The Banner Saga
The gods are dead and the world has descended into a perpetual half-darkness. A mysterious force of armoured monsters, known as Dredge, meander through the frozen wasteland you desperately try to inhabit. The Dredge are slaughtering entire towns and villages. As you try to repel these malevolent forces, starvation grips your camp. The biting cold and internal squabbles lay waste to your morale. Depressing isn’t it?
Stoic’s The Banner Saga is less historical fiction and more Norse-eque fantasy. Its tone is less swashbuckling, and more grim, nihilistic and apocalyptic. Think of it as an Iron-Age The Walking Dead with magical elements.
Our saga opens with the Varl, as race of horned, xenophobic giants. In between smashing Dredge, the Varl experience with their own monarchic power-struggle. The narrative shifts between chapters. Others focus on the scrappy hunter, Rook and his daughter Allete. The burden of leadership is thrust upon him, and he must ensure the survival of an ever-growing, often depleting band of human refugees. Jumping from Varl to human can be a bit jarring at first, and TBS’ brand of mythology a little overwhelming. Part way through however, the game begins to come into its own; the narrative confidently blends personal, family-driven stories, with a grandiose, Norse-eque cosmology.
In a post-truth world, one might be forgiven for seeking understanding of a period, place and peoples through historical fiction rather than hard cold objective fact.
I always held an affection for Vikings. Ever since I was little (well, smaller) and refused to sleep without donning my plastic, historically-inaccurate horned helmet. Both my parents did those fanciful, do-it-at-home DNA tests, and discovered that a decent proportion of their DNA came from modern day Norway and Denmark. JA! I thought, immediately consuming an entire season of the ‘History’ Channel’s ‘Vikings,’cooing over Shield Maiden Lagertha like she could have been a distant relative. I devoured Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Chronicles and Robert Low’s The Whale Road like they were Pringles. I blasted the sounds of Sabaton, Ensiferum and Tyr through my headset, mentally declaring, “THIS BE THE MUSIK OF MAH PEOPLES;” conveniently ignoring that the majority of my ancestors came from Wales and Ireland.
And yes, I knew full well this was all romanticised bollocks. Revisionist history paints few Scandinavians migrating in the 9th century as ‘Vikingyr’ or sea-pirates; many were merchants and farmers. Less pillaging and more turnip management. Not only that, but why would I glorify the barbaric actions of bloodlust warriors? Melanie McDonagh’s well-formed article in The Spectator provides a post-revisionist reality; Vikings were kinda dicks
Despite recognising the historical reality, my lust for the pseudo, fictionalised Viking experience did not subside. So I’m going to stick my fingers in my ears, and embark on a voyage away from respectable academia and present to you the PC games, that I think, encapsulate that Viking-eque experience.