Dead in Vinland is a survival and resource management game developed by the French developers CCCP. This is the second installment of the ‘Dead In…‘ series of games, however, it follows a completely new storyline. We are in charge of the survival of a family of Vikings who managed to get stranded in a very strange, but not so deserted island.
Aesthetics and Acoustics
The similarities between the art styles of Dead in Vinland and The Banner Saga starts and ends with their beautiful character designs. Looking at Erik (our protagonist) and his band of survivors, it is impossible not to notice where they drew their inspiration from. While the environment designs of both Dead in Vinland and The Banner Saga are treats to our eyes, the art style of DiV is intended to focus our attention on every minute detail on every important object populating the scene. It makes us feel like the scenes have been taken right out of a comic book.
The music and the sound effects also fit the theme perfectly. Using or mimicking Nordic instruments, the sound team has done a wonderful job of taking us to a time where Vikings and pirates ruled Western Europe. The score also matches the mood, picking up during tense situations and slowing down when things calm down with perfect timing and efficiency. I spent 15 minutes on the title screen, just enjoying the music before actually starting my first game.
A family exiled from home
If you do not want to be completely clueless about why you’re stranded on a godforsaken island when you start a new game, you are advised to sit through the cutscenes and the lengthy dialogues that follow them at least once.
You also have an option to ‘quick start‘ the game, which takes you straight to the loading screen after the initial cutscene. Here’s the summarised version of the story you get while the map is being loaded:
“A family exiled from home, for reasons they cannot fathom
A longboat lost in a storm; An island, from map unknown
Wind, waves and thunder; The boat torn asunder
Four bodies washed ashore.”
Learning is fun..! Or is it?
The actual gameplay begins on the island with the tutorial if you had chosen to start the new game with one. The tutorial does not simply consist of pop-ups and graphical overlays explaining the function of every button on the screen, which would’ve forced the player to a full 2 hours of torture by boredom. Instead, they show how a normal day on this island paradise will play like by holding our hands and taking us through the whole first day.
A day is divided into two halves, during which we have to assign the Viking family (and future allies) to various tasks; manage water, campfire intensity and other resources; and use the gathered resources for crafting. We are also introduced to the island’s map and exploration system, which I’ll be explaining in further detail in the later sections. Albeit having a very intuitive UI design, the sheer number of buttons, panels and windows might seem a bit overwhelming to new players, but even casual players should be able to get used to it within 2-3 in-game days.
Negan and Lucile
In addition to the natural, mystical and somewhat bewildering threats that the Vikings face on this island, there are threats of a more human origin that introduces us to the game’s combat system. Very early in the game, we encounter a bandit group that bullies us into paying them “protection money” without actually providing us with any protection, to begin with.
This group that calls themselves the saviors are being led by a sociopathic thug named Negan and his trusty companion, Lucile. Lucile is actually a baseball bat with barbed wires wrapped around it.
Björn “Headcleaver” (not Negan, sorry) is the self-proclaimed ruler of the island that Erik and his family had the misfortune of crashing into. After engaging in combat with the Headcleaver and eventually losing, you’ll be forced into his servitude. This means you’ll be asked to pay certain quantities of random resources every week as a tax.
We’ll also be introduced to an Animosity Level with Björn. Some decisions will raise or lower the animosity Björn feels towards you. After crossing certain thresholds, Björn will come to your camp and say a little “hello” to our characters… And ultimately add their heads to his precious collection. From this point onwards, you will have a chance to encounter random groups of bandits as you explore the map.
Not so dark a dungeon
While exploring the map in Dead in Vinland, depending on the stealth stat of the explorer (the group member assigned to exploring the map), a combat sequence could be triggered. In addition to Björn’s bandits, there are other groups around the island that are scraping for resources to survive the harsh conditions of their current home. In addition to that, they also have to pay taxes or incur the wrath of Björn’s ax.
