With every installment of the history-hopping Assassin’s Creed series, there’s a moment that I long for. Meeting some famed historical figure; perfectly timing an assassination from the shadows; crawling to the top of an architectural wonder to make an iconic leap of faith. The moment always inspires awe, and centers my experience in whatever time or narrative the series has found itself in.
During my three hour demo with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, that moment came at the end of a bloody raid, where my Viking hero Eivor triumphantly climbed atop a besieged monastery to blow a massive war horn, signalling to the region that she was unconquered and victorious. While Valhalla maintains some traditional series mainstays (the hidden blade is back, y’all!), its gripping battling systems, lore-inspired boss fights, and era-relevant challenges had me ready to grab a shield and yell “Skål!”.
Set in the 9th century, Valhalla explores the Viking invasion of England in all its gruesome and glorious detail. Eivor is a member of the Raven clan, respected and seeking both alliances and peace for her (or his) people as they settle into the new world. Naturally, peace often comes at the end of a blade.
The demo I played centered around a quest to protect a would-be ruler for the region of East Anglia. An unlikely relationship has been forged between the English and invading Danes, but a rival Viking clan seeks to ruin it. Eivor is tasked with gaining reinforcements to confront the errant clan leader and save the new King’s throne. While there were certainly options to face this task alone with nothing but a cloak and hidden blade, Valhalla’s true spark ignites when Eivor leans on her clan.
Near water, Eivor can summon a longboat manned by Jomsviking, clan members who will row, fight, and even sing as she moves across England’s riversides. When approaching an enemy location, Eivor can use the Raid command to rally the Jomsviking into battle at her side. It made storming an enemy fort feel rapturous, as I gleefully unleashed Helheim on my enemies.
The feeling of community increased tenfold during a larger castle Assault. Similar to Conquest Battles in Odyssey, Assaults are large scale fights between warring factions. Unlike Odyssey, Valhalla turns these moments into lessons in strategy. Sieging a castle requires breaching multiple gates, all while fighting off enemies on the ground and the walls above. Eivor can tackle this head on, battling enemies one by one before grabbing a battering ram to break down the wooden gates, all while avoiding burning oil and flaming arrows raining down from the ramparts.
Alternatively, those with a stealthier streak can cut to the chase, finding ways up the castle walls where Eivor can dispatch enemies from above and jump down to open gates from the opposite side, moving her clan in swiftly before confronting the lead rival at the center. Regardless of strategy, Eivor strikes as the leader of a larger movement, making these battle sequences more engaging than ever before.
Combat feels equally rewarding in smaller, solo encounters. Eivor is free to explore the expanse of England’s burgeoning countryside as she seeks to gain wealth and power for her clan. While the hidden blade is the mainstay for stealth assassinations, Eivor can equip a number of weapons like hefty axes, spiked flails, burly shields, and deadly daggers. In a pinch, swap weapons between hands at any time by double tapping X, mixing up some slick attacks in the heat of a fight. Staggering enemies opens up the chance for a stun attack, and let me tell you, there is nothing more satisfying than watching Evior bash someone upside the head with her shield.
Discovering Books of Knowledge throughout the world unlock special Abilities: unique attacks mapped to each trigger. Eivor needs to build up adrenaline to use these attacks, but moves that let her toss multiple axes or send her raven Synin to attack enemies can often turn the tide in her favor.
More than anything, I was impressed with Ubisoft’s continuous dedication to a richly rewarding open world. Exploring the countryside I could meet pious English townsfolk looking for help reclaiming religious artifacts, or just as easily stumble into a hallucinogenic-fueled duel with seidrs: fearsome Viking shamans with an axe to grind. One second I cooed at a sun-dripped field filled with bunnies, the next I found myself in the center of a ring of cursed figurines where Eivor needed to destroy an unholy altar.
Pressing in the right thumbstick enables Eivor’s Odin Sight, which can help her key in on valuable objects or tag nearby enemies with ease. While side quests and collectibles fill the map, Eivor can encounter random World Events along her journey that keep life unpredictable. In true Viking fashion, she can also be challenged to delightful drinking competitions, one where she drunkenly attempts to hit pots with arrows while swaying off balance, another where she has to down three drinking horns faster than her challenger. She doesn’t just drink; Eivor can also dominate at flyting matches, games of wit where each person trades increasingly impressive insults.
A few other details that caught my Odin Sight…
- The Raven: Eivor’s black-feathered companion, Synin, can help survey the area to spot enemies or mark points of interest from the skies. Listen close while making a leap of faith…let’s just say ravens sound very different from eagles.
- Grab some grub: A hungry Viking’s got to eat! Eivor can heal by hitting right on the D-pad to consume rations. Stock up on these by picking berries and mushrooms in the wilderness or picking tables clean in towns.
- Look to the stars: Eivor can build out her skills by placing earned points into sprawling constellations that correspond to the three gear types: Raven, Bear, or Wolf. Main skills provide passive fighting moves while smaller nodes improve base fighting stats.
- Rock on: Stumble across some standing stones in the countryside? Gaze at them using Odin’s Sight to reveal patterns that Eivor must align for a reward. She can also find Cairns, spots to stack and balance stones to reach a certain height.
- Catch them if you can: Longtime Assassin’s Creed fans may be pleased to see the return of chase challenges, where Eivor will happen upon flying papers that get swept up in the wind and must be caught before it’s too late.
- Skin deep: Players can customize Eivor’s look by discovering Auki Sign schemes. Bring these schemes to tattoo artists across Viking settlements to change up Eivor’s signature ink.
- Love is in the air: Certain quests will prompt amourous propositions, which Eivor can graciously accept or decline. Try not to forget your lover’s name!
- Horses can swim! That’s it, that’s the whole bullet.
- Glitch in the system: If a corner of the English countryside seems a bit unsynchronized, you may have stumbled across an Animus Anomaly. In these moments the Animus simulation of Eivor’s adventure will pause while present-day protagonist Layla takes over. Navigate the anomaly to reach a data packet filled with eye-catching secrets.
All these rich additions will test Eivor’s mettle as she works to help her clan settle across England by any means necessary. Sound the horns! Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is shaping up to be a rousing adventure when it hits PS4 this holiday.