In our review of Legend of Solgard (Free), the brand new game from King and developer Snowprint Studios, I mentioned that King doesn’t normally make a big to-do about releasing a new game, but that they were really pulling out all the stops for this one. And the biggest example I have of that is the press event they threw at the famous Ice Hotel located in the tiny village of Jukkasjärvi just outside of Kiruna, Sweden. Myself and about two dozen other games writers and YouTubers were invited to fly out to this rural part of Sweden and experience a real life Solgard, complete with battle training and events all geared around King’s latest game.
First off this wasn’t a long trip, just three days worth of events with five days total including travel. Coming from California this was not the most exciting prospect considering I’d be traveling for almost the same amount of time I’d be in Sweden. But hey, you only live once, right? After a 90 minute flight to LA, followed by a 2 hour layover, followed by an 11 hour flight to Stockholm, followed by another 2 hour layover, followed by another 90 minute flight to Kiruna, I finally arrived frazzled and exhausted. The King folks rounded up the other press folks who had travelled in on the same itinerary as me at Kiruna’s gorgeous little airport and we piled into a big van to head to our final destination: The Ice Hotel. But it wasn’t that easy. What’s the one thing you’d want to do after traveling for nearly 20 hours? Why, row a boat, of course.
Yes, for full rural Swedish effect, the King marketing team arranged for our group to ride in a rowboat for the roughly 15 minute trip to the Ice Hotel. Sure, we didn’t NEED to boat there or anything as it’s fully accessible by car, but isn’t this more FUN? Isn’t it?? Thankfully our rowboat was equipped with a motor so the majority of this particular trek was just sitting back and enjoying the ride, and surprisingly as exhausted as I was when I loaded onto the boat the fresh air and beautiful scenery definitely perked me up. Then, when we were about a football field away from the shore of the Ice Hotel, our rowboat’s engine suddenly “overheated" and yep, you guessed it, we all had to man the oars attached to the side of the boat and make it the rest of the way using good old-fashioned manpower. You gotta hand it to King, they sure know how to give their guests that authentic Swedish experience.
When we arrived on the shore of the Ice Hotel we were informed we weren’t actually in Jukkasjärvi, but were in fact in Solgard, and that we’d be meeting up with the rest of the “battle trainees" at “base camp." The base camp was in fact two massive tipis they had set up right next to the Ice Hotel. We were greeted with some refreshments served out of cups carved from ice and some snacks, and after a brief meet and greet we were given a bit of time to go back to our hotel rooms to drop off our stuff and settle in before meeting back up shortly to hike into the forest for dinner. Yes, rowing and hiking were on the agenda after traveling halfway across the world. Why did I agree to this again? Below is a shot from the rowboat at about the point we needed to start actually rowing, and you can see the massive tipi in the distance. Next to that is a more closeup view of the tipi, er, I mean base camp.
When I arrived at my room and dropped my stuff off, with less than an hour before needing to meet back for dinner, I made the grave mistake of laying down on my bed. Oh, that sweet, sweet bed. At this point in time I’d been awake for about 24 hours straight, and I was a complete mess. Was I dreaming? Was I really in rural Sweden? Was this an elaborate rouse by King to lure games press to the middle of nowhere to do horrible things to them like make them hike and row on zero sleep? I didn’t know what was right but what I did know is that I should have just powered through without taking that brief rest, as before I knew it I was back up on my feet and heading to base camp to meet up with the others to make the trek into the Swedish forest.
Thankfully, the hike was relatively short and flat, and we arrived along the banks of the Torne River for dinner. The theme of Legend of Solgard is fire and ice, and that was to be the theme of this trip, but due to some devastating wildfires happening in Sweden (similar to what we’re dealing with in California) there was a moratorium on having actual fires outdoors. There was PLENTY of ice, but sadly no fire. King made the best of it and concocted a pretty convincing faux fire complete with crackling fire noises coming from a nearby speaker, but it just wasn’t the same. Our groups hung out around the faux fire and continued to chat and get to know one another as well as speak with the developers from Snowprint and folks from King. Below you can see the outdoor hangout area with three huts in the background, and below that a (brightened) shot of the interior of one of the huts which is where we had dinner and thankfully were allowed to have a real fire.
Following a night of VERY much needed sleep, I awoke early for my first full day in Sweden and the beginning of our battle training. This would include learning how to chop ice with an axe, learning how to throw an axe, and learning archery. Is giving a bunch of video game nerds access to extremely sharp and pointy objects the best idea? Probably not, but the staff at the Ice Hotel is well-versed in teaching newbies this sort of thing and made sure everything was done nice and safely. First up we took turns hacking away at a gigantic block of ice that was nearly as tall as I am, and I can’t overstate just how satisfying this was. If I was filthy rich I’d have a cold room in my house where I could go in and hack down a block of ice whenever I felt frustrated. Here’s some shots of my compatriots taking swings at that dastardly block of ice.
