After spending my life playing games where failure is never an option, it is difficult to adjust to a game where it is a viable way of progressing.
Expeditions: Viking is that game, and it’s available now for $30 on Steam from the Logic Artists studio. It’s a new tactical turn-based role-playing adventure set in a world of thralls (slaves) and thegns (the king’s chosen governors) without any fantasy creatures or magic spells. If you’ve played Fire Emblem or XCOM — it more closely resembles the latter during combat — then you should know what to expect when you get into a fight in Expeditions. But the game has a lot more going on than its battles, and the way it handles failure is central to ensuring you will care about what happens beyond the confines of the the turn-based skirmishes.
Viking gives you a significant amount of control over the story and the characters. You play as the new leader of a group of a clan of vikings. Your father has just died, and you quickly discover he was not a popular leader. You face immediate challenges to your authority, and it’s up to you to decide how to handle each situation. The game enables you to make choices through dialogue options, and it seems like the story is very reactive to your decisions. But I’ve found myself caring more deeply about these decisions because you can lose a combat encounter without seeing a “game over” screen.
Instead of sending you back to the beginning of a mission and forcing you to replay it until you win, Expeditions: Viking’s story continues even if you fail. To me, this makes all of my choices carry so much more weight. In a game like Mass Effect, the choices can only mean so much to me because I know that nothing is really going to cause me to fail a standard enemy encounter. Even if my choices in an RPG like that make battles more difficult, I know that — in the end — I’m going to triumph in the canon of this story (ignoring any end-game punishment for not maximizing loyalty or something). But Viking forces you to live with failure, which is something I’m so unaccustomed to in games that I find it discomforting.
I know that seems counterintuitive. You would think that getting to continue on even if you fail would mean that it takes away the sting of defeat, but I find it’s the exact opposite. Viking forces you to live with your failures throughout the story, and that hurts way more than a “game over” screen. And it also makes me take every choice far more seriously in an effort to avoid experiencing more humiliation.