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.