Niffelheim – What We Think:
Released in Early Access by Ellada Games, Niffelheim isn’t quite sure what it wants to be yet.
Described as a “2D action exploration game” steeped in Nordic lore, success in Niffelheim is heavily reliant on crafting. With a spectacular in-depth crafting system, many elements come together to give this game its identity.
Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked
Our story begins with a fallen Norse hero, riding his burning funeral ship on the way to Asgard. However, as the game explains, “short paths are not meant for the brave.” Benevolent spirits have different plans for our hero. Instead of feasting with Odin in Asgard, our hero is taken to the spiritual realm of Niffelheim to do…well, it takes a while to figure that one out.
Upon starting a new game, a choice is given as to what kind of terrain to start off in and explore. From gloomy forests to mountainous peaks and dark caves, there is no shortage of environmental variety.
Visually speaking, these environments are breathtaking, as the polished sprites sit perfectly on hand-drawn backgrounds. I thought this was a great choice of aesthetics, made popular by 1999 PS1 classic RPG Valkyrie Profile – incidentally (or intentionally by Ellada Games) another title inspired by Norse mythology.
Oh, I’ll Get There. Eventually.
Gameplay in Niffelheim is very slow-paced. Not only does it take a lot of grinding and item acquisition to achieve anything, but the slow movement speed of our main character makes the process stretch out longer. Lumbering across the screen like a mountain of muscle, his slow movement speed affects every action from harvesting resources and chopping down trees to attacking. This can be annoying for some; I’ll admit it became a little bothersome while trying to traverse areas.
Another feature attributing to the slow pace is the rate of progression. Niffelheim is a huge game. After the first few hours of gameplay, progression is made but tends to fluctuate based on the rate of death. After several hours of gameplay, I felt like I was making steady progress but had only begun to tap into the true potential of this title. This is definitely a positive feature for players looking to delve into a robust fantasy world for hours, but a poor selling point for those looking to blast through a game in a couple of days.
If death occurs, a portion of money and perhaps an equipped item are taken out of inventory. This doesn’t seem to be very detrimental, which was a good choice based on how often death will occur before acquiring more powerful items and equipment.
Combat is simple, maybe too simple. Our hero can swing a sword or a club and also has the ability to use archery. The axe or pick used to harvest wood or ores can also be used to attack Niffelheim’s variety of wild beasts and undead creatures, but the attack power leaves much to be desired.
Niffelheim doesn’t place much importance on combat, as necessary as it is. Combat is simply another means to collect items and to break up the potential monotony of the game’s main feature: crafting.
As an extremely crafting-heavy title, inventory management is incredibly important. Our hero resides in an upgrade-able main base, complete with a throne room and four crafting stations.
Carpentry and alchemy make up half, along with a blacksmith’s forge and cooking station. Before these stations become usable, the right materials need to be collected to build them. This also contributes to Niffelheim’s slow pace, but I found it felt like unlocking these stations became an actual accomplishment, especially since the game really gives nothing for a tutorial.
Gotta Craft ’em All
As a fan of crafting titles, I really enjoyed my time spent with Niffelheim. The art and overall crafting experience stand out, and graphically it seems very polished for an Early Access title. The weaker points are definitely the character movement and combat, and there also seem to be a lot of areas and features of the game that are not yet available.
This isn’t discouraging, but instead gives hope that the developers will take player feedback into account when applying updates. So far, so good, as recent updates have done just that, proving Niffelheim to be like a fine wine: it gets better with age.
Niffelheim is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for Niffelheim below: