Code provided with many thanks to Noxfall Studios.
The New Roguelike Sub Genre
In 2022 I mentioned that the roguelike genre needed a bit of innovation to inject some new life into the familiar formula. The formula is where you play as far as you can through the game, eventually meeting your untimely end and starting the whole thing again from the start. Progress is usually very gradual. But the addictive gameplay loop usually keeps the player coming back round after round. It’s the impressive talent of the indie developers that have kept my spirits high in this genre.
One game, in particular, caught my attention at the tail end of the year in the form of Vampire Survivors. A game now touted as a roguelike survivor, where you do battle against enormous waves of enemies while levelling up and improving your stats before the shadow of death eventually gets you. This proved to be quite the hit in the indie community, becoming enormously popular in a short amount of time.
Of course, this popularity attracts the attention of other indie developers ready to throw their own spin, bringing us to Nordic Ashes: Survivors of Ragnarok. A horrifically addictive roguelike survivor, only with significantly more Norse and a few tricks of its own. The game was recently released to Early Access on Steam, and I’m here to deliver my thoughts.
The gameplay is pretty simple on paper. Playing as a Norse warrior, you are dumped in the middle of a map with hundreds of enemies descending on you. Your job is pretty simple: defeat as many baddies as possible and do your best to avoid death. The controls focus mostly on movement. I used the controller during my playthrough, so the left analogue stick handled movement. As you move, your character will attack automatically. So right there, Nordic Ashes gets a thumbs up from me by being a game you can literally play with one hand whilst entertaining a laughing one-year-old with the other.
I foresee a new game of the year award coming in 2023. Most early enemies are defeated in one hit, dropping coins you can collect. Collect enough, and you level up, and with your experience points, you can improve your stats by using a skill tree. Unlocking new attacks, buffing stats, and even unlocking an awesome move which can be activated with the press of one of the face buttons.
That’s pretty much the loop. Kill enemies, level up and repeat until you die or complete the level. It may not sound like much; however, this formula is very addictive and easy to pick up and play for all audiences. As you level up and get stronger, you feel like quite the Nordic powerhouse, literally destroying hordes of enemies on screen.
Enemies Grow Stronger
Enemies will gradually grow stronger with time. An extra buffed enemy will occasionally appear, and if you manage to defeat it, it will drop a chest unlocking more perks. If you make it to the end of the level, the game will warp you to a boss room where you need to take down a big bad. If you manage to fell him, the level is over, and it’s back to the main menu. Here, you can spend crystals to unlock more stats to improve your starting build.
After a few playthroughs, you’ll unlock a new character. And can even adjust your starting weapon if you want to try something different. The game encourages you to experiment with different builds. So, by moving out of my comfort zone, I was surprised how much I enjoyed myself. This is the sort of game that works really well if you don’t have a lot of time to game or want to play something that doesn’t have a heavy plot or require mental puzzle-solving. It’s arcade action at its finest. Many of the features mentioned in this paragraph differ from what’s featured in Vampire Survivors, so I feel Nordic Ashes does plenty to differentiate itself from that popular title. But it’s easy to see how one would make the comparison by looking at the screenshots.
A Touch of Norse
Graphics are cartoon-like sprites with a distinct Norse flavour to them. I found it a little funny that the main Norse warrior character looks so angry, despite looking like a cute animated character. Levels are based on the nine realms of Yggdrasil, though only two are currently available Midgard and Alfhiem.
Midgard is filled with enemies, like rats and stone golems, set in a cold icy environment. Alfhiem is inhabited by Ents and plant-like creatures set in a swampy forest-like setting. It feels like the developers really did their Norse research featuring enemies and environments plucked from the texts of Norse Mythology. The soundtrack also has this nice dark tone, which suits the Ragnarok feel of the experience.
Being in Early Access is, of course, a work in progress. As development progresses, more levels and playable characters will be available. Even at this early stage of development, Nordic Ashes is showing a lot of promise. I would be very surprised if we didn’t see it released to full completion. If you want to jump in early, you can support the developers at a nice low price and watch the game grow over time. If you want to wait, add this to your wish list, as that also helps the developers.