The Vikings, often considered the worst civilization in terms of unique strengths and available options in Age of Empires II: The Conquerors. Particularly when used in Deathmatch games, since their infantry and sub-par cavalry is at the mercy of siege units and the higher tiers of cavalry. However, besides the fact that they are an "infantry" civ, the Vikings do have other options available to them, especially the support that can be given to their superior infantry.
In standard games, this civilization receives nice economic bonuses and nice advantages when playing water maps. They might not be able to create a strong naval force like the Spanish, the Koreans or the Saracens, but they do develop quickly and can strike faster. Curiously, the Vikings were the only civilization of the original Age of Empires II: Age of Kings to receive two unique units! The Goths are the one civilization that remained alone in having two unique techs.
Infantry and Naval civilization
Warships cost -20%
This is what enables the Vikings to be an economic naval powerhouse. With this discount, the Vikings can have a small navy of 12 ships for the cost of 10, allowing a greater efficiency of their resources in water maps. Not to mention their team bonus, which makes Docks cheaper!
Infantry +10% hit points Feudal, +15% Castle, +20% Imperial Age
The trait that makes Viking infantry superior. Having more hit points means having a greater advantage in battle. The soldiers endure more hits, thus giving them more durability in battle.
Wheelbarrow and Hand Cart free
The economic edge the Vikings have above many of the other civilizations is the fact that they receive the two Town Center villager upgrades as soon as they become available, for free! This allows them to improve the efficiency of resource-gathering by increasing villager speed and load-capacity, while not having to stop their production during the time needed to research those upgrades. This gives the Vikings a great chance for an early rush, especially in water maps.
"Late in the eighth century Viking sea raiders from Scandinavia appeared suddenly in Northern Europe. They raided and plundered coastal communities for the next 150 years. Most of the progress made by Charlemagne in uniting Northern Europe and beginning a rebirth of civilization was erased by the turmoil they caused. The Vikings were known for their great seamanship and ferocity in battle. Witnesses claimed that Viking warriors would occasionally go "berserk" and attack with nearly inhuman zeal, oblivious to all danger. Such behavior was terrifying to behold and very difficult to withstand. The ability to go mad with battle lust was a powerful attribute during a period of widespread superstition."
The unique unit of the Vikings is an infantry unit with no real damage bonuses versus other units, apart from the typical infantry damage bonus to buildings. However, the Berserker is still a superior soldier to replace the Champion with, as its elite version receives higher attack and defensive stats than the former. In addition to superior stats, Berserkers are gifted with the unique ability to automatically regenerate their hit points! Making them resist longer in battle.
"The Viking raiders of the ninth century through eleventh centuries were especially terrifying because they could strike anywhere along the seacoast and even upriver. They had this capability thanks to their longboats. These ships were long, narrow, and of shallow draft, but were surprisingly seaworthy. They used oars and a single sail for propulsion. Longboats could be taken into very shallow water and beached. Only a coast with high bluffs or rocky shoreline was safe from them."
The other unique unit the Vikings receive is the Longboat. On the one hand, they can't create fire ships, which can become a handicap instead of an advantage. On the other hand, the Longboat fires more arrows, making it the ship of choice to face varied enemy fleets, as it doesn't get any particular advantage, but is able to cause more damage thanks to its improved offense. With the Vikings' economic advantage on the sea, longboats can be used to dominate the Castle Age.
"The extreme fit or form of madness that seemed to overcome Viking Berserks was known as the Beserkergang. It was described as beginning with a chill, shivering, and chattering of teeth. Then the body temperature seemed to soar, swelling the face and turning it red. Now fully enraged, a man attaining this state would howl like a wild animal, go apparently mad (witnesses report the biting of a shield), and cut down everyone they met indiscriminately. When the rage had passed, the Berserker fell into a torpor or depression that may have lasted for days."
Comparable to the Franks' unique technology, the Vikings' Berserkergang serves only as an improvement on the special characteristic of the civ's unique infantry unit. In this case, it doesn't affect its range (as it is the case with the French Throwing Axeman), but it increases the speed with which Berserkers regenerate their hit points. This is a useful upgrade to have, as you are going to be relying on the bloodthirsty Berserkers on the battle front. However, seeing as it is only available during Imperial Age, its effect won't really affect the direction of the game, as the Vikings will have a hard time trying to best other civilizations that can easily crush infantry.
Dock cost -25%
The team bonus of the Vikings is great for themselves, as well as for other civilizations that team-up. Cheaper Docks means less wood needed for their construction, thus making them available sooner. This means earlier fishing ships, and consequently an optimization of food-gathering and overall growth. Ally this with the natural economic bonuses of the Vikings and you have a civ that can easily set up a strong economic and offensive presence on the waters.
Pair-up with the Japanese on a water map, and you can create a team capable of dominating the seas much sooner than what it is to be expected! Thanks to the natural capacity of the Vikings' villagers to work more and faster early on, and the Japanese superior efficiency of fishing ships, both can advance ages faster and start their naval force earlier. To add to that, the team benefits from cheaper Docks, as well as being able to create galleys with 50% extra line of sight, giving the players the ability to easily scout enemy positions and act accordingly.
If that was not an already good enough team-up, each civ complements each other nicely on the sea, with one being able to supply the fleet with longboats, and the other with fire-ships! If the game takes its direction into the Imperial Age, both ships can be upgraded to their superior versions, while both civilizations can provide the team with cannon galleons- having also access to its elite upgrade!
A civilization of few options, but that makes good use of them
Perfect Arbalests and Elite Skirmishers
Like many other infantry civilizations, the Vikings have fully-developed archers, being able to research Arbalests to support their tough infantry. Having fully upgraded elite skirmishers will facilitate the fight against your enemy's own archers.
Perfect Siege Rams and Heavy Scorpions
The Vikings do have weapons to compete in the Imperial Age! Having access to Siege Engineers, a raid of siege rams can surprise your enemy and greatly damage his town, while a mass os scorpions is the perfect cover to defend your men and rams from charging cavalry!
The Vikings won't have economic hindrances for the most part. They receive great bonuses that help them grow faster and establish that strong economy sooner, while not really having to rely on particularly expensive military units, with siege units being the exception. Being able to research Crop Rotation, Two-Man Saw and Gold Shaft Mining as well, will only aid them in maintaining that strong economy in the long run. In the end, tainting into account all these factors, the Vikings do end up having one of the best economies in Age of Empires II: The Conquerors.
A civilization that isn't able to look for support in many corners of the tech tree, leaving it somewhat unsafe. Lacking the halberdier upgrade, decent cavalry, camels, most gunpowder units, stronger defenses and some other key researches, the Vikings are left with superior infantry, reliable archers and a strong naval presence. Not the best civilization for a beginner.
The Vikings don't really have a natural counter, being susceptible to any civilization really. However, take them to the sea and they can best the best if their strengths are well used. In water maps, they dominate, but the Koreans can make the Vikings back-off when they call forth their mighty turtle ships. In the late game, the Spanish fleet is simply unparalleled.
It is still fun to use the vikes! Their unique units look tough, their boats are cool and it's not everyday that you have a civ that can really make use of arbalests in place of cavalry archers or other unique archer units! You can use this civ if you are looking for a challenge, or simply for a refreshing game. In water maps especially, this civ is just too much fun to play with.
Read more about some of my favorite civs from the game in 10 of the Best Civilizations from Age of Empires II: The Conquerors!