Bear with me for a bit, but Viking: Battle For Asgard could well end up being the game a lot of people wanted out of Fable. See, the cornerstone of Fable was this idea of letting the player step into the (massive clown) shoes of a 'Hero'. And you could decide what kind of hero you wanted to be, and what you did, and how you did it, but there was something so important missing. A real hero is a one in a million, stand-out kind of guy, yet Fable's world was tiny and quirky. At best you could be the champion of a dozen zany hayseeds, hick inbreds whose praise was irritating enough to make a lot of players abruptly turn to the dark side half way through the game after butchering the population of an entire city. So, about twelve people. You could be a protagonist, and you could become quick and beefy, but you never felt like a hero.
By contrast, Viking makes you feel like a mother-f**king living legend.
It's all about the scale. While the mainstay of Viking is third person hack & slash with you sallying forth alone, the engine just so happens to be capable of simulating battles with a few thousand men on either side. But while most action games that do the large battle thing make it the focus, Viking holds the good stuff back like an ice queen. And that's fun. Imagine you've spent a couple of hours capturing strategic locations, delivering messages and taking out pockets of opposition (this is talking about Viking, not dating), all the while being told what you're doing is important. At the end of it you'll actually be able to see that it's important- you'll see the siege equipment built by the lumber mill you liberated, your archers setting up on the hill you explored, and you'll see 1500 united, hulking Viking warriors, marching off to war. And you'll be the one leading them, like the barechested badass you are.
The battles are what Creative Assembly calls the 'boss fights' of Viking, since they come at the end of each of the themed islands you have to reclaim. And you have to reclaim them because at the start of the game they've all fallen to the undead legions of Hel. Not Hell - Hel, the daughter of the Norse God of mischief and trickery who only went and opened up portals to the underworld all over the land. Since her ultimate goal is to bring about an early Ragnarok, Odin is understandably miffed and gets Freya, his daughter, to stop her, who in turn passes the job off onto the player, her champion Skarin. As if he hasn't got better things to do.
A concern you might have is that the small scale combat of games like Dynasty Warriors, Bladestorm, Kingdom Under Fire, or even Creative's own Spartan: Total Warrior was mediocre at best, and basing most of Viking around that would be a terrible idea. Now we can't say this for sure because we only got to watch the devs play (and make of that what you will) but Viking could be the game to break the trend.
In the mission we saw Skarin was on the forest themed island, tasked with creeping into a quarry where some Viking warriors were being held prisoner, releasing them, then helping them fight their way out. The first step here was to travel deep into the Hel-controlled forest where the quarry was, and the difference between land ruled by evil and Viking territory is immense. As you push across the forest island liberating patches of land before the climactic end battle you'll see it turn from a sickly green to an autumnal gold, and blazing sun replaces cloud and thick fog.
Now this mission we were looking at was a sneaking mission, but there weren't any strict rules or dubious alert systems in place. Instead the scale of the engine came into play, and sneaking was just a necessity because there were 40-strong blocks of undead warriors marching about. It was explained to us that there was nothing stopping ambitious players confronting the patrols dead on, and with a bit of luck it was perfectly possible to massacre them all. But since most players would have their hands full with the enemy assassins that occasionally dropped down from trees, drawing extra attention wasn't recommended.
It was in tackling these assassins we got to see the concept behind the combat. If you manage to find the time to slaughter bad guys with gory, cinematic fatality moves (think impaling, disembowelling and the like) then you'll please Freya and she'll give you blessings that power your quick, efficient moves, the ones that are actually useful. So the dynamic here is that when you can you get obscenely bloody, and when you're in trouble you use the blessings to perform quick, mobile stabs and slashes that cause enemies to crumple like paper bags. More long term you'll want to boost Skarin's abilities by using the facilities of Viking settlements, learning new moves from your ancestors and upgrading your weapons and armour.
The other chunk of gameplay we were shown was the final battle for an unforgiving looking island of ice and stone. Aside from it being pretty awesome to see the action instantly upgraded from a few dozen skeletons to an entire army of darkness, this also taught us a bit about how the warfare works. A number on your screen tells you exactly how many men you've got left standing, and you're given a few options as to how to go about helping them. Getting stuck in is one choice but there's a time and a place for it, and really you'll want to hunt down and shut down the portals that the undead respawn through. On your own side you have Viking shamans that heal your troops (and you if you're close) so you'll need to defend them at all cost. Then there's stuff you'll gain access to for completing optional missions, like gaining the trust of dragons prior to a battle lets you call them in like mythical airstrikes.
It's a lot for a guy to think about. Fortunately, by the looks of things you're not just a guy. You're a hero. And we'll find out exactly how much of one early next year.