Today, Ubisoft gave us our first full look at Assassin's Creed Valhalla, the newest entry in Ubisoft's long-running series. The trailer establishes the central conflict, the ongoing battle between the Vikings and England, which is set to the haunting whispered, chanting version of Blind Willie Johnson's "Soul of a Man." Alfred the Great, King of the Anglo-Saxons, rails against the Vikings, before ultimately declaring war.
It's hard to glean gameplay systems from a cinematic trailer, but at the very least, fans should be happy that the franchise's signature hidden blade is still here. It makes an appearance at the end of the trailer, when our hero uses it for a clutch kill in a dire situation. Given the scenes in the trailer, it was also clear that a version of Assassin's Creed Odyssey's Conquest Battle system would appear. Immediately following the trailer's premiere, we were deluged with a ton of information, both via the official site launch and various interviews.
The development of Assassin's Creed Valhalla is led by Ubisoft Montreal. Its creative director is Ashraf Ismail, one of the developers behind Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag and Assassin's Creed Origins. He's joined by Narrative Director Darby McDevitt, lead writer of Assassin's Creed: Revelations and Black Flag, and co-writer of Assassin's Creed: Unity. For all intents and purposes, Ubisoft Montreal has stepped into the space as the "primary" Assassin's Creed studio, driving the overall direction of the franchise.
What's surprising is Assassin's Creed Valhalla doesn't look to be a wholesale reinvention and redefinition of the franchise. Instead, it looks like it'll bring together everything the series has done over the past decade.
Extensive Player Choice - Assassin's Creed Odyssey
Players will step into the leather boots of Eivor, a warrior who has made his way from Norway to a brand-new settlement in England. Assassin's Creed Odyssey's focus on player choice remains: while a male version of Eivor was featured in the trailer, players can instead play as a female version, whose design is showcased as a figurine in the Collector's Edition. The male version of Eivor is played by Magnus Bruun, an actor from The Last Kingdom, a BBC television series that highlights a similar conflict. (We currently don't know who the voice actress for the female Eivor is.)
It's akin to Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which let you choose between Kassandra and Alexios, but also a little different. Kassandra and Alexios were actually two distinct characters in Odyssey, while Eivor looks to be the same regardless of which gender you choose. Think of it like Commander Shepard in Mass Effect; there's only one Eivor, history is just fuzzy on whether they were a man or a woman.
The weapon and equipment system also seems to recall Origins and Odyssey, with a host of options for every playstyle. If you want to be a stealthy assassin, you can. If you want to mix it up on the frontlines, that seems to be available too. And in a major change, gear looks to be upgradable.
"Every piece of gear you find is unique," Ismail tells Game Informer. "You can upgrade each piece of gear. If you wish to carry the same piece of gear to the end of the game, you can. Or if you want to collect everything, that’s up to you. Everything has its own unique value. At a certain point, you can start customizing gear. So it’s a new take on that RPG format in terms of gear."
The official site also points to the ability to dual wield a number of weapons, including axes, swords, and shields. (Flails also appear as a usable weapon for players for the first time in Assassin's Creed, after antagonist Lucius Septimius used them in Origins.) There are other customization options as well, including tattoos, hair, war paint, and more. Not only are you crafting your own Eivor, your version of the character can be shared with friends, becoming a mercenary in their crew. You even "reap the spoils" when your character goes on raids with your friends, likely pointing to an alternate way to get money and resources. Assassin's Creed Valhalla is still entirely single-player, though.
Naval Travels - Assassin's Creed Origins
Speaking of crews, ship combat returns again. The longship is a cornerstone to the Viking experience in Assassin's Creed Valhalla, a way for Eivor to get around the world and carry their band of raiders to English settlements. Assassin's Creed Valhalla takes place in Norway and England in the ninth century. England will be the main focus ,and will be split between four major kingdoms—Wessex, Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia. (Wales is oddly left out. Perhaps DLC?)
The full size of the region seems akin to Origins and Odyssey, but it's more landlocked overall, similar to the former. Eivor and their mercenary crew will sail the oceans and rivers of England, but the naval battles of Odyssey and Black Flag aren't really the focus here. Instead, ships are about getting you around England in as fast a manner as possible. Imagine roving the canals of Egypt in Origins, with a slightly bigger boat and a crew.
"Any military location you encounter on the rivers of England is fully raidable," lead producer Julien Laferrière tells Eurogamer. "We want you to be playing the ultimate Viking fantasy, so you'll get to have your Viking buddies going with you on a longship."
Fort Raids and Epic Battles - Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag and Assassin's Creed Odyssey
Eivor and their Viking pals are masters of the lightning-fast raid. The crew can sail quickly down a river and raid a fort. According to the official site, doing so grants riches to your settlement and expands your borders. The system sounds oddly similar to seizing forts in Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, where Edward Kenway and his pirate crew would have to sail up to a fort, weaken its defenses, and fight in an all-out melee battle inside the fort itself.
