The old Assassin’s Creed series was one of the best series of games. Brotherhood and Black Flag fascinated for fifty hours. I still remember when I was looking for people with a powerful computer to play the first part without lags.
But the closer you got to Odyssey, the less interesting the new franchise releases were. In ancient Greece, I was less than an hour long. There was nothing in it that could make me stay in this game for long. So much so that there was no desire to stay and watch the game unfold.
That’s why the expectations of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla caused a bad feeling. But not for nothing. After two hours of the game, I’m at least interested to see what Ubisoft will do on the release. So, this time the studio did everything right and correctly worked on the mistakes? I’m sorry, no. But it’s a decent try.
We’re Vikings, Odin with us
We were able to see a small section of the story, as most of it remains unknown. 9th century A.D., the Danish Vikings are exploring the lands of the Anglo-Saxons. Valhalla’s protagonist, Eivor, and his Raven clan have settled in East England. To ensure peace in the region and gain the support of the British, Eivor decided to put a new ruler on the throne of the kingdom, but everything went wrong. The Viking renegade clan kidnapped the future king and strengthened himself in a castle near the coast. So we have to cut through the path to a brighter future in an old-fashioned way – with axes, arrows, and rams.
In short, if you expected more or less “real” cruel northerners from the game, you are unlikely to find them here. Eivor is from the “good” Vikings. Robberies, the slave trade, and the cult of violence are about the “bad”. On the one hand, it’s not surprising, but on the other, it’s still a little disappointing. It is a shame that Ubisoft once again does not want to test its audience and smoothes out the most uncomfortable aspects of real history. In any other setting it wouldn’t be so hard to see, but here…
It’s noticeable that the studio is seriously inspired by the Viking series. They even involved the composer of the show in the work on the game. Ragnar Lothbrok and his comrades were not saints, but the viewer wanted to empathize with them. Contradictory actions and way of life made history only more interesting. But the writers of Valhalla preferred not to take risks.
However, the tone and aesthetics of the game are now much darker. The developers went right opposite to the sunny and evergreen Greece. East England is torn apart by war, mud, and destruction, shabby, yellowed forests are interspersed with small rivers and swamps. Depressive but beautiful landscapes in their own way evoke strong associations with Velen in the third “Witcher”. If artists have been tagging (deliberately or subconsciously) in this parallel, there is nothing to scold them for. The environment looks wonderful.
Against the backdrop of all this darkness, Eivor himself stands out the brightest. And here we are no longer talking about visual design (the series has never had any problems with this), but about the character himself. Both hypostases of Odyssey’s protagonist are too arrogant. The writers seem to have overdone it, creating an image in Hollywood “dashing” adventurer with a sharp tongue. But in the first two hours of “Valhalla” such less and it simply looks more appropriate. Eivor makes the impression of a judicious man, but capable of impulsive action. After all, the leader of an entire Viking clan needs to maintain the image of a fearless, resourceful warrior. This even took separate mechanics. “Rap battles”, where you have to rhyme to respond to the poetic insults of the opponent.
As for gameplay, it feels like Valhalla is on the same course as Odyssey. It is also necessary to constantly update the equipment, and the complexity is tied to the level of the character. There are still scattering trees of skills, and “elite” opponents, and other small RPG elements. Only the hidden blade on Eivor’s wrist reminds us that this is still Assassin’s Creed. And that one looks a little strange in the set with axes hanging on his belt.
But, to be fair, you can’t call the game a simple transfer of Odyssey to another setting. The open-world mostly functions in the old way, but the studio has tried to make it a little more alive. For example, while walking around Nortwick, the largest settlement that was in the demo I came across a boy who had a pet cat jumped right out of his hands. Of course, the mighty leader of the Raven clan couldn’t get past such trouble, so I rushed into the chase and successfully returned the cat. At the same time, I told the child that cats have been valued by sailors since ancient times as the main hunters of ship rats. The situation is funny, but the game itself emphasizes that this is just one of many funny cases. There was no notification of the quest and no reward at the end. This detail just creates a mood and maintains the illusion of life.
