Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: The best movies, TV shows, and games to experience ahead of the upcoming Viking epic
Welp, it’s official. The next proper Assassin’s Creed game, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, will drop players right into the tumultuous ninth century (commonly referred to as the Dark Ages) where they’ll experience firsthand the brutal conflict between invading Viking clans and the Kingdom of England. As the game’s impressive debut trailer reveals, Valhalla protagonist Eivor, who can be male or female depending on the player’s preference, is both a skilled warrior and a hidden blade-wielding assassin.
Ubisoft hasn’t given a tangible release date for Valhalla beyond “holiday, 2020,” which means fans still likely have a solid four to six months to go before they can play it for themselves. To help tide those same fans over while they wait, we thought we’d round up some essential Viking-themed television shows, movies, and, of course, video games that are worth checking out in the interim.
If you’re looking for constant action and combat, Valhalla Rising might not be the movie for you. If, on the other hand, you’re in the mood for a grim and tension-filled Viking epic that feels almost like a horror movie at times, this one might be for you. The 2009 film from director Nicolas Winding-Refn and starring acclaimed Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (of Death Stranding fame) tells a bleak story of prophecy, pilgrimage, and the suffocating terror of the unknown.
Mikkelsen plays a mute Viking thrall known only as ‘One-Eye’ who agrees to accompany a group of Christian Norsemen on an ill-advised crusade across the North Atlantic Ocean. Along with the stark imagery and eerie prophetic visions that give it its aforementioned horror movie vibe, Valhalla Rising also includes a fair amount of character drama, fight scenes, and landscape cinematography, making it an excellent choice for someone who’s looking for a thinking man’s Viking movie.
The 13th Warrior
Viking enthusiasts who don’t mind venturing back a few decades into cinema’s past should also check out the 1999 film The 13th Warrior. The film is actually based off of Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton’s 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead which itself is a loose reinterpretation of the epic poem Beowulf.
The 13th Warrior stars Antonio Banderas as Ahmad ibn Fadlan, a real-life Muslim writer and ambassador who actually travelled with a group of Vikings in the year 921 and helped provide written accounts of their customs and culture. Naturally the film takes some liberties with those historical events by positioning Banderas’ Ahmad as a reluctant companion to a group of 12 Viking warriors who must hunt down and slay a terrifying bear-like creature called a Wendol (another named for Beowulf’s monster, Grendel).
Like Valhalla Rising, The 13th Warrior also has a pretty strong horror movie vibe, and there’s some fighting and Viking revelry sprinkled in to help keep things lively. Granted, the film’s visuals and effects do look a bit dated considering it’s over 20 years old now, but such caveats do little to diminish its status as one of the most unique and compelling interpretations of the Beowulf legend to date.
To be perfectly frank, the 2007 film Pathfinder is not a good movie. However, as many cinema buffs well know, just because a movie isn’t good doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. Those hoping to see epic slo-mo fight scenes and dramatically-framed scenes complete with swirling snowstorms and thundering sound effects won’t be disappointed. Of course, the epic fights and flashy visuals merely cover up the fact that Pathfinder is woefully lacking in the plot and character development departments.
In Pathfinder, Karl Urban plays Ghost, a former Viking whose clan was wiped out when he was a boy after they unsuccessfully tried to invade the Americas. Raised among a local Native American tribe, Ghost is naturally shunned and distrusted due to the circumstances of his being there. But of course when a new group of Vikings shows up to destroy everything his adoptive tribe has, he also just happens to be the exact sort of savior his tribe needs.
Pathfinder was unanimously panned by critics upon initial release and was equally spurned at the box office, barely making $31 million off of a $45 million budget. The film did technically end up making a profit, but only thanks to an unusually generous $22 million in DVD sales.
The film’s screenwriter, Laeta Kalogridis, also later adapted Pathfinder into a graphic novel with help from artist Christopher Shy. The graphic novel had a much more successful critical reception thanks to its striking art and minimalist approach to dialogue, proving that even the worst interpretations of Viking expansion can have their silver lining.
The Last Kingdom
Not only is BBC America and Netflix’s The Last Kingdom a suitably epic historical drama featuring Vikings, it can also potentially help fill the gritty hack-and-slash hole in your life left by the absence of shows like Game of Thrones. All four seasons of the show are currently available for viewing on Netflix, with a fifth season expected (though not yet confirmed) to arrive sometime in 2021.
Taking a sort of reverse angle as Pathfinder, The Last Kingdom is based off of Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories series of novels and thus focuses on a fictional protagonist named Uhtred of Bebbanburg. Born an Anglo-Saxon noble but raised as a Viking after being captured by an invading Danish raiding party as a boy, Uhtred is constantly torn between two worlds. He’s fiercely loyal to the Viking family that raised him, but he also knows he must reclaim the Earldom of Bebbanburg that was unjustly stolen from him by his uncle Ælfric.
