The central flaw of the Nordic bloodbath Viking: Battle For Asgard is its failure to build a believable world. This action-adventure takes place in an immersive setting that nicks references to Norse mythology. But the cultural signifiers are just gloss: Take away the longboats, and you could be in England; add spiky purple hair, and you're in Japan. The game's small, weirdly proportioned islands have no history, no society, and no function but to soak up blood, and the protagonist's motives don't go much deeper than his scowl. With no reason to fight, all the killing turns into noise—and even the giant cast-of-dozens battles are as engaging as watching ants fight over a cracker.

Real drama could have covered up the gameplay problems, which are legion. While a few special moves mix up the fights, hacking down hundreds of enemies doesn't take skill or style so much as persistence. The environments look better than they play; each map is wide open, yet the game leads you by the nose from goal to goal, except for the many times when an objective is baffling or completely hidden. And although you can lead a horde of Vikings into battle, you have almost no control over how they fight. After a while, even the dragon swooping overhead starts to feel like what he is: just another prop.

Beyond the game: It's funny how games that give you so many chances to maim and dismember the enemy never threaten you with losing so much as a thumb. The risk of having to fight your way out of a mob shy one arm would make you feel like you had some skin in the game.


Worth playing for: Sneaking through an enemy encampment and stabbing soldiers from the shadows is nerve-wracking, until you realize there's one good path to your goal—and almost nobody's guarding it.

Frustration sets in when: The mindless action lends itself to fast bloodshed, yet many of your enemies carry shields which take several hits to destroy.

Final judgment: The biggest slight to Scandinavians since they gave Leif Ericson's day to Columbus.