History has always been a source of inspiration for games, especially those of the strategy variety. Practically all the major world events of the last two thousand years have been immortalized in a video game. The Great Whale Road, while also a historical strategy game, comes to cover a historical period not often mentioned, the early medieval period. The game has just entered Early Access on Steam, so it is not fully completed yet. However, it still offers a very fun campaign experience.
The Great Whale Road takes place in the North Sea. The name comes from the old Saxon nickname of the sea, the Whale Road. Currently the only campaign available is the one as the Danes, but there are at least two more campaigns as different peoples on the way. In the Dane campaign, we take over a small Danish village on the wake of its jarl’s death. As its leader, it is our task to defend the village and make it prosper. Moreover, we also need to engage in some good old looting and trading.
The campaign is essentially split into two parts, winter and summer. During the winter, we remain at our village and must make sure its inhabitants survive. Through a system of focus points, we assign duties to our people. These duties include farming, hunting, crafting, keeping the people happy, training warriors and more. We must use those points correctly so our village has enough food to survive until the summer. After we settle on the focus points, we get a few events about the village and its people as we see time pass by. Based on our decisions for these events, we might lose or gain supplies and people.
Once summer arrives, the gameplay changes significantly. During the summer we can travel with our longship, which means we can start completing our story quests. When we travel, we carry with us both food and trade goods, as well as a few warriors and heroes. During our travels we also get a few events which can increase or decrease the ship’s condition. Our end goal when travelling is always another port, where we can fulfill our main story objectives. Every port we stop at has a few activities for us. For example, we can hunt if our food is running low, trade our goods, spend time at the hall and the brewery relaxing and learning rumors (Which can unlock new locations in the game) and also buy new weapons from the blacksmith.
The final aspect of the game is combat. Combat is very similar to what Banner Saga offers. We have a map made of tiles where we can move our units. The only units we can summon in combat are our heroes, the number of which is decreed by how many upgrades our ship has. Heroes are summoned through the use of cards. Cards also allow us to buff our units. While we can play as many cards as we want in a turn, there are turn requirements for most of them, for example “Can not be played until turn 5”. One thing that I disagree with in the game is how leaders are handled. Both sides in combat have a leader. For us, it is our jarl and for the enemy it’s whoever leads the people we are fighting. If a leader dies in combat the other side automatically wins. While I understand that this mechanic is made so it shows how important leaders were in that time period, it also means I can pretty much ignore most enemy units and just charge their leader to end a batlle quickly.
Other than that though, the game is very polished. It has a plethora of events, all of which are well written and immersive. The game’s music and graphics are also very well done and also remind me of the Banner Saga quite a bit, especially the longhsip travel scenes and the camping scenes. All in all though, The Great Whale Road has its own, distinct feel from the Banner Saga and other games of that kind, thanks to its historical background and the immersion that it provides.
To sum up, although The Great Whale Road is obviously at a very early stage in its development, it is definitely a very interesting game. Its blend of strategy and city management is certainly an attractive combination, while the way it presents to the player early medieval europe makes the game even better. Personally, I will be keeping a very close eye on the game.
You can find The Great Whale Road on Steam for 15 euros.
-Philip “Snowchill” Alexandris