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Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Nov. 10, 2020

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PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Assassin's Creed Valhalla'

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 14, 2020 @ 10:00 p.m. PDT

Assassin's Creed Valhalla throws players axe-first into ninth-century England, an age of warring kingdoms and Viking conquest. Wars will rage. Kingdoms will fall. This is the age of the Vikings.

Pre-order Assassin's Creed: Valhalla

As we approach the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, it's worth keeping an eye on Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. It's a launch title for the two systems, while at the same time feeling like a redesign of the core elements of the franchise. Most of the classic bits are still here, but they're remixed in a new way.

Ubisoft gave us the opportunity to sit down with the game for a few hours last week, and I got the chance to play through the questline for Ledecestrescire, the second territory in the game. It was still relatively early, so there were no big story spoilers or surprise reveals, but it did offer up a peek at how the larger game played, and put the experience of our last preview into context.

Your home base is the hamlet of Ravensthorpe. This is where you'll plan your conquest of new territories, as well as where you'll devote resources toward supporting the locals. Each building you create promises to either expand the storyline or provide options for collecting resources. For example, if you build a Fishing Hut, a local family will run it, and you now have a place to return the fish you've caught for a reward. A seer promises to expand your mind (her options were not enabled in the preview build), while yet another building offers links to the Assassins.

 


You can't just use any old resources to expand Ravensthorpe, though. You'll need specific resources that (at least in the preview build) were only available from raid targets. The raid targets were specific, protected locations with a treasure to collect. You could run them solo, attempting to go at it stealthily, without being noticed, or you could sail over in your longship and mount a full-scale assault with your crew. Despite offering options, it really felt like Valhalla's raids were designed for the latter. The game wants you to run in there with a full crew and run roughshod over the defenders.

Running a raid may seem chaotic at first, but you quickly realize it's something of a threat management experience. You need to worry about keeping your crew alive (if someone goes down, you can revive them), while pushing forward to key targets. If you can manage that, the direct approach isn't as scary as it first seems. You'll find similar experiences during the missions.

One nifty aspect is that you don't always have to follow the crowd during a raid. Sometimes it's more beneficial to do a bit of side exploration while the battle rages because it's a good way to find a flanking position. For example, if there are a bunch of archers raining fire arrows down on your raiding party as they try to break down a gate, it's helpful if you can get up to their level and start taking out the archers.

 


Boss battles are still a thing, and there are no shortcuts here. You'll either need to keep your distance and attack with a bow or move in close and use your hand-to-hand skills to take them down. Thankfully, you have a full complement of abilities at your disposal. Fight well to build up your meter, and then let them loose when you've got an opening. Abilities will feel familiar to anyone who's played Assassin's Creed: Odyssey. My favorite is still the stomp.

Combat does feel smoother than it did earlier this year, which is a definite plus for the game. Where I still have some concerns is with the story. Valhalla is heavy on the exposition, but Eivor has yet to grab me like Kassandra did. The story is there. The characters say their lines, but Eivor's personality is more flat than gruff. Given that we're likely to be spending 40 to 60 hours with her, I'm hoping that this is just an artifact of the early game and she'll open up more as we progress.

Oddly, one of the most interesting characters is one that it felt like the game wanted us to hate. Ivarr is a Viking who has no patience for alliances or diplomacy, and he would just as soon cut off someone's head because it was the fastest means to an end. When we first meet him, he's torturing captives, and he's heavily into the "I'm a brutal asshole" side of things. Still, as the story progresses, we learn that Ivarr has realized that the world has changed around him, and his old ways aren't necessarily how the new world works. He's never sympathetic, but he is interesting due to his motivations.

 


Another potential concern is the space between activities. During the preview, much of the travel time was covered by exposition, but if you forget to synchronize a fast-travel point, it means manually riding back later on. Yes, you can set your horse to follow the trail, but a lot of the world between the key locations felt empty. The only time I felt like I hit an emergent moment was when I ran across a blockade on one of the rivers.

Without a thought, I called for a raid and my crew jumped into action. We flooded into the mini-fort and started clearing it out. Once we'd wiped the enemies from the area, it was a simple matter of finding the control gear and then dropping the blockade. All in all, it was a small section of play, but one that felt more real than much of the scripted content.

Where Valhalla holds promise is in a decision tree that, I'm told, can have real consequences for how you play. A perfect example is the Zealot system. These are high-level characters that hunt down targets. When fighting Leofrith, the boss of the story levels in Ledecestrescire, you're given the option to kill him or spare him. If you spare him, he tells you that he put your name on a Zealot scroll, and you have a day to burn it before the Zealots find it. If you kill him, you never find out about the scroll, and as a result, you'll have to deal with the Zealots attacking throughout the game.


If Valhalla really does have game-changing decisions like this throughout, it could mean that two players have vastly different experiences with the title, even as they hit the same story beats. That alone is pretty exciting.

Visually, Valhalla is in an odd place. Moving around in the world, especially when on the water, can look absolutely amazing. On the other hand, close-ups of characters during cut scenes can look oddly artificial, with some looking more like plastic dolls than people. For a game that straddles the generational divide, it'll be interesting to see if it can justify dropping the cash on a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S, or if the game engine is firmly grounded in this generation of consoles.

As we await the game's release next month, I'm left wondering if Assassin's Creed: Valhalla is going to end up feeling like an Assassin's Creed game with Vikings, or if it is going to feel like a Viking game with an Assassin's Creed overlay. At this point, I'm actually leaning toward the latter. It may not be the update that everyone is expecting, but it may be the Assassin's Creed remix that Ubisoft needs to keep the series feeling fresh.



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