Dead in Vinland Review

What's impressive about Dead in Vinland - part survival management, part RPG, part roguelike and part turn-based combat game - is that instead of being a Frankenstein's monster mashup, it pretty painlessly melds many disparate genres. Even more complex than the developer CCCP's previous entry into an eventual trilogy, Dead in Bermuda, Vinland has interesting and amusing characters and a lot to keep the player occupied. The game suffers from a fairly steep learning curve, though, and a default level of difficulty becomes frustrating when it's coupled with listening to the same dialogue and story beats several times.

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Although the story eventually adds some flesh to its bones, Dead in Vinland begins with a bit of a mystery, as a family quartet of survivors finds itself stranded on an island. Early on, the game begins to establish a rhythm that consists of exploration, resource gathering, crafting, and occasional turn-based combat. Hunger, thirst, sickness and lots of other stats must be managed, and workstations must be built to provide a steady stream of crafting materials and consumables. And then comes nightfall, and the storytelling begins as characters share their backstories and inch the narrative forward. In addition to the family quartet, the game introduces a number of other distinctive, quirky, and potentially heroic characters into the mix, each with an entertaining backstory. In during these dialogue-heavy sessions, however, stats continue to change and are impacted by character interactions.

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Although there is an island-ruling despot antagonist to whom ever-increasing monetary tribute must be paid, and whose minions one must battle, the real "enemies" of the game are the island (and all the ways it can kill) and the detail-rich gameplay systems that demand constant attention. Like any respectable management sim, every adjustment or choice has far-reaching consequences. There are few "set it and forget it" elements in Death in Vinland, and the threats of sickness, starvation, thirst or depression are always present. Death to any of the main characters means game over.

Dead in Vinland looks lovely, with painterly 2D graphics that pack a lot of emotional information into each frame. The look is colorful and the scenes are relatively static, with just enough simple animation to make them visually interesting during the lengthy sections of dialogue. The developers boast that the game contains "over 150,000 words," but unfortunately, those sometimes fatigue-inducing back-and-forths between characters lack much of a sense of historical style or poetry. The tone is overall very modern and it can be jarringly anachronistic, given the ancient Viking setting. Entirely bereft of voice acting, it's fortunate that Death in Vinland's Celtic/folk-inspired musical score is tuneful and pleasant, with a much more archaic feel than the text.

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At it's default difficulty, Dead in Vinland is a very challenging game, made up of many interconnected systems, each with the potential to create a fail state if not carefully managed. The combat is pretty simplistic and not as rewarding as simply keeping the characters alive day to day but in general, this is a game with a lot of depth. It's easy to die, and each replay becomes just a little less interesting, so I highly recommend playing through on the easy mode first.