Final Stand: Ragnarok – Monster Hordes vs Viking Champions

Final Stand: Ragnarok Preview

Sometimes we forget that games are supposed to be, well, fun. They don’t need to be months-long commitments, deep dives into the tortured psyches of angst-filled characters, or action games requiring superhuman timing. And every game doesn’t need to aspire to be The Next Big Thing. Now and then, being a Fun Thing is just fine. That seems to be the design philosophy behind Final Stand: Ragnarok. 

A Game with Pedigree

Developer Mark Jacobs — a man with a long and storied history in video game development — describes Final Stand: Ragnarok as a cooperative, team-based looter shooter. He made a point that he doesn’t expect his new game to join the ranks of Destiny or Fortnite. That might seem to be a curious lack of ambition. In fact, it’s the recognition that providing a relatively simple, accessible experience for a bunch of friends is a worthy and realistic goal. Which is not to imply that the team at Unchained Entertainment hasn’t been hard at work.

Final Stand: Ragnarok has been perched on Steam Early Access (or as Jacobs calls it, First Access) for a couple of years. It’s now headed for Full Early Access. Lots of players have provided feedback and assured the developers that their concept is a winner. I had a chance to grab some hands-on time at a recent preview. It was my first experience with Final Stand: Ragnarok, and I came away appreciating the basic concept but not quite sold on its execution.

Set loosely within the mythos and traditions of Norse gods and heroes, Final Stand: Ragnarok pits cooperative teams of human players against hordes of undead enemies and other monsters unleashed from the depths of Hel. There’s a good bit of tower defense blended in, as players move around the map defending strategic locations, a base, and healing or magic-refreshing springs.

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Oh, SO Many Monsters

No one will accuse this basic premise of striking originality. Where the game really steps out of the familiar is in the sheer number of enemies that are thrown at the team. Player teams are assaulted, swarmed, and overcome by hundreds of NPCs at a time. Jacobs is clearly proud of the engine that drives this aspect of the game. I can say from experience that a player separated from their squad mates and support won’t stand for long. That Final Stand: Ragnarok can throw that many monsters on screen at once and not entirely tank the frame rate is something of a minor miracle.

Players have a choice of Champion characters pulled from Viking and other cultural traditions. Each has a familiar role like tank, mage, fast-moving assassin, or healer. While Jacobs said that there’s no requirement for a team to be balanced, in practice survival kind of depends on it. Not having a healer or ranged fighter is a recipe for a team wipe in short order.

Battlefield Detritus

During matches, characters can pick up a ton of healing items, consumables, and special abilities from the battlefield. Naturally, characters upgrade their skills over time, but in my short playtime, I didn’t really have the chance to go from new Champion to seasoned hero.

A game swarming with a cast of thousands needs to keep character designs relatively simple. Final Stand: Ragnarok opts for an appealing, stylized, and cartoony aesthetic. It’s not especially detailed, but Champions have plenty of character and are easily recognizable in the thick of battle. I thought enemy designs were a bit less impressive, but then again, Final Stand makes up for it in sheer quantity. Overall, the art is colorful and appealing, with some flashy combat effects. Sometimes the chaotic action is visually a bit hard to parse. We only had the chance to sample a limited number of arenas. Jacobs and crew are promising several match types, new heroes, and a wider variety of environments down the line. Final Stand approaches its story and dialogue with a good deal of humor and snark, and never takes itself too seriously. 

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On the Playing Field

It’s always a bit frustrating to team up with developers who have spent literally thousands of hours playing their game, but it didn’t take long to get the gist of what Final Stand: Ragnarok is trying to do. I tried out several hero types, but I have to say that in the fast-paced and literal thick of things, I didn’t feel tons of difference between the Champions. I expect that will come with time and experimentation. 

Jacobs’ insistence that his game be modest fun is refreshing and even admirable. Even in my short time with the game, though, I came away wanting more variety and depth. An enemy cast of thousands is overwhelming and impressive at first. Over the course of even a few matches, it felt like there needed to be a break in the horde and a focus on a few, more strategically talented, smarter monsters.

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I’m only an occasional cooperative, team-based kind of player. I can’t speak to Final Stand: Ragnarok’s long-term appeal to a group of friends who focus on the genre. I can’t see Final Stand becoming an all-consuming pastime the way Fortnite is, but that’s specifically what Unchained Entertainment recognizes. Final Stand: Ragnarok just wants to be fun, and I think it has already achieved its goal. 

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