The Assassin’s Creed video games are substantial, in regards to both appeal and scope. Ubisoft’s struck franchise utilizes a mix of history and fiction to develop immersive worlds, all supported by varied gameplay and interlocking systems. Like its predecessors, the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is enthusiastic; it is an interesting dive into the lives of the Vikings, specifying the renowned historic figures through war, peace, and expedition. That’s a great deal of ground to cover, so we spoke with manufacturer Julien Laferrière and narrative director Darby McDevitt to break down this enormous experience and set the phase for Valhalla’s release.

Shedding The Stereotype

Players control Eivor, a Viking hero who can be either female or male. After a beginning embeded in Norway, Eivor’s clan leaves their homeland to settle in England. Though Vikings are frequently remembered for raiding and robbery, Valhalla intends to surpass the mainstream stereotype and analyze the more human stories behind the Vikings’ growth.

“Vikings were typically called villains to everybody else, however there’s a love to them too, with the hindsight of history – similar to pirates,” McDevitt states. “The story we wished to inform is: Why did a substantial group of Norse individuals leave Norway and go settle all over the world? They discovered Iceland, Greenland, they settled the Faroe Islands, Ireland, England, Normandy – all these locations. It wasn’t simply to rob from them. It was to settle and remain there, since they were lacking area and resources.”

“In pop culture, you think of this bearded person with horns on a drakar, simply raiding and putting fire to whatever he can see,” Laferrière states. “This is actually a cliché that we wished to guide far from … Vikings were raiders, yes. Very popular warriors too. But they were likewise inhabitants and explorers.”

Ravensthorpe

The Assassin’s Creed series has actually offered gamers a location to call house in the past, like Monteriggioni in ACII and the homestead in ACIII. Valhalla exceeds and beyond those efforts with Ravensthorpe, the settlement that serves as Eivor’s main office. This is where you start missions, speak to your fellow Vikings, and develop brand-new structures (like a blacksmith) to improve your abilities. Ravensthorpe starts as a little town, however as Eivor gains resources and good friends, you broaden your settlement and your impact.

“The settlement development is connected to the pacification of England,” McDevitt states. “As you head out and return and get alliances – and as the settlement grows – your credibility grows and individuals wish to fulfill you. It’s amusing, since the front half of the video game, you’re heading out and looking for alliances yourself. In the back half, since you have a track record, more individuals are concerning you, stating ‘Hey, I heard you’re fantastic. I’ll offer you an alliance if you assist me with this enormous issue.’”

The Viking Flower

If you were to draw your course through the story in previous Assassin’s Creed installations, it would most likely be a wavy line; you slowly approach your objective, however you wander off off-course for sidequests and other detours. The group considers Valhalla’s story structure as a flower; every mission begins and ends at the settlement, but loops out like a petal as Eivor explores new lands and seeks alliances.

“Everything begins at the heart of the game, which is the settlement,” Laferrière says. “You pledge to a given quest arc, you do that quest arc. Through that series of stories you venture into a territory of the game, meet some interesting characters, and then you come back to your settlement.” This unique approach gives the narrative an episodic feeling, since it is more about conveying the Viking fantasy than killing an archrival or chasing an Isu artifact.

“There’s not a hard plot driving you through,” McDevitt says. “There’s this series of episodes that all touch on the themes of leadership, honor, reputation, shame, betrayal. And then tucked into that is this more personal story of Eivor and prophecy. That story of prophecy is going to be more familiar as a Western story with a three-act structure, however it’s going to be threaded into this much bigger episodic story that feels more like a Norse saga.”

That isn’t to say that the narrative is unfocused. Like Odyssey, Valhalla essentially gives players three arcs to pursue. One is focused on Eivor personally, one is about the clan’s expansion, and the third involves the conflict between the Assassins and Templars – or the Hidden Ones and the Order of the Ancients, as they are known during Valhalla’s time period.  Unlike Odyssey, these three plots converge eventually, rather than end independently. “There’s a certain point – a big point in the middle – where you can follow each story individually,” McDevitt says. “But they also will close in a specific order to give a different sense of conclusion.”  

