I’m not great at reading maps, and perhaps that is why I’m not fond of it. I’ve been more inclined to wander around, and find things by chance. It has led to fun stuff, and well, a 5 hour walk back from a Japanese mountain because I missed the last bus. Good times.
Some video games indulge the wandering aspect. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was particularly great at this, at least until encountering a monster 27 levels higher than me. And Yharnam is just a wanderers dream. But with some games, there are just so many places to go, and things to collect that I just ended up using a map and waypoints. That was true with Horizon Zero Dawn, which I really didn’t mind given how beautiful the game is but that really doesn’t involve any map reading. It was just waypoint following.
This brings us to Jotun, one of my (surprise) favourite games of the year. Each of the realms in Jotun is accompanied by a map. There aren’t particularly big maps, but there’s enough there that requires some navigation skill. Jotun doesn’t tell you where you are on the map. This was an initial source of frustration, given my distaste of map reading and more likely contributed to Jotun being sent to the back log for a while.
Upon returning to Jotun, I played through one of the simpler maps and fell back in love with the artwork (an incredibly easy thing to do). What I found is if you explore Jotun thoroughly, you not only get to see more beautiful artwork but there are items to find, and what pleased me more information about Norse mythology. So I began to seek out these, which meant I had to read maps.
This brought me to Hvergelmir, where the roots of Yggdrasil, the great ash tree lie. It is one of Jotun’s more maze like realms, a mess of platforms linked by roots and it’s always going downhill, Thora sliding down the roots. At certain points stalactites will drop from the roof, so we have to get our dodge roll on. To get back up to the higher platforms, there are elevators of sort, but they are only on certain outcroppings, and they aren’t many in number. So I had to seriously start looking at the map, ascertaining which platform I was on and where the next root slide would take me.
And it turns out I really like finding my way around sans waypoints. There is a certain joy in figuring out the way forward, and that feeling only gets more joyful upon arriving at ones destination. It really turns into a genuine sense of accomplishment. I would be open to feeling more often. It was nice to identify individual platforms by checking the map and seeing the size and contours of the outcroppings. All of this made the things I found and saw in Jotun that much more rewarding. This was particularly true of the God Power bestowed upon Thora in Hvergelmir. It’s out on the perimeter, so when I found the necessary patch of land with the right elevator to ride up to it, that felt pretty damn great.
I’ve spoken before about set up and pay off in regards to Jotun, and I feel that shines through in the realm of Hvergelmir. We know from Thora’s introductory dialogue that in the roots of Yggdrasil resides the great worm Níðhǫggr who is constantly gnawing at the great ash tree’s roots (I’ve learned all of this from a video game. Without it feeling forced. I love that). Given the size and scale of Yggdrasil, Níðhǫggr must be a creature of immense size. As we get further and further down the tree, the roof caves in even more and falling debris must now be navigated while sliding down the tree roots. Then the last corner comes up, the music swells (I feel Jotun has a really underrated soundtrack) and the camera pans out, and there is the Níðhǫggr, far larger than I could have ever imagined. And there, at the very end lies the rune we seek and the elevator that takes us back to the beginning of the realm.
Through a combination of brilliant artwork and Norse mythology, Jotun showed me the joy of map reading, and the happiness felt on finding my own way forward. I see less waypoints in the future right now.