Three years have passed since Ubisoft rebooted the Assassin's Creed franchise with Origins, the studio's take on Egyptian legend seen through the eyes of Brotherhood founders Bayek and Aya.
On November 17, a third title in the new series will give us a taste of the 9th century, with the invasion of England by protagonist Eivor and his Viking cohorts. Will they forge a future for their people? We'll find out when Assassin's Creed Valhalla hits PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, with PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S and Google Stadia versions to come later.
Three Hours in the Company of Warriors
Assassin's Creed Valhalla, as with the previous instalment Odyssey, to chosse between a male and female form of Eivor. For our preview we chose to play the male form, but it should be noted that the demo gave us the opportunity to switch between the forms at any time. This will not be possible in the final release, however, but here's our take on our three hours of play.
- GENRE: Action-RPG
- RELEASE DATE: November 17, 2020
- PLATFORMS: PC / PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PlayStation 5 / Xbox Series X / Google Stadia
- DEVELOPER: Ubisoft Montréal
- PUBLISHER: Ubisoft
- PRICE: $59.99 (Standard) / $99.99 (Gold) / $119.99 (Ultimate) / $199.99 (Collector's)
In the Footsteps of a Legend...
As already mentioned, Assassin's Creed Valhalla puts us in the boots of Eivor, a Viking warrior from Norway who seeks a way for his people to prosper by promising them a stable future in England. The demo dropped us in East Anglia, and a storyline that saw us attempt to create alliances with the English kingdoms that were tearing each other apart for power.
The political situation in England at that time was highly conducive to the plight of the Viking people, who for years had attempted to find a better, more fertile home. The people followed the path of the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok, who sailed far and wide in order to ensure a better future for his kind than the harsh winters of Scandinavia, where agriculture was nigh-on impossible.
Having played only three hours of Valhalla, we can't reveal any more about the plot. However, this is a good thing, as you will be able to experience all that Ubisoft Montréal have planned when the game finally hits shelves in November.
Who Hasn't Dreamed of Living the Life of a Viking?
One of the strengths of the Assassin's Creed series is the ability of the developers to capture the atmosphere and realism of the times in which the games are set. Whether through sound design, level design, or the landscapes, cities and monuments players can explore, we're completely immersed in the world put before us.
This is once again the case with Valhalla, and from our first steps in 9th century England we felt the weight of war ravaging though the land. You'll find yourself noticing similarities with The Witcher 3 at times, in particular to that game's region of Velen with its autumnal vibe.
And what would the life of a Viking be without drinking contests and verbal duels? In Valhalla you'll have the opportunity to challenge other Vikings, in which you'll down horns of ale and spit rhyme to prove you're the cleverest of all.
During your exploration you'll also be able to call upon your drakkar, or longship, just like calling a mount in other games. You'll appreciate this, especially when there's no other boat nearby.
Several features were available to us during our demo, as we explored the English countryside. In particular, the story brought to the heart of an assault on an enemy stronghold, where a young Englishman who would go on to become King was being held.
Assaults are a novelty in this title, as they allow for mass attacks on enemy forts or bastions — all alongside our fellow Viking allies.
An assault is broken down into several phases from what we could see, with the first being the approach by longship. You must protect yourself from the rain of flaming arrows by timing the raising of your shield, so that your ship isn't sunk before the assault can even begin.
Once you've made your landing, you'll need to take on a well-drilled enemy defence. The process is quite simple — a lot of combat, with gates to be destroyed using battering rams.
Once the garrison has been destroyed, there's a boss lying in wait — one last battle before you succeed in capturing the base.
Raids and the Return of an Old Favourite...
Another type of quest on offer is the raid. Similar to assaults, but less impressive, these are not split into phases like the former.
Instead, there are just a load of enemies to kill and chests to retrieve, with one elite opponent carrying a key to all the loot you can carry.
Making its return in Valhalla is the hidden blade, the use of which is somewhat anecdotal. It's hard to imagine making a discreet approach when playing a fully-armed Viking, especially in the middle of a raid or assault.
We hope the blade will find more appropriate use in other parts of the game, so that we're not left disappointed by its reveal in the cinematic trailer.
Armed to the Teeth, and Ready for Action!
In terms of weapons and Eivor's customisation, you have a lot of freedom to guide your gameplay style. It's possible to equip any type of weapon, whether sword, one-handed axe, two-handed axe, flail, hammer or spear. You'll once again find items of differing qualities, something introduced in Origins to fit the new RPG style, and this allows for a gradual increase in power for Eivor.
The skill tree comes divided into three branches — one which favours hand-to-hand combat (represented by a bear), agility (raven), and a hybrid of the two (wolf). Overall, the tree offers a wide range of choice for the player, and brings the luxury of allocating skill points as you see fit.