The Hit List

Eivor isn’t the only Viking hero. Sigurd is Eivor’s brother, the son of King Styrbjorn by blood (Eivor is adopted, but no less part of the family) and the clan’s official leader in England. When Sigurd returns home after a few years away, he is accompanied by some Hidden Ones, and this is how Eivor gets wrapped up in a conflict against the Order of the Ancients. You have a full menu (inspired by the one in Odyssey) that lists your targets from the order; taking them out helps you secure alliances in new areas, but Eivor can reap those benefits without being ideologically committed to the cause. “It’s not as black and white as, ‘I’m 100-percent enemies with the Order of the Ancients, and 100-percent friends with the Hidden Ones,’” McDevitt says. “It’s a little more juicy than that.”

Accommodating Combat

Versatility is a driving force behind Valhalla’s brutal combat. With dual-wielding and a variety of weapons like axes, bows, and the iconic hidden blade, you can pursue a fighting style that feels right for you. Plus, different abilities attached to specific pieces of gear give you even more options. For example, you might have an armor set that increases your damage output if you’re low on health, which is a high-risk approach that can result in spectacular triumph or terrible defeat. Or maybe you’d rather play it safe and strike from the shadows. “If you want to play a badass Viking who likes to fight with a two-handed axe, the video game will support that,” Laferrière states. “If you want to play an assassin oriented around stealth, the game will allow you to do that … it’s a game that caters to a lot of different playstyles.”

Terror On The Water

You can’t be a Viking raider without raiding, and you can’t raid without a ship. Valhalla puts Eivor in command of a ship and crew, allowing you to attack English settlements and gain resources. But formal raids aren’t the only time you can get some help from your Viking companions. “We came up with ‘raid anywhere,’ which is basically any sort of military location along the shores,” Laferrière says. “Not necessarily a ‘raid,’ per se, but you’re able to use your crew to help you out in this context.”

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (2018)

Lessons From Odyssey

Before Valhalla, Ubisoft Montreal’s last Assassin’s Creed game was Origins. However, with Odyssey releasing in 2018, the team was also able to learn from that installment during Valhalla’s development. This includes integrating some of Odyssey’s successful innovations, like how players use skills in combat. “A good example of something Odyssey brought is all the abilities you can equip,” Laferrière says. “That’s a super-cool thing we wanted to bring back with our own flavor and our own twist in Valhalla.”

Valhalla is also able to improve on areas where Odyssey faced some criticism. For example, Odyssey had a lot of cool legendary weapons and armor, but they could get buried amid an abundance of not-so-cool loot. “We wanted to transition from an economy that is loot-based to something more collection-based,” Laferrière says. “Vikings were taking good care of their weapons and gear, sometimes passing them down generations, so that’s something that is historically accurate. But the reason we did it isn’t only because of history. It’s mostly because of player behavior. We know that when players find a good piece of loot, they like to stick with it and upgrade it.”

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: The Fate of Atlantis DLC (2019)

The Modern-Day Story

Assassin’s Creed Origins introduced a new modern-day story arc starring Layla Hassan, and Odyssey continued Layla’s mission. Valhalla is the concluding chapter of that tale. Like previous entries, some sequences have players controlling Layla outside of the Animus – but your interactions with the modern-day arc now go beyond those interludes.

“The amount of time you spend in the present day would be equivalent to [Origins and Odyssey], but with the added provision that there are these Animus anomalies in the simulation layer,” McDevitt says. “You’ll find quite a lot of them; when you find them as Eivor and touch them, the whole simulation freezes and then Layla drops the disguise. She becomes Layla in the simulation, and then you have dialogue with your present-day characters there, and you have to solve puzzles, and things like that. And they are very cool, and the rewards for them are mind-blowing. So, we found a way so you don’t have to get out of the Animus at all times to do the present-day; sometimes the present day happens in the Animus.”

Next-Gen Advantages

Even though Valhalla is releasing on current- and next-gen consoles, the content of the video game remains the same no matter what system you play on. The big difference between the versions is technical, with the new generation offering improved visuals and performance. “I’m playing the game on the test kits that we have, and it’s definitely a cool and smooth experience,” Laferrière says. “I’m amazed by what we can get. Just think about your go-to AC game and think about the amount of loading that we have, and how much improving that can help. For example, when you use the raven in [Valhalla]. Traditionally, if the raven or eagle would go too far, you would have this loading. Now, in a normal use of your raven, you immediately go back to your character … Because next-gen has better loading capacities and so on, I feel that the immersion of the game will just be better.”