Dead in Vinland is a Viking-themed Survival/Management RPG where players are tasked with keeping a family alive and arming them with the necessary tools to colonise a new land and grow strong enough to overthrow the resident tyrannical nutjob. The family is led by beardy patriarch, Eirik; his wife Blodeuwedd; their sassy teenage daughter Kari and Blodeuwedd’s sister Moira, who, like any sister-in-law, is a “suspected witch”.
With your family chased from their burning home and winding up shipwrecked on an unknown island, resources are scarce and spirits perilously low. By assigning various tasks, such as exploration, water gathering and crafting, to suitable party members, you begin making this mysterious new land your home. A detailed tutorial explains the basics before the brutish meathead, Björn Headcleaver pays you a visit. He and his cronies rough you up and demand a weekly tribute in the form of various materials. So now as well as keeping your family fed, watered and free from any serious ailments, you also need to set aside enough to pay off the island’s biggest bully.
After that initial encounter, you’ll have frequent run-ins with Björn’s men, and though the turn-based battles aren’t the central focus of the game, they can play a pivotal role in your success or, more likely, failure. Unlike the real world, survival isn’t as simple as dumping the kids in front of Peppa Pig while you cry in the bathroom. Instead, you must monitor factors like the depression, fatigue and injury levels of your core family members because if any of those reach 100%, the affected character will die and then it’s game over.
Striking the right balance between exploration, making use of new party members whilst also keeping them alive and continuing to expand your camp is the real challenge of Dead in Vinland. The difficulty can be gruelling and you will constantly feel on the brink of disaster, which makes any progress or victories feel all the more sweet. Getting the better of a band of enemies and taking the spoils back to camp, knowing that a loss would have meant certain death for your starving family feels genuinely rewarding.
Thankfully, even when you fail, all is not lost as you can reload from any previous save point and right the wrongs which led to your destruction. Given the random element tied to many of Dead in Vinland’s encounters, this more forgiving approach prevents it from ever becoming frustrating. Even still, you can tinker with different random number generator algorithms and adjust the difficulty to suit your own play style.
Dead in Vinland has much in common with the excellent Darkest Dungeon, from the turn-based gameplay and emphasis on keeping your party fit and healthy against all odds, right down to the overall presentation. Although Vinland is far less dingy and foreboding in the looks department, it shares the hand-drawn 2D stylings of Red Hook Studios’ masterpiece and the relative simplicity is very much welcome, given the game’s reliance on menu navigation and fairly small text. The cleanliness of the graphics makes what is a fairly complex array of systems feel far more manageable.
The attempt at post-modern, snarky dialogue feels out of place at times, but is a least a signifier that the developers want the experience to be fun as well as demanding. That in itself is a balance Dead in Vinland arguably manages to achieve with even greater success than Darkest Dungeon.
Dead in Vinland- True Viking Edition £24.99
Beyond the initial learning curve, those patient enough to stick around with Dead in Vinland will be rewarded with a brilliantly balanced, challenging experience and will no doubt become emotionally invested in the characters and their tale of survival.