I’ll admit it. I fell off the Assassin’s Creed franchise bandwagon. Not for a lack of love, on the contrary, both Odyssey and Origins were absolutely breathtaking games, full of the historical sights and sounds of the period and plenty of action. But with such massive worlds and a massive amount of collectables, I found myself unable to finish either title due to the responsibilities that come with adulting.
But Assassin’s Creed Valhalla might be the game to pull me back into the AC fold and actually finish a title. Ubisoft has said that the Viking-themed Valhalla will be shorter and smaller than Odyssey. However, as I soon learned during my three-hour demo of the game, that by no means signals a less-exciting game. Throughout my jaunt, I encountered fearsome berserkers, a Dark Souls-esque Druidic priestess, intriguing characters and a breathtaking open-world. I’m really excited to jump back into this world on November 17, if the recent leaks are to be believed.
Meet the Wolf Kissed
Valhalla’s protagonist is Eivor, a Viking leader of a clan that’s fled from Norway due to war and diminishing resources. Arriving on the shores of a ninth-century England, Eivor establishes a settlement for their people. In the midst of this Eivor receives the hidden blade of the Assassin Brotherhood after assisting them in a few battles. But unlike other assassins, Eivor the Wolf Kissed, prefers to wear the blade openly over their forearm, because badass Viking.
As the most recent arrivals to a war-torn England, the opportunity is ripe for Eivor to carve out a place for their people in blood and raids or strategic alliances. The choice is yours. Another major choice is the gender of Eivor. Similar to AC Odyssey, Eivor can be male or female. I chose to play as a female Eivor who was just as intimidating as her male counterpart. I had a blast playing her, especially during one of the minigames where I had to participate in a drinking contest. It wasn’t too far off from my typical drinking habits so I made sure to tip one back for Eivor later on in the evening.
A smaller world, but still beautiful
Ubisoft says Valhalla’s world is smaller, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. From long stretches of beach, to wide open plains and moody, atmospheric forests, Valhalla’s got something for everyone. During my first mission to free an Anglo-Saxon town from a rival Viking leader, had me steering a viking longship down a river. As I made my way to my destination, the boat cut through the water like butter leaving rippling cascades in its wake. The sky was overcast, but along the shoreline I could see a small herd of deer taking a drink and beyond a sprawling field waiting to be traversed.
As I explored the interior of the land, I found myself in a deep pocket of forest full of tall, powerful trees and lush green foliage. However, that quickly gave way to clearing that was all but devoid of life. Instead there was a circle of gnarled, bone-white trees with bloody animal skulls nailed on to them. A line of crimson red rope and banner strung between the trees, all but confirmed that this was a ritual for some kind of dark ritual. And as I entered the space for a closer look, I was greeted by creepy whispers, distorted air and rising black symbols reminiscent of Senua’s Hellblade.
Axes, swords and flails, oh my!
Like most Assassin’s Creed, there’s going to be plenty of clandestine missions with a target that must be eliminated as quietly as possible. But this is also a Viking game, so there’s going to be plenty of in-your-face, hand-to-hand combat. During my first mission, I used a mix of stealth and axe swinging to make my way to my target.
During my initial approach, I introduced a couple of archers and a berserker to the business end of my axe. Like previous AC titles, you can lock on to a single enemy and focus on them or just go in swinging. Combat is made up of light and heavy attacks as well as blocks, dodges and parrying. Play your cards right and you’ll knock your enemy down and dispatch them with a stomp or you can perform a stun attack and send them to their maker with a crushing blow from your shield.
Keep in mind that dodging is attached to a bar now, which means that it’ll run out after several dodges. From there, you’ll have to wait for it to refill, which means, your parrying skill will have to be top notch.
In addition to your light and heavy attacks, Eivor has a few more tricks up her sleeve. You get three special attacks mapped to the Left Trigger and the face buttons. What those attacks are depends on what you unlock on the skill tree. For instance, I mapped a poison attack to one button so I can inflict a poisonous blow to my foe that would continue to eat away at their health bar. Another attack sent Eivor into a running charge into a nearby enemy, staggering them and leaving them open for further attack.
So far, my favorite weapon by far is the flail. Attached to a chain, it delivers a long-range heavy attack which is clutch for crowd control. But the light attack where Eivor rapidly swung the weapon, peppering your foolish foe with a volley of strikes that rings with meaty, metallic thuds.
One of my favorite combat moments happened while wandering the English countryside. I happened into a weird clearing with small bloodied alters. Interacting with a few of them summoned a priestess named Regan who proceeded to drug me and began teleporting around the arena while peppering me with attacks. It was a very Dark Souls-type set piece. After losing the battle the first time around, me and my trusty poisoned flail managed to beat her into submission. If the game promises more combat like this, I’m going to be spending quite a lot of time playing AC Valhalla.
You got skills
Now this is a skill tree. As you make your way through Valhalla completing missions, you’ll earn skill points that can be spent in Valhalla’s massive skill tree. The tree is broken up into three segments: Raven, Bear and Wolf which corresponds to different play styles. Under the Raven tree, I activated stealth attack, while the Wolf tree gave me access to more bow skill and Bear focused on weapons and melee.
Each tree holds a fair amount of active and passive skills. So much so, that I’m not sure that you’d have the ability to unlock them all on a single playthrough. I managed to earn six skill points during my demo which I used evenly across the three trees.
You also have ranged and melee abilities you can access via Books of Knowledge found throughout the world. The more books you get for a particular ability, the more powerful it becomes.
A raiding we will go
During my demo time, I got a small peek at a relatively new feature –– raiding. That’s right, you and your Viking clan can go on a raid. I got a small taste of this during my first mission. My clan hopped in the longboat and rowed down to our destination. Once we arrived, they proceeded to pepper the archers waiting along the shore with their own volley of arrows.
And when it was time to save the newly-appointed king, it was a seriously epic battle complete with me and my clan manning a battering ram, deflecting fire arrows and breaking down three massive doors. It was exhilarating storming the castle’s defenses while fending off an seemingly endless onslaught of warriors to fight through. I’m really looking forward to to seeing how this mechanic plays out throughout the rest of the game.
And as you progress through the game, you can recruit people to your raid party. I managed to get a sailor and a ship’s cat during my playthrough.
I got a brief taste of the minigames Valhalla has to offer. From precision archery, to stacking large stones and shooting dice, the game has plenty of diversions to offer. However, my two favorite games are the drinking game and flyting, which is basically a medieval rap battle. As I traded barbs with an upstart knave, I had to be quick on my feet to choose the right rhyme to put him in his place. It made me want another Parappa the Rapper game or at least another Def Jam fighting game.
This might be the Assassin’s Creed that I play all the way through. Like most AC titles, the world is vast and filled with tons of adventures and secrets that I’m ready to explore. The combat is brutal and more visceral than previous games and is incredibly fun. I’m excited to really take the raid mechanic for a spin and to dig through that massive skill tree. But Assassin’s Creed fans will find a lot to love in Valhalla.