Tribes of Midgard: The victorious Tribes of Midgard shall dine in Valhalla!
Making (and releasing!) a working video game is a challenging endeavor; making (and releasing!) a working multiplayer game is, for all intents and purposes, a freaking miracle. As the developer, not only do you have to ensure all mechanics are working as intended and balanced individually and against each other, you have to keep in mind human behavior, accounting for scenarios you think will happen and tweaking things in the background to improve the scenarios you didn’t realize would occur. If you’ve given enough offerings to the gamedev gods, perhaps you’ll have a hit on your hands; if not, expect some suffering in your playerbase.
This goes without saying for any game, but I feel like it’s particularly worth mentioning when speaking about Tribes of Midgard, a multiplayer tower defense roguelite infused with Norse mythology. Developed by Norsfell and published by Gearbox Publishing, Tribes of Midgard originally launched on July 27, 2021 and has maintained a mostly positive rating on Steam since its release. Whether by yourself in saga and survival modes or with nine other players in a co-op campaign, Tribes of Midgard wants you to “defend your village from the relentless onslaught of deadly spirits and gigantic brutes hel-bent on bringing on the end of the world.”
Starting off with the tutorial in Tribes of Midgard will make players perhaps more confident than they should be. Most randomized maps seemed to feature resources littered all over the ground for the player to snatch, but their availability is staggered; collect branches, grass, and the like to make a lumberaxe and pickaxe, then use those tools to gather resources like wood and iron to make weapons and build out your forts, etc. etc. The weapons will also come in handy when it comes to fighting off wolves, random ne’er-do-wells, the undead soldiers from hell, and, naturally, the gigantic jötunn. Some enemies only show their faces during the day, while others come only at night. Protect your base and the tree that dwells within it — it’s worth more than your own life!
As the name Tribes of Midgard seems to imply, you’d think this game would be best played with other people, but the solo saga is enjoyable in its own right. It helps that there are some unique aspects to the game in terms of solo tribe-building in the form of levelling up the handful of NPCs that occupy the small fortress. Instead of the blacksmith, healer, and apothecary fleeing from battle or immediately dying upon crossing swords, the villagers can eventually become your allies in arms to help defend the base and mythical tree of life.
Speaking of Tribes of Midgard’s base, it is in the absolute sorriest state when first encountered by the player. Fortunately, there is the ability to build it up in an effort to deter any invaders looking to chop down this all-important tree. By crafting traps, building doors, constructing archery towers, plastering the area with planks, and so much more, players can further defend the tree from those who wish to fell it. Players will soon find themselves going out and collecting resources, then coming back and levelling up their NPCs and building up their bases as quickly as they can before night falls and hell unleashes its fury.
Every few days, players will face off against a gigantic jötunn, who is so big that the screen is initially zoomed in too much to see its full height. Treated as a boss battle of sorts, you’d think this would be extremely exciting, and perhaps it gets that way eventually, but for the most part I found them to be fairly easy to take down on my own. Maybe it’s because their attacks are not varied at all — a stomp here, a mega stomp there — there isn’t a whole lot of differences between the bulk of them. They do have a cool attack when they start to take down the tree, but the goal is to not let it get that far, so if you’re seeing that animation, you’re not all that excited for it.
After playing a few rounds in the solo saga, I figured I’d try a co-op campaign to test out how that works, and this is where a game that’s hard to learn and easy to master falters a bit. There are a few problems that seem to stem from a day/night cycle that is just too short to really get everything you need done in one day, and any sort of distraction or selfishness from other teammates will spell doom down the line. If you can’t get your tribe working together where half of you stay behind and build up your defenses while the other half scrounges for resources, you’re out of luck.
Additionally, there’s a boss in particular that has an achievement attached to it, and so many people are hoping to get that achievement so everyone dogpiles that one dude. While doing that, the rest of the battle absolutely goes to shit and it’ll be a loss all around. It’s like I mentioned earlier — I don’t think the developers realized these little details would have such an impact down the line; with that being said, there are some updates coming out that will hopefully address the snowballing issues.
Here’s the thing about Tribes of Midgard: it’s not the kind of game you can just pick up and expect to be good at or even win. You will need several hours and a lot of deaths before you find a sliver of understanding on balancing and where to prioritize your time. If you’re still wondering how to really get started in Tribes of Midgard, I highly recommend watching this video on what to do, especially if spending 3+ hours on the type of trial and error slogging this game makes you play through upfront sounds like nails on a chalkboard to you. As a tower defense game, Tribes of Midgard is actually pretty enjoyable and took a lot of risks; I figure there are a few updates that are needed to iron it out fully, but it’s otherwise a decent way to spend a dozen or so hours in a weekend. But like, only on solo saga or with friends you trust at the moment, unless you get extremely lucky with matchmaking.
I wouldn’t be able to close out this review without mentioning the fact that there are microtransactions attached. Now, it’s 2021, so I feel like we’re at a point with microtransactions where — as long as they’re not overbearing/pay-to-win — they’re treated as sort of “if you don’t want them, don’t buy them” type situation, and for the most part the items available do appear to be mostly cosmetic. There are two different currencies in the form of coins and horns, both of which are gifted to players as they level up and defeat the jötunn, but the coins can be purchased for those who want to unlock items now. Although there are some fun items like pink hair dye, I’m hoping for more things that enhance the immersion in a Norse world instead of the goofiness of a Fortnite one (like the bear… thing). Here’s to hoping those content drops down the line deliver more on the world its set in.
Tribes of Midgard is trying to do a lot and implements some new and interesting mechanics in the process; unfortunately, the balancing and day/night cycle could use a little ironing out before it’s worthy of Valhalla. Still, it deserves your time and attention now, especially if you’re a fan of swiftly getting a system down perfectly and don’t mind repeatedly dying in an effort to achieve that. Once Tribes of Midgard comes into its own — and it will — it’s safe to say it’ll be a pretty addicting experience. For those still on the fence, put this on your Wishlist — you’ll want to keep an eye on this one.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PS4, PS5, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Gearbox Publishing; Developer: Norsfell; Players: 1 – 10; Released: July 27, 2021; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Tribes of Midgard provided by the publisher.