One of the most fascinating things about the Vikings is just how little we actually know about them. In contrast to the calm, confident and certain manner demonstrated by our primary school teachers when they regaled us with all things Viking, little of what they told us is based on that much evidence. Instead, a lot of what we have come to regard as being definite truths about the Vikings is based on circumstantial evidence at best, often from sources written centuries after their time.
There’s tons of fascinating new insights and observations being provided by historians and archaeologists every single day but the fact remains that there’s an awful lot of Viking deeds which are still unknown. It is this what makes the Viking era such a brilliant setting for an Assassin’s Creed game. For a series that prides itself in shining a light on – and offering a fantastical explanation for – the events of the past, this is a historical period rife with mystery.
So, here’s a list – the internet loves a list, right? Especially a numbered one – of five wonderful Viking facts that should absolutely be included in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Now, do bear in mind that some of these have only the teeniest amount of historical evidence to support them but then that’s what a good Assassin’s Creed game is all about; blending history with fantasy to create something new and unique.
Dancing on Ice
Fun fact to share with your loved ones over Sunday dinner: Vikings loved skiing. There is actual, genuine archaeological evidence that rudimentary skis were invented over 6000 years ago in Scandinavia. By the time of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, set in the 9th Century AD, it is likely that the Vikings were using skis for both a popular form of transportation and a source of leg-breaking fun. There was even a Viking god of skiing; Ullr. Not too much is known about this fella, but he is always depicted with skis and a bow.
Just imagine a section in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla where our plucky protagonist, Eivor, has to don a pair of skis to escape a horde of Saxon warriors. As you whip down a mountain at breakneck speed, with only a pair of thick twigs strapped to your feet to keep you upright, you must use your bow with pinpoint accuracy to strike down your pursuers. There could even be an entire optional objective that sees Eivor rack up points with his or her sick ski skills; unleashing 540 Tail Grabs, spread eagles, and corkscrew 720s to climb to the top of an online leaderboard.
Keep it clean
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will have a feature in which players can share their custom raiders with others online. You’ll be able to sit back, relax, and know that your menacing mercenary will be on hand to help out your pals in their game. Now who knows the level of customisation that will be on offer when the game finally launches but one thing which should absolutely be included is that you can make your custom warrior look very clean, plucked and well-manicured.
This is because Vikings were big on personal hygiene and appearance. Much more so than many of their historical contemporaries. Archaeologists have discovered combs, ear cleaners, razors and tweezers at burial sites. Vikings even went as far as to bathe once a week – outrageous, I know. In Old Norse ‘Saturday’ is ‘laugardagr’, which means ‘bathing day’. One account, usually credited to an abbot of St Albans states:
“Thanks to their habit of combing their hair every day, of bathing every Saturday and regularly changing their clothes, [the Vikings] were able to undermine the virtue of married women and even seduce the daughters of nobles to be their mistresses.”
Living in America
DLC. Let’s face it, if it’s anything like previous entries in the series, then Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is going to have more DLC than you can wave a decapitated monk’s head at. Thing is, after having spent tens of hours exploring England, we might need a fresh environment to raid. Why not America?
After all, the Vikings beat Christopher Columbus to America by approximately five hundred years. Leif Erikson, a Norse explorer likely born in Iceland, established a settlement in ‘Vinland’, often considered as being located on the coast of North America. Now just imagine his epic voyage re-created in-game – that would be a chunk of add-on content that would definitely have me reaching for my wallet.
Admittedly, there’s a significant period of time that separates Leif Erikson from Eivor but I’m sure that’s nothing that a bit of Animus nonsense can’t resolve.
Weirdest Mini-Game QTE EVER
I don’t like QTEs (quick-time events) in games. They feel a bit lazy and lose all dramatic impact when you repeatedly fail at the exact same time just because you’d didn’t tap ‘X’ fast enough. But maybe the reason I don’t like them is because they just haven’t been set in the right context; they haven’t included cow tail pulling.
I only have one academic source for this insight: my much thumbed through and well-worn copy of ‘Horrible Histories Vicious Vikings’ by the legendary Terry Deary. In this educational masterpiece there is a section on Viking Law. Apparently, “fights were very popular in the courts of Denmark and Sweden. But if a man was beaten, and wanted to have his life spared, then he had to go through a harsh test”. What was this test? Basically, you’d shave off all the hair from a wild cow’s tail. Then you’d cover Daisy’s – all cows are called Daisy – tail in grease. At this point the person who lost the fight, let’s call him Dave – not the most Viking of names but it’s the first one I thought of – must cover his feet in grease too. Then Dave must grip Daisy’s tail and hold on for dear life. Daisy is then whipped to make her so angry she charges. If Dave can hold on to Daisy’s tail until she calms down then his can keep his life, and, for good measure, the cow too. If Dave can’t hold on then he’ll probably be trampled to death under Daisy’s formidable tail.
Now, just picture this scene playing out as a QTE Mini-game in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla; the player frantically bashing buttons and twiddling thumb sticks to keep a tight grip on Daisy’s waggling tail. It would be awesome, right? I can smell the GOTY award already.
No Horns Please, We’re Vikings
It’s probably fairly common knowledge by now but let’s just be clear: Vikings didn’t have horns on their helmets. When I first learnt this I was shocked, appalled and ever so slightly nauseous. But copious retching doesn’t change the fact that there was nary a horn to be seen on a Viking helm. Horns on a helmet would be ridiculous: the additional weight would make fighting in battle even more arduous. Not to mention the fact that the horns would render a warrior horribly off balance, likely to cause them to slip on some mud and land embarrassingly prostrate at the feet of an amused Saxon. All of that doesn’t stop me from feeling the way I feel though; I prefer my Vikings with horns.
How about this as a compromise: whilst Vikings didn’t wear elaborate headgear into battle, their gods certainly could have done. Assassin’s Creed loves to fuse a culture’s myths into game mechanics, so why not include different god’s helmets that imbue Eivor with special abilities? A winged Thor helm that grants Eivor lightning powers, who wouldn’t want that? Just watch out for Marvel’s lawyers, they are more devastating than a Thanos finger click.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will launch later this year on November 17th, coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia. A next-gen version is also planned for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.
Playing with History is our ongoing series spotlighting video games and the real-world people and events that inspire them. From the harrowing historic backdrop fuelling Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, to the existence of zombies in Days Gone, and a deep dive into Jurassic World Evolution’s T-Rex, join us as continue to expand our timeline. Why not explore the real-world history behind Ghosts of Tsushima, or learn just how authentic the game is, according to a samurai expert.