“Two Days Remain”. Every Zelda fan knows the sense of dread that crawls up your spine as you see this ominous countdown, knowing that the destruction of everyone and everything is inevitable. So it goes in Norse mythology as well, though Nords tend to welcome Ragnarok. In the Völsunga Saga, a 13th century epic about Sigurd’s killing of the dragon Fafnir says “Fear not death, for the hour of your doom is set and none may escape it” — words to live, and die by. Tribes of Midgard embodies this spirit, offering epic battles with mythical monsters in your headlong flight towards Ragnarok. But any good epic poem starts with more humble beginnings. Let’s gather our war party and embark on one of the most interesting games I’ve played in a long time.
Tribes of Midgard is a mishmash of a lot of different genres. It’s a survival game, it’s a third-person adventure game, it’s an RPG where you’ll craft and build, it’s a roguelike, and it’s a cooperative PvE battler. With all of that rolled into one, you’d expect it’d be lesser for it, but somehow it works. Let’s learn how to play.
Your Viking tribe starts off with the simple task of protecting a tree grown from Yggdrasil — the World Tree. Every night creatures called Helthings will assault your village and attempt to destroy it. Surviving the night leaves you a scant few hours to explore, gather resources, and try to build up defenses for your little berg. Gates, arrow towers, and walls will stop those Helthings, but you have bigger problems.
Everything you do in Tribes of Midgard runs on souls. You gather souls with every resource you collect and every kill, but if you are killed in the field, those souls are lost. Similarly, any resource you have collected are dropped right there in a box. Perhaps you’ll be strong enough to recover it, but I’d suggest bringing backup, lest those resources and equipment be lost to the ages.
As you work to shore up defenses you’ll eventually be notified that a Jötnarr is approaching. Lumbering and massive giants, these Jötnarr slowly make their way to your village, Hel-bent on destroying your small slice of the World Tree. How you deal with these threats, and how you carve up your daily tasks, is the fun of Tribes of Midgard.
There’s a short tutorial, which you can see above, though it leaves a great many things unexplained for you to discover on your own. In our first run we flailed around with absolutely no clue how to do much beyond swing our swords and attack incoming enemies. When the Jötnarr showed up, our tree went up like balsa wood in a fire.
Our second run went far better as we began to probe at the various derelict buildings around the village and explored our surroundings. We also began to finally eek out enough materials to start upgrading our vendors and drop down some doors to hold back the tide. We started probing the larger area and attacked the Jötnarr, periodically running away to heal, ultimately stopping him before he got to the village, if only barely.
Eventually you’ll survive long enough to gather enough materials to begin to reinforce your gates, rebuild wrecked structures that’ll automatically generate resources every 10 minutes, which you will also use to create new weapons, armor, and defensive structures. Every night those defenses will be tested by Helthings and worse. The threats of Jötnarr are constant, and that doesn’t take into account the bloodmoon, which I won’t spoil here. Your world is always under threat, and you’ll need to learn how best to address each threat through trial, error, and repetition. Each run will take you roughly two hours, and that’s only if you succeed in defending all the way to the final day.
The game can be played solo, albeit far slower, but it’s best when your tribe is large. How large? Well, the game supports up to 10 players simultaneously. While the threats do scale, many hands make for light work, or so the saying goes. We managed to scare up the TriplePoint and Gearbox team, stacking up a full team for a massive two hour assault that’d take us all the way to…well, I won’t ruin it for you — you’ve gotta see it to believe it.
Tribes of Midgard utilizes a paper/rock/scissors elemental system where fire and water are opposites, as are light and darkness, or earth and air. In the beginning the economy feels so restricted that it may be hard to justify having purpose-built weapons. As you explore more of the space you’ll start to encounter other biomes, meaning that you’ll want to invest in equipment and potions that’ll make you more effective in that space.
Without spoiling too much, the “2 days remaining” message is actually 14 here. At the end of day 14 you’ll face an ultimately insurmountable situation that will end your run, or you’ll face the final boss if you’ve ticked the right boxes. Afterwards, you’ll either be running for the Bifrost to escape with whatever you’ve gathered before Ragnarok, or you’ll be celebrating victory by tallying your rewards and unlocks for your next run. Fail to make it to the Bifrost before your tree is destroyed, however, and you’ll end up with…almost nothing. It’s a serious risk/reward, but after a two hour run that ends badly, it’s a poke in the eye for sure.
The roguelike nature of the game manifests itself with the unlocks you take forward. As you unlock the eight classes in the game, you’ll also pick up starter equipment. These give you a set of equipment that’ll let you jump right into the action with a handful of gear to get you started. For example, one would give you a complete set of starter armor and a sword, and another provides all of the basic mining gear. Class specific gear like a bow and arrows are just a few examples that can get you started on a path to match your playstyle.
Outside of the starter kits, you can also head to the real-money store. Here you can purchase cosmetics for your character, as well as pets and the like. There are also some weapon recipes here, but don’t get a pay-to-play vibe — there are plenty of weapons available in the world without these. They help the developers to create new chapters — after all, this is marked as Season 1, with Season 2 heading our way in November of this year.
While everyone seems to agree, and has voiced on numerous occasions, that not being able to swim is “bullshit”, the rest of the enjoyment in Tribes of Midgard is largely dependent on your enjoyment of the roguelike nature. The game reveals little and asks much, expecting the player to plumb the depths of the mechanics and the nature of the world of Midgard on their own, and over the course of many runs. What do these mysterious eggs do? Where do we find all of these materials to build this bridge? How much do we hunker down versus explore? It’s entirely possible, even plausible, to play this game solo, but having friends to help you learn and defend makes Tribes of Midgard work. It’ll just take you a while to figure out just what you should be doing, and if you are comfortable with dying a lot to get there. But hey, death is all part of Ragnarok, right?
Tribes of Midgard
A mashup of many genres, Tribes of Midgard manages to do many things well. It does ask a great deal from you, and it offers little in the way of instruction, but if cooperation and discovery under pressure is your jam, this is the game for you.