Jotun Review: A Battle of Giants
I can’t stop thinking about Jotun. The towering bosses, beautiful art, and satisfying combat keep it in my thoughts and keep bringing me back for more.
You play as Thora, a Viking warrior who is killed while at sea. She is given the chance to impress the gods and earn her spot in Valhalla. She is placed in the void, and must travel to 5 realms to defeat the Jotun: colossal elemental giants ripped straight from the pages of Norse mythology.
The gameplay loop is simple enough. You must secure two runes before you can challenge the Jotun. All of this is accessed through the void, a simple hub world that points you to your next quest with a glowing arrow. The two areas housing the runes are separate and mostly serve as filler. Each one hinges on a unique mechanic that you must learn and overcome in order to proceed. Some of them are actually quiet brilliant, like setting off electric switches to draw constellations, but the majority of them are mindless fetch quests. You come across the occasional enemy but they are little more than fodder. The areas themselves are difficult to navigate and not much fun to trudge through. They are all fully realized and beautifully drawn, but it doesn’t make them any less tedious.
Collecting these bothersome runes will lead you to the real draw of the game: the Jotuns. There are five in total, each one represented by an elemental force. These titanic fights are all about the spectacle and deciphering and memorizing the giants attack patterns. They are as much about brute strength as they are about reflexes and cunning. These battles always feel like you are fighting against overwhelming odds, which makes victory much sweeter. You have a very limited tool set, but it means that you must master the games combat. Thora can roll, swing her axe lightly, or charge up a heavy attack, bringing her blade down with incredible force, cracking the ground. She also has a suite of abilities that she can collect, but these aren’t necessarily essential, though they do make the boss encounters much easier. While the rune areas are relatively easy, do not expect to beat a Jotun on your first attempt. They will continuously strike you down, forcing the player to learn from their mistakes. While the titans are hard, this difficulty makes victory that much more rewarding and you feel a real sense of growth by the time you strike down the games final foe.
The combat is simple but feels great. Each swing is met with a meaty crunch as it bites into a Jotun’s ankle or sends a dwarf miner careening to the ground. Light swings do a lot less damage but are easier to pull of, while heavy swings need to be charged but can end a battle much faster. The key is learning when to use which, and how to recognize each opportunity. You cannot simply mash buttons and hope to emerge victorious. Triumph must be earned. The game can be played with either a mouse and keyboard or a controller. While a mouse and keyboard are functional, the controller allows for much quicker and precise movement in this sort of game. Because of this, I would recommend using a controller, if you have one at your disposal.
This stellar combat and spectacular boss battles are all held together by gorgeous art. The hand drawn art looks like a Disney cartoon of a Norse legend. Each environment is carefully crafted, featuring small details that tell a larger tale. Sacks of gold spilling coins on the ground and deserted mine carts paint a picture of a once thriving mine, while lighting filled clouds offer a look into the celestial side of Norse Mythology. Each new area is started with a small line of dialogue from Thora, explaining what its significance is and how it fits into the larger world. These lines are delivered in a foreign tongue, making the entire story feel like the epic myth that it is. This story actually comes to the rescue in some of the duller rune collection segments. It fleshes out the beautiful world, drawing players further in with its fascinating lore. The Norse legends are well defined already, but the way the game envisions them fits with the world it has created. The animation is also stellar. Each Jotun has a weight to them that captures just how massive they are. They tear up environments and fill the arenas with traps and enemies. Everything runs seamlessly, with no frame rate hiccups or glitches to speak of in my 7-hour play through.
The music is perfectly complimentary to what is happening on the screen. It lingers in the background as you collect runes and swells to a crescendo during boss battles. Jotun’s artistic achievements are numerous and its quality never falters. Its art is what will draw you in and the challenging and puzzling enemy encounters will keep you engrossed.
Jotun isn’t perfect. The rune collection stages can be tedious and don’t offer much challenge, but the fights against the mighty Jotun are epic, tension filled bouts that stuck in my mind far after I stopped playing. It isn’t the longest of titles, but its pacing pushes through each encounter at a brisk pace, making me eagerly await each new encounter.