Assassin’s Creed Preview
The world of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is adorned by a brilliantly vibrant colour pallet with autumn and winter colours. AC games have covered human history from the Italian Renaissance to the Peloponnesian War, with loads in between, and now Ubisoft is tackling the Dark Ages with a Viking protagonist. Now that I’ve gotten my hands on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, I can safely say it’s my most hyped title in the series ahead of its release.
Assassin’s Creed Continues to Make History Interesting
My history with Assassin’s Creed extends back to the Ezio trilogy of games that captivated so many of us. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla captivates me in equal measure, despite the changes from Odyssey not being as drastic as the changes made between the original title and the first sequel, or the jump from Syndicate to Origins. Assassin’s Creed Origins revamped the formula of the franchise started with Assassin’s Creed 2 while keeping foundational things such as stealth and exploration, and while Odyssey is a great improvement from what Ubisoft started with Origins, Valhalla has what it takes to be what Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was to the original formula.
The crackling of fire is accompanied by the cool colours of aurora borealis in the frozen tundra of the Dark Aged European open-world lovingly crafted by Ubisoft for the Viking-based Assassin’s Creed title. The reds, browns, and yellows of the foliage play off the icy water and snowy mountaintops just as brilliantly in this Assassin’s Creed Valhalla gameplay as an early Vancouver winter.
This demo in particular is known as the Leicestershire demo and it includes a specific piece of the game that includes lots of World Events, Artifacts to collect, and beautiful vistas to discover. While the beginner experience in Valhalla will differ from this demo, the gameplay began with an introduction to Settlements which can be built and crafted to your liking, with areas where you can place monuments and buildings that will offer their own benefits. A blacksmith, for example, can enhance Eivor’s gear. On the other hand, a tattoo parlor expands the customization potential for the Viking protagonist.
Within the Settlement of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, you can customize your longboat, your horse, and a Viking soldier who will accompany you on the battlefield. The longship is primarily used for traversal, while the allied soldiers will don your custom gear into raids that involve storming castle walls and ransacking hostile territory. Upgrading your settlement is one of many excuses to raid enemy towns and villages in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, while some raids are actually part of The Kingmaker’s Saga. The Kingmaker’s Saga is similar to the political conquest prominently featured in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and fans of the most recent Assassin’s Creed title will find several things to appreciate in this next-gen installment.
Raids can be accomplished through various methods, my favorite being storming the gate with a battering ram. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla fans will also be able to climb ladders set up by other Vikings to scale the walls of a fortress when raiding it, or they can sneak in the classic Assassin’s Creed way to let their friends through the main gate more easily. This variation to the gameplay allows you to change how you raid every time you do it so that no two raids are identical unless you’re actively trying the same strategy. Raiding is not only an important activity in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but it will also unlock new activities to do such as fishing, as raiding will help you recruit a fisherman to your settlement. This emphasis on a home base reminds me of Garrisons in World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, but I’m already getting the feeling that Ubisoft knows what they’re doing with Settlements where Blizzard had no clue with Garrisons.
A Small Sliver of a Vast Kingdom
World Events are the new Side Quests and they’re handled in a similar, but more seamless way. In the Leicestershire demo, there are nearly a dozen World Events with varying activities. One involved helping a hidden woman collect snake eggs in a viper infested cave, another had Eivor helping two idiot brothers torch a house after retrieving something important from inside, and the most ridiculously delightful World Event had Eivor tripping out on magic mushrooms and seeing seals slowly waddle their way into interdimensional portals. This method of tackling side quests made them more interesting to do, and Ubisoft has really nailed the World Events in the Leicestershire demo.
Charisma in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is leveled up through competing in rap battles that are heavily reliant on timing, speed, and rhyme scheme. Previous to seeing it in action, I saw this as a silly addition to a very serious Assassin’s Creed installment. After experiencing these rap battles first-hand, I can confirm that they play well. My biggest issue with these is I can’t see anyone failing at them more than once. Similar to the ease experienced in these rap battles, there are some standing stone puzzles to solve in the open world of Valhalla that I felt were extremely easy to solve. These puzzles give you an image while showing pieces of the image engraved in nearby standing stones. Basically, you have to stand at the appropriate angle to line up the standing stones to bring the pieces of the symbol together and create the image that the puzzle requires. These are fun and engaging, and a great distraction from the main storyline of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but I felt that these puzzles are a little easy.
Contrary to the easy standing stone puzzles and the repeatable rap battles that I conquered during my Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Leicestershire demo gameplay, the paper chase continues to challenge me all of these years after the activity was added to the Assassin’s Creed franchise. During my extended Assassin’s Creed Valhalla gameplay, I finished every piece of the main campaign I could, I discovered several artifacts and vistas, and I finished a majority of the World Events included in the demo, but I never captured any of the three paper chases that I saw and I remain determined to capture them when the game fully releases. Sea Shanties have returned to Assassin’s Creed yet again with Valhalla, but most of them are sung in the vast river system of Europe rather than the ocean. Unlike Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, paper chases aren’t there to unlock new shanties, but apparently, they unlock new tattoo designs through parkouring your way to the evasive piece of paper.
The Viking Dark Ages Are Surprisingly Colourful
In many ways, Assassin’s Creed fans know what to expect from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, even if they’ve lapsed from the series for a while. Stealth and blending in are still important in distrusted or restricted areas, there are still beautiful vistas to discover and sync towers to perch from, hidden treasure still encourages exploration, a rich skill tree, and resources to grind for. Fans of the Animus will appreciate the vast loading screen they’ll have to walk through this time around, which includes the Northern Lights that are in so many areas of the game. Similar to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Valhalla continues to offer interesting locations as sync towers, encouraging you to climb something that you already felt compelled to climb.
The Leicestershire demo for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla included multiple conversations, giving me (Eivor) the opportunity to choose where the plot should lead, and one choice, in particular, had devastating consequences. Eventually, there’s an option to kill an important character or let them live, and letting them live makes your experience in Europe more sunshine and roses than the alternative. If you choose to kill the character, Zealots are sent to hunt Eivor and his Viking posse. Choosing to spare their life makes Zealots optional content, but killing them makes Zealots hunt you down, drastically changing the gameplay. I’m looking forward to seeing what other ways the gameplay is impacted by my decisions when Assassin’s Creed Valhalla fully releases.
While my experience with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has been mostly positive during the Leicestershire demo, I did encounter several bugs that will likely be fixed by the time the game releases in full. One of the bugs was a simple UI box not disappearing after a set amount of time, impeding my gameplay in the slightest way. A lot of the bugs seemed to be situational to me finding something the traditional way rather than using Odin sight. The combat and weapon systems optimized in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey have been further optimized by Valhalla, however, I noticed an issue with Eivor’s cloak staying stiff as a board while exploring the European landscape. The beautifully lit Dark Aged European landscape reminded me of Horizon: Zero Dawn’s best zones, and I’m looking forward to discovering more of the map. The Leicestershire demo included a fraction of the final Valhalla map when glancing at a zoomed-out map, but the chunk of the game that was included was a fun Assassin’s Creed experience. The campaign seems politically similar to Odyssey, and I’m excited to learn more about my European heritage by delving into a simulated version of the world that my ancestors called home.
***Demo provided by the publisher via virtual preview event***