In a way, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is as much about being a badass Viking kicking butt and drinking ale, as it is about immersing yourself in Dark Ages England. But it's not just about the history, but more about capturing the mindset of the people at the time. Because of that, the series has become well known for its blending of history and mythology. Real-life locales and people are brought to life alongside the monstrous beasts that the people of the time really believed in, from Medusa to the Minotaur of Assassin's Creed Odyssey, to the Egyptian Gods like Anubis and Sobek in Assassin's Creed Origins.
Thankfully, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is continuing this tradition and actually sits in the interesting position of being able to pull from both Norse and Old English mythologies to imbue its world with a little bit more otherworldliness. Set in 873 AD, the game recounts an alternative history to the Viking invasion of Britain, where you play as the Viking Eivor who's coming to England to settle their clan. Along the way, you'll meet countless key figures from that period of British history, including Alfred the Great, but you'll also be able to immerse yourself in something a bit more monstrous.
"Cold, hard, dry history is not enough when it comes to a game like this," explains Darby McDevitt, narrative director on Assassin's Creed Valhalla. "You want to also get into what the beliefs of the people were, what made their hearts race, what made their brains tingle with anticipation of what comes beyond."
In our hands-on with the game earlier this year, we got to see just a few elements of what will eventually no doubt be an entire book's worth of mythical elements in the full game. As with the last two Assassin's Creed titles, these mythical creatures and characters aren't part of the main narrative but rather discovered by exploring the world. So I went exploring around the area of East Anglia where our gameplay slice was located, coming across one of the Daughters of Lerion, the Black Shuck, and a mighty warrior who forms one-sixth of the Lost Drenger of Ragnar Lothbrok.
The Black Shuck
"Now the Black Shuck is a particular piece of mythology that's very, very common in England. There are a lot of stories and tales of black dogs that roam the night, roam the graveyards and abandoned roads," explains McDevitt. "The Black Shuck is particular to East Anglia, but there is a lot of black dog phenomenon found around England."
The term Shuck comes from the Old English word "scucca", which means devil or fiend, with the root of the word meaning to terrify. The very first instance of it appearing in literature was in the 12th Century in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, started by Alfred the Great. It was described as a very devilish dog.
"From that point forwards history is filled with mentions of black dogs, so we decided to put this piece of mythology in the game and allow Eivor to come across it, and tangle with it," adds McDevitt. "In most of the myths, the Black Shuck is considered evil, but there are some tales where it is considered a companion or a friendly dog. This dog though, in Assassin's Creed Valhalla, is most definitely not friendly."
The Daughters of Lerion
While the Black Shuck is more rooted in actual mythology, that doesn't mean that the development team isn't having a little fun making tweaks and additions of its own. Take the Daughters of Lerion for example, which are three powerful characters you can find just in East Anglia.
"The Daughters of Lerion are our own homage to Shakespeare and his play, King Lear. The play King Lear is actually based on a historic figure from quite a long time before our game is set, but we thought it would be fun to put a little quasi-historical stuff into this game," explains McDevitt.
"So Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril are the Daughters of Lerion, and they are protecting their father's legacy - a man who was betrayed by the people of East Anglia. You'll find evidence of this story scattered throughout East Anglia and a little bit beyond. You'll meet the three daughters… but if you dig a little deeper into the territories you'll find that there's a lot more to this story."
We took on Regan - or attempted to - in our preview and she's a formidable enemy. Although she's capable of attacking you directly with her two blades, she also has the ability to send an alternate version of herself out to reach you from a distance, while also uses some kind of power to unleash a devastating area of effect attack that will kill you with a single hit.
The Lost Drengr of Ragnar Lothbrok
But, Regan was nothing compared to a certain gentleman called Thor the Fishmonger. Now, don't be fooled by his down-to-earth title, because this ox of a man defeated me with a single stab of his duo of wooden spears, all the while still wearing fishmonger slacks. He was just one of the Lost Drengr of Ragnar Lothbrok.
"Ragnar Lothbrok was a very famous Viking who came over to England about 10 years before our game is set. He did quite a bit of damage and made a lot of enemies, and there were two kings in the north - or two men in the north who wanted to be king - who put their differences aside and banded together to try to defeat Ragnar."
"What we've done is created a group of people - six warriors or Drengr (courageous warriors) - who have lost all sense of purpose now that their leader, their Jarl or their king, Ragnar, is dead."
"You'll find these Drenger scattered throughout England and Norway, and they each have a story to tell. They each want to die in a glorious battle so that they can be with their beloved Ragnar in Valhalla. Eivor will have an opportunity to meet with them, get their side of the story, and then send them to their ultimate reward."
The world of Assassin's Creed Valhalla is seemingly going to have little secrets and depictions of mythology hidden across the realms. It's all there to discover, you've just got to look for it.
"We put a lot of care and effort into rewarding people who just want to get off the beaten path. For certain there are lots of main path quests in our game, there's a lot of heavy narrative. But there also a lot of world dressing, a lot of storytelling that goes on behind the scenes and behind closed doors. You'll have to look for it and search for it. The curious will be rewarded in our game."
Assassin's Creed Valhalla is launching on November 17 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC, with the option to upgrade to PS5 and Xbox Series X for free when they arrive.