Review – Song of Iron

Song of Iron is a title that caught my eye right away from its debut during one of the ID@Xbox showcases. Its great Viking atmosphere, brutal looking combat, and the fact it was being made by one person, Joe Winter, impressed me. Being a single developer must be hard, but the release is finally here and he gets to share his vision with the world. Is it the epic, visceral, and atmospheric Nordic adventure we were hoping for, or was the ambition too much for a single person?

In Song of Iron you play as a nameless Viking who sets out on a quest of discovery and revenge after his village is raided and loved ones are killed. You’re given an amulet from your dying spouse with the quest to bring it to the mountain peak where the temple of the Gods is located. During this quest you’ll go though many challenges from rival Viking clans, goblin caves, and even a dragon. I thought the adventure was fantastic, however, I do have some thoughts on the overall story that I’ll put in the spoiler section right below here. If you don’t want any story spoilers, do not click on the spoiler drop down and just move on to the next section.

Story Spoilers

There really isn’t much story being told throughout the game since this is much more of an adventure game. The story starts out with you burning your loved one who was killed in the raid, and there isn’t much else until you reach the end. You do find out that there are Gods, and you even come in contact with Thor and deny his offer to join him as a warrior in Valhalla. This was all interesting, and I really liked the subtle story and world building as you played the game.

However, there is a large twist reveal right at the end that I feel undercuts the entire game and doesn’t really add anything to the experience. Also, I’m not really sure where the story goes from here now. The reveal is that the entire game is a simulation for breeding and testing warriors for a futuristic company. All the enemies, friends, even the dragon were all created just for the simulation and only the ones who get far enough can become a warrior. In a world where there is this amount of technology, laser guns, and massive jets, why breed Viking warriors? None of it really made sense and I felt like it lessened the overall experience.

Song of Iron Goblin King

The journey is an epic one, even if it isn’t all that long.

Song of Iron is a 2D side-scroller with a focus on sword, shield, and bow combat. The combat here is pretty basic with a light attack, strong attack, block, dodge, shooting arrows, and throwing your weapon. You can also kick to knock over enemies, and if you want to be more flashy, you can deliver a drop kick by sprinting, jumping, and kicking. There isn’t a lot of depth here unfortunately, but it overall fits fine with the fairly short adventure. For the most part enemies will only come up to you one-by-one if they’re stacked behind each other. So it would have been nice to have a more involved sword play system with blocking high or low and counter attacking. Most of the time it feels like simply spamming the light attack button.

At various parts of the game you’ll collect and equip a piece of magic empowered armor that unlocks a magic move. Gauntlets will let you set fire to your weapons, boots will allow an electrical stomp, chest armor allows you to sprint faster, and the helmet unlocks the ability to charge your weapons with electricity. The chest and boots are used for puzzles or to get by specific level designs, while the rest is simply to make combat even easier. Big troll bosses or even large groups of enemies are easily taken out when you imbue your weapons with fire or electricity.

Song of Iron Bow

Landing headshots with the bow is satisfying and if it’s not an instant kill it will at least stun larger enemies.

There are different kinds of weapons in the game, but it’s unclear with some if they do any different damage. Does the single blade axe do less than the double blade axe? What about the axe versus the sword? The only weapons I could actually tell the difference in power was the spear, which you only obtain a couple times and it’s very weak, and the double handed axe that is much stronger. Again, this comes down to wishing there was a little more depth in the combat. Punish me with quick enemies when I don’t have a shield and have the sword gameplay tougher so I can’t just hack through a conga line of enemies.

Besides the combat, there are some environmental platforming challenges that usually involve moving a block to reach a higher area or timing some swinging hammers so they don’t knock your block off. The platforming is easily one of the worst areas of the gameplay due to the clunky nature of the movement. If you aren’t sprinting you’ll barely jump anywhere and with the action not being immediately responsive there was a lot of frustration. Having the warrior be this lumbering beast makes sense why the movement has weight, but then making me take that massive Viking into timing and sprinting platforming is rough.

Platforming

With the clunky movement, platforming can become fairly annoying.

Outside of the annoyances with the combat and platforming, I did run into quite a bit of freezing. Some I couldn’t pin point why, but others I could since it happened every time. If you pause the game and open up the Xbox menu for any reason, or go to the Xbox home page, coming back to the game it will freeze. Luckily, the game quick saves frequently enough, but this is clearly a bug and it’s being worked on. Again, this is a single person team, and while I don’t agree with launching the game with obvious freezing bugs, I do understand the task at hand is hard alone.

I know it seems like this review has been mostly negative so far, but that’s not what I’m trying to go for here. In fact, there is a lot I enjoyed and some of that comes from the visual presentation. Using fully rendered 3D models and environments with a 2D perspective was really eye-catching. This added a lot to the depth between the characters, foreground, and background and with UE4 it looks really good. I loved the use of wide spreading vistas in a lot of areas, and the game isn’t afraid to let you soak in the environments. I felt enthralled by the Nordic architectures I’d come across and the story they tell.

Song of Iron Rathgar

The environments are really well done and there are some beautiful moments.

The sound design is also very well done with a great Nordic themed soundtrack. The intensity of the Nordic hymns pounding away during a chase scene or the first time you encounter the troll increases the tension. The game also knows when to dial it back to a more adventurous tune when you’re going through stretches of beautiful environments. The general gameplay sounds from the combat and enemies are good as well, but the star here is the soundtrack.

Song of Iron has a lot of potential, and for the most part I feel like it does nail the feeling it’s going for. The Viking, Nordic designs, and atmosphere are enthralling and pull you in as well as the level designs. Unfortunately, the overall combat falls a bit flat and the platforming lands more as an annoyance than something to break up the fighting. The bugs found throughout will hopefully be fixed soon, but for now I can’t recommend it. However, I still find this impressive for a one person developed game and I hope to see a sequel that can truly flesh this concept out.

 

Graphics: 8.5

The character models aren’t amazing, but the atmosphere and 2D designs with detailed backgrounds and foregrounds are the highlight here.

Gameplay: 5.0

Platforming is not responsive due to the very clunky control scheme, and while there are fun combat moments, it overall lacks depth.

Sound: 9.0

The sound design is great with very Nordic booming hymns and music that brings forth that adventurous feeling.

Fun Factor: 6.0

While I enjoyed the entire adventure, there were a lot of bugs that hampered my way. Also, the ending sort of undercuts the entire feeling of the game and left me disappointed.

Final Verdict: 6.5

Song of Iron is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

Reviewed on Xbox Series X.

A copy of Song of Iron was provided by the publisher.