Suffice it to say, The Last Kingdom should be just what the doctor ordered for anyone looking to immerse themselves in some good old-fashioned historical period drama. Its production value may not be as high as what Game of Thrones was working with, but that doesn’t make its political intrigue and large-scale battles any less compelling.
While not strictly Viking-themed, Netflix’s original series Ragnarok might still be worth a watch if your interests lean less towards violent warfare and bloodletting and more towards Norse culture and mythology.
Ragnarok is equal parts a coming-of-age story, a superhero epic, and a cautionary tale regarding the dangers of climate change and industrial pollution. Set in the modern day, the series focuses on a teenage boy named Magne who discovers he has latent superpowers which essentially make him an embodiment of the Norse god of thunder Thor. The timing of this discovery is fortunate since it turns out the sleepy Norwegian town Magne and his family have recently returned to is being run by a family of villainous frost giants who are posing as humans and exploiting the town’s natural resources.
The premise behind Ragnarok admittedly sounds a bit silly on paper, but the show’s high-caliber special effects and superhero through-lines mesh surprisingly well with its more humble portrayals of Norwegian culture. Mythology and the machinations of the gods were a big part of the Viking lifestyle, and Ragnarok provides one of the most compelling and unique depictions of that mythology to date.
Yep, we couldn’t really make a list of essential Viking-themed media without including a show that’s literally called Vikings. The seminal History Channel-produced series, which recently concluded an impressive six-season run, focuses mainly on the exploits of the legendary Viking folk hero Ragnar Lothbrok and his family. The evolution of both Viking and Medieval European cultures is also a prominent theme of the show as it depicts major historical events such as the Viking raid on Lindisfarne, Norway’s tense dealings with the Kingdom of Wessex, and the Viking Siege of Paris.
Along with its impressively staged battle scenes and high-quality cinematography, Vikings is also largely defined by its character drama. Thanks to impressive performances from actors such as Travis Fimmel, Katheryn Winnick, Clive Standen, and Gustaf Skarsgard among many others, Vikings’ producers and writers spent all six seasons crafting a believable world filled with political upheaval, violent betrayals, familial in-fighting, and shocking plot twists. The fact that so much juicy drama and violence is set against a backdrop of brutal Viking culture only adds to the show’s already well-earned appeal.
Oh, and in case you didn’t already have enough Viking-themed reasons to subscribe to Netflix, the streaming network is apparently helping to produce a spin-off sequel series called Vikings: Valhalla which will feature, among other iconic figures, Leif Erikson and William the Conqueror.
The Norwegian/English television series Norsemen is basically Vikings but with a comedic bent in the vein of Monty Python. To ensure the series appeals to both Norwegian and English-speaking audiences, creators Jon Iver Helgaker and Jonas Torgersen set up a filming schedule where each scene is actually filmed twice, once with the actors speaking Norwegian and again with them speaking in English.
Norsemen’s humor can be a little crude at times, but it can also be a refreshing palette-cleanser from all the violence and drama found in other entries on this list. If anything, it’s yet another show you should consider adding to your Netflix queue since the English versions of its first two seasons are available right now on the streaming platform (a third season is in development but hasn’t yet premiered stateside).
While not strictly a ‘Viking game’ since it also features Medieval knights, Japanese Samurai, and Chinese warriors, Ubisoft’s tense competitive brawler For Honor is still worth checking out for players who want to channel their inner Viking bloodlust. The game’s in-depth class system allows players to utilize a number of different fighting styles and combat strategies as they engage in everything from large-scale team battles to more intimate 1v1 and 2v2 skirmishes.
For Honor’s Viking faction is also suitably stacked with powerful fighters like the Raider, the Berserker, the Valkyrie, and the Shaman, all of whom perfectly embody the Viking combat ethos of skill bolstered through savagery. Players who don’t mind sacrificing story and character-driven drama in favor of pure adrenaline-fueled combat should definitely look into taking For Honor’s Viking faction for a spin.
Viking: Battle for Asgard
It’s hard to think of Creative Assembly without also thinking of games largely about war and combat. The British game development studio is best known for its Total War strategy game series, a series which has focused on major conflicts from Ancient Japan, the Roman Empire, and Medieval Europe to name a few. In the early 2000’s, Creative Assembly also tried its hand at crafting games which focused on a singular playable protagonist amidst a larger conflict. One of those games was 2008’s Viking: Battle for Asgard.