Next up was our archery training which was just a short ride from the Ice Hotel to the local archery club. Three giant targets were set up in a field with each target featuring a huge image of an enemy from Legend of Solgard. Because, again, we were training for battle and all that. Here we split into three different groups and following a crash course in archery we each took turns shooting arrows at the targets with points being assigned based on how closely to the center we got. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I did have the second highest score out of our entire group, with only Niklas Malmqvist of Snowprint Studios scoring one point higher than I did. Am I missing out on my calling as a master archer, defending the world from evil? Perhaps! Unfortunately this was another time where the fire bans got the best of us, as the targets were originally planned to be hoops lit on fire. Oh well it was still a lot of fun and I’m seriously considering joining whatever archery club is local to me.
Upon completing our “training" we were tasked with putting our skills to the test in a final challenge to recover treasures buried deep within the ice. This involved going into the bar inside the Ice Hotel, which is literally an entire bar made entirely out of ice. The stools, the tables, the bar itself… all ice, baby. What a magical place this is. Upon entering you’re given an extremely heavy poncho type of thing to put on to keep warm, and once inside we were again served refreshments out of those neat cups made out of ice. Adorning the ice bar are all sorts of ice sculptures and other types of ice art, and I submit to you some pictures of those things as well as a shot of me in my VERY snazzy poncho. Below that is a quick video tour of the bar, and yes, we definitely look like some kind of crazy cult all decked out in our ponchos.
At the back of the bar was a large room that was roped off and set up for our final challenge. There was an absolutely amazing ice sculpture of Embla, the main character in Legend of Solgard, and in front of her three podiums that each had a box of ice on top that was filled with coins. Or, laminated pictures of coins, but you get the idea. We split into teams again and took turns hacking away at the box to get to that sweet, sweet laminated treasure inside. What are the coins used for? Who knows! But it was fun to once again whale away at that dastardly ice. I tried to lighten up the photos below the best I could but the area where this event took place was quite dark and dramatically lit, so hopefully you can still make out the cool Embla statue and see the ice art that was etched into the podiums.
Following this we gathered at the hotel’s restaurant across the street which had been transformed entirely into an incredible ice-themed evening. The entire dining room was lit up blue with ice sculptures at every table and a Legend of Solgard ice mural sitting atop the fireplace on the wall. It looked amazing, and the dinner itself was served on “ice plates" which were basically blocks of ice shaped kind of like books. Eating off of ice is an interesting experience, as things like sauces tend to freeze up a bit and just slide around on the ice. Still it was neat and the food was off the charts.
After another night of blissful sleep, I woke up to begin my last full day on this Sweden trip. The first half of this day was set aside for two different events, and we were able to choose either one or the other. One was a relaxing spa and sauna experience, and the other was whitewater rafting. For whatever reason, my stupid brain and exhausted and sore body opted for the rafting. If you’ve never been rafting before, it’s actually quite physically demanding, but I’m glad that I went. It was beautiful. The rafting trip was a whopping six hours total, and about halfway through we stopped on an island to eat some lunch. I wasn’t able to have my phone on me during this trip so the only photo I have is from where the trip ended, but after a couple of overcast days this particular day was absolutely gorgeous and the clouds were just unreal. Also I can’t find a way to tie this into battle training or anything to do with Legend of Solgard, it was just a fun thing!
When we got back from our rafting trip, we had just a short amount of time to clean up and get ready for the big event of the entire trip, a presentation going over the ins and outs of Legend of Solgard and a Q&A with the development team. The presentation was introduced by Ratatosk. Wait… how have I gone all this time without mentioning Ratatosk!? If you’ve played the game, you’ll know that Ratatosk is your squirrel companion and narrator of the story and the one who summons Embla in the first place to come in and save their world from doom. King hired an actor (a human actor, I should add) to play Ratatosk during this event, and this guy was GREAT. He really nailed the character and was present throughout the entire trip to offer colorful announcements and basically narrate everything we were doing just like the character in the game. Here’s Ratatosk standing next to an ice sculpture with the Heaven’s Disk on top, the main weapon of Embla and the item that lets her summon in troops to fight. There’s also a photo of this incredible ice-etched sculpture of Embla, and all this was inside the massive tipi base camp.