In Black Flag, forts not only net you some great resources, but they also acted as field operations for your crew and showed you where certain collectibles were hidden. Hopefully Valhalla mirrors these mechanics with its raids.
At a higher level are the Assaults, which are larger conflicts that sound like the Conquest Battles of Assassin's Creed Odyssey. According to Ismail's interview with Game Informer, these are "big set-piece moments that are wrapped up in the narrative." This means they'll always have a larger point, unlike the non-story Conquest Battles in Odyssey. What looks to be an Assault factors heavily into the latter part of the Assassin's Creed Valhalla trailer.
The Settlement - Assassin's Creed 2
Assassin's Creed Valhalla will feature a personal home base; a feature that hasn't been seen in the series in a very long time. The last time players engaged with some sort of upgradable hub area was in Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, which featured the hideout in Great Inagua. But that wasn't as extensive as the Monteriggioni villa in Assassin's Creed 2, or the Davenport Homestead in Assassin's Creed 3. (Brotherhood and Revelations instead had you buying property within their respective cities.) The settlement adds meaning to Valhalla, a place where your people thrive and your mercenaries can mingle with the civilians.
"Instead of exploring one territory, then moving on to another and having no real opportunity or reason to return, the settlement changes the structure," Laferrière explains to Eurogamer. "So you'll go on an adventure and then be encouraged to come back to your settlement. It changes the way we're playing the game we're making - at least, that's the bet we're making."
Your crew will live within your settlement, and you can upgrade it to provide them (and yourself) with certain improvements. "Grow and customize your own settlement by recruiting new clan members and building upgradable structures. Get better troops by constructing a barracks, improve your weapons at the blacksmith, discover new customization options with a tattoo parlor, and much more," notes the official site.
The settlement is also an anchor for Valhalla's story, making it even more important than its predecessors. Stories will begin within Eivor's base, and it'll reflect your choices over the course of the game. Eivor can even indulge in a bit of romance. Ismail tells Game Informer that the settlement is "key to the motivation of the journey and to the world itself."
The Countryside - Assassin's Creed 3
One thing that's noticeable in the official screenshots is the lack of majestically tall structures for your assassin to climb. In fact, the screenshots recall Assassin's Creed 3. (I admit, comparing Eivor's axe to Connor's tomahawk helps.) Perhaps that's because ninth century England wasn't home to the same towering, majestic structures of Ancient Greece or Egypt.
Instead, it was a region consumed by the wars between English kingdoms and the invading Danish and Norwegian forces. In this period, most of the major European empires had fallen, with the people forming into burhs: small fortified towns built upon existing Roman structures. Even Alfred the Great himself had to make do with a small fortress in the marshes of Somerset.
I'd expect more forests and rivers in Valhalla, and likely smaller, flatter towns to traverse. I'm sure Ubisoft will pull out all the stops for the game's three major cities—London, Winchester, and Jórvík—and offer larger structures to climb. But otherwise, I think Eivor will have their boots on the ground, like a true viking should.
Layla's Adventures in The Modern Day - Assassin's Creed Origins and Assassin's Creed Odyssey
No, Assassin's Creed still hasn't gotten rid of the modern day framing device. In fact, it's continuing the story of Layla Hassan, former Abstergo and current roving member of the Assassin Brotherhood. Odyssey's tale left Layla in control of a powerful Piece of Eden, and marks a huge shift in her place in the modern day world of Assassin's Creed. Apparently that tale is continuing in Valhalla.
"We continue Layla's story," McDevitt tells GameSpot. "We have a lot of interesting new approaches to the present day story that we're excited for people to see. It's something I've wanted to see for many years and we finally had the idea in a way that we could pull it off, which I won't get into. But we definitely continue Layla's story."
And the modern day section will be playable in some fashion. Without diving into spoilers, Layla has become a figure that could upend the long war between the Templar and Assassins. We'll have to see where McDevitt and his team take her story.
After blazing a new path for Assassin's Creed with Origins, it seems that Ubisoft Montreal is doubling back, trying to see if the series can pick up anything it's lost. Assassin's Creed Valhalla brings together much of the series' past into a single massive title; Valhalla is the work of 15 Ubisoft studios in concert, up from 10 studios for Origins. As we head into the next generation, Ubisoft Montreal looks to provide the ur-Assassin's Creed: the one to unite them all. All that's missing in my estimation are those wonderful Prince of Persia-style challenge tombs from the Ezio games.
Regardless, it's shaping up to be another massive adventure with a side of history. I'm looking forward to dual-wielding shields myself; the best defense is more defense. Assassin's Creed Valhalla will be coming to PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X (with Smart Delivery), and Google Stadia this holiday season.