Expeditions: Viking is a historically-themed RPG that starts you off as the leader of a bunch of Viking in the early 8th Century. You're playing at a point in time before the Vikings really started spreading out by using the sea and riverways of Europe, but they currently still reside in what is known today as Denmark and England, You'll create a character at the start as the leader, and then take command of the men and women underneath you by utilizing their skills for certain roles. You'll travel from town to town, making friends and enemies, taking on quests and learning more about life in this period in time.
The gameplay splits up into three parts: the Global Map where you explore around the area of the world you're in, Questing Locations where you explore what's around you with multiple options, and Combat Phase where everything turns into the PRG element for fighting. You basically have the ability to go anywhere and explore what quests are nearby you. Some of them can be simple like proving some kind of service to the village you're near, or they can be difficult like fending off attackers who raid places at night. You're not overloaded with quests or get the feeling of being bogged down with a to-do list, they come pretty regularly and offer multiple ways of handling them from non-violent to bloodshed.
All of the conversations you have are essentially point-and-click. Someone well come to you and talk with text on the screen and a photo to match. You'll then be given options below on how to respond, which will guide the story and dictate how your quest will go. Once you finish a quest you'll be given experience, but there's no proper leveling system (i.e. 1-99) and instead, your points will go into specific areas to help you improve on who you are and what you do. It's an interesting way to force you to think about how to approach situations with specific characters and how to level up people who you want to become proficient in certain areas. At a glance, there appears to be over 100 areas you can level up over time, much like job systems from Final Fantasy games, but much more complex beyond simply picking a title and plugging points away into it.
Some of the downsides to Expeditions: Viking revolves around the order in which you do things and navigation. First, while you have freedom of choice in quests, you don't have much freedom in how you approach them. If I decide to go straight to the end of a dungeon and kill off the main bad guy, the game will run into errors as it tries to compensate for my bold decision to get to the end of the journey. It feels like it wants me to take actions in a certain order after making my choice, and that feels restrictive. As far as navigating, it works well with a map of the overall world, but inside dungeons and other structures where you take up a quest, there's no "memory" of where you've been or where you might be able to go. Even in some of the most simplistic dungeon crawlers, I have some kind of map showing me the way I came.
The combat is orchestrated as turn-based with a hexagon pattern on the board once you enter the phase. There doesn't seem to be a specific pattern as to what person gets to go when unless someone gets the drop on the other. Every enemy responds differently to attacks, so keep in mind who you have on the forefront of battle and who you have sticking to the back. Enemies also don't stay in any kind of formation and give no quarter to who they attack—meaning if they see a weak character, they will be the focus and die, even if they're in the back. There's a nice balance to movement and combat phases that doesn't feel like you're being overrun with people or totally dominant in battle, the best strategy is to stay confident but play smart. Don't do either and the game will punish you for your weakness.
The design and the music are pretty well done for what the game is supposed to be. Every track gives you a sense of being in this time period (even thought I'm sure they didn't use this much flute music in the cold) and puts you in the mood to protect your brothers and find amazing adventures. Graphics-wise, everything is well done from the lighting of the day to shadowing, placement of light, design of structures, even random bits of hay on the ground. There's a great feeling of being in old villages as you wander around with a real sense of being the only people around in this part of the world while it grows. While individual characters have their own "sway" to them to make them appear lifelike and not just solid avatars, at least the design makes them feel much more human.
Expeditions: Viking is a very well-done game, there are many great elements to it and it reminded me of old quest adventure games from the early '90s. As far as the education goes, there's some stuff to learn here as you're given facts about the era, but I wouldn't call this a history lesson to take to heart. There are primary figures of this period in time that just don't seem to exist, and a lot of what you run into are generic people in famous cities. That being said, at least they're being as faithful to actual historical place and time than anything else. This is worth buying and playing through, but be aware, you'll be spending many hours with it.