The presentation was informative as was the question and answer session, though it was definitely hard to get real answers that weren’t given the PR spin. That’s pretty typical when given access to developers who are part of large companies like King. At any rate, once the presentation was over, we took yet another rowboat ride just down the river to a restaurant for our final night dinner. Whereas the previous night’s dinner was ice themed, this one was fire themed, and as part of their marketing King actually worked with a local hot sauce maker in Long Island, New York to create a special Legend of Solgard flavored hot sauce. Here too they tried to capture the “fire and ice" theme and the hot sauce features a freakishly spicy pepper mixed with watermelon and mind flavors. It was VERY spicy, but surprisingly delicious. The restaurant also featured a very cool live band playing and in general it was an awesome way for everyone to wind down after such a packed few days.
After dinner we returned to the hotel, and for my final night in Sweden it was my turn to stay in an ice room. So here’s a brief history of the Ice Hotel in Sweden. Nearly 30 years ago they would harvest ice from the Torne River while it was frozen over during the winter and then build a hotel out of it block by block. When spring came it would melt back into the river and when winter arrived again they’d do it all over. In other words, it was a very seasonal thing. As of just last year, the Ice Hotel has now opened what they call Ice Hotel 365 which is basically a huge temperature controlled building that allows them to have the ice bar I showed you earlier as well as 20 different ice rooms operating year round. This is how we were able to stay in ice rooms despite it being one of the warmest times of the year in Sweden. They still do the Ice Hotel the old way when the season permits, and call it Ice Hotel Classic, but for this trip we stayed in the year-round version. Due to the limited number of ice rooms some people stayed on their first night in Sweden, some on the second, and some like me stayed on the third and final night. Here’s a somewhat sloppy video of when we took a brief tour through the ice room part of the hotel.
So here’s another thing about the Ice Hotel. Each room is different, and changes each year. The hotel commission hundreds of ideas from artists all over the world, and then picks 20 of them to come out and actually create their ideas as an actual room. The room I stayed in was named “36 Meters" which I can only guess is the length of the Z-shaped hallway they created inside the room space. Using MASSIVE blocks of ice they created walls that lead from the entrance of my room, to the back of the room, then back again to where the bed is at, then went to the back wall again which led to the door that opens to the “warm" area. The warm area is an area with a shower, a bathroom, a private sauna, and a couple of comfy seats in a little sitting area. Just in case you need to get out of the cold. Not all rooms at the Ice Hotel have their own bathrooms like that, and there’s a shared bathroom in the main hallway for those that don’t, but thankfully I was in one of the rooms that had its own bathroom and warm area. Here’s a video tour I did of my room which should hopefully make my explanation above make a little more sense.
I had the light of my iPhone on while taking that video, and you can really see how the frost on the ceiling sparkles and how the giant blocks of ice glow with the lighting in the room. It’s magical, there’s no better word for it. Also at the very end you can see my breath in the air showing just how cold it is. So how the heck do you sleep in a freezing cold room like that? Well the hotel provides you with a sub-zero sleeping bag that zips all the way up over your head, leaving only your face exposed, and it’s actually completely warm while you’re in it. The bed frame is made out of ice, but there are two very comfortable mattresses on top of that.
Honestly I slept better in that ice room than I have in years of sleeping in my regular bed at home. Once you turn the light out it’s completely silent and dark, and it’s just you with your thoughts and the cold, fresh air. Again, it’s a magical experience. The weirdest part is not being able to keep your phone in the room since it would freeze, and thus not having an alarm to wake you up. So instead one of the hotel staff will come in and wake you up in the morning with a hot cup of lingonberry juice. Waking up to find someone standing at the foot of your bed while also trying to figure out where you are and what is going on was quite a jarring experience, but it was a ton of fun. Here I am “chillin" on my ice bed.
So that is an exhaustive overview of my trip across the world to Sweden to learn about a video game for your phone. We live in strange times. I’ve been doing this for nearly a decade and have been to all sorts of crazy events and on some pretty crazy trips, but never anything quite like this. Honestly it really did give me a better perspective of Legend of Solgard developer Snowprint Studios, who are native Swedes and based in Stockholm. Overall it was a really fun way for King and Snowprint to introduce their game to the press in a really unique way. I mean, if evil ice minions appeared from a portal and tried taking over the world, I now have the skills to axe them to death, and that’s pretty cool. And sleeping in an ice room? That’s something everybody should do if they ever have the opportunity to.
UPDATE: King, who hired a film crew to document this entire trip, has just posted a video giving a brief two minute overview of our adventures in Sweden, and it definitely provides a better look at certain aspects of the trip that my feeble photography and videography couldn’t quite capture. Check it out!