With hand-drawn art that wonderfully captures the brutal beauty of Nordic mythology, Niffelheim is a game about longevity. Like the hardened Vikings it depicts, Niffelheim is an unforgiving endeavour that requires dedication and perseverance to not only play but to enjoy. This said, your ultimate goal in Niffelheim is a simple one; open the portal to Asgard and bathe in Odin’s eternal splendour.
How do you go about achieving said goal? Well, that’s up to you to figure out.
Niffelheim casts you as a brave fallen warrior. Now dead, his soul is bound to eternal peace within the walls of Asgard; however, fate has different plans. For circumstances unknown, your warrior becomes a prisoner of Niffelheim, a barren and hard world between the living and the dead.
As I alluded to above, your goal in Niffelheim is to open the portal to Asgard. To do so, you’ll need to explore the world of Niffelheim for 22 stone fragments; once collected, only then can the portal be opened.
Niffelheim never outright explains this to you; instead, you need to stumble across this piece of information for yourself in the tutorial menu. This is both a strength and a weakness of the game.
I’ve long lamented video games for becoming more ‘casual-friendly’ with hand-handling tutorials and easy difficulties. Sometimes you want to play a game that isn’t afraid to throw its player into the deep end.
Niffelheim takes this to the extreme by starting the player with very minimal instruction on exactly what to do; sort of like being dropped into Minecraft without any guides or prompts as to what to do, or how to do it.
This was a little jarring at first since I spent the first hour or so wandering the game world figuring out what the heck I was supposed to do. Once I began piecing all of Niffelheim‘s elements together, only then did I really start to become absorbed in its addictive gameplay loop.
Rinse and Repeat
The aforementioned 22 stone fragments needed to open the portal to Asgard rests with powerful bosses hidden throughout the game world. To defeat them, you’ll need to craft equally powerful weapons and armour.
As you’d expect, this can only be achieved through exploration, farming for resources and using them to craft the items you need.
Naturally, Niffelheim starts things off pretty simply. You’ll have access to only the basic of items to craft; copper weapons, armour and weak potions that only restore the tiniest bit of health.
Crafting is broken up into four categories; forge, woodworking bench, kitchen, and alchemy set. Each of these ‘workshops’ can also be upgraded to unlock more powerful crafting options. You can upgrade workshops by using both collected resources and crafted items, thereby creating a satisfying and addictive gameplay loop that’ll have you venturing out into the game world to farm resources and use them to bulk-craft certain items.
A Viking’s Death
Upon starting a new game Niffelheim will give you two choices to make; selecting a character and your clan.
There are four character classes to choose from; Viking, Valkyrie, Berserker, and Shaman. Each class enjoys its own unique buff where health, stamina (or, satiety), defence, attack strength, and so on.
I spend time trying out each character class, and although the differences between them aren’t highly noticeable, I found the Viking to be the most suited to my play style.
Niffelheim‘s version of the classic stamina bar, otherwise known as satiety, depletes over time as you perform various actions; cutting down trees for resources, fighting skeletons, etc. The only way to refill this bar is to cook and eat delicious food.
The rate at which the bar depletes over time depends on the character class you’re playing as, with the Viking enjoying the slowest, um, metabolism; meaning he can survive the longest without having to eat.
Plundering All Night Long
The other decision to be made when starting Niffelheim is which clan to associate yourself with. There’s the ‘Ancient Bear Mound’, ‘One-Eyed Wolf Forest’, ‘Moor of the Desert Eagle’ and ‘Ice Dragon Wasteland’ clans.
While it may seem daunting to choose, it ultimately does not matter which clan you pick; the only noticeable difference between them is which part of the game world you’ll inhabit.
The world of Niffelheim is split up into five key regions; the four aforementioned clan areas and the main temple city. Though calling it a city is a little rich; it has all of two places to visit, a shop and a church. The former is brimming with high-buffering foods that instantly refill your satiety, as well as an assortment of middle-of-the-road items to help you started.
