Hands-On: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will test your mettle

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Hands-On: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will test your mettle

Ubisoft’s Viking adventure mixes rich world building with rapturous combat

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.

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  • Looking forward to playing this

  • Awe inspiring moments in a Ubisoft game? Yeah right, that never happens.

    This article is overwritten, too much sugar, can’t take it seriously, more like a McDonalds commercial that show great tall looking burgers and then when you go buy one it’s flat and soggy.

    I’ll still buy and game though, I’m used to Ubisoft disappointment. But this article is way too artistic.

  • So will it be 4k on PS5? The reveal said 4k UHD and HDR available on Xbox One X and Xbox Series X Only with no mention to PS4 or PS5.

    • Xbox seems to have snagged the rights for Valhalla so everything so far has been shown off with XBS. That’s why PS4 or PS5 isn’t mentioned in any trailers except for on the official Playstation youtube channel. It does have 4K HDR on Playstation consoles most likely, otherwise would be weird.

    • I don’t believe you are asking that.

    • 2 years for just another Origins clone. Seriously, can you just go back to the drawing board AGAIN already? Or just call it something else at this stage. Every single game since 2017 has been less an AC game. Not buying this, done with this mediocre crap. You ruined it just like every other one of your franchises. Who wants to bet Far Cry 6 has unnecessary forced online nonsense?

    • Sorry, that last comment was meant to go below.
      I wanted to say here that the whole Xbox marketing thing is yet another reason why I’m not touching the game.
      Advertising and developing AC Unity for Xbone first almost DESTROYED the franchise back in 2014.
      When will they learn? Xbox gamers don’t buy games. If you want to advertise to them first, go ahead and do it Ubi but you will get zero from me now.

    • mschulze01010111

      Xbox gamers don’t buy games? There have been multiple studies over the years that showed that Xbox owners spend more of their time on the console playing games than PS4 owners.

    • When PS stole the EA deal from MS. MS made a deal with Ubisoft who went the opposite way, which is why Xbox is normally only ever mentioned at Ubisoft reveals.

    • @mschulze01010111 Thanks for that made up nonsense.
      YES, Xbox players DO NOT BUY GAMES, i know, compeltely different topic then whatever you were talking about but there you go.
      That is why Sunset Overdrive was a horrendous flop back in 2014.
      And more recently, Gears 5 barely even made it to 3 million “players” out of physical purchasers, digital purchasers and game pass players out of 935 million Windows 10 and Xbone players. That is called a flop. That is why I am saying Xbox players don’t buy games. Keep up.

  • Another great “game” from Ubisoft !

    • It’s their business model, never risking with anything new, just little changes every year…hmm where i saw that before…yeah! FIFA.

  • This series has lost all appeal to me since Origins and the changes introduced there. Eagle vision was ruined, stealth no longer engaging and combat just looks like a cheap Souls-like game, floating around an ugly lock-on icon… Hated the interface riddled with icons. And despite those changes, it still feels like a “copy and paste” experience where you just go through the motions…

    • Funny you say that about the combat. I thought earlier that the combat looked as though they were trying to emulate Dark Souls, but failing due to unrealistic animations and floaty-looking controls. Plus, it looks like they’re trying to take that combat scheme and make it more mainstream. But that completely defeats the point.

      I really hoped this was going to be the AC game to get me back into the series (Syndicate was the last I played). But alas, it looks like the series may be too far gone for me.

    • The combat from Syndicate onwards was vastly improved.

    • Also, I love how people moan about Origins.
      You got what you asked for. The core fans wanted a more open world, Egypt was a perfect setting for that. Anceint Greece even more so.
      Think about the historical treasure trove the Vikings open up.

      They set up the first three capitol cities of what is now Russia. Invented the trade link between Sweden and Constantinople. Came in to contact with all the Germanic tribes. Had a (sort of) holy war against the Anglo-saxons, discovered Iceland and Greenland.
      They set up their own demise by taking control of what became Normandy.
      There’s a lot more content with them than there was for Ancient Greece.

  • Question: If you purchase this in the PSN on your PS4, will this work for the PS5 as well or should I wait to get a PS5?

    • The answer is a google away, but yes. PS4 digital and physical upgrade to P55 digital. Just visit the official site for confirmation and click the “More Information” link under Pre-Orders. This is their policy for Far Cry 6 and Watch Dog: Legion as well.

    • “PS5,” obviously. P55 lol.

    • Thank you Tatanka2007 for the answer.

  • 2 years for just another Origins clone. Seriously, can you just go back to the drawing board AGAIN already? Or just call it something else at this stage. Every single game since 2017 has been less an AC game. Not buying this, done with this mediocre crap. You ruined it just like every other one of your franchises. Who wants to bet Far Cry 6 has unnecessary forced online nonsense?

    • One reason Im a bit put off of Far Cry, Ubisoft’s online modes (barr possibly AC Brotherhood) are always poo.
      Even when they tried to venture into an MMO, it was abit crap.

  • No theme or avatar for digital pre order????

  • The one thing that excites me about the game is Jesper Kyd is apparently back on board doing the music…………… and its never mentioned. At least Ubisoft can stop pretending that the glorious piece of music called “EZIO’S Family” is NOT the AC Theme that they keep milking the past decade. If you love it so much, why didn’t you get him back to do the music sooner because every single AC game since Revelations has had terrible forgettable scores???

  • I’m curious about this game and i need to play this. I love the graphics.

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