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

by Adam Pavlacka on July 12, 2020 @ 12:45 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

The latest installment of the Assassin's Creed franchise takes us to the time of the Vikings. In preparation for today's Ubi Forward event, Ubisoft invited us to play a little bit of Eivor's adventure. Although it wasn't a direct hands-on experience (we had to remote play over the internet due to the coronavirus pandemic), it did offer a first-hand experience of the updated gameplay.

My Assassin's Creed: Valhalla demo started midway through the game, as part of a quest to unite the Danes and Saxons. Another faction is trying to prevent the two from forming an alliance, and it is up to Eivor to prevent things from falling apart.

Anyone who has played Assassin's Creed: Origins or Assassin's Creed: Odyssey will immediately be familiar with the controls on Valhalla. You move, navigate the world, and fight in a very similar way to the previous games. The biggest change that I noticed was the importance placed on hand-to-hand combat. Combat was useful in Odyssey, but beyond some key boss fights, it was not required. You could play through most of the game as a stealth assassin. That doesn't seem to be the case in Valhalla.

After leaving the starting town in the demo, I encountered Valhalla's version of a fort, King's Bury. For my first attempt, I played it entirely stealth. This worked, for the most part. I was able to silently clear out all of the enemies except one, and I felt like a master assassin. I went inside one of the buildings to find three mini-boss enemies waiting for me. There was no way to get into this room with stealth, and one of the enemies had a ranged attack that was an instant-kill if I wasn't at full health. After dying twice, I decided to give the raid mechanic a go.

To initiate a raid, I first had to go to the water and call my longship. Then we sailed over to King's Bury and attacked. With a ship full of Vikings, there was no stealth to be had, but I did have a team of AI buddies to help in clearing out the opposing forces. More importantly, once we had eliminated everyone outside, my crew followed me inside and assisted with the group that had previously given me trouble. This time, they were no match for us.

While the raid mechanic made me feel powerful, it also brought forth a bit of disappointment. After all, if I'm playing as an assassin, shouldn't I be able to sneak in and out without being detected? I'm hoping that the focus on combat is limited to certain scenarios and isn't something that has changed across the entire game.

The next major encounter that I experienced was the assault on Burgh Castle, where combat was expected, since it was a three-stage assault that culminated in a proper boss fight. Enemy soldiers were on the ground, and archers were up on the higher levels to shoot down. Progression was a multi-step approach, so clearing out the archers made it easier for your battering ram to knock down the castle doors.

Moving through each section led to more difficult enemies, which offered up a test of combat skills. Learning how to properly parry and dodge, something that has always been optional in prior games, is now more or less required, unless you're planning on playing on the easiest setting.

Enemies still have levels, but attempting to assassinate a more powerful enemy is not always a futile gesture. An assassination ring appears when you attempt to kill someone like this. Miss the button press, and you end up fighting them. Make the button press, and you'll succeed in your attack.

Some enemies have shields, and they have a dual health bar that shows health and the durability of the shield.

In addition to your regular attacks, Valhalla encouraged you to use special moves. Some balancing needs to be done, since the current Viking kick makes your opponents look as though they're weightless, but for the most part, it's easy to see how the various moves will come together. Break an enemy's defensive stance, knock them down, and then stomp on them for the killing blow.

On the plus side, the Burgh Castle assault made it clear that players have some options in how to approach a fight. While I didn't see any way to speed through the first two sections, the third part of the fight could be avoided simply by running to the tower where the boss was overseeing the battle and climbing up. Normally, you would do this after clearing out the existing enemies, but there is nothing stopping you from doing it right away. Variety has always been a strong point in the Assassin's Creed franchise. If options like this are in all the major skirmishes, that will be a good thing.

Basic changes to the way you interact with the world have been made to the health system and the vision system. Health is now a default skill, with health restoration managed by collecting food. Forage enough berries, and you'll get another health restore. You need to trigger the restore manually, but it's not difficult to build up your bank. Vision is no longer tied to a bird. This time around, you have Odin's Sight, which is accessed by pressing down on the right stick. Odin's Sight reveals enemies in the area, the same way it reveals items.

Outside of the main quest, there appear to be plenty of side goals for you to explore. I wandered around one town, talked to random strangers, and unlocked a fast-travel point by climbing to a high point and synchronizing. Out in the world, I was riding my horse to a destination when I was attacked by wolves. After dispatching the wolves, I found an abandoned cottage that served as a puzzle. Figure out how to break in, and you can collect the loot inside.

Although I spent a few hours with Eivor and Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, I only got a small glimpse of what the game has to offer. It looks to build on both Origins and Odyssey, so if you've enjoyed the past two installments of Assassin's Creed, you'll probably enjoy Valhalla. I'm not entirely sold on the prioritization of hand-to-hand combat just yet, but it is good to see that the team is trying new things.

As for Eivor, the jury's still out. There wasn't enough time to get to really get to know her in the game. Yes, she's a gruff Viking, but based on the demo, she doesn't have the personality or wit of Kassandra from Odyssey. I'm looking forward to spending more time with her and seeing what makes her tick.

For additional Assassin's Creed Valhalla and Watch Dogs: Legion hands-on gameplay trailers, check here.

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