Ahead of Ubisoft Forward, we had the chance to hands-on for ourselves a slice of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The build we played is still a work in progress, so if you happen to spot any bugs, that’s pretty much the reason why. We’d hazard a guess that systems may still find room for change, too, before the full release. With that in mind, let’s get right into the demo gameplay.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
When reviewing the footage, it’s easy to be struck by how beautiful everything is. It’s not like it’s not noticeable when playing the game, but one half wants to admire the game, the other half is just excited to start running around to explore where possible during the time we were given. While we naturally did not have access to the entire map with this build, the world already feels so massive. Everyone’s accent sounds accurate for the time for that extra level of immersion.
The combat in general feels easier to handle than, say, Ghost of Tsushima, but it does come with its own challenges. While you’ll be given a lot of variety in regards to weapons you can equip – dual-handed weapons, dual wielding, bows – you still need to aim (in regards to the bow) or learn to dodge lest you take unnecessary damage. Friendly fire isn’t a thing at least, so you can slash through your raiders and they through you. Whether there will be other ranged weapons to utilize, we’ll have to wait and see. When you down enemies, you can perform a finishing move on them.
You can call for your longship with your horn when you’re at a river, and your warband will come rowing along the riverway. Hop on, and cruise the waters, finding places to raid when the appropriate prompt comes up. It would be tempting to just go AFK and have your raider AI buddies to ransack the place, but you do actually need to participate by using the battering rams, or revive them when you need to. As mentioned, there is no friendly fire, so you can hack away at the enemies to get them off your buddies. There are environmental stuff that you can shoot down or destroy for either alternate access routes or to take down enemies, so we should be able to expect more variety of this in the full game.
With the raiding stuff, that in itself can make this the least stealth focused Assassin’s Creed game yet. Along with the fact you can build up your settlement, work on setting up trade routes with lots of NPC interaction, the “assassins” part isn’t pronounced in the demo. Of course, you can still sneak around and there are still stealth takedowns when you want.
You no longer regenerate health automatically, so you can’t cheese encounters anymore by sneaking into the grass to recover. Instead, you now have “rations”, and you need to collect food – at least 4 pieces to make a whole – to obtain them for HP recovery. We don’t know yet if we can also make our own food to fill up the bar faster. You can upgrade your bag to carry more rations, so there’s that. There will also be consumables along the ground like mushrooms though they won’t necessarily recover health, instead filling up another bar to use Abilities in combat.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Active combat skills, called Abilities, require you to find Books of Knowledge in order to learn them. There will be certain skills that bosses will be immune to, so no cheesing there unfortunately. With your limited rations, combat is sure to be a bit more involved and challenging for those who have been wanting a deeper combat system. Boss fights become more exciting with the strategies you would need to employ.
The skill tree – trees? – are literal constellations now, with every node you see being a separate skill in itself. One line of skills can branch out into others, and they will slowly open up to you from the fog of the night sky. We’re not just being metaphorical: they really almost seem as countless as the stars. If we could play even more of the game, we could try and discover just how many gameplay styles these skill trees could give you. For the demo, we just get a tantalizing glimpse into the potential that awaits everyone of us.
Speaking of potential, a story isn’t complete with key NPCs, and at certain points of the game, you will be able to make decisions that can affect the story further down the road. We had opted to spare an NPC at an earlier point, and they later returned to trigger another choice that we could make. We’re going to assume that these choices will also be opening or locking out certain side quests – of which there are also many. Besides the side quests, there will be one off “world events”, which can be as simple as playing hide and seek with children, rewarding you with a bit of story and a chunk of experience points as a reward for exploring. There aren’t any more strict levels, instead just giving points towards the skill trees.
Other miscellaneous things include the ability to romance characters of the same gender, much like Odyssey, but we didn’t fully explore the relationships in the demo. Body parts can go flying when you cut them off, so it is perhaps a touch more brutal than what people may be used to. Certain side quests will allow you to recruit people to fight against another faction, but who we can recruit is a little unclear. We can recruit a cat, though! And most importantly, they can be pet. The dogs were not pet-able in the demo, so please have it in, Ubisoft! We could swap genders in the demo, but the full game will lock you into whichever Eivor you play as.
A SONG FOR THE AGES
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla changes quite a bit of the formula, while expanding on the systems they had in Odyssey. From our time with the demo, we can say that it is really fun to play, with you needing to get used to the updates when necessary, as with any other game.
Well, we’ll be looking forward to getting our songs to be sung into legends on 17 November 2020. Are you?