Blood, guts and dragons

For 360 and PS3 owners, the month of March is a bit of a wasteland. The heavy hitters like Call of Duty and Halo are far behind us... the sun-blocking giant of GTA IV is still frustratingly far ahead of us. Where's a gamer to turn? What mindless violence and blistering action will keep us going through the drought?

Viking: Battle for Asgard may be the answer. Wait... Viking what? Yeah, the fantasy-based hack 'n slasher isn't prominent on many players' radar. Those who do know about the game probably see the bare-chested barbarian hero chopping up horde after horde of magical zombies and assume it's just a xerox of Conan or God of War. Based on our hands-on time, however, that's only half right.

Here are five reasons why Viking will be different... and worth giving a look.

1) Lots of hacking. Lots of slashing. But lots of other stuff, too.

Viking: Battle for Asgard falls definitively and unapologetically in the "hack 'n slash" category of gaming. You've got a sword in one hand. You've got an axe in the other. You've got an endless army of swarming and snarling baddies to plow through with a combination of memorized combos and frenzied button mashing.

But you've also got Gandalf-like magic, Tomb Raider-like agility and Splinter Cell-like stealth at your disposal. With a spell purchased in town, you can light your sword on fire or imbue it with the power of electricity. To reach the top of some ancient ruins, you can shimmy across narrow ledges, leap across ravines and climb up vines. Finally, if you sneak up on an enemy unaware, you can chop his head off before he even knows you're there. Which brings us to...

2) Pretty graphics. Prettier gore.

Imagine a colorful fantasy landscape ripped straight from the cover of a D&D book. Windmills perched above gently rolling landscapes. Grey waves crashing onto a beach, drowning the skeleton remains of tattered ghost ships. Fog and rain-shrouded cliffs connected by broken bridges.

Now imagine blood splattering all over that landscape. Skarin, the protagonist, is brutal. He slices dudes in half. He stabs monsters just to keep them still while he cuts out their spinal cord. He decapitates guys and then cuts their arms off. Why? Because he can.


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