Playing Dead: Necromancy in Video Games

Night of the Living Dead lets players experience the undead

I was about eight the first time I saw Night of the Living Dead, and I watched with numb horror as the dead returned to walk the earth. Terrified as I was, I couldn’t look away; there was something entrancing to it, leading me to a lifelong obsession with classic zombie films that I just can’t seem to shake. The living dead are an interesting, sometimes terrifying, but overall extremely satisfying addition to most stories.

But the dead are taboo, especially if we’re talking about revivification. No matter what type of media, if it contains necromancy, you can almost bet it’s going to be a point of contention in the story. It’s no wonder—bringing the dead back to life is an ethically dubious conceit—but that only makes it all the more intriguing, especially in video games, where necromancy is something we can dabble in ourselves.

Necromancy Makes a Useful Tool in Lichdom: Battlemage

Reviving the dead to serve your own purposes is a pretty morally unsound practice. But if somebody else does it first, surely it becomes okay?

In Lichdom: Battlemage, you play a fabled battlemage armed with bracers imbued with magical power. You’re tasked with stopping the wicked Shax, who surrounds himself with armies of the undead, demons, and all manner of other nasties; when it comes to threats like that, you have to resort to any means necessary.

Combat System Fantasy Games Lichdom: Battlemage Game Graphics
Though necromancy is optional in Lichdom: Battlemage, it’s a valuable option to fight the undead hordes of your enemy.

Lichdom is a game focused on exploring what it means to be a powerful mage, stripping away many of the restrictions that characterize party-based play in the name of balance. Instead, you wield incredible abilities against a slew of enemies with their own onslaught of powerful attacks, making it a test of high-powered skill rather than muted power.

Ethics may not be at the heart of Lichdom’s necromancy, but raising the dead to fight the dead—sometimes even re-raising the dead, when you’re dealing with Shax’s undead minions—makes for an interesting twist. Where do we draw the line when fighting the ultimate threat? That depends on the player, as you can choose to use or avoid necromancy depending on your personal spell preference.

Necromancy Creates Cultural Conflict in Dragon Age

The world of Thedas in Dragon Age is packed with interesting, unique cultures that clash and interact in surprising ways. It’s part of what makes the games feel so alive—each nation has their own languages, features, and beliefs, making them more realistic than if they were just carbon copies of one another.

Dragon Age: Inquisition uses necromancy
Image Source: Loleil via Wikia.

By the third game, you interact with people from multiple cultures, including Cassandra from Nevarra and Dorian from Tevinter. Both characters represent different views of death, as well as an opposition to Ferelden’s more hands-off philosophy. In Nevarra, the Mortalitasi—death mages—are responsible for the mummification and care of the dead, and are quite often associated with necromancy, which is feared outside of Nevarra. Dorian, however, actually specializes in the necromantic branch of magic—while there’s no concrete lore reason for this, he does mention Tevinter’s proclivity toward forbidden magic, under which necromancy definitely falls.

There are no in-game consequences for practicing necromancy, though it does emphasize the cultural differences between the various members of your party, as well as the countries you’re trying to bring together. In this game, necromancy follows a pretty standard formula—as a mage, you can specialize in reanimating and controlling the dead. It’s a valuable skill, especially given the setting and premise. While it would have been interesting to see more pushback against a forbidden art, as there was for blood magic in earlier games, it does make sense—because Dragon Age: Inquisition is about unity, perhaps they’re leaving the necromancy-based drama for later.

Necromancy in World of Warcraft Both Helps and Hinders

The Warcraft series has years of expanding lore, but necromancy is often at the heart of some of its most intriguing conflicts. In World of Warcraft’s Wrath of the Lich King expansion, much of the story is based on complications from various forms of necromancy, including the titular Lich King, Arthas.

necromancy in World of Warcraft
Wrath of the Lich King allows Forsaken leader Sylvanas to fight the Lich King for enslaving her and others of her kind, a dramatic moment in the series’ canon. Image Source: Cdimicel via Wikia.

The story of Arthas Lightbringer and his transformation into the Lich King is a lengthy tale, but what Wrath did was take the concept of necromancy and tie it both into story and gameplay. The expansion introduced the Death Knight class, giving you the opportunity to play one of the Lich King’s mindless servants before and after breaking free of his curse. It also deepened the story of Banshee Queen Sylvanas Windrunner, the former high elf corrupted and enslaved by Arthas’ power, exploring her eventual vengeance against the Lich King for forcing her to commit genocide against her people.

In Warcraft, power is both a good and bad thing. Necromancy and its associated dark arts are usually bad, but giving players the opportunity to summon undead minions and take that power back from their oppressor made Death Knight fights against the endgame boss all the more meaningful, especially with Sylvanas at their side for some of the battles if they’re a Horde player. The entire expansion is built on ideas of revenge and autonomy, fitting themes for a story that lets necromancers and the undead take the spotlight.

Necromancy Adds Complications and Intriguing Power Dynamics to Fantasy Games

Necromancy in video games can range from being a simple school of magic to being a source of complex ethical questions. That’s part of its versatility in storytelling—by its nature, it’s taboo, but taboos can be a great source of conflict and curiosity. Each of these games handles the living dead a little differently, exploring the unique potential of one idea to shake up both gameplay and story.

Necromancy is just one of eight schools of magic in Lichdom: Battlemage, letting you turn each enemy you defeat into a weapon. Order your console copy today!

 

Lead Image Source: Leather1974 via Wikia.

Andrew Nguyen

Producer, gamer, coffee roaster, leatherworker, and part-time streamer.

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