It might sound like the name of a cute character from a generic platformer, but Fimbul is actually the final, brutal winter before Ragnarök – AKA: Norse Armageddon. Which tells you an awful lot about Fimbul the game, both in terms of its icy northern European setting and its grim, violent gameplay.
You play the part of Kveldulver, a grizzled Danish warrior brought back from the dead to seek vengeance on your murderous brother, and to use an ancient artefact to save the world from destruction. The game is steeped in Norse folklore, with giants and trolls stomping around amongst bloodthirsty Vikings and longboats that ferry you across icy oceans.
After a slightly shaky opening stealth section, the game soon settles into a rhythm of traipsing along largely linear corridors, periodically engaging in arena-like melee battles against multiple opponents. At other times you'll trigger a story scene, which might be rendered in-engine, or might take the form of a simply drawn comic strip.
Battle, though, forms the meat of the game. This is a fairly simple hack and slash affair, with light and heavy attacks, shield blocks, and evasive dodge-rolls. Variety is added by the ability to pick up and switch between swords and axes, as well as spears that can be lobbed at enemies. You also get special finishers and knockdowns, which are powered by successful combos, as is a nigh-on critical heal move.
The fights are surprisingly pacy affairs, but they're also a little glitchy and soon grow repetitive, with the same simplistic tactics seeing you through each encounter. In particular, we soon found ourselves falling into the rhythm of leading mobs around on a merry conga line, Benny Hill style, before turning to smack the leader in the bonce – perhaps with a dodge roll or spear throw mixed in.
Disappointingly, this is generally your best bet for bosses, too. Indeed, the first proper boss fight turned out to be somewhat laughable, as the fearsome warrior you've literally waded through hell to track starts swiping repeatedly and ineffectually at thin air, his senses seemingly confused by a single dodge roll. Elsewhere, hulking troll encounters can be frustratingly flaky, not to mention protracted affairs.
Unfortunately, Fimbul is a bit all over the place from a technical standpoint. This is an evocative world with a distinctive tone, but it's also glitchy and poorly optimised. The frame rate is choppy throughout, and elements of the background frequently pop in and out of view. You can almost hear the gears grinding as the game frequently pauses and loads in a cut scene.
The camera, meanwhile, is a bit of a rogue agent, fixed to unhelpful points one minute and swooping around to queasy effect – or behind a bunch of trees – the next. There are bugs, too, from an early sound bug that cut all audio out until we reloaded, to a pause screen crash bug deep into the second world. At more than one point in the game, we hit an invisible wall and couldn’t progress until we backtracked and found a lone soldier whom we had somehow neglected to finish off.
It's a shame, because Fimbul sure does create a potent atmosphere. At its best, and if you squint a bit, the game almost resembles a Nordic Breath of the Wild. Almost. The audio is fantastic too, and the comic book interludes add a flavour all of their own – even if their somewhat prosaic format clashes a little with the softer in-game style.
Those comic book sections also throw in the odd choice that affects the narrative later down the line, and there's a neat facility to revisit those choices and play them out a different way. Unfortunately, Fimbul's flaky and repetitive gameplay doesn't make that as much of a fun prospect as it should be.
Fimbul creates an appealingly grim Norse folklore-infused world to adventure through, but its core action is simply too weak to seal the deal. Its pacy combat can be brutally satisfying, but it's also shallow and repetitive, while the game struggles from a technical perspective. There's a promising world at the heart of Fimbul, but it needs to be married to a more fluid and fleshed-out game.