill hack and slash, but one that weaves aspects of exploration and puzzles. So, was my initial expectation of constantly having something/someone to kill based on actual want, or was it due to repetitive formulas that dominate the genre? A true philosophical question if I ever heard one.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t trials and tribulations in your path as you search for the runes that enable you to summon the Jotun; the two levels available during the alpha have their own hardships you must conquer. In Niflheim, the snow can kill you, and you must seek refuge behind Monolith-looking standing stones when the blowing winds pick up. In the second level, Jormungandr, a humongous Norse sea serpent lies right beneath the ice you travel and will burst through, wiping away large chunks of your health. You need to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings in order to avoid losing life. If you do lose life (as I did), scattered across the levels are gigantic heads of Mímir, the Norse figure of wisdom who replenishes it.
It’s hard to appropriate the proper words to describe the world of Jotun. It is absolutely visually stunning. Everything is handdrawn, and engulfs you within the Viking purgatory. The atmosphere is solemn yet impressive, with subtle musical notations that adds to the immersive style of the game. The change in scale of the environment in certain parts of the game is awe-inspiring, whether you’re staring out into a vast sea, or you realize that the Void is floating in space that is surrounded by stars, galaxies and nebulae. Also, going back to Mímir, his design is both creepy and wicked. When he regenerates your health, his eyes open wide and eerily follows you as you walk away.Equally impressive are the giants monuments you visit to gain God powers, such as Thor’s Hammer. One statue I stumbled across was of a giant Dwarf that was holding up the constellations. I have no idea what it does (if anything), but it was bleeding cool to look at.
I could go on and on about the beautifully designed mythical and magical aspects of the game, but just take a look at both my playthrough and the trailer to truly get the gist of what I’m talking about.
Jotun was definitely an awesome experience, and a fantastic addition to our Indie Spotlight Thursday segment. Many thanks to Will Dubé who came out and answered any questions both the Twitch chat and I had.
I would definitely keep your eyes peeled for its full release later this year. You can check out their website over here to keep up with their dev blog posts. You can also follow them on Twitter and over on their Facebook page.