The combat system of Dead in Vinland, which is turn-based and limited to a maximum of 3 vs. 3 fights, is a simplified version of the one from the Darkest Dungeon. The combat was never intended to be a deep, fleshed-out system that sucks most of the time from your play session. Instead, it is short and light, with no actual threat of character deaths. The characters that engage in fights can still get hurt based on how much damage they take and this might affect their daily work efficiency. These encounters can be refreshing during early gameplay but can get a little annoying during the latter half of the game. It might be better to assign someone with a high stealth stat to explore the map, thus reducing the frequency of such encounters.
What’s behind Door No. 2?
If asked to summarise Dead In Vinland‘s gameplay in a few words, I would say that it is a game of choices. You choose who to assign to different tasks around the camp, which resources to focus on gathering, what to craft next and how to get through the specific events that are triggered as you explore the map. What I like the most about this game is how each and every decision I make impacts the game and its narrative. This takes us to the next section in our review, the map exploration.
The narrative of Dead in Vinland is deeply centered around the exploration mechanic. There are over 150 tiles to explore on this island and each tile contains an entity that the player can interact with. These could be companions that you can recruit into the team, objects that could give you some much-needed resources or even the hidden base camp of Björn “Headcleaver”.
When you want to explore, you need to assign your character to the “exploration” spot in the camp. However, you have to keep in mind that you’ll need some water to explore. You can choose to focus on stealth to avoid enemy detection or on exploration to cover more ground while exploring. Once a tile on the map is fully explored, you can teleport there and choose to interact with the entity (usually one object per tile) on the screen with a character of your choice. You have to consider the characters’ stats while choosing the right candidate for a high chance of success.
Before you choose a character to perform a certain action on whatever object shows up on the map, you still have the choice between some contextual actions in an action wheel. You can have 3 types of interactions with the entity:
- ‘Inspect‘, that’s free, so you can do it as many times as you want. You’ll have a small dialogue to describe what you’re looking at.
- You’ll have ‘White‘ actions. It means that it won’t ‘destroy’ the entity. You’ll be able to perform those actions a certain number of times, and it won’t make the entity disappear.
- Finally, you’ll have the ‘Red‘ actions. This means that if you choose this option, the entity will disappear.
Every interaction on the entity launches a specific dialogue which results in making ‘little choose your own adventure’ stories with every object on the island. Events like these happen on every map tile and would’ve made the gameplay extremely engaging if not for the mediocre writing.
The Language Barrier
Events that are triggered around the map are filled by specific dialogue sequences that push the narrative forward. The French developers did an impressive job designing every possible outcome of these events. I’m just disappointed that they couldn’t get over the language barrier to tell the story the way they wanted to. As I started to move beyond the apparent shortcomings of the writing, I noticed that every event was unique and funny and I ended up laughing at most of my outcomes. In the end, that’s what matters the most, isn’t it?
For example, on one such exploration, I chanced upon a berry bush filled with delicious looking berries. I chose Moira (Erik’s sister-in-law) to pick the bush clean because she had high harvesting skills, which meant I had a chance of picking more berries. The game asked if I wanted Moira to push further into the bush to try and do just that. My greed caused Moira to lose the stealth (which she was low in) check and be bitten by a snake forcing her to drop all the berries that were already harvested. Instead of being infuriated at losing the RNG, I ended up laughing for a full minute. Seeing Moira’s expressions change from arrogance to surprise and finally to shame was totally worth getting bitten by a non-poisonous (hopefully) snake.
Dead in Vinland is definitely an improvement to their previous title in the series and definitely exceeded my expectations. The art, the sound and the design were definitely more polished and the narrative was compelling enough for me to ignore the mediocre writing. The strange island filled with mysterious creatures and residents, which may or may not include a god, got me curious enough to want to explore every tile on the map. And I did. CCCP did a wonderful job on this game and I hope they learn from their mistakes and keep expanding on the series. I simply want more.