Jotun: Valhalla Edition (Xbox One Review)
Your typical Viking burial is one of grandeur, flames, and honour. But in Thunder Lotus Games’ latest release, Jotun, we see a different side of death for the Vikings. One in which our heroine, Thora, didn’t quite get the burial of a warrior. After a successful Kickstarter in 2015, Jotun is finally making its way to consoles.
Jotun looks at Thora, a female Viking, who is lost at sea and unfortunately meets her demise at the hands of a less than forgiving ocean. From there Thora wakes up in a distant land and slowly comes to terms with death and earns her place in Valhalla as she conquers the Norse gods and explores Ginnungagap. While traversing the majestic world of the afterlife, Thora peppers the exploration with tales of her past deeds and how she came to be revered in the land. It’s a nice reflective note on a story that would otherwise lack any real dialogue between fighting gods that ties everything together wonderfully and gives us insight as to why Thora is fighting for her place in Valhalla.
Just as quaint and luring as Jotun’s story are its graphics. Hand drawn and delicately crafted animations are what bring the scenic lands to life of Jotun’s isometric world. Cameras pan to show wonderfully created structures and even animate gods in the backgrounds of some areas. It’s hard not to stop in awe of the world created and just how unique each area is when it comes to design. Unfortunately this has come at a cost as there are no real enemies aside from the bosses and in spite of the areas looking marvellous, they often feel baron.
When it comes down to the nitty gritty of Jotun, it’s essentially a very basic isometric adventure game mixed with a boss rush mode. Thora has two attacks, a heavy attack and a light attack as well as a roll. The animations of these attacks can be cancelled to a roll, but not in any game breaking way that I found. Through beating bosses and discovering certain shrines to gods Thora will gain new powers, enabling her to heal, run faster, create clones, power up her attacks, a homing spear projectile, and make her impervious to damage. Mixing these powers will lead to extra damage and some cool setups, but it is important to realise that these abilities are finite in use. There is nothing exemplary about the combat and with the vast majority of Jotun being focussed more on exploration until you gain access to bosses, it’s only natural that it feels a bit weak.
New abilities aren’t the only things you can find in Jotun, in fact by exploring the far reaches of the world you are granted some truly scenic views, Mimir’s Wells, and Ithuun’s Apples. These apples extend Thora’s life and replenish it slightly when picked up and Mimir’s Wells – although not increasing the overall health total – replenish your powers to max and restores health fully.
Once you have reached the end of Jotun and complete all the boss battles you unlock Valhalla mode. Valhalla mode is essentially a boss rush mode I which all the exploration based areas are moved and you gain access to stronger bosses and compete for a position on the in game leaderboard. It’s nice to try out, but I personally preferred the exploration and thought that this slightly detracted from the overall experience. That and I struggled a fair bit with these bosses with the limited combat.
Norse mythology and games based on it normally feel few and far between. As a fan of Too Human and The Banner Saga I personally welcomed another game to provide a unique and gorgeous outlook on the mythology, even if I couldn’t pronounce the vast majority of the locations I visited. Jotun gives an easily digestible and wonderfully paced journey that is let down by shallow combat. Playing the story itself it deeply satisfying and to see this world come to life is magnificent, I just wish there was more.