Games that do Mythology better than God of War
To tremendous applause, Sony announced the next game in the God of War series at this year's E3 conference. Yes, Kratos is coming back, but there was something quite odd about this new game. Why is Kratos now in Scandinavia and dealing with Norse Mythology? I don't completely understand the logic behind that.
Being a bit of a mythology nut, I enjoyed playing the original God of War game. I thought the storyline was strong, and the way that the writers incorporated Kratos into the existing myths and legends was fantastic. But since then, the link between "real" mythology and the game has been widening, and now we see this impressive Spartan gracing the lands of Odin and Thor. Check out the release trailer from E3 below.
World mythology has long been a favorite source of inspiration for game developers. It provides a rich and varied backdrop which allows fantastical beasts, great storylines, and -- to be completely honest -- violence. So we've seen a lot of games use mythology in various ways for their own ends. Which begs the question -- are there other games out there that do mythology better than God of War? We think so. Let's count them down.
Age of Mythology
The first game that springs to mind is Age of Mythology, released by Ensemble Studios in 2002. As a spin-off of the widely popular Age of Empires, the gameplay is very similar in style, but the game itself takes inspiration from ancient Greek, Norse, and Egyptian civilizations instead of history. Each civilization has major Gods from their chosen Pantheon, which players must decide to follow. For example, if you were to play as the Greeks, first you must choose whether your civilization is going to follow Zeus, Hades or Poseidon -- and in turn, that determines which bonuses you will get.
From a mythology point of view, the bonuses are pretty accurate. Poseidon, for example, is the God of the Sea and horses. He grants players bonuses to cavalry and stables and introduces a special unit called a Hippocampus (half-horse, half-fish creature who pulled Poseidon's chariot). Even the bonuses from minor Gods such as Ares and Artemis are true to their myths (Ares, God of War, grants more attack. Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, grants bonuses to Archery units). What with accurate buildings, units, gifts, civilian units, Age of Mythology does bring more facts to the game than a straight up third-person action does.
I know that RTS games aren't for everyone, so if third-person games are your thing then let's take a look at SMITE. SMITE is a MOBA game by Hi-Rez Studios. It was originally released on the PC back in 2014 but this year it finally made its way onto PS4 and OS X.
In this game, you get to play as a God -- and boy do they give you enough to choose from! There are 77 playable gods in the game stemming from Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, Japanese, Mayan, Norse, and Roman pantheons. The great thing about SMITE is that it brings lesser known mythologies into the arena. For example, if I asked you if you knew Loki, Odin, and Thor, you'd nod in agreement. But if I asked who Ah Puch, Cabrakan, and Awilix were, you'd probably give me a blank look.
Let's take this charming fellow for example. This is the Mayan God Cabrakan. In mythology, he is the God of earthquakes and mountains. In SMITE his attacks have names such as Seismic Crush, Tremors, and Tectonic Shift -- all words which are associated with earthquakes.
What about the cute little squirrel-god of the Norse pantheon, Ratatoskr? Yep, they've got that right as well. Aside from the fact that Ratatoskr wasn't technically a God in Norse mythology, he certainly was the messenger of Yggdrasil. He carried messages up and down the Great Tree, and his abilities in-game reflect not only his speed but his affiliation with trees and acorns.
"Ratatoskr is the squirrel who there shall run
On the ash-tree Yggdrasil;
From above the words of the eagle he bears,
And tells them to Nithhogg beneath.
-- From Grimnismal, Prosa Edda (A collection of Norse Poetry)
Viking: Battle for Asgard
If you are after a game along the same lines as God of War, then it could be worth giving Viking: Battle for Asgard a try. It was developed by The Creative Assembly and published by Sony in 2008 (and came to Windows in 2012). As the name suggests, it is based on Norse mythology and sees the game's protagonist caught in the middle of a battle between warring Gods in Asgard, the seat of the Norse Gods.
Aside from featuring some of the most recognizable names in Norse mythology, the game revolves around the coming of Ragnarok, the battle of all battles which will bring about the destruction of Asgard and the Gods.
The trickster Goddess Hel is threatening to release the ancient wolf-like God Fenrir. Mythology states that Ragnarok will begin when Fenrir is free and will swallow the World whole -- even killing Odin. Viking: Battle for Asgard makes accurate references to this, as well as to the actions and likenesses of the Gods and Goddess of Asgard.
When a lot of people think about mythology, the ancient Greeks, Romans, Norse, and Egyptians are always the first that spring to mind. But what about Christianity? The Bible is full of a mythology of its own, which is why the last game I am going to talk about is Dante's Inferno. Dante's Inferno is an action-adventure title published by EA, developed by Visceral Games, and released in 2010 for Xbox 360 and PS3. It is heavily inspired by the first part of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Divine Comedy, which most will recognize as Dante's Inferno.
Both the game and the poem centers on a man's journey through the nine levels of Hell, only the game's main character is heading there to reclaim the soul of his beloved from Lucifer. The plot of the game is scarily similar to the poem. As someone who has read the poem several times, coming face to face with the likes of the ferryman Charon and the combating the sins of others made the game all the more enjoyable.
The fact that all efforts were made to stick as close to the original myth and literature as they possibly could but still producing a game which is as captivating and entertaining really does show of Visceral Games' attention to detail.
There are quite a few games out there which do mythology better than the mixture we are about to see in the new God of War installment -- although it does remain to be seen whether or not this new game successfully executes the Greek/Norse mashup. I might end up "eating my words". But until then I will stick to playing a game solely and accurately about one area of mythology.