THE WASHINGTON POST – At first glance, a lot is awfully familiar in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, especially compared to its 2018 predecessor, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The open-world series is once again leaning heavily into role-playing mechanics, special abilities return for combat and much of your time is split between exploring the massive world and completing quests.
But that doesn’t mean nothing’s changed. Set in 8th Century Norway and England during the Viking Age, you play as Eivor, a Viking clan leader who must settle their people in a new land. You can choose a female or male avatar, but this time, regardless of gender, you’re always Eivor. (In Odyssey, both genders offered two different protagonists).
From adrenaline-pumping raids to testing your wits in a war of words during flyting duels, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has some unique offerings among its waves of familiarity. Here are the biggest changes we noticed after playing six hours of the game ahead of its launch this November.
Invading fortresses isn’t new to Assassin’s Creed, but the formula and execution have changed with the addition of assaults. Assaults are missions, often appearing as main quests in the story line, requiring that you breach enemy walls with a battering ram. A Viking army is by your side as you progress from one area to the next within the fortress, often entering hectic combat scenarios with waves of relentless foes.
Raids are essentially side missions where you and your Viking clan storm an outpost. It may sound similar to assaults, but they’re much more free form; there’s no longer a battering ram, for example, to push your way through. You can approach these however you like, as long as you kill all foes. The reward for completion gives you resources that can be used back at your settlement to build homes and buildings.
Valhalla pursues a narrative that depicts Vikings as settlers, not just raiders. As a clan leader, it’s up to you to build and refine your settlement as you progress through the story. To do so, you gather resources, like raw materials that can be acquired by raids, or scavenging around the world. With the appropriate materials, you can build a fishing shack, blacksmith, an aviary and more. Each has a purpose: you can trade fish (which you acquire by fishing) for specific rewards, upgrade your weapons at a blacksmith and change the look of your longship at a shipyard.
A barracks is available, too, so you can customise a Jomsvikingr mercenary, which is an NPC you can share online and have join a friend’s raid in their respective game. If you’re looking to customise Eivor’s aesthetic, there’s a place for that too, allowing you to swap his or her hair and tattoos. The more you progress, the more you can evolve your settlement.
CHANGES TO COMBAT
On the whole, combat will feel instantly familiar to those who played Odyssey and Origins, but there are some modifications. For one, health no longer has passive regeneration, and you accumulate health rations by picking up nutrients like berries. You feel like a Viking more than an assassin, too: Your success is dependent on your ability to parry, dodge and land attacks at the right time. You can no longer dodge indefinitely due to a depleting stamina metre, bringing more strategy than past Assassin’s Creed games. When an enemy falls to the ground, you can stomp on them as a brutal finisher.
Special abilities make a comeback, and some (like dipping your weapon in poison) are the same as they were before, but there are some new additions as well, like being able to launch a flurry of axes at enemies. And no matter the level of your foe, you can kill them instantly with the assassinate ability, which is also back in the game.
Did we mention you can dual wield weapons, too? These can be any two weapons of your choice (even two shields, if you wish).
LEVELING AND SKILL TREE MODIFICATIONS
In Odyssey and Origins, your character gradually levels up, unlocking new abilities. This time, your character won’t have a level, but instead a “global power” based on how many skills have been unlocked. As you increase your global power, you receive skill points to spend on a skill tree to learn new abilities or gain strength or prowess in melee, ranged attacks, stealth and so on.
Three different skill tree paths are possible to pursue: Bear, wolf and raven. Each corresponds to a certain play style, such as the raven representing stealth. You can progress through each as much as you like, and even reset them completely if you change your mind, giving you a wide array of control on how to build your character’s skill set, even customising it for different mission types.
SIDE ACTIVITIES LIKE FLYTING AND PUZZLES
Valhalla is chock full of things to do, even when you’re not pursuing a main mission. You can go hunting, fishing, and one of my personal favourites, participate in flyting challenges. Flyting is a Viking rap battle, where you choose from a selection of dialogue options to best insult your opponent in a series of rhymes.
Winning a flyting standoff can boost your charisma level. In my case, that unlocked new dialogue options in a main quest later on, allowing me to weasel my way out of a fight just by talking.
Optional puzzles exist in the world as well, which you’ll find as you explore. Some of these include Cairn puzzles, where you place tiny stones atop one another to make a tiny tower without it toppling, optical illusion missions, called Standing Stones that require you to play with perspective, and finally Animus Anomalies, which are glitches in the Animus (a modern day device used to experience moments in history) that appear as platforming puzzles.