Assassin’s Creed Valhalla hands-on – an improvement and a streamlining of AC: Odyssey formula

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla hands-on – an improvement and a streamlining of AC: Odyssey formula

We played Assassin's Creed Valhalla behind close doors. It doesn't feel revolutionary, but it has potential to be fun.

Even a worldwide pandemic can’t stand in the way of another Assassin’s Creed. We all know it and accept it. So stand aside, let another mythology find itself fitted into Assassin’s Creed lore. Yet, this time Ubisoft promises (again) it will be fun. As you may guess, Ubisoft gave us a chance for an Assassin’s Creed Valhalla hands-on experience. So far, we can confirm their promise isn’t empty.


Welcome to East Anglia

Firstly, a screen makes us choose between male or female Eivor. Then, a portion of Valhalla’s world meets us to explore. The Region of East Anglia welcomes us. The first thing we notice, apart from how gorgeous everything looks, is a “cinematic camera” button prompt, at the bottom of the screen. It seems Ubisoft has taken a page from Rockstar’s book. Which is nice, because Ubisoft has always been great at providing us with beautifully radiant locations to explore. This Assassin’s Creed Valhalla hands-on experience is obviously no different. Furthermore, the new cinematic camera makes that better and more effortless compared to RDR 2. Because much like in AC: Odyssey, you can ask the game to take you to your destination automatically. After we do, we start our journey.

New Arsenal of Weapons and Abilities

On the road, we get into a couple of fights, and see what’s new and the same for combat. First of all, default loadout in AC: Valhalla is a shield and an axe. You can dual wield weapons or switch to two-handed ones. But, weapons are more nuanced this time around, and there is a bit more weight to them. So, we didn’t really have time to experiment with everything at the cost of dying and starting over. Furthermore, skills didn’t seem to change based on which weapon we used. Consequently, weapons were only half of the combat features.

Much like weapons, fun-to-use abilities like ground stomp and multiple axe throws, seemed more grounded. Especially, when compared to Alexios and Kassandra’s abilities. There is also new stun mechanic and a contextual finisher move, that you can use on your stunned foes. Moreover, healing is not bound to a skill. Instead, you have a certain amount of “rations” you make from herbs you gather.  In other words, they are basically healing potions. All this makes Valhalla’s combat feel more like hack’n’slash, without taking away anything from its predecessors. On the other hand, camera use is much better and often resorts to close-ups to make us feel more involved. Which is good and welcome, to make the game feel more in line with older Assassin’s Creed games.

Skills and Progression

The biggest thing about combat and progression is, there isn’t a levelling system in Valhalla. Indeed, Origins and Odyssey, received criticism about “forced” side missions. Because, if you didn’t do them, you wouldn’t be able to meet the level requirements for main missions. In contrast, Valhalla flushes all that down the toilet; no levels, no levels requirements. Instead, only get skill points, the new skill tree is similar to what Path of Exile has, rather than Odyssey. Furthermore, it’s a big, branching tree with three paths to specialize in: Wolf, Bear and Raven.

Currently, we don’t know yet whether it’s possible to fully unlock everything. Also it’s not clear, whether there are Legendary items with special prefixes to further customize our skills. Yet, so far everything looks more intricate, not less. We can hear you ask,  “What do ‘no levels’ mean for assassinations then?” Assassinating unusually powerful enemies, require you to successfully complete a quick time event. In other words, they’re easier overall. Indeed, gone are the days where you’d hide on the roof of a temple and bide your time anxiously, to assassinate a much higher level Cultist. It seems like we won’t be playing the usual cat and mouse game in Valhalla. Which seems appropriate considering we take role of a Viking.

Viking Raids

Apart from being a brave-heart, taking the role of a Viking also means you get to join raids. Therefore, in our demo session, we did that too! As stormy clouds gather in the sky, longships set sail to their destination, with the courtesy of Viking horns. Lightning strikes illuminate the horizon. It is a true visual spectacle to behold and the soundtrack elevates the experience too! Legendary composer Jesper Kyd does indeed know how to make his presence known.

Fire arrows welcome us to our destination in the meantime. Shortly after earth is again under our heels and the raid starts. We join in the fight, cutting down foes and watching and even helping our battering ram tear down door after door. Battering ram controls are a bit stiff but it’s not a big issue as Valhalla is not a battering ram simulator.

In the end, our path leads us to a boss fight in which we are given a chance to assassinate our opponent to quickly finish it. We fail and resort to beating our boss and its wolf familiar into submission. The character we were trying to save, Oswald, implores us to spare his life and we are confronted with one of the RPG style choices that first made their debut in Odyssey. We play the role of a forgiver and promise to join Oswald in his wedding.

Ordinary Viking in an Ordinary World

Eventually the events lose their “life and death” urgency. Then, we decide to explore the world a bit and see what different map markers represent. We can see, another optional raid on the map. Additionaly, there are symbols marking the spot of a legendary animal, a world-boss and some world events. First, we check out what world events are. Therefore, we approach a boy running around the village and he asks us to catch his cat.

Then, we run after the animal and catch it in a 30-second mini-mission. The sequence ends with us, adding the cat to our boat crew. Moreover, another world event is bringing a horse to a little girl, who is trying to “summon” one. In conclusion, world events are smaller(and for now, less interesting) versions of Red Dead Redemption’s Stranger missions.

The remaining time we have, is only enough to do one more thing. So, we choose to check out the Legendary Animal in the map. Howerver, there is not much to talk about it.  Because the setting is the same as those in Odyssey. Eventually, we manage to kill the animal after dying a couple of times. Then, we go join Oswald in his wedding. We watch a cutscene of Oswald and his bride making their wows and are challenged to a drinking duel right after. Then we try and accomplish drinking our opponent under the table in a fun QTE sequence and finish our brief Assassin’s Creed Valhalla hands-on experience.

Valhalla release date leaked on Instagram

In Conclusion…

All in all, Valhalla doesn’t feel revolutionary in any way. But this Assassin’s Creed Valhalla hands-on experience, made us sure it is a lot of fun. Exploring the huge map, taking part in fun activities, building your camp, hunting down secrets and amazing soundtracks will make sure that we invest a lot of our times into the game. One thing to note which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your point of view is that due to its settings, it looks and feels very similar to The Witcher 3. It obviously sets itself apart with having a partially historical setting instead of taking place in a full-blown fantasy world like The Witcher game but it might not be enough for some folks. Others will simply be able to enjoy the fun.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla releases for PC, Xbox One and PS4 on October 17. Next-generation and Stadia versions will follow before the end of the year.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla
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