Assassin's Creed Valhalla is the latest historical outing from Ubisoft, set in 9th century England during the Dark Ages with, you guessed it, Vikings. I had the chance to view three hours of gameplay with a walkthrough by a demoist, and I came out of that session feeling optimistic about what the company has in store for players. It's a little rough around the edges, but it was a work-in-progress build that signals a lot of potential for the final product.
Conquer new lands for glory and honor
After endless wars ravage Norway and resources are scarce, you'll lead your clan to the shores of England in the hopes of finding a new home. Unfortunately, not everyone is keen on having Vikings around, and King Alfred of Wessex will do all he can to keep you from settling.
For the demo, only the region of East Anglia was accessible. While the map looked much smaller than that of Odyssey's — from what the demoist could show — this apparently isn't the case. Plus, East Anglia itself was incredibly dense and could easily match the amount of content found in earlier Assassin's Creed games. I can't say for certain whether it'll be just as bloated as Odyssey, but it does do away with traditional tracked side quests in favor of world events that will pop up as you go.
One of these world events happened as my demoist passed a little girl who cried out for a horse. Upon helping her horse cross the river, you find out you had inadvertently stolen someone else's horse for the girl. Another time Eivor stumbled upon a nun who had murdered several men in a church, then took up arms against Eivor, claiming her god had said she was a devil. The world events I witnessed were never anything lengthy, but that doesn't mean longer ones aren't in the game. I only saw a small fraction of what Valhalla has to offer.
A major component of Valhalla is forging alliances through the decisions that you make. This comes into play in East Anglia when Eivor — female in my demo, but you can play as a male — must rescue a man named Oswald, who claims to be the rightful King to the throne in East Anglia. Almost immediately, I witnessed how player choice could affect the world.
After a brief raid on a fort and boss battle, Eivor is given the opportunity to spare the Dane that kidnapped Oswald or kill him. Choosing to spare him leads to another scene when he crashes Oswald's wedding — where you also have the opportunity to partake in a few mini-games, like a drinking contest — and challenges him to a fight. Should you choose to let Oswald handle it on his own, he beats Rued, the Dane, and banishes him from the land. Thinking about the possibilities that could have led from any number of choices really opens the game up.
What if Rued was killed when Oswald initially wanted to spare him? Would Eivor have sacrificed that alliance for a moment of satisfaction? Maybe if I had stepped in to intervene between the fight at the wedding, it would have strained Eivor's relationship with Oswald. I was only able to see one outcome, but it already seems that player choice will play a much bigger role than it ever has before in the series.
Outside of the main campaign, there were plenty of activities to do, one of which gave me a good look at how Layla will appear in the historical simulation. Traditionally, modern day protagonists in Assassin's Creed stay firmly in the modern day. In Valhalla, Animus Anomalies provide a parkour challenge with floating blocks reminiscent of the modern day sections in Revelations. As Layla ascends to the top of the particular anomaly in the demo, mysterious voices can be heard in the background, though it's hard to parse what exactly they're talking about.
The skill trees and power system that they're emphasizing over levels are welcome changes. Skill trees and gear fall into one of three categories: Bear, Wolf, or Raven. Gear and skills aligned to a particular animal enhance different playstyles for stealth/assassin, melee combat, and ranged attacks. The combined amount from all three groups gives you your total power. Instead of being level-gated out of certain areas, each kingdom now has a recommended power level associated with it.
Because the demo was being streamed, it's understandable that there were some visual glitches and lag from time to time. When I say it's a little rough around the edges, it has nothing to do with streaming quality. Like previous Assassin's Creed games, it's all too common for body parts to clip through one another mid-fight or see floating weapons in the air after an enemy has died. Eivor would frequently get stuck and run in place if she was in motion prior to a cutscene being initiated. During a legendary beast fight my demoist very clearly dodged out of the way of an attack in time, only for Eivor to suddenly appear under the beast instead.
Again, it's an early build of the game and some of these may be fixed before launch, but they're also problems that pop up in Origins and Odyssey. I'm skeptical that they won't show up in the final build of Valhalla in some form. Regardless, none of these seemed game-breaking and were more minor annoyances.
What I constantly kept thinking about during the entire demo was just how good the soundtrack was, no doubt thanks to Jesper Kyd's expertise. The low thrums and chanting really made it feel like I was in a viking fantasy. Your raiding party can even sing songs on your longship like in previous games.
I still have a lot of unanswered questions regarding Assassin's Creed Valhalla, but I liked what I saw. If you've played Origins or Odyssey, Valhalla is very much in the same vein as those. If you haven't, you're in for a treat.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla is set to launch on Nov. 17, 2020. It will come to Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC, and Stadia. It supports Smart Delivery on Microsoft's consoles, so you'l get a free upgrade to the Xbox Series X version if you purchased it on Xbox One.
Conquer new lands for glory and honor
After endless wars ravage Norway and resources are scarce, you'll lead your clan to the shores of England in the hopes of finding a new home. But not everyone is keen on having Vikings around, and King Alfred of Wessex will do all he can to keep you from settling.
Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life, and is very happy Xbox is growing a stronger first-party portfolio. You can find her obsessing over Star Wars and other geeky things on Twitter @JenLocke95.
Ubisoft know their craft, but they're not a company that takes risks. Amazing as it looks, I'm sure Valhalla plays like every other Assasin's Creed game.
Graphics look like they copied CD Projekt's witcher, but changed it up a little to make it look different.
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