For many players of ARPGs like myself looking for any content to patch the now Diablo-sized hole in the future, Tribes of Midgard was an intriguing new option. From its quiet open beta in 2019 to it’s almost surprise introduction to the unsuspecting public a month before its release, Tribes had a look and feel that was quite different then what had been on the market. Hell, developer Norsfell stated its want for Tribes to usher in a new genre in video games. If that is true, this is a rough start to that genre.
Tribes of Midgard casts players as mighty Einherjars, mighty warriors who reside in Valhalla and travel back to Midgard to help prevent the cataclysmic Ragnarök. Einherjars will face off against mythical creatures, benevolent spirits, and towering elemental giants as they make their descent to the Seed of Yggdrasil: the life force of the realm. Einherjars will need to gather resources to craft legendary weapons and towering defenses to last the brutal nights and impending winter as a monstrous threat looms in the unknown of each procedurally generated world.
Norsfell’s game feels less like a brand new genre and one that has its hands in several pies. Borrowing the isometric camera and quick combat of ARPGs like Diablo and Path of Exile, while combining the tower defense mechanics of a Bloons, a leveling and path-defense system much like League of Legends, and sprinkle in some light crafting, resource collecting, and survival elements ala Don’t Starve. It’s hard to really say what Tribes of Midgard is because it is so many things. Players are given a quick tutorial to undergo the basics of how to play and the big things to look for, but we’ll circle back to this because man, this tutorial.
Midgard’s main bread and butter is it’s Saga mode, which pits an eyebrow raising 10 players in a PvE scenario to preserve the Seed of Yggdrasil and defeat the Saga boss that is amongst the Fog of War that masks each of the millions of procedurally generated maps. Time is of the utmost importance as more time spent in each scenario makes the world gradually more difficult to navigate and fight in, so proper tactics are needed for a good run. Each area will have numerous resources to gather: from chopping down trees and mining ores to hunting animals and picking flora and fauna. These materials will net you everything for your journey: potions, armor, weapons, all the way to self-producing buildings to help stock up on materials.
There are different biomes to navigate, all with their own power level to give a warning of how powerful each new spot is. Forested grasslands, swampy marshes, barren deserts and frigid tundras all scatter around the main hub, each with their own specific gatherables and enemies. When you defeat enemies you’ll gather Souls, which are also acquirable by doing almost anything in the world, and these Souls will help upgrade merchants (who help defend the town), repair equipment, and keep the Seed alive as it slowly loses power over time.
Combat is quick and intuitive, with a range of melee weapons and bows that are craftable throughout your run. Simple attacks, shield blocks and parries will rummage the weak, but attacks will build mana that allow various special attacks dependent on the weapon wielded and its crafted quality. Combat and gathering enough resources will level up your Einherjar and allow you to choose between one of eight skill trees to customize your style of play, though only two are unlocked initially.
What throws me for a loop is that even after doing all the busy work and accomplishing so much in a run, Tribes is just absent of a sense of victory or accomplishment. Midgard takes inspiration from the MOBA category hard with its idea of replayability, where each run starts you at level 1 with a bevy of tasks to get done. And like any MOBA you’ve ever played, once your Seed’s HP drops to zero you lose all your progress and you have to start all over again. If you manage to defeat one of the roaming giants you can exit through the Bifrost and safely abandon a run and acquire more EXP, but will lose all progress and start over again. Even if you manage to defeat the Saga boss, you’ll still exit through the Bifrost and just calmly, lazily end your run, losing all progress and starting over again.
Midgard doubles down on this method of repeated ideology by explaining almost nothing that the game has to offer. Remember the quick tutorial from earlier? It explains giants, crafting, fighting, and night cycles. That’s it. Tribes leaves so much unexplained that it’s almost expected to sandbag your first few Saga runs just to understand what to even do to complete the game. They barely even gloss over blessings and how to level up, which is wildly needed information! Why would a game developer leave their players so in the dark about how most things work? For instance: one of the biggest items in the game, the various Fragment pieces, are left to be stumbled upon and interpreted blindly even though they are a requirement to beat the mode you’re playing. Have fun trying to find the Hideout, which is not mentioned at all until you realize you needed what’s in it at the Boss’ doorstep. Or the merchants that carry maps for these places. Or the Fortnite terraforming you have to do to collect the better drops in the wild.
Midgard’s biggest constraint on your enjoyment is it’s assessment of time. Midgard is unforgiving in its quest to squeeze all the efficiency out of you before you’re overrun by the elements and nightly defenses. There just never seems to be enough time to properly equip yourself, learn the new land that has been randomized, or just enjoy the game in itself: if you are not on the ball doing your job and getting everything you need to win at all times, you will lose. It’s almost impossible to just enjoy the mechanics that have been put into Midgard because you have to be the Actions Per Minute Master and get all your tasks done as soon as possible. It would be interesting to spend actual time in the harder biomes and collect the nicer materials to create the really cool stuff, but by the time you get to that area, the world asks too much for you to do and you just have to press forward and forget about enjoying the game, and just work on beating it.
Tribes of Midgard tries its damndest to provide you with a sense of urgency, an overwhelming task to defy the odds and save the land from the impending winter, but requires a nauseating cycle of repeats to fully understand what Midgard has to offer. You’ll come to realize that Tribes of Midgard has very, very little variation in its gameplay, and your goal will soon bog down to finding your favorite weapon’s crafting materials, praying you find the necessary landmarks early in your run, and dipping when you win or get bored. Midgard’s Survival Mode allows for tinkering of the game’s map size or difficulty of enemies, but it will be the same 1-2 Step throughout each map and there’s not a MOBA-like community or gameplay hook that can keep the same thing fresh for longer than 10 hours.
But nothing is as head-scratching or as mind-boggling as Tribes of Midgard’s Shop. On random drops or completed runs through the Bifrost, players can collect Golden Horns. These horns double up as requirements for the game’s legendary weapons and armor, but also as currency for cosmetics in the game’s Shop. This at first glance is no big deal as continued play will net plenty of Horns, but hey, Norsfell. Gearbox. Listen to me: why are recipes of armors, weapons, and runes locked behind a daily rotating shop? Cosmetics are fine, but there are Tier 3 (out of 5) weapons that are unlockable only through the store before you can access them in game. The fact that some starter kits (bundles of items brought by default on your person in each run) are locked behind achievements and the game’s free Season Pass is a little bonkers too; but If I don’t log on the right day to unlock a possible necessary rune or item recipe, I’m just boned? Fuck outta here.
Tribes of Midgard mashes together a cavalcade of genres into an unforgiving, time constraining, smorgasbord of quick action and checkboxing that when fully understood can be a fun time waster with friends. But Tribes demands a stranglehold on your full undivided attention, which bleeds outside of its game time and into a gacha mobile game-like state where a daily log in is necessary to unlock the full title. And no amount of a good time is going to smear away the crudeness behind the game’s decisions and intentions. Spend your Souls elsewhere.
A Steam code was independently purchased for review.