We’re officially in the Power/Viking Metal Sea Shanties phase of quarantine.
It’s been a running joke to poke fun at the sheer amount of devices The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is available on (even a pregnancy test), but one thing remains true no matter how many copies I purchase — the opening theme sung by a “Barbaric Choir” is unequivocally badass. I must sheepishly admit that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim — and, in particular, that song — has stoked a decade-long love affair with learning more about Scandinavian mythology, folklore, culture, music, and just that general setting and vibe as a whole. So when I wandered around Steam’s newest releases and discovered Ragnaröck, a Viking rhythm/ship racing VR game set in the icy north, I became quite literally fixated on it and had to have it as soon as possible.
Developed and published by French indie team Wanadev (Propagation), Ragnaröck released on Steam as an early access title on December 17, 2020 and is available for $19.99. It offers single and PvP options and favors easy pick-up-and-play drumming-based gameplay that can be swiftly customized to individual comfort levels. With addicting mechanics, mystical low-poly graphics, and a powerful soundtrack featuring music from Alestorm, Gloryhammer, Wind Rose, and others (with the promise of regular updates), Ragnaröck aims to make players feel the power of commanding a Viking horde and absolutely nails it.
The premise Ragnaröck makes so much sense that I’m surprised this hasn’t been done sooner — players take on the role of the captain of a Viking horde competing in a ship race. The horde will row according to the beat of the drums, which must fall in rhythm with the chosen song. The notes, appropriately called runes, will come from the bow of the ship towards the player, who is situated at the stern with four drums, two hammers, and two shields. Players must hit the runes when they land as close to the center of the drum as possible, which will signal to the horde to continue rowing. Racking up the perfect rune hits will charge your hammers; a hammer fully charged can be used to hit a shield to the side of the player, which will supercharge the horde to row faster. Travel as far as possible before the song ends to earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal. Will you lead your horde to victory?
The controls in Ragnaröck are straightforward: hold the VR controllers as you would the handle of a hammer, and beat the drums in time with the rhythm and runes. One thing I really appreciated about Ragnaröck is how customizable it already is in terms of functionality; at first, I found myself hitting the drums far too early and the drums too low to my liking. Ragnaröck allows players to not only change the height of the drums, but the angle of the hammers as well. Tilting the hammers down caused me to strike the drums too early, so I tilted them up a bit instead. After this slight adjustment, I went from bizarrely missing every beat to getting perfect combos. It’s the simple details that make all the difference, as a foreseeably frustrating experience was so deftly avoided with a small design choice like this.
As far as aesthetics go, Ragnaröck packs such an energizing punch that I’m pretty sure this game could raise the dead. The visuals, while subdued in their low-poly approach, offered a foggy, even mystical touch to the scenery. I immediately felt like there was some sort of ancient magic to the land, which, you know, is awesome when it comes to Viking games. And while I’m prone to hyperbole, I swear this soundtrack rivals even that of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Maybe it’s the pandemic talking but I don’t remember the last time I was this PUMPED with such a phenomenally curated soundtrack perfectly paired for its game. While writing this article I’ve had Hootsforce by Gloryhammer on repeat; for those curious, the full Early Access Ragnaröck tracklist is as follows:
Alestorm – Mexico
Celkilt – Dewey
Celkilt – Next One Down
Celkilt – Whaole
GloryHammer – Hootsforce
GloryHammer – Universe on Fire
Nanowar of Steel – Valhalleluja
Niklas Johansson – Call of the North
Sabordage – The Great Pirate Bottle (an exclusive creation for Ragnaröck!)
Sons Of O’Flaherty – Dead and Gone
Sons Of O’Flaherty – Red Wine Teeth
The SIDH – Heroes
The SIDH – Iridium
The SIDH – Nitro
Wind Rose – Drunken Dwarves
Wind Rose – To Erebor
When it comes to actual gameplay, Ragnaröck doesn’t disappoint. Those who have played Guitar Hero or DDR will feel more at home than Beat Saber addicts, but any fan of rhythm games will fall in love here. Ragnaröck asks for some power behind precision, so it won’t be enough to tap the drums — you gotta hit them hard, like any respectable Viking captain would. Perform rune combos to charge your hammers, then slam those shields by your side to rally the horde, energized by the thunder that shoots from your hands through their bodies. It’s so easy to get lost in the moment playing Ragnaröck that it’s easy to imagine yourself there on the ship rallying the horde in person, submitting yourself to power metal with Viking, pirate, and sea shanty flair. It was such a glorious, gratifying experience that I didn’t realize how much of a workout Ragnaröck is — I was dripping with sweat in less than an hour (I never sweat during Beat Saber), and hours after playing I am super sore, my body aching from slamming hammers and dancing to the beat.
With 16 songs and one environment, Ragnaröck may currently feel a little empty, but the dev team is utilizing this Early Access period to develop the game further. Already on the horizon are plans for more songs and more environments, and the team has already cultivated a lively Discord community that suggests new features and quality-of-life improvements regularly. If you don’t already love what you see (which, why wouldn’t you?), rest assured an already amazing Ragnaröck will continue to get better from here.
Feel the Viking thunder course through your veins — pick up Ragnaröck for VR on Steam today!