As for the other four regions, they’re all fairly similar albeit for some unique structures and aesthetics. I initially thought that resources differed depending on the region, however, after a quick jaunt into a neighbouring one I found that everything practically the same.
Niffelheim allows you to play with AI bots (unlike the PC version, the console versions does not allow multiplayer) who control the other three regions, and if you venture too far into their land they’ll attack you. The same goes for you, as well. Once you reach far enough into the game, you’ll find that the AI bots will begin wandering your lands in search of your resources. In these instances, it comes down to who has the best gear to prevail.
Keep Off My Lawn, Darn Kids
In conjunction with the satisfyingly addictive crafting/gameplay loop, Niffelheim also features a simplified town-building mechanic.
At the heart of your region rests a small shack that, over time, you can build up into a mighty fortress complete with walls and towers. Upgrades are made by utilising resources and crafted items.
The more you upgrade your fortress, not only will it look increasingly impressive, its defences will increase, too. This proves useful when undead swarms decide to descend on your fortress to plunder and destroy what lies within.
Your fortress also serves to house your workshops, as well as the entrance to the underground mine. A plethora of resources and objects, from iron and copper to Asgard fragments can be found buried deep within.
Combat in Niffelheim is simple, yet challenging. Attacks against the evil hordes infecting the realm are dispensed by hitting the X button on Xbox One. Tapping the left trigger allows you to swap between two equipable weapons; in my case, I was armed with a melee and long-ranged weapon for good measure.
Most enemies can be felled pretty easily; small animals whose purpose is to gather important resources, spiders and skeletons who roam the dark dungeons. Boss enemies, on the other hand, are something else.
These hulking, damage-sponge beats require the best gear, not to mention a neat array of potions in order to provide additional buffs. Manage to defeat one, however, and you’ll be rewarded with a chest full of delicious loot, as well as, potentially, an Asgard fragment.
My one reservation here is the difficulty level of various enemies appears to be unbalanced; you can be slicing through foes one moment, only to be running for dear life the next. It’s not a major issue and this uneven difficulty scale helps reinforce Niffelheim‘s survival elements.
Niffelheim boasts a striking hand-drawn art style that provides the game world with rich, vivid detail. While the various regions feature many of the same visual elements (i.e. animals, trees, etc.), the unique structures and visual aesthetics help differentiate each of the regions.
When you venture into the mines or dungeons, things become less varied. Stark greys and dull stone line the seemingly endless corridors that after a while began to make me feel as if I were watching paint dry.
Niffelheim‘s certainly addictive but in a boring sort of way. The lack of visual variety when not exploring the lush surface, not to mention the subdued and repetitive soundtrack, can make playing feel like an annoying chore more than anything.
In many ways, you keep playing Niffelheim not because it’s fun and exciting, but because you want to see how much more you can do; what exciting new weapons and
The (Un)Mighty Thor
Niffelheim is a deep and complex survival game that offers a wealth of gameplay and longevity. Though how long you ultimately spend playing it depends on how easy it is for you to overcome its flaws.
Simplistic and unbalanced combat, dull environments and somewhat repetitious gameplay (largely due to the plain underground environments, not the satisfaction of looting and crafting); as well as some lengthy loading times and sluggish frame rates (on Xbox One S) all work against Niffelheim to impact the player’s overall enjoyment.
Look beyond these, however, and you’ll find plenty to enjoy about Niffelheim.
Niffelheim was reviewed on an Xbox One S using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Niffelheim
Game Description: Your avatar is a brave warrior who has fallen in battle. But instead of well - deserved peace in Asgard, his soul is trapped in the harsh world of Niffelheim. Survive in this hostile world, ransack the neighbor lands, explore dangerous dungeons and find your way to Valhalla
- Addictive gameplay loop... - 9/109/10
- ... Which can also be repetitive and dull - 5.6/105.6/10
- Stunning hand-drawn Nordic visuals - 7.1/107.1/10
- Lack of visual variety in underground - 4.6/104.6/10
- Simple, yet challenging combat - 6.8/106.8/10