[dropcap size=big]O[/dropcap]ver one year ago, Jotun hit Kickstarter and drew tons of attention. This made sense, though, given its focus on Norse mythology, gorgeous artwork, and action adventure-focused gameplay. An alpha release arrived for a few lucky backers in April, and more recently, a beta made its way out as well. This is the first time I’ve played Jotun or even looked at it much since the Kickstarter so it proved a huge surprise to me. While some aspects of the gameplay work just as I’d imagined, there are other portions which seem perhaps underwhelming given what I had imagined the whole thing would play out like.
I’m not sure why, but my impressions had led me to believe this experience would fall closer to the hack ‘n’ slash genre as viking warrior Thora fought through the underworld. But, as it turns out, Jotun is much more like a point and click adventure sort of game, with much less reliance on puzzles. Although you can control it with a gamepad (and there’s no actual “pointing” and “clicking”), the main goal in each of the four current levels is simply to explore. Eventually, you’ll come upon shrines and the like. Some provide Thora with new god-given abilities, while others may restore your health or provide you with the rune needed to help unlock a boss room.
There’s nothing wrong with an exploration-based game, especially for someone like me who adores so-called walking simulators. With that said, Thora seems especially slow. It may be do to the huge scope of the world, or the lack of player icon on the map, but meandering through levels feels like a total slog. Yes, there is absolutely gorgeous artwork and scenery to look at along the way — but it’s not enough. I even have to point out a small issue with the artwork itself. Sometimes it proves difficult to tell where you can actually walk on the lavishly-detailed backdrops. You get used to it, but at first this definitely is a weird, slightly frustrating issue.
Most of the levels provided for Jotun’s beta don’t feature combat at all, actually. I find this a better move because the regular old combat seems even duller than wandering. Every enemy just rushes at you in the same, unthinking way and often clump up in huge groups. This makes it much easier to simply take them down by mashing on your axe swing. There’s a much stronger heavy attack but it takes so long to charge up you typically can’t use it against regular foes. Boss encounters actually require tactics which make them far more interesting than these mid-stage battles.
Bosses were given a huge focus during the Kickstarter and there are two of them to fight in the beta. One boss follows the very simple routine of gaming boss battles where you mostly have to memorize their attack patterns and whittle away at their health during safe periods. The other boss requires more nuanced tactics as they actually summon enemies to keep you at bay. Both bosses can be completed without getting godly power ups, but that proves tremendously difficult. It definitely appears that you’re meant to explore enough to find every (or at least the most powerful) god powers in stages before challenging bosses.
All told, I’m not sure what to think of Jotun. The main, exploration-focused portion of the game seems quite dull. Not only that, but the cinematic camera causes a lot of trouble. Sure, it looks gorgeous at times, but at others you lose Thora in the mass of mini enemies. Fights themselves aren’t so great and even boss battles aren’t the most inspired. I do love the animation and soundtrack, but I’m not sure those alone would propel me through a full playthrough. Jotun shows a great deal of promise but may require some gameplay tweaks to become a truly engaging experience.