Nordic Mythology in Games: How Vikings Mix Up the Gaming World
Long beards, large swords and a martial appearance – we all combine that with Vikings. Northmen and Schildmaiden have had an amazing comeback in recent years. Whether in video games or series, they are moving more and more into the mainstream. And so the Nordic Middle Ages recently replaced contemporary locations or end-time scenarios as a preferred setting.
This year Ubisoft’s open-world series Assassin’s Creed ventures into the world of the Vikings: After we have been able to travel to Egypt and Greece for the last time, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla will be heading to the cold north at the end of 2020. And Ubisoft is not alone in this: The North and its myths and legends have developed into one of the hotspots for computer and video games in recent years. But why actually?
Fiction or story?
Before we go any further in the topic, we attest that north is not just north. After all, many games have different focuses and are sometimes more concerned with Nordic mythology and sometimes with the traditional history of that time. Take, for example, the God of War for PS4, published in 2018: After the former god of war Kratos had already shortened the rulers of Olympus, the action game series needed a change of location. So why not Nordic mythology? It offers strong characters and a rich fund of legendary characters and deities.
The historian and cultural scientist Dr. Elizabeth Ashman-Rowe worked as a consultant for Ninja Theorys Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (2017). In an interview, she told The Indie Game Website : “The gods in Nordic mythology are not immortal and will perish with the destruction of the earth. This makes them more human and therefore more personable.” Ashman-Rowe also believes that the setting has become interesting for many players because it allows a kind of escape from reality from current events. Anyone who is confronted with war and violence in everyday life may prefer to look for a more abstract setting in games like Nordic mythology.
However, Vikings also appear in realistic or even historical contexts in video games. In the Northgard development strategy game from 2017, for example, you are the tribal leader of your own clan, expanding the village and expanding its sphere of influence. The upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla also deals with this aspect of living together . Here you will also be able to build and expand your own settlement. In A Total War Saga: Thrones of Britannia(2018) you even go into the war between Vikings and British. This conflict began in 878, when the sons of Viking leader Ragnar Lodbrok wanted to avenge their father’s death. The real-time strategy game thus sets a similar starting point to Ubisoft’s upcoming open world adventure.
How much Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla actually stands out from mythology remains to be seen. On the one hand, Narrative Director Darby McDevitt told Gamespot that myths and legends would not play a major role in the new Assassin’s Creed . At the same time, the Beowulf legend seems to become part of the season pass of the action role-playing game. So it all looks like Ubisoft is picking the best of both worlds to tell its game story.
Text adventure, lost Vikings and construction heroes
Vikings have a long history in video games. In 1984, for example, the text adventure The Saga of Erik the Viking, developed by Level 9 Computing, was released, loosely based on the children’s book of the same name by Terry Jones. And before anyone asks: The story of the game also had nothing to do with the 1989 film Erik the Vikings starring Tim Robbins. In the letter adventure, good Erik had to find his kidnapped family and, for this purpose, hire comrades, find weapons and clear a ship nordic mythology.
In 1993, The Lost Vikings was finally a game of skill and puzzles, without whose success there might have never been brands like Warcraft or Diablo. The Lost Vikings was one of the early works by Silicon & Synapse – a company we now know as Blizzard Entertainment. To this day, the adventure has a loyal following, shining with surprisingly intelligent puzzle gameplay and a charming comic book look. The Lost Vikings, on the other hand, had hardly any narrative claims; the creators used the Vikings more as a sympathy for a humorous plot. Your job was to save the villagers, Vikings Erik, Baleog and Olaf, who had been caught by aliens just before. Very nice even then:
Other titles with Viking ambitions in the early days of video and computer games include the early strategy game Viking Raiders (1984), the action role-playing game Heimdall (1991) or the strategy title Hammer of the Gods (1994). Around the turn of the millennium, developers of development strategy games finally discovered the charm of the north: the beginning was made by 2000 Cultures, followed by The Settlers 4, published in 2001, in which, in addition to Romans and Maya, the Vikings could also be selected as playable factions. For the new edition The Settlers 2: The Next Generation, the add-on Vikings was released in 2007 nordic mythology.
The British studio Creative Assembly pursued a similar concept with its strategy chunk of Medieval: Total War: They launched the expansion Medievil: Total War – Viking Invasion in 2003 and expanded the original game with additional units, new possibilities and, above all, a fresh location.
Assassination like the Northmen
However popular strategy and construction games may be, mostly video games reduced Nordic legends and their warriors to the essentials: the fighting. For example, fans still rave about the action-adventure rune from 2000. The 3D game developed by Human Head Studios tells a bloody revenge story about the young Viking Ragnar, who even receives support from the godfather Odin. At that time, Rune stood out for its coherent combat system, which we used to fight through monsters, goblins and other legendary characters.
The action game Viking: Battle For Asgard, published by Sega in 2008, hit a very similar notch. As a Viking Skarin, you are against the gods Asgards. While the story does not leave out any cliché, the gameplay is strongly reminiscent of the early parts of God of War: You slaughter yourself with the broad-shouldered Nordmann through a host of opponents. Viking: Battle For Asgard is not particularly demanding, but turns out to be a very pleasing hack & slay. Bethesda’s role-playing epic The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim (2011), on the other hand, is quite different, with many elements and ideas from Nordic legends. It starts with the basic presentation of the game world Himmelsrand and extends to weapon and equipment design nordic mythology.
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