The Viking Issue

You need to play the most underrated Viking game of the century ASAP

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has nothing on this overlooked classic.

Dozens of virtual Vikings stream onto the screen, forming a wonderfully chaotic mess of bodies and weapons. As limbs fly every which way, you wade into the frenzy to help reclaim the region from Hel the Norse goddess of death and her mythological horde.

There are a handful of memorable Viking games out there, but few manage to embrace the mythos and power fantasy of the genre well as Viking: Battle for Asgard. Released in 2008 by The Creative Assembly (a studio best-known for the popular strategy series Total War), Battle for Asgard departed from the company’s turn-based gameplay to offer an action-focused experience that leans heavily into both mythology and cartoonish violence.

The result is the gaming equivalent of a B-movie, and arguably the most underrated Viking video game ever made.

The Viking Issue celebrates the glorious weirdness, diversity, and curious nature of everyone's favorite Scandinavian seafarers.

The plot of Battle for Asgard is mostly just a vessel for the action, but if you’re into Norse mythology, you’ll find plenty to love. Hel, the goddess of death, has been banished from Asgard for defying Odin. In her anger, she raises an army of dead Viking warriors to take over the mortal realm, Midgard. Freya, the goddess of war, sent to stop Hel and chooses Skarin as a champion, a mute Viking warrior with a penchant for hacking off limbs.

As the setup makes clear, there is no emotional arc here like the one gamers experienced a decade later in 2018’s God of War. But Battle for Asgard has enough backstabbing and intrigue among the Norse pantheon of gods to keep you invested. The dynamic between Asgard and Midgard also fuels the game’s minimal story.

Battle for Asgard’s stylized aesthetic yields some gorgeous landscapes.Sega

The late 2000s saw a surge of open-world games. Fallout 3 and Fable 2 both came out the same year as Battle for Asgard, but the Viking epic puts its own spin on the genre. For each region you encounter, you’ll go through a cycle as you reclaim that land from Hel’s evil forces by first freeing your fellow Vikings and then sabotaging the enemy before finally launching a massive siege.

Because this is an open-world game, there are various ways to accomplish this goal. You can sneak past your enemies to free your fellow Vikings, or simply charge in headfirst and hope for the best.

Battle for Asgard doesn’t have the most complex or engaging battle system out there, but it’s incredibly visceral. There’s a “crunchiness” to each blow that’s incredibly satisfying, and the game certainly doesn’t shy away from blood and gore. This violence is all depicted with a cartoon asthethic that lightens the experience a bit, while also clashing nicely with the Battle for Asgard’s more realistic-looking sweeping mountain ranges and roiling seas.

Areas controlled by Hel are shrouded in darkness, but once you reclaim a region it will transition to daytime.Sega

It’s tremendous fun to see your Viking settlement grow as you save more soldiers. Each time you return to your base you’ll notice new allies celebrating at massive tables or setting up extra defenses. But it’s all leading up to the sieges. These massive battles that pit hundreds of warriors against each other are the undeniable highlight of the game thanks to their sheer scale, not to mention the violence.

Only a few other games have ever managed to have the same scope for battles. (In retrospect, Battle for Asgard feels like a precursor to the sieges in Middle-Earth: Shadow of War.) The more Vikings you save, the more of an advantage you’ll have in these battles, making your hard work translate directly into a more satisfying siege.

And while other Viking games have followed — from God of War’s pivot to Norse mythology to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla exploration into the actual history — the genre is still surprisingly small. Perhaps that’s because Battle for Asgard perfected the formula so long ago that few other studios have even bothered to improve of this absurdly violent open-world exprience.

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