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Jotun (PC) artwork

Jotun (PC) review

"The beauty behind the Nordic underworld."

Jotun is stunning. It’s simply beautiful, boasting entire chapters built around exploration entirely hand animated but also perfectly realised. It’s not enough for the art to look great (though it does) it’s that everything has a fluidity and grace and even a subtle arrogance. The artists worked hard on producing the Norse-themed backgrounds and, by Thor, you’ll bloody well see them! Cross a rickety rope bridge, and the focus zooms out and shifts slightly to force you into fully appreciating the greens and greys of a landscape that shouldn’t exist. You have no control over the camera – you’d only mess it up as it sweeps to the left to work in that abandoned forge in all its forgotten glory, rotting in a lost corner of a dying Dwarven stronghold. Climb down the Yggdrasil tree and your slippery descent is relegated to the foreground, because seeing the dragon, Niđhǫggr, gnawing away at the roots is significantly more pleasing.

Joltun doesn’t try to sell you its world of Nordic myth; it’s simply there, drowning you in visual splendour, whether you accept it or not. Breathtaking moments don’t always take centre stage -- they often have little to no impact on the game at all -- they’re just there because that’s how things are. Niđhǫggr doesn’t attack you; he’s not there to set up a sense of foreboding. He simply lives in the darkness below Yggdrasil, gnawing away at its roots, and you happen to be there. He doesn’t care about you; you’re an insignificant mortal.

Jotun (PC) image

Or, at least, Thora is. A marauding Viking warrioress who failed to die a glorious death in battle so is instead banished to a deathless toil in an effort to impress the Gods enough to gain entry to Valhalla. Lamenting her mundane death as she sinks beneath the waves, she instead awakens to find herself in lush green fields with little explanation. She’s forced to explore.

Exploration is a big part of Jotun. Wandering around the surreal and fantastic environments does little to impress the Gods, but is a requirement of unlocking the game-stealing boss battles against the Jotun proper. It’s in slaying these giants that she might cement her place in the heavens. Before she can access each fight, she’ll need to find runes that will unlock further paths into the Ginningagap, the hub connecting the worlds. Some will need to be found before advancing; massive glowing runes unlock more areas to explore and the throne rooms of the Jotun themselves, but others discoveries need to be sought out. You can, if you’re clumsy, fail to hunt down massive statues of the Gods that will grant you favour, offering you special attacks, such as a healing boost or precious few seconds of invincibility. These are useful because, at its core, Jotun is a very simplistic game, featuring a standard and a heavy attack as well as a forward roll for evasion. Thora has been built for power, not for speed, and is far from the nimblest combatant you’ll ever control.

Even without her God powers, though, she stands a fighting chance against any of the giant Jotun she has to work her way through. Much like a 2D Dark Souls or Shadow of the Colossus, you are dropped into these battles and are left to figure out how best to down your massive foe. Jera, the Nature Jotun, is your first big test, mixing massive forearm smashes with screen-filling poison attacks. Start to feel like you’ve got a handle on things, and she summons a small army of whipping vines that snake out of the ground in an effort to whittle down your health and impede your approach. Then massive roots surge across the screen, cutting the field into claustrophobic quarters that make dodging a distant pipedream. You have to learn on the fly about how these attacks might be telegraphed; figure out the best way to avoid the massive slices of damage being smashed often promise; learn how to circumvent the poison, remove the obstacle of the roots. You will fail. And you will die.

Jotun (PC) image

But you’ll jump right back in, tweak your tactics, learn from your mistakes and adapt. For the most part, level progression is not set (though the game will try to lead you down a preferred order, you’re free to ignore it) and you’re free, if you wish, to ignore the boss fights while you explore, hunting down hidden apples that permanently bolster health and obtaining a full stock of God powers. As such, there’s only a very limited amount of grind you can try to undertake to bolster your stats; largely, you’re on your own.

Victory, then, is achieved solely from your own toil and is doubly rewarding when a giant falls and you stand its conqueror. But, even here, there are moments of subtle beauty that are easy to miss. Stun Jera, and bluebirds emerge from their roosts inside her ivy hair to fly in circles around her head, shadowing cartoons of old in a fitting new context. Jotun is full of heart-warming little moments like that that have no real reason to exist. Committed explorers will find more than God favours and life-affirming apples: they will find stone dwarves holding up the heavens or mammoth squirrels running along the trunk of Yggdrasil, carrying secret messages you will never learn. That’s just something that happens in the world of Jotun, something that hints at a larger world where you hold no relevance. You’re just a visitor to this world; your time here is fleeting. Success means you’ve won your place in Valhalla. There’s just no need to rush to get there.

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Staff review by Gary Hartley (October 05, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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EmP posted July 14, 2017:

Heads up - this is going for free on Steam over the weekend. You should really pick it up; it was one of the most underrated games to come out in a long while.
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pickhut posted July 16, 2017:

Huh, and here I just bought the Limited Run Games PS4 version on Frida-I... I mean, I don't regret anything! Now I have two versions. >_>
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Masters posted August 13, 2018:

This is quite the review. Lots of evocative language. It sounds like I’d do well to play the game, though not well served to bother reviewing it after this. Unless of course, I disagree, Zig-style, and think it sucks.
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EmP posted August 13, 2018:

Zig would love this game. And so would you. And anyone who plays it.

Hell, the game's so good that Suskie and I were forced to agree on something.

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