Assassin's Creed Valhalla preview: Have fun overthrowing kings and building settlements

Assassins Creed Valhalla Cordelia Boss
Assassins Creed Valhalla Cordelia Boss (Image credit: Ubisoft)

After previewing Assassin's Creed Valhalla back in June, Ubisoft gave me another opportunity to go hands-on for six hours ahead of its release. Previously, I was sequestered to East Anglia, but this time around I got to explore the territory of Ledecestrescire (try saying that five times fast), part of Mercia. I was then tasked with helping to depose the sitting King Burgred for a man named Ceolwulf, who was more willing to act as a puppet king and support Eivor's clan. I also got to see our settlement for the first time, which Ubisoft considers to be a central pillar of the experience in Valhalla. While I walked away from the last demo I viewed optimistically, I can't say the same for this one.

A note about the Assassin's Creed Valhalla demo performance

Assassins Creed Valhalla Ivarr

Source: Ubisoft (Image credit: Source: Ubisoft)

This demo had me a bit worried about Assassin's Creed Valhalla now that we're a month away from its release. Ubisoft actually pushed up its release date from Nov. 17 to Nov. 10 to coincide with the release of the Xbox Series X and Series S. Granted, what I played was a work in progress build (I have no idea how old it is, but I was told certain elements between the demo in June and this one were fixed), but you'd think this close to the finish line they'd have a build that was more polished and complete.

To begin the demo, my demoist told me that a couple of the raids were bugged and could not be played. Already not starting out great. When I attempted a raid he thought was one that wasn't bugged, it crashed to desktop after I initiated it. What's weirder is that none of the raids in the earlier demo from June were bugged like this. To release a six-hour demo to press one month ahead of launch where a vital part of your game is bugged is... not good.

There were also a couple of times when the game glitched for one reason or another — enemies becoming invincible, for example — and my demoist and I would awkwardly laugh it off as Eivor desynchronized and I was booted to the last save. I was more forgiving of performance issues back in June — also realizing that some of the latency I experienced was due to the game being streamed to me.

Bugs aside, the world was fun to explore, if a little empty. Not having traditional side quests isn't doing it any favors, but we'll see how the whole game ends up fairing after launch. Instead of side quests, Valhalla just has "world events" which are missions that pop up at random and don't lead down a longer questline that's tracked. Some of these are as simple as walking up to a building, fighting some enemies, and calling it a day. Because of this it just seemed like there wasn't anything substantial to do in my demo. With raids being broken, it was either walk around or pillage a cave for loot.

Usurping kings in Ledecestrescire and building settlements

Assassins Creed Valhalla Encampment

Source: Ubisoft (Image credit: Source: Ubisoft)

My demo began with Eivor's power level slightly over 20, a culmination of the gear and skills I had equipped. At the settlement, which I'll detail more thoroughly later, I was asked to view the Alliance Map after being left in charge. This Alliance Map appears to be something that players will continually go back to. As you forge new alliances across England, other territories will open up. As I said previously, this demo focused on forging an alliance with Ledecestrescire, but to do so, I had to depose the sitting king.

This demo focused on forging an alliance with Ledecestrescire, but to do so, I had to depose the sitting king.

Sigurd Styrbjornson, Eivor's brother, had already traveled to Ledecestrescire to meet with Ubba and Ivarr Ragnarsson, two fellow Vikings who were already in the midst of exiling the current King of Mercia. Figuring out where King Burgred was holding up, I led an assault on Tamworth Fortress that played out much like raids that we've previously seen. I made my way through a few waves of enemies while using a battering ram to break through barriers to get to Burgred's keep. Having apparently escaped, this kicked off the next part of my quest.

With two possible locations as to where Burgred is hiding out, I head to the town of Ledecestre first. Finding no luck there, I then met up with Sigurd at Templebrough Fort. Though Burgred isn't there, his wife Aethelswith is. After a not-so-fun chase sequence that led to a run-in with a Zealot (similar to the Mercenaries from Odyssey), I had to carry Aethelswith back a good distance so she would give up her husband's location with a little intimidation from Ivarr and sensical reasoning from Eivor. I then got to confront Burgred in an old crypt, bring him in front of an audience, and watch as Ceolwulf exiles him to Rome.

