On this site, we follow crowdfunding projects quite closely. While there are plenty of duds begging for money, occasionally you’ll discover a gem. Jotun, from Thunder Lotus Games, is one such example. When the Norse adventure game first landed on Kickstarter last year I jumped at the chance to cover it, being one of the first outlets to interview Thunder Lotus Games and ask ‘hey, what’s this bit of brilliance all about?’
The game stars Thora, a dead Viking who has died a dishonourable death and must impress the gods. Since finding that out and since the start of our coverage, my excitement for the game has steadily risen to fever pitch. And with the game having just entered beta mode ahead of its September release date, I’ve been given a chance to take it for a a test drive. Read on for my Jotun impressions.
The first Jotun beta environment I decide to tackle is Winter. The first step to meeting my chilling match is a rune sitting across a lake of ice. I immediately get goosebumps; what little snow there is crunches under (protagonist) Thora’s boots, like you can almost hear the frostbite setting in, while the schools of fish swimming beneath her are incredibly unsettling.
I’m not even halfway across the sheet before it gets me. Thora is treading along and I’m mostly lost and wondering where on Earth this rune is, when that dreaded eel crashes through the lake, sending Thora skidding as half of the health bar evaporates in the process. Shaken, I manage to make it back down the level (still lost, though) and stumble upon the spring of Mimir, who heals me. We’re going to be best friends, probably. Leaving Mimir, I notice the footsteps of some sort of quadruped and make it to the rune unscathed.
The second ice jotun rune is significantly more difficult to get to, though. Its icy pathways all blend into one and its winds – oh its winds – buffet her health bar away before I’ve even had a chance to say ‘I hope Thora gets a cardigan as DLC’. There is a map and although Thora’s position isn’t noted on it, but this isn’t a mistake, this particularly section has a steep flight of stairs that you must climb to see the entire level and then use that knowledge to get to the rune. Because Jotun is linear, but with exploration, it’s highly likely that you’ll get lost. The game wants you to look around, to to appreciate its art, its nooks and its crannies, so this isn’t too much of a frustration.
On to the jotun. It kicks my ass three times before I finally triumph on my fourth go. It has a fast running attack that will quite literally trample you to death, a giant boom where it slaps its arms on the ground, ice whirling breath like it’s got a belly full of Wrigley’s Extra, and it also deals damage when it gets dazed and falls over. Thora, in comparison, only has a dodge roll, a heavy attack and a light attack with her axe, so it’s exhilarating when I emerge, victorious, and quite literally smash it to little icy lumps.
However, my most effective method is just to stand underneath its feet and hack away – which is why it’s so difficult when the frozen platform it’s on darkens and a blizzard starts up. It makes it impossible for me to see where Thora is, nor can I tell if she’s standing under its feet (she becomes a shadow against jotun bodies), something I found more frustrating than it beating me.
Fé, the other boss including in the Jotun beta is also going to be a right blighter to defeat. In the first rune mission for them, Thora is in a sort of maze of dilapidated buildings. Also in your way are some low level enemies. After a few skirmishes, satisfyingly cutting through Fé’s dwarven miners like an axe through butter, they start to get a little less ‘dwarven’. The miners small and giant (the big ones have throwing clubs) begin to swarm around Thora, popping up at every turn, it’s not until I dodge with furious taps of the ‘A’ on my controller and manage to get to a chokepoint that I can defeat them, as they walk right into my axe swings. Rune one, consider yourself collected.
Rune two is tucked away in Yggdrasil’s Roots. The visual clue here are the falling stones, which will crush Thora if you don’t make good enough use of the roll. The level is simple enough though, it’s just about following the roots down to the rune. There’s an absolutely breathtaking moment as Thora is sliding down them and the camera pans out; you see Nidhogg (the monster that gnaws at the roots of the world) happily chomping away. It’s marvellous and Jotun’s hand-drawn art style really shines in that moment.
Finally having unlocked Fé, I’m hastily shown that it doesn’t mess around. Like, at all. I knew that it was awful, but Fé is truly terrible. It draws comparisons to Dark Souls. In one moment the generally quite peaceful dwarves will swarm again, with no amount of rolls being able to save you. And if you weather the storm and fend them off for long enough, with a great throw of the shield from its craggy hands, Fé will scythe your health bar to pieces. I lost count of the amount of times this jotun killed me but I always subjected myself to more.
That’s a pretty good description of Jotun and its enemies, actually, and a good closing statement. Although Jotun‘s beta is rough around the edges, needs a bit more bug testing (nothing big enough to mention in this preview, though) and it really could use a map indicator, even in its current form it’s incredibly captivating. Its enemies are incredulously tough and they’ve got that classic boss battle feel, where you have to be smarter, instead of having more raw power than them, to score a victory. No matter how many times they pummel you, you get back up, you restart and you go at it again.
It’s empowering to beat Jotun‘s jotun and its challenges, a thrill to know that victory is within your limits and that quite tangibly, you are impressing the gods.
Jotun will be released in September, 2015 on PC and Mac.