Surt’s Puzzles hurt

I beat Surt, god of fire, last night during my twitch stream. The overall level felt much shorter than Valravn’s level. The challenges with the door and the fire alters weren’t difficult and the combat felt on par with my campaign progress. Enemy’s now have shields and would come at me two or three at a time as the game pushed me to learn more advanced methods of combat. I enjoyed that challenge; but it did feel like during that learning process, the frustrating elements of combat (delayed block animation leading to an unsuccessful block, or not being able to change targets as swift as I wanted to). These negatives did not damper my overall experience last night though. Only one thing did. And that were Surt’s Rune Puzzles.

In Surt’s level, you would encounter blocked areas of the map by a door with runes drawn on it. In order to open these doors and advance, you had to find object(s) in the nearby area that resembled these rune shapes. This sounds simple, but let me elaborate. The objects that could count as a rune were literally any collection of items or terrain in the environment . A stick, the glowing embers in the grass, the woodwork on a roof, some trees in a forest. ANY of these could be the hidden rune. And you could only find these runes if you happened to look at them from the right direction, in the just-right position so everything lines up enough to register correctly. It’s a clever puzzle design–don’t get me wrong– but I felt more way more frustrated trying to find some semblance of the runes hidden in the environment. I feel like Valravn’s illusions were easier, and still clever enough, to navigate effectively. Valravn’s illusion puzzles felt like you were walking down a winding path with the occasional fallen tree to climb or low branch to duck underneath. Surt’s rune puzzles felt like a series of brick walls you had to find a way to climb over with no tool kit. Without my gaming experience, I probably would have given up on the game for the night or looked up the location of the runes online. Thankfully, I had the thought to go back to my basic gamer knowledge in order to finish the level.

By gamer skills I’m referring to the awareness of design elements that are intentionally placed in such a way as to guide the player to where they need to be in order to advance. Without this practice of design, players will wander game environments aimlessly with no direction, and ultimately have a terrible experience for the average player. In Surt’s level, I payed attention to locations in the environment hat I was able to access. I would take note of things that were climbable or that took me to a different area of the map. The watch tower right before the boss fight is a good example. It’s located at the end of a small path to the right of one of the gates. At first glance, it blends in with the other watch towers in the area. But upon further inspection you notice the path and you take it; then you see the ladder. Senua can climb the ladder up to the top. Once at the top there is a small bridge that overlooks the rooftops. The game detects you’re near the rune so it moves the correct rune towards the center of the screen for easier comparison. These are all hints that I was able to use to my advantage (albeit a small advantage). Without considering the placement of the UI and environment, it probably would have taken me much much longer to find all three runes in order to advance.

After finishing all of the puzzles and reaching the boss, everything changed. What was originally a quiet, dull level turned into an epic flaming battle to the death with a fire giant with an enormous longsword! The music in the background for this fight was epic! Nordic chanting and deep drums, reminiscent of a Viking song. A giant who could light himself on fire, and would plunge his longsword into the ground to gain more power. It was amazing…

but then it ended. It ended very soon after.

Surt’s level felt very brief, and while the boss fight itself was the most entertaining part, it didn’t feel like as much of a payoff as Valravn’s death was. Valravn’s level felt more balanced and had a great build-up of tension as you got closer to his lair. Surt’s level had more “brick wall” puzzles that disrupted the pacing of gameplay, and didn’t end up leading up to the boss fight in a very successful way. These are just my personal opinions from my experience playing the game so far, but I definitely felt more intimidated by, invested in, and a part of, Valravn’s level than Surt’s. I’m hoping that future levels will continue to surprise and entertain me, but I hope that they don’t start to fall flat as the game continues. Next Monday, I’ll enter Helheim and continue the journey!

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