Sons of Valhalla

Posted:  Apr 15, 2024
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Sons of Valhalla was provided by Hooded Horse for review. Thank you!

This game was tested with a Steam Deck LCD. OLED testing is coming soon.

I've seen games like Sons of Valhalla around over the years, all the way back in the Flash days, 2D side-scrolling action/strategy games where the aim is to build a base to produce resources and troops, create your troops, and then lead them against the enemy base that is doing exactly the same thing. Back in the Flash days, this was all automated, but Sons of Valhalla gives you more control over things than I expected.

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Sons of Valhalla puts you on a quest to conquer your way through England.

You control the protagonist, Thorald, on a quest through England to find his beloved, who has been kidnapped. The story is very generic, and I described the whole thing in that one sentence. It serves as a backstory to justify your character's invasion of England.

Setting the story aside, having control of your player character is something that Sons of Valhalla does reasonably well. You have a melee weapon and a ranged weapon equipped, which you can upgrade throughout the game, enhancing both their stats and adding new abilities to them. The combat isn't particularly fluid; you can't move when swinging your sword, for example, and setting up a ranged attack can take several seconds, so the action does feel rather "static" as you play, and that's a running theme, unfortunately.

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Units on both sides often bunch up, making it difficult to see how many units there are and how they are doing in terms of health/stamina

That "static" feeling brings us to the game's AI for both the enemies' troops and your own. In this regard, I'm afraid Sons of Valhalla does pretty much take a page straight out of the Flash games that came before it. If your or enemy troops are attacking a fortification, they'll all bunch up into one space and just merge into what looks like 1 unit, but in fact, there are about 20 swordsmen; they're just all standing in the same spot. Unfortunately, this makes it very difficult to work out what's going on.

However, I understand why this is being done. If troops can occupy the same space, then it would cause issues with them getting in the way of each other when attacking. But it reduces the sense of scale and makes it confusing. When an enemy is attacking you, it's difficult to determine how many are attacking. When you're attacking the enemy, it becomes incredibly difficult to work out how your troops are doing. The only way to tell if you're losing troops is to look at the "unit" resource at the top and see if it has changed.

It all ends up creating an uninteresting picture, with your units standing at the bottom of a watchtower, poking it, your archers and siege weapons half a screen back, firing, and the enemy melee units standing on the other side of the tower doing nothing because they don't want to die.

This may be the only way to ideally handle troops in a game like this, but that might be why games like this have died out since the Flash era. The only comparable game to this in recent memory is Kingdom Two Crowns, and that feels slightly different as the enemies are much less bullet-spongey, so it kind of reduces the chance of bunching up when they're constantly being killed and replenished, that isn't the case with Sons of Valhalla, and battles are mostly made up of about 20 units on each side and can last quite some time.

The AI for some units also seems questionable. Siege weapons, for example, will always target the nearest enemy, whether that's fortifications or a unit. So if enemy swordsmen leave the gate, your siege weapons will stop attacking the fortifications they are strong against and instead try to hit the swordsmen. It's infuriating and an inexplicable design choice that needlessly makes the game more difficult.

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Sons of Valhalla lets you upgrade your buildings and troops at certain bases on each level.

The economic aspect of the game is passable but very basic. It is all about three resources: food, wood, and silver. Food and Wood are passively generated from buildings, so they're very much fire and forget, while Silver is gained from looting chests and defeating enemies. The economy serves its purpose, namely to extend the game by making you wait and defend as you upgrade or recruit new troops instead of always being on the attack.

It's also worth noting that AI doesn't seem to follow the rules of the economy. It looks like they produce units on a cycle, so if you can't kill their units fast enough, they'll just constantly produce 1 soldier every 5 seconds. This gets pretty tedious when attacking, as you must constantly deal with a steady trickle of troops until you break down the fortifications.

Base-building is simple, but like the economy, it does its job. Your central building is the "Mead Hall", which can be upgraded to provide more manpower and additional building slots. These building slots can be used for economic purposes, such as to gain wood or food, or for production purposes, such as barracks, archery ranges, etc. Each building in the game can be upgraded in exchange for resources, allowing it to produce faster and potentially unlock more advanced upgrades for your units.

Buildings such as the Barracks let you build and upgrade melee units

This mix of "action" and "strategy" puts Sons of Valhalla in an odd position. For a game where you are controlling the player character, capable of combat, it feels strange to sit in your town and wait for several minutes while your resources build up. It feels like there's something else you could be doing. It's not like this is a strategy game where you can look around the map and manage things while your economy whirrs away. You have a player character, and you can't do much but... sit there...

It would have been better if it was just a strategy game, eliminating the player character and action elements entirely. Scrolling along the map and quickly ordering troops, managing your economy, and keeping an eye out for enemy attacks would have eased many of my issues with the game. As it is, you have to be next to your troops to issue any orders to them, which can be finicky and pretty much means all your troops will always be in one cluster, as it's the only way to manage them effectively.

Also, you can't freely order troops because everything is centered on the player. Any orders you give have to be to troops nearby, which means that you'll likely keep your army in one big cluster just for simplicity's sake. Otherwise, you'll have to run all over the map, gathering your troops and ordering them—think of a 2D Pikmin-type affair.

You can order nearby troops by holding RB and pressing the face buttons.

I've been on a bit of a downer so far, but there are two parts that I think the developers got right with Sons of Valhalla.

Firstly, the visuals. The game is portrayed by nice quality pixel art, boosted by some visual effects. You can't complain about how Sons of Valhalla looks. It has pleasing and varied environments, although I'm unsure how "English" this all is. It even incorporates weather and a day/night system, which changes how the world looks and creates a nice bloom effect from the sun in the background. Certain attacks also have nice visual effects and particles for them.

