Dead in Vinland’s True Viking Edition released on the Nintendo Switch about a month ago, which includes both DLC updates since its original launch on PC. In an intriguing mixed-genre cocktail, Dead in Vinland will have you diving into a survival, strategy, roguelite, choose-your-own-adventure, management sim experience with a side of enjoyable, turn based combat. Whew! Those are a lot of elements to fit in one game. How does this highly stylized, artistic title handle the intersection of so many genre inspirations?
Quite well, in fact! Dead in Vinland follows the story of a dauntless Norse family fleeing a viscous raid of their village. Escaping by longboat, a father, mother, daughter, and aunt leave their burning home behind and eventually find themselves run aground on the shores of a mysterious island.
The player’s job is to manage the family’s activities to help them survive. Someone will need to fetch clean water, another will need to collect firewood, meanwhile someone else can build new tools, etc. You will manage the family’s mood, hunger, health, hydration levels, all of it. There are several stations around the makeshift camp that the characters can be assigned to during the several stages of the day. You will also need to meet the weekly supply demands of a nearby barbarian leader or else meet an unsavory fate. How far you make it through the story depends on how long you are able to survive. It is a roguelite, after all!
The most interesting of these camp activities in the early game is the Explore command. Best handled by the intrepid daughter of the family, one character can venture out into the wilderness, represented by a grid of squares that are slowly revealed as your chosen character ventures forth.
When exploring they might encounter a strange new plant and have the option to eat one of the berries or bring them back to camp, they might discover some remains of another shipwreck victim, or they might be attacked by the more aggressive denizens of the island. There will nearly always be either benefits or consequences to actions that are affected by skill checks and some degree of randomized chance.
Combat in Dead in Vinland is turn based and looks great! It really highlights the art direction in its grisly comic-book style action cuts. However, combat and the vast majority of mechanics in the game rely heavily on RNG. There is frequently a notable chance of failure, no matter how well you think you are doing. This leaves the player feeling like they are often teetering on the edge of disaster, something that will appeal to some players while put off others. While this may be true to life, it isn’t exactly fun in these moments. Happily, the True Viking edition includes other modes of play and customization options that allow the player to adjust many aspects of the game precisely to their taste.
Dead in Vinland is an ambitious game hampered by an arduous UI that was clearly not designed for use on the Switch. I know that the dev team had to make quite a few changes to make it work in the Switch port, but frankly it was not enough. There are copious amounts of text in this game, especially in tutorials, menus, and around the camp. The text is very small, using a thin, serif font that is extremely hard to read unless you are very close to the screen, and headache inducing when the game is played in handheld mode.
Most text fields seem to have enough room to contain a larger font, but the game does not make use of it. For comparison, Fire Emblem’s font has actually garnered similar complaints in the Nintendo fan community, but Three Houses is fully voice acted, which mitigates text readability issues.
I largely prefer to play the Switch in handheld mode, so the text size was a real problem for me and I was unable to get too far in the game without becoming incredibly frustrated by it. Even when playing in docked mode I was unable to play effectively without sitting very close to the screen in order to read pertinent information. Though sitting up at a computer monitor is a given for computer games, console games are typically expected to be played from the couch or on the go. A thoughtful UI overhaul for the Switch would have made a massive difference in accessibility for this title.
I can tell Dead in Vinland has passion behind it and is meant to be an unique experience, especially in the way it aptly blends genres. The PC version has solid reviews on Metacritic at around 7.5/10. I do not feel comfortable giving the Switch version a rating considering I was unable to play it as much as I would normally would before reviewing something, but if I were to rate what I have played to this point, I would give it roughly a 7/10 or so mainly due to the readability issues. My favorite part of Dead in Vinland aside from the art style is actually the music. I could listen to those driving, tribal, catchy flute and drum tracks all day!
Thanks for reading!
Game key kindly provided by CCCP.
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