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Assassin's Creed Valhalla is brutal, bleak and really, really bloody

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

If you're wondering what it's going to be like diving into life as a Viking, in just three hours with Assassin's Creed Valhalla I managed to have a drinking competition with a bearded warrior, have sex during someone else's wedding, and win an axe fight with a particularly angry nun. Safe to say that Dark Ages England is going to be quite the playground for debauchery – and blood. Lots and lots of blood. 

Ubisoft's new breed of Assassin's Creed game that started with Assassin's Creed Origins, and then continued with Assassin's Creed Odyssey, is evolving once again with Valhalla. Ubisoft Montreal is taking the RPG elements of Odyssey and parts of Origins' combat to create something that feels unique, works well with a Viking spin, and is still able to feel a part of the new format adopted by the long-running series.

Take a look at our preview video below:

Take Viking hero Eivor, for example. Like with Odyssey, you'll get the option to play as a male or female version of the protagonist, with plenty of dialogue and character customisation options available to really let you dial into the version of Eivor you want to be. It's clear from this early preview session that Eivor is going to have just as much smolder and sass as Kassandra and Alexios did in Odyssey. Mid-Viking wedding, for example, my female Eivor accepts a romantic invitation (involving an innuendo about a plough-sword) to sneak away and hook up with another Viking behind a wall. After a brief romp, he thanks me, and I'm presented with two options:

"I shall remember too, Brothir."

"I shall remember too, Broder."

Now, thankfully, I'd been vaguely paying attention to this chap, and remembered his name almost by accident. This one was Broder, not the other bearded Viking, Brothir, who was enjoying the festivities elsewhere – rather than between my thighs. It's nice to see the game having some fun with the fact that plenty of players will explore every sexual opportunity possible in-game – just check out my list of Assassin's Creed Odyssey romance conquests if you want to get some idea of exactly what my Kassandra got up to. It's fun, a little tongue in cheek, and also entirely optional. 

Ale and anarchy

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

But, as you'd expect from an Assassin's Creed game, there's more to Eivor's adventures than sex. There's drinking too! A rather hilarious mini-game saw me downing horns of ale with the fella I would eventually sneak behind a wall with, tapping in time with a moving circle in a rhythm-action-style that got more and more complicated as Eivor got drunker, and found it more difficult to stand up straight. It's another nod to a sillier, more playful side for Assassin's Creed that feels like a nice nod to the days of Ezio, which helpfully balances out the bleaker, more brutal side of Valhalla.

Once you move away from the frivolities, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is much darker in tone and content than Odyssey and Origins. This is the Dark Ages, after all. Valhalla is set in very rural England, where citizens are living with very little and facing plenty of bloodshed. My playthrough was located in East Anglia and the areas around Norwich (or Northwic as it was known back in 873CE). This particular section saw Eivor's collective fighting against a rogue Danish clan led by a man called Rued. He's rumoured to have killed the man who was about to be crowned king, a man named Oswald, so it's up to Eivor and their army to take down Rued and bring peace to East Anglia. 

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Part of this included getting the Reeve of Theotford on side to the cause, which saw me clearing Rued's men from a town called King's Bury – now known as Bury St. Edmunds. I could have chosen to sneak through the long grass and use the hidden blade to assassinate the fighters there, but I didn't think that was quite Viking enough. So, instead, I launched a raid from the mast of my longboat as I coasted up the river towards the town, calling my men to take on the foes with axes and blades. However, I wasn't quite prepared for the depth of changes to combat between Odyssey and Valhalla. 

With Odyssey, I became very well versed with the nimble agility of the daggers, but with Eivor, combat is slow, deliberate, and utterly brutal. Armed with a shield and an axe, moving a lot slower than I'd usually expect from an Assassin's title, I learned to become heavily reliant on parrying to deflect the much more agile attacks of the King's Bury men. A well-timed parry could cause an enemy to stagger, giving me the opportunity to land some axe flails or, if the moment was right, a more punishing attack. These went from 

stomping an enemy while they were knocked down, to pulling off a stun attack that ranged from a blood-spurting decapitation to carving deep, deadly grooves in their flesh – the mud-soaked battleground turning redder with every slash of my axe. 

Raids and runes 

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

This only became more apparent when it came to launching a bigger scale, story-driven raid on Rued's stronghold that played out in stages – one of which involved using a battering ram to break down the inner barricades – with more enemies in tighter confines to fight against. Being attacked from all sides, and yet being so reliant on my shield, meant constantly being aware of my surroundings. Getting caught off guard from behind can mean disaster in Assassin's Creed Valhalla, and with health restoration now linked to having enough food supplies in your pocket, there was always a fear of getting caught out. 

It seems like there's going to be plenty of ways to customise your combat style though, with three different strands to upgrade and align yourself with. Skill trees for Wolf, Bear and, Raven expand across a literal sky full of interconnecting constellations, with weaponry that is also aligned to the same animal focuses. It's not clear from this early hands-on how these will play out, but with everything amounting to an overall power score, it's seemingly another step up from the RPG upgrade system introduced in Odyssey. 

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

When it comes to the world itself, it's clear Assassin's Creed Valhalla is going to have plenty to offer intrepid explorers. While I was only able to see a little of it in my preview session, I quickly became enamoured by the variety and style of the side-quests (referred to as 'mysteries' in Valhalla) that are hidden all throughout the map. In one instance, I stumbled across a throne peppered with arrows – the perfect opportunity to replenish my dwindling stock – only to find myself chastised by a woman for removing pieces of history. Elsewhere, I encountered a mischievous cat, seemingly imbued with the spirit of the Norse god Freya; I eventually recruited her to my longboat as a crew member, but only after a little push and pull with the pet's disgruntled owner. These stories work to fill the world with intrigue and life, giving me plenty to look forward to beyond the blood and bleakness offered in the core and combat narrative. 

There's also an interesting blend of myths lurking in the shadows of Valhalla's England. Norse Draugr and an English Black Shuck were just two of the mythical beasts I got to (attempt to) fight during this playthrough. The meeting of worlds seemingly doesn't just apply to the storyline, which is exciting for those big dramatic boss battles that will really test your combat skills.

From what I've played so far, it's clear Assassin's Creed Valhalla is doing something a little different with its setting. Unafraid to lean into the brutality of the Dark Ages, while still bringing some fun to the setting, Eivor's adventures look more than set to live up to the bar set by Odyssey and Origins before it. 

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