The Frostrune beautifully captures small details of this world like clothes dyed with madder root and an honored gravesite near the sea in the shape of the ship. And the painted backgrounds effectively reinforce the authentic desolate setting that has been meticulously planned out.
The human-constructed spaces look compelling making use of traditional architecture and design filled with classical tools like forges and looms. The game features traditional Norse artwork, which decorates these spaces and gives them a unique feel. The outdoor drawings are not that successful, though. There are some branching paths through the forest that are hard to differentiate.
The backgrounds are almost always static, with some animation like flickering fires or distant lightning flashes, which is appropriate to the setting, an abandoned village. The art also does a good job of directing our eyes towards the available exits and touchable hotspots, and the items which can be picked up are easy to identify thanks to their color or design. Exits are clearly marked with paths, so it’s not hard to see where you can go.
The sound design is also well-done and evocative, especially the choice to have all voice acting in Norse with subtitles. The audio is atmospheric and creepy in the spirit world and pastoral in the real world, which is a nice counterpoint to the ghost town the player explores. However, if you don’t want to bother people around you with Old Norse chants, you can turn off the sounds and play on silent as well.
After the shipwreck, the unnamed protagonist character finds her way into the temple where she is called upon by the spirit of a seer who talks to her in lovely semi-riddles. Here your mysterious journey to discover what happened to the abandoned village begins. It takes the form of a puzzle adventure that sends you around the individual static scenes in the tiny village and the surrounding forest. There you will collect items as you wander and discover various clues scattered to open new paths and learn more about the cause of current desolation on the island. In The Frostrune’s fairly small world, you will be able to access most areas of the island early on, but a lot of important places and objects will initially be covered in the mysterious frost that not even fire can melt.
The interaction with a handful of ghostly characters is limited to hearing what they have to say and bring them what they want. The game’s lack of the thoughtful narrative and compelling character is glaring. It boils down to the plot like “something bad happened and the player will eventually find the big bad and beat it”. But there is no sense of threat or something being at stake in the game, no dark secrets you feel the urgency to uncover.
The characters are purely transactional — you get them something, and they give you what you need — with no character arc. After you gain the ability to travel to the spirit world, the puzzles also lack a sense of progression. You are gathering totems for an unclear purpose, and the final quest comes out of nowhere and is resolved just as quickly.
To solve half of the puzzles you just need to use the appropriate tool for a situation. If you need to dig, find a shovel. To cut — a scythe. The remaining puzzles rely on your ability to see into the spirit world and often take the form of locked puzzle boxes, where the combination is in plain sight in the game’s world. So, it becomes just a matter of memory to solve them. No imagination or experimentation are required.
A hint system is available, but the puzzles are never too hard to figure out. And the limited island size and inventory mean that even if you are lost on what you have to do next, the solution is unlikely more than a few scenes away.
Moreover, the hints are not just suggestions or questions that guide to the answer. In The Frostrune, the hints spell out what you need to do next explicitly, which might be useful when stuck but not too much fun.
The Frostrune’s interface is straightforward resembling any other puzzle adventure games. You just have to tap on items to interact with them. The use of inventory is also simply a matter of opening it and tapping on the item you need and the place it is to be applied.
Replay Value 4/5
The Frostrune has a linear storyline with a bunch of mini-games and random pick-ups, but they are hardly enough to be a reason for replaying the game. It doesn’t really scratch the puzzle-solving itch that others in the genre like Isoland satisfy so well.
The Frostrune is available for a one-time purchase of $4,99 and doesn’t have any in-app purchases.
The Frostrune is a visually stunning experience that draws you in with its beautiful Nordic countryside and disquieting scenes of ruin and death. The mix of Old Norse voiceovers and mythological environments and objects bring the tenth-century world to life.
On the other hand, the simple riddles, a small number of puzzles and lack of real challenge leave the game feeling unfulfilled. It’s a wonderful story, but it is just too easy because it relies only on memory and step-by-step reasoning. It results in a game, which doesn’t evenly balance its beauty and its brains.