In my final fight with Burgred's war advisor (at least I think that's what he is, but they never actually say), I chose to spare him. While I can't spoil what exactly led to my making this decision, I think fans will be pleased. Some of the best parts of Assassin's Creed come from its sci-fi elements, mixing myth and reality for our enjoyment, and that was certainly the case here.

Assassins Creed Valhalla Fenrir Boss

Source: Ubisoft (Image credit: Source: Ubisoft)

Completing the story section of my demo, I decided to explore and see what the settlement had to offer. Ubisoft has constantly referred to the settlement as one of the most important aspects of Valhalla. It's the central hub from which you start and end your missions, and you'll get to help it grow along with your clan. Some activities, like fishing, are unlocked through upgrading your settlement. Without knowing this at first, I spent some of my materials to unlock upgrades for the local cartographer, which meant I couldn't upgrade the fishing tent at the time. I just ended up "fishing" with my bow and arrow. Maybe unconventional, but no less effective.

The settlement is one of the most important aspects of Valhalla.

As you build your settlement like this by upgrading different shops — and no it isn't the same type of settlement building like in Fallout 4 — more people will come to live there. However, the preview didn't detail everything I needed to know about upgrading settlements, as I would guess you can also grow the population by forging alliances. At dinner time, you can ring a large bell near the great hall to gather your clan for food. This is also where you can customize your Jomsviking (a Viking character that can be sent to another player's raiding party), visit the tattoo shop, play Orlog, practice flyting, and more. I'm eager to see just how much our settlement can grow by the end of the game.

Speaking of these activities, I became far too enamored with Orlog, a mini-game where each player gets a handful of six-sided dice with faces that denote attack and defense positions against the opponent. I could see myself spending hours with Orlog alone when Valhalla comes out.

Assassins Creed Valhalla Wildlife Environmental Sealspuffins

Source: Ubisoft (Image credit: Source: Ubisoft)

In between all of this, I also tried some standing stone and glyph puzzles, along with hallucinogenic mushrooms that caused Eivor to see seals that led her through otherworldly doorways. It was weird, and quite honestly I was disappointed at the end of it when I only unlocked a skill point.

That's another part of Valhalla I'm skeptical about. The world in my demo just seemed empty, and I feel like my actions didn't reap enough rewards. There are little things here or there to keep you occupied — like talking to a child waiting for her dad to come back home — but they were never anything I felt like going out of my way to do.

There's a lot more to explore in Valhalla

Assassins Creed Valhalla Mythical Asgard

Source: Ubisoft (Image credit: Source: Ubisoft)

You can visit Asgard and Jotumheim in some capacity.

While I wasn't too impressed by the demo itself, I did learn a few things that make me eager to check out the final game. Assassin's Creed Valhalla will feature myth worlds. Ubisoft didn't elaborate on what these would entail, but a few screenshots show places like Asgard and Jotumheim. This doesn't come as too much of a shock considering Odyssey and Origins had their fair share of myth worlds like Atlantis and Elysium.

In addition to myth worlds, parts of America will also be explorable. Again, Ubisoft didn't detail exactly which parts and what we'll be able to do there, but I'm excited to find out. Some of the best parts of Assassin's Creed games have been kept secret before launch so players could discover them by themselves.

Assassin's Creed Vallhalla gameplay is familiar

Assassins Creed Valhalla Drinking Contest

Source: Ubisoft (Image credit: Source: Ubisoft)

Overall, the gameplay and parkour played similarly to that of Odyssey. You're getting a change of scenery here with a new skillset, but the combat isn't drastically different. Dual-wielding shields are deadlier than I expected, but I can't see myself playing the game like that, personally. What's even more fun is killing an enemy and triggering a slow-motion sequence where they get decapitated. In that regard, Valhalla shines.

I've said it before, but this is the Assassin's Creed you know and love with Vikings. I didn't see anything too surprising, and it generally felt like a natural continuation from what we've seen in Origins and Odyssey. That's not a bad thing — those were good games — but don't go into this expecting a giant leap like we had from Syndicate to Origins.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla is set to release on November 10, 2020, for Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PC, and PS4. It will come to be on November 12 when that console launches. It supports 4K at 60FPS and Xbox Smart Delivery on Microsoft's Series X.

Jennifer Locke

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.