Rune: Viking Warlord proves that a solid concept is nothing without strong execution and that exorbitant amounts of carnage will never mask a game's faults.
History books and legends paint the Vikings as a marauding, nomadic group of pillagers who would stop at nothing to burn villages and steal anything in sight. With this sort of heritage, the thought of playing a video game starring berserkers like the Vikings is an inviting one. But Rune: Viking Warlord proves that a solid concept is nothing without strong execution and that exorbitant amounts of carnage will never mask a game's faults.
In Rune: Viking Warlord, you play as Ragnar, a newly christened warrior who must defend his kingdom against several of his clan's defectors. It's the typical "you against the world" theme that surfaces often in video games, but the fantasy settings in which the game takes place undermine the legitimacy of the research that Human Head claims to have done for the game. The plot moves slowly, with few twists or unexpected developments to keep you on your toes. Because most of Ragnar's associates are killed in the game's opening cinema, interaction with other characters is kept to a minimum, and it's easy to wonder why Ragnar is risking life and limb to save a kingdom that he will ultimately inhabit bereft of his closest friends. While Rune's story is both hackneyed and forgettable, the lack of an engaging plot is only the beginning of its problems.
Solid gameplay can often carry a game with a limp plot, but Rune's droning hack-and-slash mechanics place it on ice. Ragnar has just three classes of weapons at his disposal: swords, maces, and axes. Each weapon class has five upgrades available and special attacks that may be used once enough runes are collected. Projectile attacks are both limited and risky. You can pick up the lopped-off head of an enemy and either throw it or use it as a melee weapon. Throwing your weapons is also possible, but it can put you in a bind because they will often fall in places where they are not retrievable. Enemy placement is moot due to the inept AI, which causes foes to instantly charge Ragnar once he's in sight. If you've grown tired of jumping through hoops to find a switch to flip, Rune certainly won't invigorate your interest in the adventure genre. Some rooms will have up to five switches, and the game's puzzles revolve around finding which doors were unlocked by each switch. The combat in Viking Warlord is 100 percent melee. Ragnar can swing his weapons at will, but he is unable to perform any sort of timing-based combinations. Enemies run up to Ragnar, a few buttons are mashed, and they're dead. This gratingly dull process is repeated throughout the game's entirety and grows old well before its completion. You may lock on to enemies, but they're so ridiculously stupid that it's never a necessity. As if the repetitive nature of the gameplay weren't enough to liken playing Viking Warlord to a trip to the dentist, it takes the PlayStation 2 a couple of infuriating minutes to load each small section of the levels. A distinct lack of boss fights doesn't really help the game get past its vapid gameplay, either.
Normally, the multiplayer mode in any beat-'em-up or hack-and-slash game is relegated to a cooperative version of the single-player quest. But this is not the case with Rune: Viking Warlord. Instead, there's a pointless deathmatch mode for up to four players with the use of a Multitap. There are seven maps that closely resemble the locales seen in the single-player quest, as well as a gladiator arena, for a total of eight choices. Playing the multiplayer mode before finishing the game can ruin a bit of the single-player experience. There are 21 different characters unlocked from the beginning, so it leaves little mystery as to the foes you'll face later on in the story mode. You may adjust the time and kill limit, but the weapons available in each deathmatch are the same every time. You can also eliminate power-ups if you prefer a more balanced battle. The same problems that plague the single-player mode of Rune bog down the multiplayer mode as well. The combat just isn't deep enough to warrant repeated play. Unless you and your friends enjoy taking turns slashing one another, the multiplayer aspect of Rune improves its replay value only marginally.