The Next Best Thing In Life.
When Sal Magicpants traded in his bastard sword for a bullpup rifle, it was I, Fred the Confessor, who prowled the corridors of online multiplayer Rune seeking out victims, gutting them like Christmas turkeys and then displaying my stag-like quickness by running away as fast as possible. Rune was like a gift from mighty Odin himself, and he smiles upon us yet again with the release of Rune: Halls of Valhalla.
To the delight of veterans and newbies alike, Halls of Valhalla is both an expansion to the original and a stand-alone online multiplayer game. It features new skins, new maps, new modes and a new bug fixing patch for owners of the original Rune. And at under 20 dollars it is easily one of this year's best bets for action gamers.
Halls of Valhalla features more than 30 new maps distributed among the various modes. These are welcome arrivals for veterans bored with the Hildr/Thorstadt/Ruins routine and it introduces a few changes to Human Head's magnum opus.
It is now more difficult to hit an opponent with a thrown weapon, which can be parried with a counter-attack, and features shields that are much more effective at blocking airborne steel. Players can no longer rely on luck for scoring a hit, but must aim for a vulnerable area or seek out the unwary. This raises weapon throwing to a fine art as most targets are in constant motion.
Players can now run backwards with their weapons in hand which, combined with the original dodge feature, allows for unprecedented control and maneuverability. Of course, this removes the agility advantage of an unarmed runner and makes it more difficult to escape the clutches of an ungracious death, but then again, who wants to live forever?
Rune magic, long the bane of purists, has been slightly altered to do less damage and have shorter duration - a blessing to anyone who's ever witnessed what one "rune whore" with a dwarven work sword can do to a previously fun game. The reductions to the rune powers of the dwarven work sword and the trial pit mace, however, could have been a bit more drastic.
More than 15 new player skins await in the Halls of Valhalla. A few are familiar; the Sark skins which required hacking into the game are now available to the humble and technologically inept. The Sark Ragnar has been scaled down to size, along with his lifebar, his speed and his ability to jump.
In the original version of Rune there was all of one female skin available and she was outfitted for battle along the lines of Dolly Madison or some other kitchen-bound female. Now, in addtion to this so-called "valkyrie" you have your choice of two other warrior women as well as the Jun skin which is available to players of the original Rune with the v. 1.06 patch.
But where is the female Mongol? The female Syrian? The female Swashbuckler? The new skins are a bit disappointing when compared to their male counterparts and especially when you consider how many new Sark skins are now staples of the game.
In regard to game modes, Deathmatch is still alive and well in the Halls of Valhalla. But, as any sage will tell you, running around slaughtering everything that moves can weary even the most battle hardened barbarian. Halls of Valhalla introduces Headball and Arena, two new game modes to pique the interest of grizzled vets.
In Headball, a fun and desperately needed variation on the Deathmatch theme, players do not gain points for kills. Instead they must lop off the heads or limbs of their victims and then throw them into goals in order to score. You can also scavenge for heads, and steal them from other players on their way to a goal. Don't expect any extra love with the decapitations, though. A precise cut is still required to separate an opponent's cranium from the rest of his mortal coil. And, of course, you are not allowed to remove the head once your opponent has expired.
Rune multiplayer never lacked for servers dedicated to the one-on-one honor fighting experience. But with the advent of Halls of Valhalla's new Arena mode, combatants no longer need to beg other players to take turns and stay out of the ring until the fight is done. In Arena mode, you enter the game, and upon selecting your weapons, you will receive a number, kind of like being at the deli counter. When your number is up, you are instantly teleported to the arena. Should you win the bout you are rewarded with a full life bar, a renewed shield (if you brought one) and your thrown weapons are returned to you. The gameplay is orderly and yet never loses its visceral appeal.
Most arena maps have features with which waiting combatants can amuse themselves, like hatchet targets and switches that can crush players in the arena who stray out of bounds. Arena mode can also be played in cooperative teams, 2-on-2, 3-on-3, 4-on-4, etc. adding a great variety of gameplay.
Unfortunately, Halls of Valhalla, like the original Rune, doesn't offer player stats online. Unless you have a pencil handy to check off every kill and death, you have no way of knowing exactly how good you are or how much you suck. Compared to games like UT or the impressive user-created stat tracking of Counterstrike, it leaves something to be desired.
All in all, Halls of Valhalla is a must-have for Rune fans, Vikings, berserkers, Mongol warlords and those with an unhealthy cutlery fixation. Added modes and features and improved control revitalizes an already solid game. So jump into your longboat and head to your local retailer. Fred needs victims.