I’ve somewhat recently put up my review for Assassin’s Creed: Origins (read it here!), and I played that after winning a copy of the game from a Facebook competition. The question was simple: where would you set the next Assassin’s Creed game? I was only given 25 words to use, so this was my response:
But without that restriction, let me just delve into what I consider one of the most dramatic time periods, which could provide some of the best gameplay. I’m talking, of course, about the approximately 9th century Vikings, and with the recent release of Assassin’s Creed: Rogue Remastered and it’s mention of the era, this seems like the perfect time.
First and foremost, none of this is real, it is just where I WANT the series to go forward. I freely admit that I am a huge fan of the TV show Vikings, and many of my design assumptions come from the clothing, settlements and story lines from this show. In no particular order, here are some reasons why the Viking Era would be perfect in an Assassin’s Creed game:
1. New and Diverse Locations
I am certainly not alone when I say that the tree-running from Assassin’s Creed III was as pleasant a surprise as we could have hoped for. What had the potential to be a janky gimmick full of miss-timed jumps was instead a free-flowing joy, as Connor leapt from branch to branch with ease. The natural landscapes of 9th century Scandinavian countries would be not too unlike the Frontier area from Assassin’s Creed III, and would provide numerous locations for villages to be set up, with wooden huts or brick-built dining halls for the player to jump between. Throw in some wooden posts between the buildings and the tree line, and we’re set to never need to touch the ground.
Though the vikings themselves were not necessarily known for their vertical architecture, the oft-raided locations of England, France or Wessex (the southern area of Great Britain) would provide perfect instances to climb upwards and onwards. Churches, chapels or even full castles would be more than vertical enough to gain a height advantage on unsuspecting guards, or to escape from any situation the raiding party might find themselves in. The street levels labyrinths could be well utilised as battle zones, and all the major cities along the coast would need to include ports or docks for traders to access the area, providing somewhere to dock your longboat before a raid.
2. Varied Game Mechanics
The word ‘vikings‘ comes from the old English word ‘wicing‘, meaning ‘pirate‘, so you can be assured there would be raids incorporated into the game, whether as side missions or as part of the main story. Viking raids were mentioned by Otso Berg in Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, as Berg relived a raid through the memories of an ancestor. Taking part in the 793 raid in Lindsifarne, often considered the beginning of the Viking Era, this could potentially be a fantastic opening to the game. Berg’s ancestor, as Berg describes here, defeats a Saxon warrior and offers the warrior to join the viking raiding party. When the warrior cries out, Berg describes killing him without a second thought. Gaining allies through this battle system could replace the recruitment missions from Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and these warriors themselves could take the part of mini-bosses through each raid.
Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ updated hunting mechanics would also fit perfectly into the Viking Era. The Vikings were known for their use of fur in clothing, and packs of wolves would obviously roam the cold environments of the Scandinavian countries. Depending on just how much of a role-playing game this would be, different animal pelts could provide different bonuses, such as wolf skins making you faster, bear hides provide a strength bonus etc. Stalking animals from grass, or hunting from trees are just two possible methods, but many vikings would be well versed in the use of bows for activities other than just hunting.
Well regarded as mighty warriors, various weapons would be of use to any Viking warrior, with axes, swords, shields and bows being but a few. The shields introduced in Origins also would not be out of place, though perhaps they should be limited to the wooden round shields, at least at first, and both smaller or two-handed axes would not be out of place. Perhaps most importantly though, is that by heading backwards in time there is less and less need to awkward write out the use of guns: just go back here, where they didn’t exist yet. In fact, the first gun used chronologically in the series was not until the year 1247!
3. Historical Figures, Good and Bad
The Assassin’s Creed franchise is well known for having its playable assassins bump into any number of historically important people, from Ben Franklin to Napoleon, Julius Caesar to Cleopatra, and there are uncountable significant warriors in the Viking era. Surprisingly, with a well over 1000 year gap between the earliest game (Assassin’s Creed: Origins, 49 BC) and the next (Assassin’s Creed, 1190 AD), the Viking period has only been mentioned once in the main series.
The player assassin them-self could be any number of legendary warriors, male or female, or perhaps even a ‘no-name’ in the Viking horde, and players could have run-ins with famous names, as either friend or foe. Well known Vikings, such as Bjorn Ironside, King Harald, Erik the Red or Ivar the Boneless could show up as allied clan leaders, or be made to be allies through the story, whilst on the opposite side Kings Aelle, Eckbert or Charlemagne could stand opposed to the viking expansion.
The Viking armor and sword, found in Rogue, could easily play a part, with a viking warrior ending up in the Northern Atlantic sea, leaving behind their attire and weapon.
4. Potential Negatives
But of course, it’s not all smooth sailing, and the Viking Age does have it’s own set of issues. First and perhaps foremost is that the Vikings were known as being particularly violent warriors, which may be off putting to a (relatively) tame video game series. Viking raids often included mass murder or rape, which most definitely would not make it into a mainstream video game, even if it were just implied. The debate of ‘why bother doing something realistic if you take out the realism’ could go on forever, but I think it best for everyone if this was just avoided altogether.
Another negative could be that the Viking villages are not particularly well suited for free running, which I sort of touched on above. There are some ways to ‘cheat’ this, of course, such as just placing trees in between buildings, or taking some creative liberties with multi-story housing, but it is still worth noting. Treating the Viking towns as a hub, and having the bulk of the parkour movement take place in the other areas of the game likewise feels a little bit cheap.
Finally, it must be said, that maybe all of this wishful thinking is simply not possible. Fleshed out protagonists, with a complex combat system and a deep story in a living world with numerous side activities just seems too good to be true.
Despite any potential pitfalls, I believe that the Viking Age would make for the perfect setting of a future Assassin’s Creed game. The time period has been nearly untouched, and would provide numerous possibilities to take the series in a fresh new direction, but still retain the classic formula.