You’re old, cold, and quickly bleeding out into fresh white snow. Admittedly, things could have started out a little better. Wild River and Zaxis Games’ indie Norse action-adventure title Fimbul has you step into the shoes of Kveldulver, an ageing berserker who starts off by failing to prevent an axe from lodging itself into his skull. Thankfully, the gods have got your back, and in no time you’re resurrected by the Norns – three elderly women who have complete power over your life string. It’s a good job that death isn’t the end, because Kveldulver has to stop Ragnarok by taking on the giant Jotuns and trolls to save Midgard. Retirement: it’s not for everyone.
Forget God of War, this is OAP of War
With its cold, bleak setting, Fimbul isn’t exactly the most joyous game to play. But that’s the point. In its harsh world survival is a daily trial, and as Kveldulver you’re near the end of that struggle. He’s white-haired, thoroughly fed up with everyone’s crap, and it doesn’t exactly help that his brother is attempting to kill him either. While there are serious God of War vibes – not only in the setting, but also in Kveldulver’s get-out-of-my-way-or-get-impaled attitude – you’re much frailer than the demi-god Ghost of Sparta, and there’s no magical axe to rely on either. With only the weapons and armour you scavenge from fallen enemies to protect you, nothing lasts long in Fimbul’s world. Your shield will break, your helmet will shatter, and you will only take as much damage as you’d expect an elderly berserker in his twilight years to be able to manage.
Despite Kveldulver’s age - and the fact that he was a corpse until fairly recently - he’s pretty spry, though it doesn’t take me long to figure out that there’s no way that I will have Kratos’ brute strength (nor his ability to soak up damage) to rely on. Instead, as Kveldulver, you have to be quick and smart - remembering to evade warriors as they attempt to flank you, kite enemies around the tightly constructed combat arenas, and work to separate shieldless warriors from the group to quickly thin the numbers. When you get knocked down, Kveldulver’s age really shows, with it taking him a couple of seconds to get back on his feet, punishing you for being so reckless as to allow yourself to be hit. Harsh but fair is the best way to sum up Fimbul’s combat system; despite the fact that you’ll almost always be outnumbered, if you persist you will come out on top.
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While you might make that first group of bandits whimper with fear that first death is unavoidable, as it’s what sets your slightly intimidating task in motion. See, Kveldulver isn’t wholly human, just like Kratos. Upon his death your forgotten childhood is finally unlocked, and after fleeing from Jotun captivity (these are big blue brutes, unlike God of War’s relatively human-looking Jotuns) the mysterious outcast Jotun, Sigra, gives you the amulet Ymnerfir to hide. Once you’ve secreted it away, somewhere your memory of her, your captivity, and the Jotuns will fade. Oh yeah, and no pressure, but if her father finds it, he’ll use it to start Ragnarok. And you’re somehow related to both Sigra and her dad. To think Kveldulver was blissfully unaware of this burden until that axe gets embedded in his head. Once you remember what happened, and it’s off to save Midgard with you.
All this is communicated with Fimbul’s stark comic book intervals, which are filled with exaggerated illustrations that do a far better job at communicating the savagery Kveldulver witnesses than the game’s engine ever could. Blood slashes across the page like ink, mens faces are contorted into furious shapes, and every time you die the wizened Norns ask you whether you want to be woken up again. That small touch is a brilliant way to reflect one of the core features of Fimbul: your life string is unbreakable, and you can even go back in time to repeat the key events of your past and see the other outcomes.
Your life string will sate anyone’s curiosity
You can’t go around saving whenever you want in Fimbul, as instead each key event is marked on your life string, which you can go back to whenever you want in the game menu. Maybe you want to watch a particular comic book cutscene again or practise fighting before you take on a horde of vikings? Or maybe you’re feeling a pang of guilt about how one of your choices played out and want to do things differently. Like so many games out today, in Fimbul you have to choose how to deal with the game’s major bosses - do you kill them or decide to spare them? Thankfully, you don’t have to replay the entirety of Fimbul to see how each of these decision can play out. Thanks to your life string, you can go back and simply try again, after which a new branch unlocks.
If you’re anything like me and tend to make in-game decisions on impulse (don’t worry, I’m a tad less reckless in real life), this is a godsend. Sating your curiosity in a flash, Fimbul leans into the fact that you can alter your life string however and whenever you want. What that means is this chilly little indie game will keep you busy for a fair amount of time, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to know the outcome of every decision before settling on a final path. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with being thorough. Even though Kveldulver is about as old and grizzled as Kratos, he’s got all the time in the world…
Punching Jotuns, killing Trolls ten times your size, and stabbing vikings with magical swords: Kveldulver’s work is never done and its neat life string feature means that it’s sure to keep you busy for a good long while. So if you’re looking to fill a God of War-shaped hole in your life, Fimbul could be exactly what you’re looking for and is out right now on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch. So now you can murder trolls as a grizzled OAP whenever you want.
Want more games that give you serious Kratos vibes? Try these games like God of War, which’ll make you feel like you’re back raging out as the Spartan in no time.