Cruel winds blow across the barren tundra, cutting into Thora, a Norse warrior, the moment she crosses through an ancient doorway. She is not phased by the sudden change in her scenery. Moments ago Thora stood surrounded by celestial bodies. Now there is nothing besides the unforgiving wind, but she must press onward. This icy land may hold many secrets, but Thora can only concern herself with the threats that lie immediately before her. Paw prints mar the age-old ice that Thora traverses. Following the tracks, a ring of ice surrounds what appears to be an abandoned helmet. Thora approaches, cautiously, and swings her axe downward, cutting through the ice in an attempt to get a better look at the alien object. Another swing of her axe and a few moments later, Thora stands before a hulking ice monster. Despite the near-unfathomable size difference between the Norse warrior and her opponent, Thora stands at the ready. Only one will make it out of this encounter alive.
These are the opening moments of Jotun that I played at PAX East.
Jotun follows the journey of Thora as she attempts to earn back the favor of the Gods and earn her seat in Valhalla. The process of doing so, however, leads Thora into fights that push her skills — and the player’s by extension — to the very limit. It is not easy to curry favor from the Norse Gods in Jotun, but it is certainly a challenge worth experiencing.
Taking down the massive ice monster featured in the PAX demo of Jotun was no small task. As a fan of games that offer a genuine challenge to players, I was more than excited to step into Thora’s boots and see if I could fell the behemoth. I found that simply trying to cut the beast down with my axe would almost always ensure a swift death. Thora isn’t the quickest warrior in the world, so players must learn to read their enemy’s moves and out position foes if they wish to deal any amount of considerable damage.
As the battle began, I was impressed by Jotun’s sense of scale. Thora is a large character; muscular and red-headed with an intimidating axe, but she is minuscule in comparison to the ice beast that she must defeat. Upon triggering the fight, Jotun’s camera pulled back little by little, panning out to fit the titanic monster on the screen. By the time the battle began in proper, Thora looked small and insignificant, nothing more than an inconvenience to the monster towering above her.
Building off of the sense of scale is Jotun’s hand-drawn art. The entire game features stunning visuals and hand-drawn animation, creating for a world that feels both remarkably detailed and fully realized. Jotun’s visuals are one of the game’s biggest draws and easily captured my attention the moment I began playing the demo. Fans of The Banner Saga’s visuals will certainly appreciate the art of Jotun.
The art, despite being excellent, is not the key feature of Jotun, however. The real star of my time with the game at PAX was the brutal and challenging combat. As I said before, positioning and awareness are truly the only ways to ensure that Thora even has a fighting chance against her foes. Moving about the icy arena, attempting to dodge the ice monster’s attacks and moving in to slash at the beast are an exhausting, but enjoyable and rewarding affair.
Thora had three main combat options in the PAX demo. She had a standard ‘light’ attack, which could be comboed, a ‘heavy’ attack, which had an unbelievably long wind-up, and a dodge roll that allowed players to move out of the way quickly. With these three options, I attempted to slay the behemoth, learning the ins and outs of combat on the fly.
I was continually impressed by Jotun’s challenge. Thora’s attacks are slow compared to the open windows in her foe’s attack pattern, and forced me to make sure that every strike counted. The ice monster, being of such massive stature, had tons of health and packed quite the punch. Knowing that it would take a number of blows to cut the beast down, I steeled myself for a long fight and tried everything I could to impress the Gods by defeating him.
As the fight progressed, I found that the monster had more depth than I initially accounted for. As Thora managed to chip away at the ice monster’s health, the behemoth began to change tactics. Initially, Thora had to dodge the occasional overhead smash use the monster’s recovery time to chip away at its health. After dealing enough damage, however, the beast fell to its knees, allowing me to rush forward and get a heavy attack in. The beast, after standing once more, set upon Thora with new attacks, changing the dynamics of the fight entirely. The overhead smash was still in the rotation, but a dangerous dashing attack and a bellowing wind strike became constant threats.
In addition to the new moves, I also had to deal with environmental hazards. During the later phases of the fight, ice littered the arena and strong arctic winds blew from the heavens, making movement even more tenuous. Balancing the new attack patterns that battered down on Thora, her limited mobility, and the new elements of the fight was a welcome challenge and is indicative of the type of difficulty that players can expect from Jotun.
All-in-all, Jotun’s larger than life battle proved to be a challenge I could not overcome during my PAX preview. Across two attempts, I was able to whittle the giant’s health down a considerable amount, but fell victim to his brutal attacks. My failure, however, only created an intense desire to continue. Upon defeat, ‘You have failed to impress the Gods’ appears across the screen, reminding players of Thora’s ultimate purpose. The challenge is there in Jotun, but it is one that can be overcome.
Jotun is set to release this September for the PC, with a console release possible afterwards. The beautifully presented, challenging combat of the game is enough to sate the appetite of gamers who pride themselves on overcoming insurmountable odds. If you enjoy rising to a challenge, take up arms in Jotun, and prove your worth to the ancient Norse Gods. For more on Jotun, head to the game’s official website.
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