As far as skills are concerned, they are generally unlocked and improved via the skill tree, but can also be found on the map through chests and as rewards for boss confrontations.
Crafting and hunting also feature, and allow you to improve Eivor's equipment and accessories through collecting skins, metal, stone and other trinkets that can be sold for silver.
Once again you are invited to plunder anything and everything thanks to copious amount of inventory space, something which perfectly fits the life of a Viking.
We hope there's less spam in terms of drops compared to the previous two instalments, so that our equipment doesn't become obsolete too quickly. It's always more fun to acquire equipment at a steady pace, rather than get lost in an infinite number of items that require too much time in the menus.
Adding to the Experience
Players of the previous instalments will see familiarity in how gameplay pans out, with the fundamentals simply augmented rather than radically changed. New additions include the ability to ground or stun an opponent, and apply a nice finishing move.
The addition of more weapon types allow for experimentation in combat style, even as far as equipping dual shields for that extra protection. We liked the flail, which is a particularly good way to knock down and finish off opponents, while you can also spin it around for a few seconds to deal damage while protecting yourself.
There are technical issues when several enemies are on screen, while the camera scrambles and the AI is sometimes incomprehensible. There are also horseback and ship-based battles, although we didn't get to see these.
One small feature that also makes a comeback is dialogue choice. Originally appearing in Odyssey, these choices were anecdotal and with little impact on the story. In Valhalla, Ubisoft appear to have made an effort to offer more interesting choices that result in a real difference to your adventure. One choice we had made a significant change to Eivor, but we won't spoil that for you here.
One interesting diversion from Valhalla's predecessors is a change to the life-bar management system. You'll have to be more mindful as it won't restore automatically. Some items can be used in combat to heal via a quick shortcut, and can be found while exploring. This change is a good thing in our opinion, as it adds to the immersion and combat awareness. Players will need to think a little more tactically, instead of just rushing in head-first.
One thing that disappointed us was not being able to see the 'assassin' side of things during our demo, despite much being made of the return of the hidden blade. We would have liked the chance to try out its use and a more stealth-based gameplay. As it stands, the ability to assassinate appears insignificant, and entirely up to the player when, for example, assaulting certain camps.
The verticality that was criticised in Odyssey appears to have been adjusted, with more set-pieces taking place on the ground, and the parkour elements adapted to a more Viking style to increase the realism. While we didn't experience the hidden blade, it could well be that it features prominently in the final release.
A Long Voyage of Discovery
Thankfully, Ubisoft have managed to keep many surprises hidden for players on Valhalla release day, including the settlement mechanic. Your goal will be to create and evolve this Viking colony, which will serve as the game's central hub, by recruiting characters to make it grow.
We noticed during our demo that we were collecting resources that could be used to improve this settlement, although we didn't get to try this out. It's something that could really make the difference with Valhalla, in terms of player experience.
Finally, Valhalla is a game that is teeming with secrets to discover, bosses to kill, legendary creatures to hunt, puzzles to solve, and lands to explore. Our only fear at this point is how digestible the map is compared to that of Odyssey, which was far too vast and filled with uninteresting objectives.
Having a lot of content is good, but bloating a game to extend the hour-count at the expense of fun is not the solution.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla doesn't reinvent the wheel — nor does it claim to — and builds upon everything the franchise has done well since it's RPG-style reboot. There are more gameplay possibilities and diverse content to explore, but some doubts remain around the final product. There are some tech issues during fights, and the AI doesn't help at times.
Will the promise of a return to assassination, embodied by the hidden blade, be kept? It's difficult to say at the moment, and we hope that it isn't just a way to retain the Assassin's Creed name. In spite of this, Valhalla has something to tempt everyone interested in a Viking saga, especially through its realistic atmosphere.
Eivor quickly endears to the player, thanks to his charisma and impact on the story of the colonization of Britain by his people. Gameplay is based on a solid foundation, and adds new features and content to keep everyone happy.
Time will tell whether Valhalla will leave its mark on players, but we'll find out on November 17. Skol!
The world premiere of the first Assassin's Creed Valhalla trailer shows that players will go from the frozen tundra of Scandinavia all the way to England and confrontation with Alfred the Great. Ubisoft also revealed that AC: Valhalla will have a release date of Holiday 2020.
Ubisoft have just revealed the first official trailer for the upcoming Assassin's Creed Valhalla, and the game is already available to preorder. As usual, several editions will be available, including a Gold Edition, Ultimate Edition, and special Collector's Edition with statue.
Translated and edited by David "Olucaron" Duffy.