Tribes of Midgard Review

Challenging but exciting

Norse mythology has been a favourite theme of indie games’ in recent years, with a whole host of different takes on the setting. Games like Bad North turn Viking invasions into a roguelite tower defence, whereas recent titles like Valheim let us live out a survival fantasy, trying to establish a humble homestead while fending off mythical creatures with our friends.

Tribes of Midgard is a mix of both. You drop into a procedurally generated Norse realm filled with all sorts of monsters, biomes, and treasures to uncover, but there’s a catch: you must defend your settlement and a mythical tree known as the Seed of Yggdrasil, as every night monsters will come to destroy it. Either on your lonesome, or with up to nine other players, you have to build up your defences, gather resources, and upgrade vendors to turn yourselves into powerful Viking heroes.

It reminds me of Don’t Starve in some ways: days are short, nights are long, and there is never quite enough time to do everything. The key difference though, is that no matter how big the world is in Tribes of Midgard, you are bound to your settlement, and must return every night to defend the tree. You can unlock shrines that allow you to teleport around the map, gaining quick access to certain areas, vendors, and random events that occur across the realm, but exploration did feel somewhat stifled by the relentless day/night cycle.

Two distinct halves

This almost makes me wish the game had an endless day mode, because defending the tree isn’t the most compelling aspect of the game; instead, it was exploring the map. In fact, Tribes of Midgard feels like a game made up of two distinct parts: the open-world adventure aspect of picking up a weapon and diving into its world to fight monsters, find treasure, and gather resources in the day; versus the tower defence elements of defending the Seed of Yggdrasil against invaders at night. Both, however, feel like they conflict with one another at times, their individual demands and goals disrupting each other’s potential.

The Soul economy is a great example. In Tribes of Midgard, you get souls from everything, and souls are used for everything, whether that’s upgrading vendors or building structures. But you also have to use this resource to heal the Seed of Yggdrasil, which loses health at a continuous rate, or when attacked during the night. I understand the need to use souls as a means of upgrading vendors, but feeding them to the tree just to keep going feels grindy, especially as souls drop at a fairly pitiful rate apart from when you kill bigger foes like a Jötunn.

In comparison to defending the settlement, fighting monsters like the towering Jötunn is by far the best part of Tribes of Midgard. These lumbering bosses invade your realm and you have to hunt them down in the wild as they approach, but the type of Jötunn you face is random. There are Jötunn made of ice, Jötunn that summon evil spirits, fire Jötunn, and Jötunn that turn into hurricanes. You never know which flavour you’re going to fight, and that’s a big part of the fun.

Tribes of Midgard’s crafting system also facilitates play seamlessly—it’s easy to gather resources and your inventory seems almost limitless in this regard. When you return to your settlement, simply whack your haul in the chest and it can be used with any of the vendors. Though the equipment menu isn’t on-screen as with Don’t Starve, it doesn’t take long to sort weapons, armour, and potions either. There are also useful hotkeys for switching between equipped items.

Two ways to play

Tribes of Midgard is a difficult game, but this can be mitigated depending on which of its two modes you play. Saga is a fixed challenge, a set series of goals you must accomplish over a number of cycles in order to triumph. Survival, on the other hand, is an endless mode where you can tweak elements of the world and thus the experience. This is far better if you just want to explore, or aren’t really enjoying the game’s challenges, especially if you’re going at it solo. But even then, Tribes of Midgard isn’t especially well balanced towards single players; you’ll get by in combat well enough, but it’s far harder from a souls and resource gathering perspective.

And that kind of sums up Tribes of Midgard. Its world, art-style, exploration, and hack-n-slash combat are super fun, but these feel hampered by Tribes of Midgard’s key conceit as a tough tower defence game. Increasingly long nights mean you get little and less time to explore, and this is exacerbated by growing demands on resources. Instead, Tribes of Midgard would have made a better open-world game—its procedurally-generated Norse realm is so explorable. I would gladly play Tribes of Midgard more if I wasn’t bound to the settlement as much, and I hope that’s a mode that could be explored in the future.