[Review] Niffelheim – Nintendo Switch

Written by Anna Karasik

Anna Leah Karasik

  • Developer: Ellada Games
  • Publisher: Ellada Games
  • Release Date: 9/20/2019 
  • Price:  £13.49 / $14.99
  • Review code provided by Ellada Games

Intro

You are a valiant viking who is now braving the trials of the afterlife to prove to the Gods that you’re worthy of entering Valhalla. In order to do so, you must survive in the harsh realm of Niffelheim and construct the portal to your final destination. 

On paper, Niffelheim sounds like the perfect game for a survival-junkie like me. The genre can be a grind by nature, but the most successful titles balance that out by providing an engaging world and a sense of accomplishment to keep you going. Niffelheim checks off some boxes, and misses the mark on others. 

Life after Death

After choosing between four hero types and terrains, you’re plopped in front of your base. Inside, you can craft items, and head deeper underground to the mines. 

Above ground lie creatures to hunt, plants to forage, and – at night – fiercer beasts to slay for supplies. There are entrances to different dungeons, as well, where monsters roam and bosses guard chests full of valuable loot. 

Returning to your base, you’ll often find that a crow has flown in to provide you with a nugget of Norse lore. Pay heed to his tales, because eventually, he reveals that you have a heroic mission to carry out that goes beyond gathering the pieces of the portal to Asgard. By “eventually,” I mean this happens hours into the game. Up until this point, I was constantly asking myself – Why am I striving for Valhalla? Simply because that’s what all vikings want? This revelation from the crow came too little, too late.

A quick note on the aesthetics: this game features beautiful art from top to bottom. I loved that as I equipped fancy new armor to my character, it showed on the avatar. Sadly, the visuals are marred by stiff animations. The music and sound effects are repetitive, and I much preferred playing on mute.

The Waiting Game

“Short paths are not meant for the brave.”

I’ll be straightforward here: this game is a complete nightmare for the impatient. 

The first thing I noticed upon being let loose into Niffelheim was that there is no formal tutorial – but there is a tab in the menu with basic information about the game. So, players who don’t want to be completely lost at the start must spend a few minutes doing some light reading. Not exactly a riveting first impression.

The next – and by far most annoying – thing I noticed was that there are loading screens between every single area. Be prepared to wait even outside of loading screens: healing, even with potions, happens incrementally. Out of potions? You’ll have to sit on a throne or stand among fireflies while your health inches up.

Your character can only move laterally – which makes for a lot of walking back and forth. There is a lot of space between each of your underground workstations, so it takes a good chunk of time to trek between them as you’re crafting. An anecdote to show how annoying this can be:

At one point, I barely made it back to my base alive. I had a sliver of health left, no potions, and due to my near-death condition, my character couldn’t run – only slowly stagger. Now, without potions, my only option was to sit on the throne, which is at one far end of the base. Curious, I started a stopwatch on my phone. It took nearly two minutes just to cross half of my base while on the verge of death. Two minutes, followed by more waiting while my viking healed on the throne. 

Survive and Thrive

There are two factors that will push you to grow and explore at a decent pace: attacks on your base, and ultimatums.

A horde of undead will attack your base every few days. Each attack brings stronger undead, so it’s important not to be complacent. It was rewarding to see that, through hard work, my hovel became a fortress!

Every once in a while, you’ll get an ultimatum from the Death Priests or the Witch: provide a certain item within 24 hours, or face another onslaught to your base. Sometimes, the items they ask for may be well beyond your means. If you are bound to fail, you’ll want to make sure your base is fortified.

The act of hunting and gathering in the overworld can become addicting, despite the world itself being small and quickly becoming stale. There’s always some material you’ll need more of, so there is always a sense of purpose in that regard.

Another big feeling of accomplishment comes from defeating big baddies. At first, it seems like an insurmountable task. But, as you craft stronger armor, weapons, and potions, you’ll find that once-impossible bosses become regular enemies. Combat itself is nothing special though: you stand in one spot, hold the attack button, and occasionally block with your shield.

Highs and Lows

For every feature that makes you feel rewarded in this game, there’s one to make you want to turn it off. At times, Niffelheim feels more like a mobile game rather than a console title. Although the survival genre isn’t known for its focus on plot, this game paints the picture of an intriguing world, only to fall short on creating motivation for the player. If you do manage to overlook the less stellar features of Niffelheim, it offers decent replay value with its four viking and realm options. 

Pros

  • Beautiful art
  • Rewarding grind

Cons

  • Lots of waiting around
  • Weak attempt at story
  • Lackluster combat

Verdict
Niffelheim proves to be equal parts addicting and frustrating. There is just enough substance to keep forgiving survival-junkies playing.
2.5/5

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