In Assassin's Creed Valhalla, I'm in hell. Well, if I'm being more specific, I'm in the Norse realm of the dead known as Niflheim, trying to go up against the reigning goddess Hel. At this very moment, I can feel myself inching closer to death with just a sliver of health remaining, and I'm trying to work out how to get out of a rather tricky situation. I'm currently on my first run of the new Assassin's Creed Valhalla Forgotten Saga mode, which is essentially Valhalla's take on the roguelite genre. Added by way of a free update this month, the mode tasks you with making your way through all four regions of the realm without biting the dust along the way. But of course, as a roguelite, dying is a central part of the process. And whenever you do meet your demise, you'll start over again with the knowledge you've gained.
Just when I think I've got a handle on everything, one rocky encounter with a group of enemies changes the game. Suddenly, I stumble into an area that's home to the first powerful enemy and I'm in no shape to take them on. I must defeat them to get my hands on some loot, but with my health now at a dangerously low level, I've instead taken to hiding in a bale of hay. I honestly have no idea how I'm going to get out alive. I decide to take a chance and stealthily deliver a blow to my big burly foe, but when I do, it only snips a small chunk of their health. Now, I'm surrounded, and with no hope of turning back, my first run quickly comes to a bloody end. The enemy holding my prize brutally impales me on their spear, and Hel herself mocks my failure as I return to Odin's camp to start again.
Within a dream
A fan of the stealthy series? Check out our ranking of best Assassin's Creed games.
After stepping away from the sprawling RPG for many months, diving into the Forgotten Saga feels like a crash course in getting reacquainted with Valhalla's basic controls, while at the same time learning the ropes of the new mode. As someone who doesn't gravitate towards roguelites all that often, I stepped into my first run feeling equal parts intrigued and apprehensive. I've never excelled in the roguelite space, but I'm certainly familiar with the mechanics of Assassin's Creed. Maybe, I thought, this will help me enjoy this new roguelite spin more than expected. Even though my first attempt hardly went smoothly, it wasn't long before I started to feel like I could get on board with the idea of conquering a roguelite-inspired experience as Eivor.
The Forgotten Saga begins back in Ravensthorpe, where a new visitor by the name of Everold has arrived. Not unlike the way you travel to Jotunheim or Asgard in the main story – by taking a drink at Valka's hunt – Everold will set up a workshop where you can drink a special concoction that will transport you to the Norse realm. When you fall into a slumber, Eivor awakens as Odin in a camp in Niflheim. The All-Father's son Baldr has been lost to the realm of the dead, and now you're hellbent on making your way through the dangerous lands to face Hel.
At the start of a run, you'll begin with randomized gear and one special ability that changes with each attempt. As you progress through a region, you'll have several different routes you can take, with a variety of loot, healing points, abilities, and upgrades dotted around the map to head towards. You have to think carefully and strategically about which way you'll go since there's no turning back once you decide on a path. Many legends on the map that indicate a new weapon, ability, or other buff can be reached by going over connected bridges that crumble once you cross them, or ropes you slide down that can't be used to return. If you're low on health, for example, it can be worth seeking out the nearest healing Elk shrine or hidden merchant to recover – after all, you never know what might await you further down the line.
When you reach an area with valuable loot, you'll see a chest wrapped in chains that will only unlock once you've cleared the location of enemies. Chests will often wield Forgotten Saga's currency, which come in the shape of Thoughts and Memories. The former can be used to buy Favors (which grant you helpful buffs for a run) or Outfit upgrades back at Odin's camp, while the latter can also be spent on Favors or on your Skill tree which is separate from the one in the main game. Through each run, you'll also earn Dreams that can be used to purchase special armor, mounts and tattoos from Everold back in Ravensthorpe. The rewards are certainly a motivator to jump back in for another go, but each time I manage to get my hands on some legendary weapons or powerful runes, it ups the stakes. Failing the run would mean losing my gear, and I'm not about to let that happen without a fight.
While the roguelite brings back all of the familiar mechanics of combat, a few omissions brings an added challenge to Forgotten Saga. As Odin, you can't use your raven to fly overhead and make note of where enemies are. Without it, it makes it hard to know where any foes may be, and I'm even more reliant on my stealthy skills to scope out a location. Naturally, you can't use berries to heal either, so keeping an eye on your health and dodging becomes even more important. Once I make my way through a region successfully, I'm faced with a boss encounter against one of Hels' legion. Each region will see you defeat a boss in order to pass through a big gate into the next. They get progressively more challenging as you go and successfully defeating them will bag you a new set of armor. Having reached the first boss on two occasions, the enemy also changed each time, which kept me on my toes.
Having spent so much time with Assassin's Creed Valhalla since launch, I haven't really had any desire to return for a long while. But when Forgotten Saga was first announced, I was instantly intrigued to see how a roguelite experience could be brought to life in the Viking RPG. Since I'm not very confident with the genre, I was surprised to find how quickly I got to grips with it, and I think that's largely thanks to my familiarity with the mechanics of Valhalla. For a free mode, it's actually quite a substantial addition for anyone who's looking for a reason to return for a new kind of challenge.
Look ahead to what's on the horizon with our round up of new games for 2022.