If you’re familiar with recent entries of the series, Assassin’s Creed Origins and especially Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, it won’t take you long to get used to the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla gameplay, but its dedication to providing an in-depth Viking experience with certain franchise tweaks doesn’t fail to peak interest. Eagerly started off by lead producer, Julien Laferrière, as part of Ubisoft’s substitute E3 direct, Ubisoft Forward, the segment gave some insight into the research that went into the game’s creation. Valhalla’s team went on what looked like an awesome trip to Norway, living as the Vikings did, to understand and develop the game in a way that highlights the Viking culture as a collective of human beings and how they lived, not just being brutal warriors. As you develop your new England settlement, you’ll add to it with the resources you’ve collected. At the center of it will be a map, recording the collection of allies you’ve acquired, as well as new opportunities.
That’s not to mean that the game is short on brutality though, because it shows that off in spades. As Eivor, a male or female Viking Chieftan from Norway, you’re in charge of taking your crew of battle-hardened warriors to England and establish new Viking settlements, leading the charge to devastate the Anglo Saxons resisting your invasion. At the heart of this crusade is the revamped visceral combat system in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s gameplay: axe throwing, Viking harpoons, a stun system, and most importantly, dual-wielding. The icing on this gore-packed cake though is that you can mix and match whatever weapons you feel like dual-wielding to customise your fighting style as you see fit. That even means fighting with two shields simultaneously. It looks like this time, a good defense is the best kind of offense.
Thankfully, it looks like your crew isn’t just a bunch of NPC’s running around in circles. The AI involved seems to make your Viking brethren take the initiative. As well as stabbing and butchering enemies for you, they’ll even help see you through certain raids of enemy settlements and assaults on heavily fortified Saxon fortresses, like battering doors or hauling the heavy loads of goods that you’ll be plundering for the good of your settlement. The stabbing and butchering of enemies part will come in handy, however, because Ubisoft boasts that Valhalla has the largest varieties of enemies in the series to date, whether it’s those skilled in close quarters brawling or behemoths who try to thwart you from a distance, slinging at you the dead bodies of their fellow Saxons.
Stealth, a gameplay style that has been slightly less incorporated into the series’ recent games compared to older entries, is making a larger return this time around. Sporting a fashionable Viking cloak and hood wandering through towns filled with enemies, you can act as a hunter among prey, hidden among the crowds and slipping past watchful eyes. As a part of combat, you can even utilise stealth opportunities leading up to boss battles, landing early yet crucial critical hits to aid you in these high stakes encounters.
Coming into conflict with different kingdoms as part of your Assassin’s Creed Valhalla gameplay experience, exploration through the game’s stellar open world is major. You’re expected to hunt and forage for essential crafting materials to fortify your equipment, as well as delving into what other mysteries Valhalla has in store for you. As you enter various towns and other settlements, you can recruit additional allies to add to your crew to ease your invasion efforts. Through the rest of the open world, you’ll find Pagan ruins that unlock further activities and challenges. Emphasised further in the Ubisoft Forward post-show, the mystical and supernatural makes a return as well, with your exploration pitting you against legendary animals and figures from Norse and Pagan legends. One particular mystery fight was that against Regan, a mad sorceress who lures you into a duel against her mystical abilities with a morbid, corpse-featured altar.
Odin Sight makes its debut as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s version of the series’ franchise-long mechanic, Eagle Vision, highlighting enemies and key items in the area as per other games. The skill tree makes a return as well, incentivising you to earn skill points through various activities in the game to acquire new skills that tailor to your desired play style.
The experience that comes with the variety of Assassins Creed Valhalla gameplay isn’t all suspense-heavy combat and Pagan mysteries. Ubisoft went far to illustrate that Valhalla is chocked full of elements to promote a bit of relaxation and fun in the Viking world as well. Fishing, flyting (basically medieval rap battles), drinking, cairn building, partying with fellow Vikings, interacting with the England natives in small side quests; the world (or this part of it) is your oyster. One of these little side quests even rewards you with a cat being added to your crew. That’s right. You can recruit a cat. In all of your efforts in recruiting the biggest and toughest Viking men and women to vanquish your foes, the most valuable addition to your Viking legend will clearly be having an adorable little fluff ball sleeping on your longship.
Speaking of your longship, the Viking theme has altered the naval elements you have grown accustomed to from past Assassin’s Creed games. Being a smaller ship, Valhalla is less about naval combat and more about sailing, singing and getting to know your crew whilst traveling through England’s waters, before allowing you to embark on the shores and raid wherever you choose. You can even have your longship sail via cruise control, letting you sit back and take in the scenery. As a customisation bonus, Valhalla’s open-world hosts collectible tattoos, letting you customise different body parts to make Eivor your own.
Conquest, glory and tragedy are the themes awaiting you in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s story and like in Odyssey, your choices matter and alter the course of the narrative. In aid of your conquest, you build an alliance with Oswald, the rightful king of East Anglia. To ease your efforts in building Viking settlements, you may have to compromise your Viking principles to appease your royal partner, or will you choose to give in to your natural warrior instincts?
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla releases on the 17th of November 2020, on PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4, Xbox One, PC and Google Stadia. You can pre-order your copy today from the Ubisoft store.