Get ready to sail like a Viking on The Great Whale Road. Sunburned Games’ story-driven tactical RPG with turn-based combat is currently available in Early Access. The first part of the Danish Viking's story follows a tale of revenge and honor over four years of adventurous summers and perilous winters.
Set along the North Sea (known as The Great Whale Road) during 650 A.D., players will become the leader of a group of Danish Vikings. The developers put a lot of work into making the game historically accurate, which fleshes out the setting as a unique and interesting game world. Likewise, the music and sound effects are atmospheric and help set the slow tactical pace of the game. Animations are kept to a minimum with 2D side scrolling movement and digitally hand painted art that allows players to use their imaginations as the story unfolds.
This simple design is carried into the relaying of the plot as well,which is conveyed through text boxes describing missions and events. Each year the Viking party will leave their settlement to complete a story mission about getting revenge for a fallen clansmen and bringing honor to your kinsmen. The story is mildly interesting and perfectly matched to the setting of the game, but what your band of Vikings does along the way to get to that story goal was much more interesting.
The Great Whale Road is split into two alternating sections when it comes to gameplay. In the summer players will head out to sea to complete a story mission. In the winter they must invest points wisely and make a series of decisions that will affect the entire settlement for the coming year.
Winter is all about survival. The goal is to generate enough food to keep your settlement alive through the harsh winter. The cold season can be weathered by investing focus points wisely. Players have the potential to develop their own strategies, whether they choose to enforce their armies or support their farmers. However, at this point in the game, the only thing that really matters is food.
Throughout the winter, players will be given a series of scenarios and decisions to make, primarily surrounding the business of food and livestock. Tediously, the same dilemmas will show up again and again to deliberate over. However, this situation allows players to learn from their mistakes and make a better choice the second, third or tenth time around. Surviving the winter seems like it should be a tough challenge, but I managed to survive every year without much ado.
Making decisions is a key element of The Great Whale Road. Unfortunately, the decision-making process is currently underwhelming in both impact and variety. While the lack of available scenarios is understandable at this point in the game’s development, and they’ve already begun adding more, the seeming lack of importance those few choices have on the outcome of the game is lamentable. Aside from your supply of food, it’s difficult to tell what effect reacting to different situations and investing points in non-food related skills has. For example, when I decide to slow down my ship due to adverse conditions I’m told that it affects my speed but I never really feel the impact of that choice.
When summer rolls around, players are given a story mission to complete allowing them to head out to sea, interact with people from different cultures and encounter a new set of scenarios. You’ll select a few good men or women to accompany you, buy and equip the best gear from the town blacksmith and load up the ship with supplies for the journey. At sea, your Viking longship will lamely side-scroll along a static ocean background, seemingly not making much progress in your travels. Something to better indicate movement, like traveling over a map, would be more satisfying.
At each settlement or camp, players will have various options at their disposal to replenish their crew's attributes, get supplies or make some money. To spice things up while you’re sailing, timed decision and opportunities are thrown at you affecting characters for better or worse. The longer you're at sea the further everyone's stats will dwindle down making it an interesting challenge to keep everyone well rested and in good spirits. Nothing makes your crew grumpy like having to sleep on the ship.
Trading is a great way to make money or get some desperately needed supplies. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of an economy system incentivising players to buy resources from one area and selling them for a better price elsewhere like in Mount and Blade, which would be a nice addition. It also would be nice if you could upgrade and/or sell your weapons at the blacksmith, which currently is not an option.
Players can go looking for a turn-based fight while adventuring on the water if they enjoy the combat or avoid it if they don’t. Making tactical decisions about when to play cards to boost your warriors and add more units to the battlefield or attack vs. defend is an overall satisfying experience that's straightforward but will take some practice to master. Luckily you won't be too heavily punished if you fail. There are, however, some small issues with the combat sections at this point in the game’s development.
One small issue is that units can be a pain to switch between because they need to be clicked on in just the right spot. Another is that crucial details can be covered up by health bars and other UI elements, so players will need to constantly switch between various units to make informed decisions. Enemy archers seem a bit overpowered because they can shoot through most of your units defenses and aren't available for players to use. Also, there’s no undo button if you click on the wrong thing, so you’ll have to hope the crowded interface doesn’t lead to your doom.
While frustrating, all these little annoyances don’t prevent the combat from being fun. Losing a fight to honest tactical errors will likely lead to players wanting to try again to improve upon their mistakes and create better battle plans.
In its current state The Great Whale Road has some bugs. While playing the game froze and crashed numerous times, especially when transitioning between sea and land during the summer. Hopefully, there will be less freezing and crashing as the game gets closer to its full release.
This game reminds me of The Oregon Trail, in a good way. Players of The Great Whale Road are driven by a story, not just an end goal, and there are challenging combat sections which keep things engaging. The dedication to historical authenticity shines through, combining story and gameplay to make this a great Viking simulator. It is a title that seems early in development, as bugs abound and the amount of content available is lacking. However, this tactical RPG shows a lot of promise.
TechRaptor was given The Great Whale Road for the purposes of preview. It was played on PC via Steam.