In writer Robert Macfarlane’s 2019 study of All Things Underground, named Underland, he attaches the basement to the concept of disposal. Underneath the surface is “the garbage, the poison, the trauma, the secrets” – or where we hide them. In Valhalla, Grendel is a deformed human exiled from the surface because of his otherness. He’s an uncomfortable truth hidden until all of his anger, hatred, rejection, and isolation burst forth from the depths, violently.
Beowulf’s poem is fantastic not only for its early and vivid depiction of the English landscape, but also for the contrast it draws with much later, more contemporary views of nature. The majority of open world games see the landscape through a romantic lens: lush and vibrant forests, verdant hills, sublime mountains. The landscapes of Beowulf are much darker. England is a more hostile place – its forests still thick and shady, its bogs yet to dry up, the hills not yet completely pastorized. In terms of storytelling, throughout Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla there is that central conflict between Christianity and paganism, but at the same time, in the field of landscape, there is also a tension between the idyllic and the inhospitable.
The strange and the strange
It’s easy to bask in the scenic beauty of a game like Valhalla, but like the real lands on which they are based, virtual England is a place built on top of intense violence and atrocities. In Macfarlane’s essay “The strangeness of the English countrysideHe describes the English landscapes as being “made up of strange forces” and “partially buried suffering”. Referring to another short story by MR James, A view from a hill, where a picturesque scene transforms into a death and execution stage when viewed through a pair of binoculars made from the bones of the dead, Macfarlane shows how history can haunt a place.
Taking off the story from a landscape reveals “the skull under the skin of the countryside”. ValhallaEngland is teeming with strange forces – war, invasion, conflict, suffering and contested property are everywhere. As Macfarlane mentions in his essay, the ghosts here have nothing to do with ectoplasm. Instead, the specters of England are entirely historical. Real and horrific events rotting just beneath the peaceful and pastoral surface.
Valhalla is obsessed with the old, the cursed, the wyrd. Newness rubs shoulders with old ways at every opportunity, and there are even demonic and occult hints. One of the many activities that are repeated on his giant map are the “cursed symbols”. Players are tasked with solving environmental puzzles and clearing these pockets of darkness, many of which lie deep underground or tucked away in tree hollows.
ValhallaThe landscapes are also more generally strange. Sometimes it’s just the way the light collides with the silhouette of a hill or barren moor. Other times, a supernatural atmosphere will rise from the earth, with burial mounds (or fairies, as they were once called), Roman ruins, and stone circles. Sometimes you’ll stumble upon a network of labyrinthine caves, filled with dark knickknacks, deer skulls, and even wicker men on fire. In the Gloucestershire area of the game, there is an entire quest relating to the pagan festival of the Giant Wicker Man Fire (yes, like the 1973 movie, there’s someone stuck inside). In East Anglia there is a hell dog known as the “Black Shuck”, who roams the countryside. Another questline lets you fight a coven of stabbed witches. As you collect their weapons, you will eventually find a Roman ruin underground containing a statue of what looks like the Green man (a pagan symbol of rebirth), which you will have to stab in the back with said daggers in order to access the buried treasure even deeper.
Road to ruin
ValhallaThe standing stones are a particularly strange feature. In Anglo-Saxon times, these arrangements – places like Seahenge and Stonehenge – were meant to be the work of giants, or petrified people who had dared to break the laws of the land (like dancing on a Sunday or milking a cow’s milk). a neighbour). One concept that can help us understand all of this worry is “hantology”.