Jotun is a game based heavily in Norse mythology, tasking players with helping Thora, a deceased Viking warrior, prove herself in battle to gain entrance to Valhalla. The entirety of the game takes place in Norse Purgatory, filled with puzzles, enemies, and boss fights with various jotuns. The latter are giants, which is why they tower over Thora as in the picture above. Each of the five areas in the title have their own unique jotun to do battle with as you rely solely on your double-sided axe and special abilities bestowed upon you by the Gods. The closed beta only offers two of the five areas, each offering two levels, a boss fight, and two God powers.
In order to reach the jotuns, you must explore individual levels, solve puzzles, and locate runes to unlock the gateways blocking your path. While sounding straightforward, there are treasures hidden in each level, rewarding those adventurous or clever enough to locate them. Some treasures extend Thora’s life bar while others offer the aforementioned powers of Gods. The massive stone statues which give Thora godly powers are highlighted on the pause menu’s map, as is the rune you must collect, but the beta did not display an icon for the player’s current location, creating an added level of difficulty in navigating foreign terrain. Initially this seemed odd and I found it frustrating while attempting to reach very specific areas, particularly in one level which consists entirely of separated islands accessible only through sliding down long sinewy roots. Trying to determine how exactly to proceed in order to access a specific island is incredibly tough when you have no prior experience in that level and no point of reference showing your current location. However, after understanding the limitations of the map, I made my way back to the start of the level, determined how to reach my desired destination by plotting our the best course of action on my map, and had no issues getting there. The lack of indicator for where Thora is currently standing in a level may seem like an oversight, but as I played the beta, I came to appreciate why it was not there and was forced to use skill to navigate rather than letting the map do all of the heavy lifting.
In the entire beta, only one level (boss fights notwithstanding) actually possesses enemies in the traditional sense which made for an interesting but refreshing experience. The other three levels have alternative obstacles ranging from blizzards to falling stalactites and a gargantuan sea creature, all of which may harm Thora if she is not careful. When enemies are present, it is in large numbers to present an actual threat, as they die relatively easily, only requiring a single strike from Thora’s axe to defeat. Initially I wondered why the enemies were made so fragile, but when you encounter hordes of them, particularly if some spawn behind you in addition to the group in front of you, it is easy to be surrounded if you are not careful. This is tricky enough to escape from when you can kill them with a single swing but if they took multiple hits, it would undoubtedly blur the line between being challenging and simply punishing the player for no reason.
One of the great features in Jotun is the glowing minimap in the world hub. These maps are a slightly smaller version of their pause screen counterparts and key portions of the map such as power-ups, runes, and bosses glow after you’ve obtained them or defeated them. It’s a small feature but it is fantastic to see a visual representation of how far along in the game you are in the central area. The other component of the game which truly stood out was the variety of special abilities. Each of the four powers granted to Thora during the beta are very different but at no point do they make you feel like you’re invincible. There actually is a temporary invincibility power-up, but the duration is relatively short, making it perfect to use in tight situations, but like the rest of these abilities, you can only use them three times before you must find a spring to restore the power. Another special ability is charging your axe with electricity to deal more damage, but the attack which gets the most use of this increased strength takes several seconds to land, forcing players to pick their spots carefully or simply accept lesser quantities of damage for faster attacks.
The two boss fights available in the beta are in two very different settings and the jotuns themselves have two equally different fighting styles. The first is Isa, the winter jotun standing atop a large sheet of ice who relies on charging at Thora and doing damage when he falls to the ground. Isa is by far the easier of the two jotuns found in the beta and requires the player to simply recognize which attack Isa is about to unleash. The second boss Fe is significantly tougher and also has a horde of enemies by her side. Pictured below, she consistently summons enemies, commands them to swarm Thora, and will throw her shield do deal massive amounts of damage. Fe represents just how challenging some elements in the game can be, but at no point are they unfair.
Completing the beta took roughly an hour and a half, which representing locating each power-up, defeating both jotuns, and collecting multiple items which extended Thora’s maximum life. While some of the design choices seemed a bit odd at first, such as the lack of character identifier on the map, I came to appreciate those decisions more as I played. The game does not punish the player unfairly, nor does it hand you anything with complete ease. The difficulty is a combination of the perils and design choices like the map, forcing players to rely on their skill and thinking skills to truly get the most of the game. Norse mythology is full of rich subject matter which remains largely untapped in the gaming world, and Jotun looks like it will offer an enjoyable adventure into the topic while providing he perfect mixture of exploration and challenge.
Jotun is scheduled to release for PC, Mac, and Linux via Steam in September 2015.
Eric is an Xbox editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.