Where else to begin but in inescapable certainty that Jotun is a staggeringly beautiful game. The hand-crafted ‘sketchy’ visual style somehow lends itself perfectly to its Nordic setting. In Jotun you play as Thora, a Viking woman who has died a dishonourable death, and is now battling through the afterlife to reclaim her honour in the eyes of the Gods.
While it shouldn't be a stand-out point in this day and age, it's encouraging to see the developer chose to tell its story from the perspective of a woman, and she has some interesting narrations on the course of her own life. It paints a very believable picture of what it must have been like for a woman to be a warrior in a relatively primitive time in our species’ history.
The story is told through voice overs as you play, and you will not only learn of Thora’s life, and inevitable death, but you are also treated to some wonderful Nordic mythos, such as the creation of the world and how life came to be. If that tickles your fancy like it does this particular reviewer, then it will help to maintain the appeal of Jotun. Not only that, but the game's themes and presentation constantly filled me with a sense of wonder and amazement.
Given the themes presented and addressed by the game's plot and main character, the visuals were constantly used to reinforce the point. There are moments in Jotun where the camera would pan right out, providing you with a wonderfully detailed and shockingly beautiful view of the region in which you are standing, while a voice of the Gods tells you about the land and its origin. It is, in a word, magical.
Jotun is split into five main sub-sections. Each of these sub-sections has two ‘levels’ to play through, and their own boss battle. Each level is themed and excellently realised, providing their own unique methods of travel and their own gameplay challenges. No two places are the same, constantly forcing you to adapt to your new surroundings.
The boss battles are also themed, and fit in brilliantly within their domain. Now this next bit is really important. So, keeping in mind that the last game I completed was Dark Souls, no more than a week ago at that, I need you to understand the gravity of my words when I say: the boss battles are really, really hard.
Not just a little hard. Controller crushingly tough. At times the odds seemed stacked so high against you that challenge seemed insurmountable. Make no mistake though, this isn’t some cheap failing of game design, this is a perfect and intelligent manifestation of the perils faced throughout the last two levels you have played through, set to test you to your limits.
You will fail, probably repeatedly. But as with Dark Souls you are rewarded for your perseverance, the sense of achievement and relief at defeating a boss is sky high, and it also means you have unlocked another gorgeous area to explore.
Combat in the game is a fairly straight forward affair, you have a weak attack and a heavy attack. The heavy attack takes some time to charge up, which means it requires some tactical thought and strategic decision making in order to use effectively, especially during the boss battles.
The weak attack is as you would expect, faster than the heavy but it deals significantly less damage. A properly timed tap of the weak attack key gives you a second swing, at a slightly faster rate than just using the initial swing repeatedly, again forcing you to concentrate on what you're doing in order to maximise your effectiveness. It’s a simple and tried mechanic that is used to good effect.
There are also collectables within the game that can be found via exploration, these grant you either extra health, or imbue you with the power of a God, which you can call upon in battle, ranging from the ability to heal yourself, to a huge electrical manifestation of Mjolnir to smash your opponents.
Some of the environmental challenges during the game also require you to use your attacks encouraging you to get a little creative/inventive with how you interact with the surroundings.
The sound design in the game is very good, complementing the environments and ensuring that every aspect of the game helps to create a marvellous and impeccably realised whole.
Jotun is currently sitting at the snug little price of £10.99 on steam, and given that the game took me just over 7 hours to complete, coupled with the fact that it has provided one of the most interesting and well thought out game worlds I've played in quite some time, it’s difficult not to recommend this one.
In terms of performance, as you can tell from the hand-drawn artstyle Jotun isn't pushing a mega amount of polygons, so weaker rigs should be able to run it with ease. I was hitting a solid 60 frames per second with a GTX 980, which seems to be the frame rate cap.
If you’d like to be told a striking tale of past and future, while being treated to magnificent visuals and a genuinely varied and challenging gameplay experience, then I think you need to get yourself Jotun and be prepared for the wonder. Just brace yourself for those boss encounters, and don’t say I didn't warn you!