REVIEW: ‘Niffelheim’ Ported To Consoles But Still Stuck In Purgatory (Switch)

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Niffelheim Cover

Niffelheim, from Ellada Games, is a side-scrolling RPG survival game originally released on Steam in September 2018 and ported to consoles September 20, 2019. The game thrusts its players into the tragedy of a fallen Viking soldier abducted on their way to the afterlife. Stuck in the hellish realm of Niffelheim and subject to the whims of the gods, players must hack and slash their way to their rightful death.

The objective is simple: survive the harsh environs of Niffelheim long enough to gather the pieces of a portal that will take you to Asgard (or Valhalla, honestly, it’s unclear). A randomly generated map provides all the resources you need to kill, mine, and craft your way towards this end. Slay bosses to find pieces of the portal while constantly working to upgrade and defend your home from waves of the undead.

The game’s exposition is sequestered to an opening cutscene and, albeit easy to miss, conversations with NPCs. The cutscene, as well as all of the game’s backgrounds, are gorgeously hand-drawn. The small bit of narrative is more than enough to sustain this type of game. It definitely benefits from the cultural saturation with Norse mythology brought on in recent years by popular media such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s portrayal of Thor since 2011, Neil Geiman’s Norse Mythology, and 2018’s God of War. Of all the magical lands in Norse mythology though, Niffelheim is absolutely dreary. It is befitting the survival genre, but Niffelheim does not lend itself well to diverse environments or much use of color.  The backgrounds are gorgeous, but the game is zoomed out so much to display that majesty of the foreground and midground, which are rendered too small and repetitive.

The noticeable improvement of Niffelheim’s console port is that move away from point-and-click adventuring for a more modern sidescrolling feel via the joystick. Players traverse back and forth across the long screen collecting resources via woodcutting, foraging, and slaying animals. Along the way, players will receive quests from the gods where resources can be traded for even greater resources. Repetitive tasks such as chopping trees, mining in the mines, cooking meals, or crafting weapons inevitably level those skills up and increase the player’s stats.

Niffelheim Combat

The gameplay is simple. Move left and right, hold down a button to do repetitive actions, lumber around to the next one, and repeat. Simplicity is a hallmark of survival games so that players can focus on accumulating resources and buffing up rather than finicking with complex controls and combat systems. There is nothing inherently wrong with simplistic controls and singular combat animations. However, Niffelheim is beleaguered by exceptionally slow movement, a combat system that has a useless defense option, and simply way too much to do for a game with a very sharp learning curve.

A sprint option would instantly make Niffelheim more palatable. The scenery might be beautiful, but the amount of time it takes to move from one side of the workshops to the other is unreasonable and sucks the enthusiasm out of returning to base to use the fruits of your labor, which itself also takes a long time unless the player spends currency to teleport back there. Sprinting would certainly not detract from the survival experience of Niffelheim.

Neither would a more robust tutorial. There is a whole “tutorial” menu in the pause screen; however, a tutorial is a misnomer. They are just walls of text explaining mechanics. While somewhat helpful, there is still a steep learning curve to Niffelheim that could easily have been smoothed over by utilizing the quest system a bit better. The quests start simple, which is great. Theoretically, they could help players gain a sense of direction in the early game. The quests take time before they even initially activate though, and completing one does not guarantee a new one will be given. If the text in the quest box was more instructive for the early quests and if they sequentially took players through the various labors of the game, the early game would not be so discouraging.

I can see how, after hours and hours of play and unreasonable patience, Niffelheim can be a strong survival game. It has copious amounts of diverse resources to obtain, a vast scale to the eventual fight for you and your home’s lives, and numerous maps to reach to expand your domain and continue to amass the resources necessary to make it to the true afterlife. Unfortunately, Niffelheim does not possess enough visual appeal despite its gorgeous hand drawings, nor enthralling mechanics or ease of access for non-genre enthusiasts like myself.

If you are looking for an RPG survival game to sink your teeth into, Niffelheim might very well fill that niche. For anybody else just looking to pick up a new indie title, perhaps look elsewhere.

Niffelheim is available now on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.

Niffelheim
  • 5/10
    Rating - 5/10
5/10

TL;DR

If you are looking for an RPG survival game to sink your teeth into, Niffelheim might very well fill that niche. For anybody else just looking to pick up a new indie title, perhaps look elsewhere.