As the warrior Skarin, I've got to enjoy killing. There's not much more to Viking life: drinking mead is left to others, and farming is an occupation that the goddess Freya has denied me. So I savor the slow, detailed slaughter that fills the game's small skirmishes and one-on-one challenges. During the bigger battles, when my fellow Vikings run with me into a massed army of Hel's minions, it's easier just to let arms, legs and corpses drop like battle dew on the grass.
Life and death are fluid, not only in the blood that flows from me, but also in the vitality I rip from my opponents, drawing it into myself for strength. This allows me to plunge into my foes with a berserker's fury, certain that their deaths will grant me renewed vigor. However, far from encouraging indiscriminate skewering and slashing, Viking puts me on my guard, giving me control of a third-person perspective that keeps me circling myself, looking for approaching opponents.
Viking's control scheme is brutally effective: one button for swift attacks, another for slower, more vicious blows. If I want to locate evil-infested settlements, I can open the game's map and look for red icons, or I can just seek out gloomy landscapes resonant with cricket chirps instead of birdsongs. And when it's time to summon dragons into battle, a few button-clicks let me choose their targets, then swiftly plunge my sword back into the crimsoned fray.
THE GOOD: Viking is filled with authenticities from what The Sagas of Icelanders calls "a wind age, a wolf age." An abandoned game of chess sits outside a village pub. (The earliest extant chess set is Viking.) Rock and sod dwellings rise from the countryside, while rough-hewn longhouses line the towns. The ocean roils and heaves instead of rippling inertly like most videogame water. Rime-crusted longships litter the harsh coastlines. Woven among standard videogame features, these details give Viking a rich historical texture that compliments its unsparing gore.
THE BAD: The PlayStation 3 version of Viking sports the relatively low resolution of 720p and isn't in widescreen. Seen on the Xbox 360's finer 1080p resolution in widescreen, Viking's trees are identifiable as oak and chestnut. On the PS3, they're just trunks topped with a leafy blur. This doesn't change Viking's small programming flaws -- on both systems flaming arrows will sometimes fly through solid buildings and characters occasionally get stranded behind stacks of barrels. But the striking difference in graphical clarity makes Viking a sloppy effort on the PS3.
THE BOTTOM LINE: For a bloody good time, go Viking.