Review: Dead in Vinland

Dead in Vinland is the latest release from small, French indie studio CCCP and published by Playdius Games.

A survival/management game/RPG at its core, Dead in Vinland takes you on a journey controlling a Viking family trying to survive on a mysterious island. As you build the camp, an ongoing and transforming narrative takes hold and an ever changing story unfolds. Beginning the game, the player controls Blodeuwedd, the Welsh Princess; Eirik, the Unwilling Hero; Moira, the Suspected Witch; and Kari, the Restless Adventurer. Quickly, you learn that it isn’t just the elements that are opposed to you – there are other people on this island, and not all are friendly.

The island is partially ruled by a barbaric warlord Björn Headcleaver, and his goon, Elof. There are at least another ten survivors which may be added to your group. The primary antagonistic mechanic of the game is the tribute demanded by Headcleaver. Failing to pay tribute results in a battle, which may lead to fatal consequences. The players must set aside resources for the antagonist, while readying themselves and building their resources.

After watching the intro cutscene and taking the tutorial, you begin with your basic camp. There are several screens featuring  action stations, some which are where you assign people to collect resources, others for crafting, and so on. Here, we have the home, the water station, cooking station, and scavenging position. Your characters CANNOT spend all day on the same station. They have to be managed. You have two cycles per day to perform actions, and then an evening cycle displaying the consequences of both actions and dialogue decisions, followed by choices as to dividing the resources collected. Didn’t get enough food or water? Oops, better hope your people aren’t too thirsty or hungry. Didn’t get enough wood? Hope you didn’t need to stay warm.

There are conditions that can randomly occur. This includes rain, excessive sun, conflict with enemies, and more. These modify the volumes of resources you produce/consume and of course impact stats like health and depression. Depression is a fascinating stat…dialogue decisions and in-game actions can increase or decrease depression, which, if it reaches 100 by a family member, leads to their death and an end-game. This stat can be reduced through careful activity management, or consumable items.

 

Each character has a traits, skills, relationships, fight, and bio screen. This allows you to view their stats and skills, as well as their weaknesses. Having a high strength skill means more physical activities result in better outcomes but you can also train other characters to improve their skills with careful planning and time. Obviously, you wouldn’t want this Eirik (above) to be healing your wounds…but maybe have him pick up some lumber and go fight.

One of the stations is an “exploration” station, which is essential to finding new resources, consumables, survivors, and more. You will find important consumable resources, experience random events, and rescue people who can complete tasks at your stations. This becomes more important as crafting, lumber collection and mining takes hold. It’s hard to have a very small group mining/cutting wood, researching, building, collecting water and more all in one day. There is also an exhaustion meter which gradually increases until that character is put on temporary bed rest for a few turns.

Sometimes, your family is attacked. Pick three characters, each of which have a set of special skills to fight. Attacks are turn based, and usable skills are driven by available action points. You’ll want to reduce risk of injury and damage, or else you’ll have to rest extra, and find ways to treat wounds, later.  Careful planning is key here. Some skills are offensive, while others provide defense or stat boosts.

Each building has durability which must be repaired with resources after some uses. You will also be able to research new, and upgraded facilities.

Also, I must say, the map is BEAUTIFULLY drawn:

Each day, your family will meet around the fire and discuss. You have the option to pick dialogue choices which alter family member’s affinities to each other, and their overall moods. You’ll also meet new people, and can choose whether to welcome them in or keep them distant. Choose carefully. Your choices really do count. There are over 600 character traits, 20 skills, 30 diseases, 20 wounds, and 100 items in play…leading to a massive diversity in play styles between playthroughs. You can’t predict the future here.

This is a wonderfully designed indie game with a great deal of heart. I mean…there’s over 150,000 words of story available! I had quite a number of short experiences while learning to play, and each experience felt truly unique and fresh.

There is also a DLC available for a couple dollars that adds a canine companion to the game. CCCP held a social media contest to pick the name, which I thought was very cool.

Ultimately, this game is ideal for those who love turn based strategy, managing resources to survive, and building community. You can settle, building your community to great heights…and rule. Grow a garden! Raise sheep! Or charge into bloody battle and die. There are also over 70 additional non-linear quests to complete – and an end game to achieve, so it’s doesn’t have to be a perpetual death march.

The Pros: Large, complex character development; quite a bit of story behind it; long persistent games; true survival challenge because you aren’t handheld; complex camp is possible; advanced play styles include crafting and building a community.

The Cons: Large, complex character development; story sometimes doesn’t feel polished; until you learn all the secrets, you’ll die often because you are thrown head first and have to hope you make it with limited guidance; some luck based events that take away a sense of accomplishment in mid to late game.

Once you are established, things go much more smoothly. Some people will love the challenges, mystery and random chance; others may prefer something more predictable. I recommend this to survival challenge enthusiasts who aren’t deterred by a thing like the death of your entire family due to starvation.

Steam: Dead in Vinland
Developed by: CCCP
Published by: Playdius Games

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