Secondly, the game's "rune" system. Runes are little "perks" you can acquire as you play the game, allowing you to place one in a "socket" and give you, or your troops, a buff. These can be anything from dealing more damage, having a chance to cause a bleeding effect, having more health at night but losing health during the day, and so on. This makes the game more interesting, and you can only have a limited amount, so you'll need to swap and change the runes to serve your playstyle.

Upon death, you'll also need to sacrifice one of your runes to continue unless you're on the easiest difficulty. After that, you can return to the battlefield pretty much as-was.

The game can look quite pretty, so at least there's that when you're waiting around for resources!

As for the difficulty, on easy, the game becomes mind-numbingly easy. There's no penalty for dying; troops on both sides are bullet spongey, and even though resource generation is quicker, you still have to wait for resources to come in. Higher difficulties present a challenge but also make the grind even longer, perhaps requiring you to build and make several attacks, whereas just 1 would have sufficed in easy mode.

Sons of Valhalla isn't a bad game, but some design choices are questionable. Too much time is spent waiting, and the game is quite short, with the campaign being less than 10 hours long, depending on difficulty and how often you die. On easy, the campaign is about 4-5 hours at most due to quicker resource gathering and easier enemies. The campaign comprises 5 levels, and they all play the same; even the boss battles at the end of each level are similar, and the same strategy can be employed on each. After the 1st level, the game quickly becomes repetitive.

Also, at the end of each level, all upgrades/bases are gone, so you start the next campaign level from scratch, aside from the runes and upgrades you gave your player character. It does feel weird upgrading all your units and then losing all those upgrades for the next level; it only adds to the game's repetitive nature, requiring you to research tech that you just researched 30 minutes ago at the previous level.

But let's move on to how Sons of Valhalla runs on the Steam Deck, and you might be in for a surprise...

Sons of Valhalla - Steam Deck Performance

Curiously, before you boot Sons of Valhalla, you must sit on a black screen for some time, probably 20-30 seconds, before anything happens. I thought it might be a one-time thing for the first boot, but it happens every time, so just give it some time to get through whatever it's doing.

Once the game has finally loaded, the initial impressions are decent. The game has full controller support for the menus and gameplay. It also supports the Steam Deck's native 1280x800 resolution. However, there are no graphical options besides resolution in the game, so I'm not offering any settings preset because there are no settings.

UI is scaled well, and I found all the text and UI elements in the game perfectly readable on the Steam Deck's display.

Game Performance:

We are running a 30 FPS frame limit in SteamOS and a 15W TDP limit. I know, that's setting this up well, huh?

Amazingly, Sons of Valhalla decimates the Steam Deck's CPU. The GPU is almost untouched; in fact, I don't think I ever recorded the GPU using more than 2W while playing. But the CPU is often varying between 6 and 9W of usage, which is pretty much its limit.

All I can imagine is that the entire game is single-threaded, or at least that one CPU thread must be heavily relied upon, which is not good for a Steam Deck.

While the game initially runs at 60 FPS, once you build a few troops, say 10, for the starting level, the FPS drops to around 50 FPS. Going into battle against 10 enemy troops, the FPS regularly dropped into the 40s. By the time I reached level 3/5 in the campaign, I had around 30 troops going up against a similar number of enemy troops. By this point, Sons of Valhalla was regularly running in the 20s, a shocking disappointment.

I had similar issues with other games when running Proton 8.0-5, so I tried Proton Experimental, the Proton 9 beta, and Proton GE, but alas, the issue persists regardless, meaning that it's almost certainly how the game is coded that's the issue.

Power draw from the battery varies wildly depending on what's happening in the game and how many troops are on the field. When things are quiet, expect about a 10W power drain, but this goes up to around 19W in combat with many troops. So expect around 2-2.5 hours of battery life from a Steam Deck LCD and about 3 Hours from a Steam Deck OLED. Temperatures also varied greatly, from about 55C up to 75C, depending on the action on screen.


There are rebindable controls; the only option that could be considered "accessibility."


Sons of Valhalla has some decent ideas up its sleeve. Merging strategy and action genres doesn't happen too often. Still, it feels like the developers took their idea and ran without considering whether it worked well. It's almost like there are 2 decent games here have been merged into 1 not-so-decent game.

I could definitely see myself enjoying Sons of Valhalla more if it were a straight-up strategy game or a straight-up action game with the elements of management toned down, but just mushing the two together creates an awkward mix of an uninteresting action game and a difficult-to-manage strategy game, the worst things these two genres can be.

The performance on the Steam Deck is just unacceptably poor. I can only presume the game runs on a single thread, which explains why the situation is so dire. Because of that, I can't really recommend that anyone play this game on the Steam Deck. Once you get to level 3 onwards, you'll regularly be playing at 20-25 FPS at the most pivotal moments of the game, and it makes the experience quite unpleasant.

Hopefully, the performance can be improved with patches, but even then, the game is average at best, so I would still be in two minds as to whether or not to recommend this one to you.

Our review is based on the PC version of this game.

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SDHQ's Build Score Breakdown

Sons of Valhalla is an unfortunate mix of 2 potentially decent games mushed together to create a not-so-decent one. And the performance on Steam Deck is unacceptable for what it is.


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Oliver Stogden
Oliver began playing video games at an early age, starting with the SNES console and Commodore Amiga computer. Nowadays, his interest is in the future of portable technology, such as handheld gaming systems, portable power stations/banks, and portable monitors. And seeing just how far we can push these devices.
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