Dark Light

Somewhere between Rune and God of War we grew up, our minds becoming sharper and matured (which I’m doubting) with the passing of years. This maturity enabled us to comprehend stories indirectly referencing Norse mythology in pop-culture, e.g. that crazy Mad Max movie (Valhalaaaa!!) and that gun-blazing Max Payne game. Yet time and again when a game set in the actual Nordic realms comes by, I couldn’t help but yield with childlike exhilaration to the magnificent worlds they showcase, and Niffelheim was no exception… or so as I thought initially. Because once I slipped past the intro cutscene into the actual game, I realized that I had to make a rueful exception!

Story & Narrative

A 2D side-scroller developed and published by Ellada Games, Niffelheim is a said to be a survival focussed indie game that relies heavily on crafting and collecting than good ol’ combat. You are a slain warrior riding the waves to reach Asgard but instead of joining the gods in your afterlife, your funeral ship runs aground on the shores of the icy limbo called Niffelheim – the foggy, fiendish world in-between the realms – and the only way out is to collect all the stone pieces in order to rebuild the portal to Asgard while slaying giant spiders, hordes of skeletons and malevolent beasts of the woods along the way.

Sounds simple, right?

Because it is! That’s all there is, just enough to keep you occupied for the first few hours or so before you start realizing how bland the game’s objectives and the world as a whole is. Allow me to justify the above statement.

Gameplay & Mechanics

At the start of the game, you’ve to select a map. There are four different maps, each represented by a unique animal glyph with a unique description, only to come out as copy-paste versions of one another. All four of them have the same type of topography, flora, and fauna and even enemy types, differing only in terms of the slowly scrolling 2D background image and the weather.

Next, you’ve to choose one out of four different (again) characters as well as the option of assigning the rest three as bots to play against, which might put this mechanism into question because all they do is +1 DMG despite attacking you on sight with zero diplomacy (I wish we had the option to interact with them instead of the environment being overly saturated with interaction). If you’re thinking that playing with bots ON will make the game harder, it doesn’t, as you can easily loot their castle for goodies since they are usually not around to defend it. And even when they catch you stealing and start fighting, it all boils down to how many items each has in his/her inventory.

The combat is an absolute mess and it appears as if the devs just implemented a child’s draft because all you do is hold F to attack, R to switch between melee and ranged and C to block, which is a joke in itself because it is a toggle button! And guess what, the enemies don’t bother blocking your attacks. Which means all you’ll be doing eventually is keep hitting them while they keep hitting you until either yours or their health bar drains out.

Inventory, though visually appealing, is way too watered down, consisting of only simple boxes with each item occupying a single box, where you only have to drag an item to your slot in order to equip the character. In fact, consumables are wrongly labeled as ‘Provisions’ and vice-versa. There is a Skills menu consisting of Nordic runes but to earn XP you’ll have to do a large amount of monotonous and tedious grinding. The Diplomacy menu shows which bots are active in the current playthrough, as well as your stats and the number of rows in the stats, is evident of the meager amount of task you’ll be doing in the game for a couple of times.

You have the option to upgrade your hut into a castle and a citadel (as it could be attacked by the bots or the undead horde), heck even build a chicken coop or a vegetable garden around it. But to do that you’ll need tons and tons of resources and the game does nothing to remind you what and how much you’ll need when you’re out there hunting and gathering away from any crafting station, which is the only place you can see the requirements. For a game based off the Vikings’ lore, guess you’ll have to resort to pen and paper to remember the exact quantity of resources as first you’ll have to convert the raw materials into components after which you can proceed with crafting. Either that or far too much backtracking to check whether you have enough to craft a component in the first place.

You’ve got four crafting workshops inside your hut – a forge, a kitchen, a sawmill, and an alchemy table. The workshops can be further upgraded to unlock new recipes for crafting, but for that… (sigh) more grinding! Speaking of which, for a ‘world of the darkness’, Niffelheim is quite littered with colorful flora and fauna giving you raw materials in plenty (mind you, I didn’t say variety) which negates any instance of survival aspects apart from the hunger pangs you get due to the constantly decreasing satiety level. For satiating your hunger, you can eat raw food directly or cook them in the kitchen, and for the health and damage resistance, you sit on a throne or drink your good ol’ potions.

Even the side quests you get only involves gathering a requisite amount of items (Skyrim fared better at that) and the rewards you get on completion aren’t just worth it, as you can easily craft them with the resources you have at hand. There are some Death Priests who are supposed to issue ultimatums to you and though it says that the consequences of not satisfying their requests will be dire, I didn’t face any in my playthrough.

Level Design

And here I flex my fingers as I begin my rant about how frustratingly and abysmally linear the levels are, especially the dungeons which consist of poorly crafted, similar looking floors with only a few enemies and treasure chests sprinkled in between. The level design is so basic and crude that you’ll feel as if you’re playing a Miniclip game created using Adobe Flashplayer (nostalgia anyone?).

And thanks to the long loading times coupled with the ridiculously slow character movement (and even slower if you’re low on health), entering and exiting a dungeon becomes a major chore. There’s also a ‘Temple City’ of some sort, existing midway between the maps and comprising of only two buildings (why is it even called a city!): one where you buy and sell stuff and other where you can summon a dragon if you’ve grinded enough.

Visuals, Performance, and others

But not all is lost as the four maps, though approximately alike, are visually pleasing and beautiful despite depicting dark, macabre images on their monoliths. Hills and mounds are sketchily carved in the shape of animals, dwarves, skulls, and shields, making everything appear so majestic and yet so ominous, all rendered in glorious canvas-like graphics. That alongside the atmospheric music (perhaps the only major plus-point of the game) adds a new dimension to the game, perfectly falling in tune with the moody, Nordic ambiance. Since the game requires a minimum of 4 GB RAM and can run smoothly even on Intel graphics (because not much animation will be happening anyway), I didn’t witness any performance issues or glitches apart from the slight lag during the intro cutscene. Nevertheless, the game is recommended to run with 8 GB RAM and Nvidia 900 series.

As for the multiplayer, I only found one server even after numerous refreshing and that too, passworded!


This game is priced at 529 INR and it’s OST at 199 INR. If you’re a crafting junkie then it’s your call, but if you’re expecting some real Nordic hack’n’slash, then it’s better to let the game pass for now and pick up something akin to Rune. That’s all I can say for now.

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