Vidar was a game that surprised me, in a few senses of the word. First, I’d not heard about it until Dean Razavi, the creator, reached out. Secondly, the game itself surprised me because of the fact that I think it can actually pull off its lofty goal, and pull it off phenomenally well.
Vidar is an RPG-Puzzler taking place in the town of Vidar, sealed off from the rest of the world by a freak snowstorm that everyone thought was impassable. You play as The Stranger, a…stranger… who managed to make his way through the snowstorm to this small village. He, however, is not the interesting part about this game. What is interesting is the fact that everyone is going to die.
The town of Vidar is haunted by a Beast, and every night, that Beast kills one of the 24 NPC’s living in the town. The interesting thing about this is that the NPC is randomly selected. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, however, there is an intricate web of inter-NPC-relationships at play in Vidar. Each NPC’s death is gateway to new quests, opportunities and dangers. Combine this with the fact that all of the puzzles in Vidar have a randomized element to them, and you’ve pretty much got a guarantee that you are going to have a unique play through of this game.
Initially, I thought that this sense of randomization was mostly talk. Lots of games promise variability and choices that have significant impact on the story. Sadly, it never feels like this is the case. However, after seeing three or four people tackle the same puzzle in the demo for Vidar, and see three or four completely different setups for this puzzle, I’ve got high hopes for Vidar. Yes, there was only one puzzle available, and it was a demo, so it was fairly contained, but nevertheless the sense of variety and open-endedness was there.
Here’s a superb breakdown of one Character Plot Tree that gives a sense of what you can expect:
Each NPC in Vidar has their own potential plot, which can be divided into dozens of branches. Where the NPC goes depends on random factors (who the Beast kills) and player action (how quickly, if at all, the player completes quests and puzzles).
Take Etel, for example. Etel is the last remaining guardsman, and a coward. He joined only because he respected Barnabas (another of the 24) and wanted to eventually follow in his footsteps. Now that Vidar is under attack, Etel can’t work up the courage to do much, and he covers it up by solving immaterial concerns. If the player gets the lantern before Etel dies, Etel will ask the player to rid a cave of harmless imps. On completion, Etel will then become concerned with wolves gathered in the Beast’s cave. If Dorottya the blacksmith is still alive, she’ll confront Etel about his cowardice – Etel will join you in a new quest to clear out the wolves den. He’ll grow a backbone, and begin patrolling the city at night for any threats to Vidar’s safety, now sworn to stop the beast. If you can convince the clergy that the Church should be used as a gathering point for the remaining NPCs, Etel will promise to stand guard outside, giving his life before anyone else’s.
But if Dorottya is not alive, Etel will send you to clear the wolf cave alone. He’ll further delude himself with the belief that he’s really helping his town. His fears concerning a mystical, self-appointed “goddess” living in the cave will surface, and he’ll ask you to take on yet another quest. Only this time, you’ll be asked to do something far more morally ambiguous. If the apothecary is dead, the oil used in the streetlamps will be of poor quality, and now that Etel is not patrolling the streets, a fire might break out in a town that can ill afford any more loss of life.
And of course, recall that Etel viewed Barnabas as his hero. If Barnabas dies before you’ve cleared the imps, Etel will give up all hope. He’ll hang up his armor and find his way to the bar. Instead of any of the quests above, you’ll be confronted with a whole new plot line trying to save Etel from the bottom of a bottle.