There is also the possibility of sailing on the ship. Eivor has its own Drakkar with the crew. Plunge into the horn at the shore of any large enough river (not just in port, like in Odyssey) and it will appear. But why do you need it at all? That’s another question. Vikings really rafted down rivers, but it’s not clear what role the ship will play in the gameplay, except traveling to the edges where the horse ride too long. In the battle, or rather, in the production stage before the fight, it lit up only once.
In general, the most significant changes in Valhalla affect the combat system: here Ubisoft suddenly turned into Dark Souls. Eivor now has endurance, which is spent on blocks and flips and to improve health in combat, you should use rations. And they do not recover on their own, the hero is not treated with a bottomless flask of the potion and just food.
The emphasis on resource management within Assassin’s Creed looks unusual. Limited stock of endurance does not allow us to dance endlessly around enemies or sit in a block. You will have to compete sooner or later. Now it makes sense to really match the equipment with your style of play. Eivor holds a gun in each hand, and you can change hands at any time. The shield in his left hand can block attacks, and he can hit to stun the opponent in his right hand. With paired axes, you can end a combo with a series of quick blows, and with a two-handed blade, you can twist the crowd of enemies in a vortex. Special abilities also look cool. Eivor still has a “Spartan” kick, but the ability to ram the enemy on the run, as a raider from For Honor, looks even cooler.
I’m trying to say is that everything’s working right. New options and nuances really do fit into the game. From the point of view of the setting, as from the point of view of the mechanic. If you squint hard, the Valhalla combat system is technically even equal to soulslike, but an order of magnitude lower. Battles in the demo version is not a classic of FromSoftware, but rather one of its wannabes, for example, Lords of the Fallen. Technically, all the ingredients are in place, but the feeling isn’t the same.
First of all, you can’t feel the weight of the attacks of Eivor and his opponents at all. All the fights take place as in low orbit, where gravity was cut off especially for you for a short time. It may seem like a trifle to some people, but the impact of hits is extremely important. It does not only bring aesthetic pleasure but also helps you enter the rhythm. Right now, battles in Valhalla have no rhythm and no fluidity at all. Ubisoft promised that we would have some realism and that the player would feel every beat, but the studio was clearly cheated. Animations with the dismembering juicy, no argument, but players expect not only beauty from a good fight.
Much worse, soulslike principles work best in duels, but Valhalla insists on mass beatings. As long as you’re methodically dealing with one enemy, there’s always a few more under your feet, and they don’t spare no effort. Miss two or three attacks, and that’s it. Without automatic health regeneration, you’ll have to pause to run on the battlefield in search of healing mushrooms. As a result, large-scale raids and storms of fortresses, which the studio promotes as one of the main chips in the game, sometimes turn into an absurd comedy. You and a dozen soldiers break through the gates of the castle with a battering ram, the defenders shoot back, throw rocks at your heads and pour boiling oil. Wait, guys, you need to go get mushrooms.
After the demo, it seems that the developers do not quite understand that the typical soulslike fight relies on many nuances. For example, the level design and the real threat to lose something valuable in case of failure. But the AAA blockbuster can’t afford even a hint of hardcore. It’s not an accusation of causality. It’s just that now it looks like the studio only wanted to create the appearance of novelty without changing anything in the gameplay. It’s played just like it used to be.
It’s even kind of embarrassing that the best example of gameplay design in the demo version is the optional minigame “who’s gonna drink who” at the end of one of the tasks. I’m not even kidding, it’s really great. You need to rhythmically press the button to swallow ale from the horn to the screams of the crowd, which gradually accelerate. And on the second horn, you also have to make sure that Eivor doesn’t wobble, otherwise, everything will spill. There’s a challenge to the player, a curve of difficulty, and a skill.
Anyway, all that Valhalla is missing so far.