Dead in Vin­land

“You’re Thor? My back is killing me!”


A raid; a hall-burn­ing; a fam­ily forced to flee across the ocean, through a rag­ing storm, to a mys­te­ri­ous is­land… Dead in Vin­land starts out like many of the his­tor­i­cal sto­ries and myth cy­cles that have in­spired it. It’s your hall that’s been burned, and your fam­ily, and it’s you that is re­spon­si­ble – though the ac­tions that have caused such a turn of events are left vague.

Re­gard­less, the back­ground of Dead in Vin­land soon pales to the re­al­ity – keep­ing your fam­ily fed, happy, and safe. Which is a much big­ger chal­lenge than you might ex­pect…

Back when I was play­ing a lot of DayZ, my girl­friend called it a ‘Rus­sian de­pres­sion sim­u­la­tor’, and it’s a ti­tle you could eas­ily ap­ply to Dead in Vin­land, since stop­ping your four main fam­ily mem­bers from top­ping them­selves when they get too de­pressed is one of the game’s main aims. In fact, it says a lot that all of each char­ac­ter’s five main stats are neg­a­tive de­scrip­tors – no one ever gets happy, they just get less de­pressed. Same too with hunger, sick­ness, fa­tigue, and in­jury.

Much like the pop­u­lar rogue­like This War of Mine, Dead in Vin­land is all about bal­anc­ing ne­ces­sity against sur­vival. Aside from the five main stats, each char­ac­ter has a set of skills that suit them to a cer­tain task. To keep ev­ery­one hale and happy (for values of ‘happy’) you need to gather wa­ter, food, wood, and a num­ber of other items that you’ll need to con­sume to sur­vive each day. You’ll build work­sta­tions and shel­ters, scav­enge for goods, and head off into the un­known to ex­plore the is­land and hope­fully find more re­sources.

And you’ll have to fight. Here it’s a pure, though less en­ter­tain­ing, it­er­a­tion of Dark­est Dun­geons, whereby you move along a set of ranges and de­liver var­i­ous spe­cial at­tacks from a pool of ac­tion points, while NPCs like ‘knife guy’ try to stick you with sharp weapons.

The ba­sic me­chan­ics of Dead in Vin­land are sound, if a lit­tle on the grim side, but the game suf­fers from some very patchy writ­ing that can never de­cide if it wants to be like some­thing out of the Sa­gas, or a more witty take on Norse his­tory. Thank­fully, the sheer amount of choice in the game keeps you go­ing, and each playthrough – there are other char­ac­ters to dis­cover and re­cruit into your mot­ley band, but lose one of the orig­i­nals and it’s game over – feels fresh and unique, as new sto­ries emerge from new de­ci­sions and ran­domly gen­er­ated el­e­ments. Sim­i­larly, you’re al­ways bal­anc­ing push­ing char­ac­ters to be as pro­duc­tive as pos­si­ble with the fact that nearly ev­ery­thing they do will de­press them, so reg­u­larly rest­ing or heal­ing char­ac­ters is a ne­ces­sity.

If mi­cro­manag­ing a Vik­ing fam­ily through cri­sis af­ter cri­sis sounds like your thing, and you’re to­tally okay with reg­u­larly los­ing your fam­ily to ac­tual sui­cide, Dead in Vin­land is the game you want to be ma­rooned with.

The com­bat may be a lit­tle mundane, but the art is strik­ing.

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