Iceland carries a distinct sense of mystery and other worldliness, for many reasons. For one, it is incredibly geothermally active, with volcanic eruptions happening every few years, in addition to exploding geysers and natural hot springs. Not to mention that most of the country remains uninhabited and, for a large part of the year, unvisited.
With these things in mind, it’s no wonder that so many video games choose Iceland as a partial background for their gameplays. After all, there is plenty of room for imagination in a country with so much space…
One of the biggest game franchises of all time, Call of Duty, has introduced several playable Iceland maps. Let’s take a look at Call of Duty’s Iceland maps and the possible real-life inspirations behind them. But first, what exactly is Call of Duty?
What is Call of Duty?
Call of Duty is a collection of (currently) nineteen first-person shooter games and counting, published by Activision. The games are set in multiple time periods and locations; Call of Duty’s Iceland maps are only a small percentage. Many other countries are featured, as well as the moon, other worlds and futuristic settings.
While the games’ story modes have complex missions to complete, the title itself is more known for its online play. Millions of players from all over the world come together to compete on large-scale maps in tactile-style competitions. You fight numerous types of enemies, including mercenaries, terrorists, zombies and the soldiers of opposing countries.
There are dozens of weapons to choose from, largely comprised of different guns and knives. Tournaments are held every year, for which the winners receive a good chunk of prize money. According to the franchise’s official blog, their game series has sold over 400 million copies. Their most recent release, Call of Duty: Vanguard, was released in November 2021.
In this article, we’re going to focus on the games in the series that featured Iceland map options.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Following members of the US Marine Corps in the not-too-distant future of the 2050s, Advanced Warfare was released in 2014. The map that is based on Iceland here is known as “Horizon”, and its description is followed: “Atlas drone facility in the Icelandic Highlands. The chaotic center hanger is home to intense engagements.”
The Icelandic highlands are the country’s interior, completely uninhabited and inaccessible for most of the year. From the partial snow covering, the map’s mission takes place in late autumn or early spring. Visitors can only enter the highlands from June to September.
As well as limited timing, you’ll also need to rent a 4x4 vehicle to access the highlands via F-roads. These are unpaved gravel roads with river crossings, so be prepared for a bumpy ride. But once you reach the campsites at the top, you’ll instantly realize it’s well worth the journey. Multicolored rhyolite mountains, natural hot springs and great hiking trails await you.
While it’s unlikely you’ll find a military facility in the highlands, you will experience incredible natural views. Make sure you have plenty of food and water with you, because there is very limited access to supplies. Fill your petrol tank or fully charge your electric car before joining an F-road.
Lastly, be prepared for all kinds of weather here, even in the summer. Warm, waterproof clothing is a must in Iceland, no matter the season.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Released in 2015, the story of this game is set in 2065. It follows a group of soldiers who take part in “black ops” or covert operations. One of the DLC (downloadable content) maps in this game is set in Iceland, known as “Rift”.
The map’s description is “Military rail complex suspended high over an active caldera.” So, essentially, you’ll be navigating and fighting in a building which sits above the crater of an erupting volcano. Since this is set somewhat in a future period, it’s not a completely unreasonable premise.
Since Iceland already utilizes geothermal power to provide the nation with most of its electricity, perhaps the game’s military base does the same. In any case, that’s not your job to worry about, as you’ll have enemies swarming around with an eager mission to hunt you down. It’s also possible to actually fall into the lava, so watch your step.
As the map doesn’t explain its whereabouts beyond “Unnamed Military Facility, Iceland” it could be any number of places. There are approximately 30 active volcanic systems in the country, and eruptions occur every few years. The most recent happened in south-west Iceland throughout 2021, so you can visit the new lava field yourself when you journey to the Land of Fire and Ice.
In March 2021, a new volcano, now named Fagradalsfjall, began spewing forth lava. The flow has since subsided, but many scientists believe the volcano has not finished its job and may erupt again soon.
If you want to see the fresh lava filling the valley, drive about 90 minutes south of Reykjavík. Park in the car park at the hike’s entrance and from there it’s about 45-60 minutes to the site. Wear a good pair of hiking boots and bring snacks and water, and, most of all, enjoy what Fagradalsfjall has created. Best not to recreate any Call of Duty moments there, though.
Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII
This is a 2018 sequel to the previously mentioned game, but the focus shifts from single-player campaign mode to multiplayer. Two maps set in Iceland feature in this game.
“Artifact”. This map’s description is: “In the remote landscape of Iceland, hired treasure hunters have tracked down and unearthed an ancient zombie artifact. Unfortunately, for them, they aren’t the only ones that want it.”
The map lets you play in Iceland’s wild landscape, where geysers, ice caves and moss-covered basalt rocks abound. Atlantic puffins hop wildly around and play in the snow. As with the volcano in Black Ops III, the environment is one made for interaction. If you accidentally step onto an erupting geyser, your character will be killed.
The location is given as the “Southern region of Iceland”. While there are multiple geyser sites around Iceland, the best known is the Geysir Geothermal Area on the Golden Circle. This contains Strokkur geyser, which you can see in real-time as it ejects boiling water up to thirty metres high, every 5-8 minutes.
“Payload”. The accompanying description is “A defensive ICBM launch facility deep in an Icelandic mountain range has been infiltrated by hostile forces attempting to steal a nuclear warhead.”
The terrain is snow-covered, remote and mountainous, suggesting a highlands of Iceland setting. However, the prevalence of tall trees, which aren’t very common in Iceland, puts the most likely location somewhere in the east. The largest forest in Iceland is Hallormsstaður, which covers 740 hectares.
Perhaps the map represents the edge of the forest, where the trees meet the mountains. Or perhaps the creators just threw some aspects of Iceland together. In any case, it’s a decent showcase for the wildness of Iceland’s interior. Additionally, Hallormsstaður is a fantastic place to camp and hike in the summer months.
Videogames in Iceland
Call of Duty is just one of many video games set in Iceland. Others include 007 Legends, Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. As you can see, Iceland’s landscapes are attractive to those wanting to create a realistic spy/military operations theme.
With lots of space to hide military bases and the opportunity to fight away from civilians, it’s no wonder. Being situated between mainland Europe and North America, Iceland is strategically significant. This is why it was quickly occupied by the British and US militaries during World War II.
Therefore, Call of Duty’s Iceland locations only make perfect sense from a military perspective. Hopefully, in the non-virtual world, no future wars ever spill over onto the island; its pristine nature would quickly be tarnished.
So, while you’re here, feel free to imagine taking part in an immersive Call of Duty mission. But please don’t bring a real one. Instead, Grab your rental car and see if you can find the places depicted in the famous video game series.