When you hear "10-player co-op Viking survival game" it's hard not to immediately think of Valheim. But Tribes of Midgard, launching July 27, isn't really anything like Valheim. It supports up to 10 players (solo mode is an option as well) but it's an action RPG with a big focus on base defense. Survival and crafting systems are present but incredibly streamlined, and its primary mode is session-based and only lasts a few hours.
And unlike Valheim, there's not a whole lot of downtime to putter around and make yourself comfortable. You're almost always in a hurry.
I got to play Tribes of Midgard this week in a single session lasting about two hours. Beginning with nothing, our Vikings spawned at a small settlement on the procedurally generated map cloaked in a fog of war. There was a busy scramble to gather sticks and rocks and other nearby resources, then a rush back to the settlement to craft tools, weapons, armor, and potions. Time is of the essence in Tribes of Midgard—in the center of your settlement is the Seed of Yggdrasil, a tree that must remain standing to avoid the end of the world. When night falls, there will be a lot of monsters who want to destroy that tree. And night falls quickly.
You don't craft things yourself in Tribes, but visit an NPC in your settlement to do it for you. At times, this can be a bit of a pain—if you find some resources or need to repair a weapon far away from your base, you'll need to teleport back using a magic rune or a fast-travel node you can find out in the world. Then you can get your crafting done (a huge communal chest lets you share resources with your Viking pals) and then head back out to find more.
This crafting system is especially inconvenient when the settlement is under attack at night. NPCs won't just stand around letting you defend the Seed, they'll rush into battle too. While your NPCs can't be killed, they can be knocked out of commission for a bit. Good luck crafting a health potion while the town alchemist is wading into battle or has been knocked on his ass. At least it's a good motivation to prepare as much as possible before the nightly invasions. As soon as the shadows begin to lengthen, haul ass back to base and craft everything you can.
Surviving the night isn't that hard, at least at first. But as time passes, bigger and tougher mobs start spawning and rushing your base. We got tougher, too: After a few days we'd managed to craft more powerful weapons and unlocked new abilities on our skill trees, leaving us better prepared to hold off the evening onslaughts. In the course of the two hour session I went from a Viking with nothing but burlap underpants and a basic woodsman's axe to being a well-armored warrior with an enchanted sword I could use to perform some pretty damn deadly spin attacks.
But midnight monsters aren't the only threat to your Seed, nor the biggest. Every few days, a giant will appear on the map and head toward your base to do some smashing. As boss fights go, Tribes has an interesting system. Everyone gets notified that the giant has appeared but it doesn't spawn close to your base. You don't know what kind of giant it is or how far away it's spawned—all you have is a red arrow on your compass showing you the direction it's in. The giant will slowly cross the map, giving you plenty of time to prepare—in some cases, entire days. In the meantime you can build and upgrade your settlement's defenses and try to beef up your arsenal. You also can (and should) rush out onto the map to find the giant as quickly as you can. That way you can start chipping away at their massive health bars long before they get within swinging distance of your Seed.
But you don't want to kill them too quickly. The death of a giant starts an unseen timer that will spawn the next giant. Ideally, you want to weaken them as they slowly trudge to the center of the map, and only kill them when they're close to your base to give you the maximum time between giant attacks.
We fought two giants during the session, one a towering whirlwind that emitted glowing orbs that would spread out and explode, and the other a massive frost giant that delivered mighty stomps and freezing ground-pounds. Both took us a long, long time to defeat as they slowly made their way across the map while we swarmed around their feet, taking our shots and then dodging away from their slow but powerful attacks. But being able to duck out of the fight to repair weapons, restock potions, and deal with continuing nightly monster assaults on our base gave the giant battles a refreshing feel. I'm not used to traveling bosses. Usually you fight them in an arena or one part of the map. This was a welcome difference.
One issue I had was with the map itself, which can be tricky to get around in, sometimes frustratingly so. There are cliff walls you can leap off to reach lower ground, but you can't climb back up them unless you build ramps, which takes a lot of wood gathering. At one point I rolled off a cliff while dodging a monster's attack and then had to circle around the entire region just to find a passage back up so I could rejoin the group, which took several long minutes.
You also can't swim. Not even a little. Dunk yourself in a river or some other body of water, and you're instantly dead (you respawn with your gear and only lose the resources you've gathered, at least) and these Vikings don't have any boat-crafting skills. On the plus side, enemies need to avoid the water, too. Some kind of evil archer did a dodge-roll away from my swinging sword, wound up in the water, and instantly perished. And the frost giant had to walk all the way around a massive inlet to reach us, which gave us more time to deal with it.
All my time was spent in Saga mode, which the developers told us usually lasts about two or three hours until you defeat the giants and face the real boss, though we didn't get that far in our session. And I had a good if frantic time rushing around with the rest of the Vikings to defend our base and fight the giants slowly stalking in our direction.
But there's also a survival mode, which is more of a sandbox experience, and one I'm looking forward to trying. In Saga mode, my game lasted 9 in-game days and took two hours. The developers say they've had playtesters last around 100 days in survival mode. Things still get tougher the longer you play, but in a more leisurely, less frantic way. I'm sure it's still not as relaxing as Valheim can be, but survival mode sounds like it's a bit more my speed. We'll find out when Tribes of Midgard launches on July 27.