As someone who has spent the vast majority of my 25 years on this earth in Dublin, I’m more than a little bit excited about the fact Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s upcoming expansion is set in Ireland. The history of the Norse Gaels – a culture born from the marriage of Vikings and Celts – is rich but seldom explored, so even the mere idea of seeing it depicted in a blockbuster game is invigorating.
The Wrath of the Druids DLC launches later this month on April 29, although I couldn’t wait another two weeks to find out more about it. As a result, I sent a couple of questions to Ubisoft Bordeaux associate narrative director Hugo Sahuquet – it’s safe to say I was impressed with what I heard back.
“At the time of the expansion, we are about eight decades after the first Viking raid in Ireland and 40 years after they first settled in Dublin,” Sahuquet explains. “The reasons are still unclear, but as opposed to England, the Vikings merged more quickly with the Irish culture. At the time of the expansion, there was a new generation emerging: the Norse-Gaels, born from marriages between Norse and Gaelic people. These marriages were used both by the Norse and Irish to secure the other’s protection, land, or assistance. The Norse-Gaels were embracing both of their cultures, and Dublin soon became a very cosmopolitan city.”
This is already markedly different to Valhalla. Sure, Lunden is home to both English and Danes alike, but they never integrated with one another quite as neatly as the Irish and Vikings did. Just like the main game, Wrath of the Druids is concerned with depicting the reality of this shared history. As Sahuquet tells me, Ubisoft worked with two different experts on Viking and Irish history in order to ensure the story’s accuracy: Professor Clare Downham from the University of Liverpool and Professor Sean Duffy from Trinity College Dublin. As consultants, these academics led the narrative department through “archeological research and historical reconstructions of the cities and customs at the time.”
While I’m glad to have confirmation about the expansion’s historical validity, my favourite thing about Wrath of the Druids is the specific era it’s going to focus on. While it doesn’t sound like I’ll get the Celtic mythology I was gunning for, the actual history that occurred in parallel with it is no less fascinating.
“At the time of the expansion, the Viking expansion in Ireland was already over,” Sahuquet says. “They had been defeated by High King Aed Findliath. Which is in fact part of the reason why reinforcement came to England.”
After defeating the Vikings, Aed installed a Norseman – Barid mac Imair – as king of Dublin. According to Sahuquet, Barid is one of the main characters in Wrath of the Druids, which gives me reason to believe it’s going to match Valhalla itself in terms of narrative nuance.
“Though there are no definite records of Barid’s parents, we imagined that Barid was chosen by Aed exactly because he was a Norse-Gael, born from an Irish mother,” Sahuquet tells me. “The Vikings were allowed by Aed to keep ruling Dublin, but by that time, the Vikings had no hope to conquer Ireland.
“So the Vikings focused on doing business with the Irish and were quite commonly used by Irish kings as mercenaries of war. In fact, it is recorded that Flann Sinna, High King of Ireland and another main character of the expansion, had Vikings join his war campaigns. Which is the start of our story.”
That’s interesting, eh? Wrath of the Druids begins with the High King of Ireland – after already knocking back previous waves of drengr – recruiting incoming Vikings as mercenaries. It’s safe to say that this relationship might be a bit more cooperative than what we saw in the base game. Who knows – maybe we’ll end up having to fight the English again.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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