December 9, 2021 — Kingdom Two Crowns expansion Norse Lands adds an entirely new campaign, which is being touted as its first “premium” add-on scenario. The DLC takes heavy inspiration from its namesake, revamping existing game mechanics to fit the Scandinavian setting. Players can look forward to unleashing abilities via the Norse gods, commanding mighty units, and Viking-inspired armaments.
Norse Lands is unique in the sense it combines Nordic folk-pop with the ever-popular Viking video game theme. Consequently, players will be graced with exclusive music composed by the Norwegian alternative band Kalandra who has created a unique soundtrack for the expansion.
In the past, Kalandra has worked with a number of internationally successful neofolk acts like Norway’s Gåte and Wardruna, and also Iceland’s Eivør.
“Kalandra has tactfully managed to weave ethereal melodies into the soundscape for the game. The pixelled visuals complement the soundtrack to an almost indescribable degree.”
Build, Explore, Defend, Conquer
This is the name of the game when it comes to Kingdom Two Crowns. The player takes on the role of a sole monarch (or one of two if you choose to play cooperatively), tasked with rebuilding their kingdom by day and defending it from the game’s main antagonists: the Greed, at night.
Players are not required to babysit the fledgling kingdom as their subjects will defend it automatically. The downside is the AI is not prone to making the best decisions which is likely a design decision — not because of badly programmed game logic. As a result, a player may return to a kingdom in shambles should they leave their subjects ill-equipped to fight the ever-increasing invasion waves.
The gameplay loop is fairly straightforward. After establishing a new kingdom players must find subjects to populate it. This is done by exploring the current island you reside on until you stumble upon a camp. The vagrants loafing around can be coerced into joining your cause if you drop a few coins from your pouch. Doing so will convert them into a peon-like subject, which you can then outfit with various tools to dictate the job you would like them to perform around your Kingdom.
From hidden chests containing loot to mythical mounts for the player to ride, exploration can yield all sorts of results. This is what most players will be doing while they wait for structures to finish being built or if they find themselves lacking the necessary funds to progress. Of course, Norse Lands also includes the construction of Viking warships, and players will find derelict boats strewn around the shores. Depositing coins will instruct builders to repair found ships, and upon completion, players can travel to one of six different islands, each with its own challenges and secrets.
There are moments where the player will have little to do as they may have explored everything on the current island. This leads to a bit of a grind as you have to wait until enough finance has been generated to continue.
A Fresh Coat of Norse Paint
The expansion does not only reskin existing assets to match the new aesthetic but also adds new mechanics unique to the Norse Lands and myths of ancient Scandinavia. As an example, players can upgrade builder units into axe-wielding berserkers, should more offense be needed.
The expansion also introduces a new unit not available in the base game, namely an upgrade in the form of a shield that most basic units can equip in addition to their other gear. This goes hand-in-hand with another new mechanic unique to Norse Lands: the shield wall.
By way of their digital Norse kings, players can order all shield-bearing subjects to stand outside town walls in a defensive formation. Additionally, in accordance with the historical Nordic warrior culture; hence subjects of Norse Lands stand at the ready to protect the realm against looming threats. No matter their job, they will defend the kingdom — or go to Valhalla.
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The environment in Norse Lands has been updated to make it stand out from the original and other DLC campaign scenarios. All-new weather effects are sure to make players feel both the beauty and the unrelenting nature of Norse Lands. When cold winter sets in, players need to consider their strategies for survival wisely, as farms and other sources of income are unavailable during the darker half of the year.
To compensate for these freezing challenges, the player is able to find various mounts inspired by creatures from Norse mythology. Examples include Frejya’s chariot pulled by her twin cats modern authors sometimes call Bygul and Trjegul, Odin’s steed Sleipnir, and of course, the wolf of wolves Fenrir.
Adventurous players may find various shrines to the gods throughout their travels. Completing the associated challenge will imbue the monarch with a gift from the gods themselves. These range from being able to summon a squad of raiders on command with “Hel’s Trophy”, to calling down the fury of the god of thunder himself, Thor with his Mjolnir. Such powers take time and dedication to unlock, but doing so is often more than worth it in the long run.
A Soundtrack for the Ages
As previously mentioned, the soundtrack for the Norse Lands expansion was composed by Kalandra. Considering the type of game Kingdom: Two Crowns is, the tracks would have to be noticeable yet not overshadow what happens onscreen. This has been accomplished as Kalandra has tactfully managed to weave ethereal melodies into the soundscape for the game.
The pixelled visuals of the game complement the soundtrack to an almost indescribable degree and Kalandra’s music video is cleverly shot in the same side-scrolling perspective Norse Lands uses.
While the game utilizes retro-style graphics there is pervasive attention to detail that elevates what you normally see into the realm of true pixel-art. This, coupled with songs such as “Skogtroll”, “Dark Forest”, “Drømmefanger”, and especially “Valkyrja” create an utterly entrancing combination of visual and auditory stimulation. I will admit that during my time with the game, there were points where I honestly forgot what I was doing because I was so enthralled in what I was seeing/hearing.
Out of 10
- New features enable the expansion to stand on its own and add depth to the gameplay.
- Stellar art direction captures the Norse inspiration in wonderous fashion.
- The amazing soundtrack by Kalandra perfectly complements the pixeled visuals.
- Players can experience moments of dead time where they are stuck waiting for game logic to complete.
- The lack of tutorials for some objectives pulls you out of the experience at times.
To wrap things up, Kingdom Two Crowns: Norse Lands delivers on all fronts from what you would expect out of a Norse-inspired campaign. With plenty of additions, players both new and old will find something to captivate them. However, the game still falls into the same minor trappings it always has. Some players may find themselves without much to do, and considering the lack of direct tutorials, they may have to consult the game’s wiki to figure out how to tackle some of the more complex objectives.
On a brighter note, along with Einar Selvik (AC: Valhalla), and Alinga Gingertail (folk covers of game soundtracks), Kalandra has joined the pantheon of Norse-inspired artists to find success in the realm of video games. Here is hoping there are more game and music collaborations to come from artists in the neofolk scene — in whatever endeavor they aspire to.
Co-developed by Swedish studio Stumpy Squid and (Raw Fury’s) Croatian developer Fury Studios, Norse Lands is published by Sweden-based Raw Fury and it is the first premium DLC for Kingdom: Two Crowns. The expansion is available now on Steam, PlayStation®5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation®4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch™ as well as mobile platforms Android and iOS.