A Kickstarter success, Jotun was released back in 2015 on Steam to mostly positive reviews and a muted public reception. Much like the game’s story of second chances, Jotun itself is getting a second chance with Jotun: Valhalla Edition. An updated rerelease for consoles, is this version of Jotun just as good or should it be kept out of the great halls of Valhalla?
Jotun has you playing as Thora, a Viking warrior who dies dishonorably after being thrown off of her boat during a storm. The gods are forgiving in this case, and Thora is given a chance to get into Valhalla on the condition that she kills the five Jotun, who are giants that control various lands. Along the way, you’ll learn Thora’s history, how she became the warrior she always wanted to be, and the events leading up to her death. While I originally wrote it off, I actually found Thora’s story to be much more compelling than I thought it would be. It comes a bit too slowly, and most of it comes in Thora’s monologues when you defeat a Jotun, but it’s worth listening to if nothing else.
After a tutorial level, you’ll begin the game in a hub area called Ginnugagap, where you can access the areas related to the five Jotun. Each Jotun has two associated runes associated that you need to collect before you can fight it. To get these runes, you’ll go through several levels with different themes. Each level has its own unique features, be it rafts that move across the level when you strike a tree or fields of poison-spewing mushrooms. Each level also has hidden magic abilities for you to collect, apples you can eat to extend your max health, and vistas that mostly exist to give you a nice view and build the world up a little more. Exploring each level is important as you’re going to need the extra health and magic to fight the Jotuns.
While the big threat is the Jotun, there are normal enemies in some of the levels. Combat is simple, Thora having access to a light and heavy attack. Most regular enemies you encounter in the game die in one hit, more reliant on swarms to take you on. This can be both a blessing and a curse at times. A nature level has thorns that grow out of the ground to swing at you when you move by, making for an enemy that I had to use dodge rolls to avoid while making sure I didn’t roll myself into another one. On the other hand, an underground city features swarms of dwarves that mindlessly chased you and could easily be lured into chokepoints that required little more than me standing in said chokepoint and smashing light attacks until they were dead.
Levels also have one annoying drawback in that they are huge. The sprawling expanses are certainly pretty to look at. Jotun has a lovely art style and great technical prowess, combined with a fantastic soundtrack, that means I was constantly stopping to soak up the sights. Eventually, I had to learn to do it on the go. The huge levels often turn into long times of just running to the next important point. Without a sprint button to speed this up, I would sometimes spend several minutes doing nothing but running until I hit the next puzzle or encounter. It was especially bad if I ever had to backtrack to make sure I grabbed all the collectibles, as then I wouldn’t even have the puzzles or enemies to distract me from the long runs.
The real highlight of Jotun is the actual Jotun themselves. These boss fights serve as the climactic endings for the levels, offering up challenging fights. You can tackle the Jotun in any order, though the game places ravens and glowing runes in Ginnungagap to help lead you through a recommended route. One interesting Jotun would summon ranks of dwarves that wandered the arena, occasionally being whipped into a frenzy when she screamed. Another would clone herself, forcing me to pay attention to two targets at once. One coated the arena in a poisonous gas, a second turned the floor to ice to keep me slipping around, while a third caused cracks of deadly lava to flow. Each boss fight feels unique, challenging, and there’s one amazing thrill every time I managed to beat one.
New to the Valhalla Edition is Valhalla Mode. It’s basically a hard-mode boss rush, letting a magic-filled and max-health Thora fight against stronger versions of each of the bosses. It’s actually a pretty awesome mode, allowing you to skip all of the in-between to get to the game’s highlights. The revamped fights feature new dangers, bigger health bars, and new patterns. If you’re really a fan of Jotun, then this is by far the best way to play the game.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition has plenty of moments of excitement wrapped in its beautiful package. Every boss fight felt like a treat, the story is good enough of a tale to make me interested, and the world is absolutely jaw-dropping to look at. I think the game would have fared better if it was just a boss rush without the less interesting fluff, but at least it corrects that with the new mode. This Viking deserves its entry into Valhalla.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on Steam, Xbox One, and Nintendo Wii U.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition features some of the most exciting boss fights in gaming mixed with lovely visuals and a decent story. It just needed some trimming of the filler to truly be a classic, but this new mode at least introduces a mode that's just that.