DISCLAIMER: Gunnhildr was provided to us by RatDog Games LLC for free for the purpose of review
What first drew me to Gunnhildr was when I read it was a first-person shooter rogue-lite. This was something I’d never seen executed well but certainly something I’d love to see executed well. Unfortunately, Gunnhildr doesn’t quite deliver… yet.
The developers definitely deliver with the story. This does not surprise me when the game is marketed as a “narrative shooter”. The story is arguable the most polished part of the game, there is a lot of interesting lore to unravel about Norse gods and the world of Gunnhildr. However, it’s how the game tells the story that is an issue. The number one rule of storytelling is “show don’t tell”, Gunnhildr shows nothing and tells a lot.
After each level, you have to confront an ear-wigging info dump of lore that bores the player. I found myself rushing from level to level just so I didn’t have to listen to Wikipedia entries being dictated to me. You could stand still after finishing a level, doing nothing but listening to the narrator, but that seriously slows down the pace of what is a very intense game. It’s a shame because the narrator is fantastic. He’s funny and a perfect fit for the game. Nevertheless, nobody plays games to stand around and listen to amateur stories – there are audiobooks for that.
Most games avoid creating boredom like this by compartmentalizing the lore into data entries like books, notes or audio files. Gunnhildr would certainly improve if it changed the medium the story is relayed, as I think at this point in development creating cutscenes is not an option.
On a more positive note, the gunplay of the game is solid. Each gun has a distinct feel and shooting enemies is a blast. There are a handful of weapon types that all play the same so you can always play the way you want to while only focusing on stat changes when comparing loot. This keeps the intense pace of the game going.
It’s the other parts of the gameplay that need drastic improvement. You barely use the grappling hook is in the level design. Personally I am relieved. To use you end up spamming the spacebar as you try to release yourself. In addition, its only other use is to pull enemies closer, which is also pointless because the only time you would do this is to bring a stunned enemy towards you so you can perform a finisher. Grappling an enemy cancels their stun so you just bring them closer and watch as they shoot you in the face! On top of that, when you try to perform a finisher you often accidentally melee the enemy, waking them up to blast you right between the eyes before you can even dash away.
Speaking of the dash, it has potential but most levels don’t allow for big movements with it so you generally just spam it in a panicked frenzy when it’s time to cool your weapon.
Gunnhildr gives me such mixed feelings because the gameplay loop makes you want to keep playing but there seems no way to progress due to poor design choices. The rooms pace well. After defeating all the enemies of a level all you want to do is jump straight back into the action, but then you eventually get to the boss room. The boss room is a complete spam of enemies most players stand no chance of defeating. Difficulty should never come from adding countless enemies to a room, that’s the whole reason why bosses exist. Boss fights should have bosses. The enemies in Gunnhildr are clearly designed for the smaller rooms and should be kept there.
Moreover, various other mechanics show that the game design is not perfect for huge fights with dozens of enemies. The shield is impossible to recharge whilst in a level. Once it runs out it may as well be game over. Thus boss battles are just a countdown to running out of a shield. Once this happens, welcome to one-hit-kill in a room crammed with enemies.
There are perks you can buy with “Halite” earned from your runs which may improve some of the flaws, however, once you play the game for a few hours you realise the odds unfairly tower against you. This killed any more motivation for me to keep playing. I’m not alone in this either, most reviews on steam only have around 0.4-4 hours.
Also, the currency is shared, in-dungeon and out-of-dungeon. This means the player is heavily discouraged from spending Halite while on their run.
Ultimately, I feel Gunnhildr has released too early. The flaws in the current game show real a lack of testing, it honestly feels like the developers haven’t even played their own game. I want to like this game. FPS rogue-lites are rare and Gunnhildr has the potential to become an incredible one. But releasing early like this may ruin any hope of that happening. In its current state, the game will likely not draw in players and revenue.
In my opinion, Gunnhildr has focused on the wrong things. The story is incredibly polished but the gameplay is not. I hope to check it out again in a year or so and see an actual game as oppose to a prototype.
You can play the early access version of Gunnhildr for £11.39 on Steam.