Battle for Asgard casts players as a young Viking warrior named Skarin who is summoned to serve as the champion of the war goddess Freya as she fights to stop Hel, the goddess of death, from triggering Ragnarok, the apocalyptic world-ending battle foretold in Norse mythology. As for gameplay, Battle for Asgard focuses mainly on violent hack-and-slash combat, though there are some minor RPG components and even quick-time events to shake up the status quo.
Actually playing Viking: Battle for Asgard these days might be a bit tricky since the game’s console version only ever launched for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and as of this writing it was never ported over to newer consoles. Creative Assembly did, however, later release a PC port in 2012 which is available on major storefronts like Steam.
Viking: Wolves of Midgard
Despite their similar-sounding names, Viking: Wolves of Midgard and Viking: Battle for Asgard are actually very different games. Whereas Battle for Asgard is a third-person hack-and-slash title from Creative Assembly, the much newer Wolves of Midgard is a Diablo-esque isometric RPG from Kalypso Media. In Wolves of Midgard, players can create their own character, embark on various quests, solve puzzles, and play either alone or cooperatively with others as they explore yet another colorful rendition of Norse mythology.
Wolves of Midgard is also a bit easier to access than Battle for Asgard since it was released just a few years ago in 2017 and is thus available on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles. Interestingly enough, Kalypso also took the time to port Wolves of Midgard over not just to PC but also Mac and Linux computers, making it one of the most widely available games on this list.
Fans of Human Head Studios’ classic 2000 Viking adventure game Rune can still technically play it via the Rune: Classic PC port that was released in 2012, but we’d also recommend those same fans check out the newer sequel Rune II (formerly Rune: Ragnarok).
Granted, Rune II’s development and subsequent early access launch have been plagued by a surprising amount of controversy, but real-life hiccups have done little to diminish the sequel’s status as a fun open-world action-RPG hybrid. Honestly, it’s hard for us to think of a type of player Rune II wouldn’t appeal to. It’s got character creation, open-world exploration, visceral real-time combat, structured quests and RPG mechanics, and of course a storyline involving warring gods and the looming threat of Ragnarok.
Rune II’s developer, Ragnarok Game, also just recently released a major overhaul for the game dubbed the Lazarus Update, making now the perfect time to revisit the Rune series’ brutal (yet fun) interpretation of Norse mythology and combat.
God of War (2018)
Sony Santa Monica’s God of War series served as a major tentpole for the evolving PlayStation brand over many years following its initial 2005 debut. However, after the disappointing launch of 2013’s God of War: Ascension (the 10th major game in the franchise), it was clear the series had all but run out of steam.
Sony Santa Monica wisely decided to hunker down and go back to the drawing board, and in 2016 it announced a new game, simply titled God of War, which promised to shake up the status quo of the entire series. Unlike all of the previous God of War games which were set in the world of Greek mythology, this new game would shift the focus over to an entirely different mythological setting, that of the Norse gods and their nine realms of influence.
Given the God of War series’ previously established pedigree, the newest God of War, which was released in 2018, has a suitably high production value. It also establishes a clear through line with the earlier games by starring returning protagonist Kratos, now an older and wiser (though no less ferocious in combat) warrior who can’t help but get caught up in the machinations of malevolent gods.
Fans of Norse mythology who have access to a PlayStation 4 should absolutely put God of War on their must-play list, especially considering how much of an influence the Norse gods will likely have in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Unlike virtually all of the other games we’ve covered in this list, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is not an action game. Yes, it involves wielding a sword and fighting monsters, and yes the name ‘Hellblade’ certainly sounds like the sort of moniker an action game would sport, but one of the greatest lessons Ninja Theory’s lovingly-crafted 2017 game will teach you is that looks can be deceiving.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a game which magnifies the pain of a single person’s struggle while also exemplifying that person’s inner strength and resolve. It’s a game about mental illness, the stigmas of a willfully ignorant communal unit, and the terrifying nightmares that, for those suffering in silence, are very much a daily reality. The game is brought to life through chaotic swirls of fire, grimy mud-covered locales, and an oppressive stillness in the air that’s occasionally interrupted by the eerie voices only protagonist Senua (and, by extension, the player) can hear.
We’ve talked before on multiple occasions about how Senua’s Sacrifice is a game that everyone needs to play, if only to better understand the subject matter Ninja Theory is exploring. We can’t promise the game will elicit feelings of happiness or satisfaction while you play, but we can say with certainty that it will help open your eyes to a societal problem that is unfortunately too often ignored.
Now is also a good time to experience the unique grimdark interpretations of Norse mythology present in Senua’s Sacrifice since the game is actually getting a sequel, appropriately dubbed Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II. We’re not yet sure how exactly the sequel will advance Senua’s personal story, but it looks as if the sadness and struggle which defined her first outing will have morphed into full-on anger, and that alone has us excited to see how Ninja Theory continues the series.