I’m in rural Tamworth and it’s full of snakes. Not metaphorical snakes – actual snakes. Deadly ones. In England. Actually, let me add some more context here: I’m in a sewer in rural Tamworth (not that sewers in England are generally full of snakes). A woman who lives in the sewers is screaming “EGG”.
Vipers (also called adders) do exist in England, of course. They’re the only venomous snake in the country, fact fans. In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, there are dozens of them all over the place – especially here, in this sewer. In Tamworth, England. Egg lady wants the snakes’ eggs. It’s a sidequest. A sidequest about collecting snake eggs, if that wasn’t clear.
So I run around twatting every snake I see. I hit some of them with an axe. I fire arrows at others. I throw my torch at some more. Every time, I scoop up the eggs and bring them back to the sewer woman. “More eggs,” she cries. “More!” I uppercut more snakes, as requested, and bring additional eggs.
Finally, her hunger is sated. Satisfied, she farts and a green gas envelopes me. My Eivor – a Viking raider who has come to England to seek a peaceful life, only to be cursed with leathering snakes for a goblin woman – starts coughing. She gives me the key to a chest in the sewers for my troubles, and I open it up and receive a new helmet. Afterward, I make my way topside where her arse gas is seeping from the sewer grates above, causing the citizens of Tamworth to vomit. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is weird.
It’s the 9th Century Viking invasion of England – an England divided into five kingdoms. You’re here to unite those kingdoms and bring peace to the land (while also raiding, pillaging, and murdering the countrymen) so your brethren can settle and farm this lush landscape.
As the leader of the Raven clan, you work from your base of operations, Ravensthorpe – your very own Viking-themed Monteriggioni. In the demo, I’m experiencing the Mercia region’s full story arc, where I assist the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok in installing a puppet king on the throne. Ivar The Boneless immediately sticks out as a memorable character, and anyone who’s watched the Vikings TV series will be familiar with his almost comical brutality. But it’s the sidequests, dubbed ‘Mysteries’, that truly stand out during my six hours with the game – they are bizarre.
Valhalla is tonally all over the place. It’s the first Assassin’s Creed to feature dismemberment, and the marketing promises “the ultimate Viking experience”. The next thing you know, you’re helping a woman eat loads of snake eggs so she can expel poisonous gas from her anus.
In another sidequest, two brothers want to be legendary Vikings and are cosplaying as the sons of Ragnar. To get battle-ready, they want to set fire to their house and train for a raid by securing their valuables before they’re consumed by flame. But they’ve forgotten a torch. I help them out by lobbing one onto the straw roof, but this comedy double act have also forgotten their keys. I break in and hunt for their things. After a long and fruitless search, it turns out the axe they wanted to save was outside the whole time. Those japers!
Elsewhere, I find a woman trapped in a ruined tower guarded by a brave knight. Except she isn’t trapped and it’s just a sex thing, as I quickly find out when I punch the knight in the face and he runs away, leaving me to take his place. A real ruffian soon comes to take over, so I lop his head off and leave the strange woman to fend for herself as her former lover sobs by the riverbank. Over the river, I find a child admiring the last autumn leaf clinging to a tree. Naturally, I shoot it down with an arrow, pocket it, and leg it over the rolling green hills of England hoping nobody notices I just mugged a child for a leaf.
It also wouldn’t be a Ubisoft game without someone tripping balls, and this demo sees two people trip balls. One is a man who I have to protect after he loses his mind to some dodgy mushrooms. Another is me after I lose my mind to some dodgy mushrooms and follow a group of sea lions through some ethereal doors. You know, the standard. Soon after, I take over a fortified encampment while backed up by some fistfighting nuns and help a man perfect his Ledercesterscire sauce recipe by catching him an eel.
Valhalla’s Mysteries are entertaining, but it’s tonal whiplash when you’ve just come out of a cutscene where Ivar the Boneless tortures warbeaten men. Of course, you could say the same about Red Dead Redemption 2’s various Stranger encounters, yet that dissonance works within the context of the full game – this could be the same with context. I just didn’t expect to spend my day making a woman fart by feeding her snake eggs. Nobody does. It’s not especially Vikingy.
Elsewhere, Valhalla is exactly what you’d expect. It’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey with Vikings. You climb towers to reveal the map, you pump stats into skills, you have conversations with multiple choices – though big decisions here appear to be more limited than you might expect – and you snake across the rivers of England in a longboat as crewmates sing and tell tales.
As with most Ubisoft games, the world – from sun-dappled forests to rolling hills of green, watching the shadows of clouds dissipate across the landscape – is gorgeous. It’s recognisably England, but a postcard version of the place. Maybe even a Windows screensaver version of it. I’ve only seen a small portion, but it begs to be explored, and there’s loads of it – you can trek across England in its entirety. There’s also some of Norway, trips to America, and what Ubisoft calls ‘Myth Worlds’ to visit on top of this sprawling map, but I haven’t seen any of that stuff.
Outside of the Red Dead Redemption influence on sidequest design, Valhalla also features a more unlikely inspiration: Dragon’s Dogma. Back at your base, you can kit out your very own Jomsviking – a personal warrior who can join you on quests. You can also loan them out for hire so other players can use your creation. It reminds me of Dragon’s Dogma’s Pawn system, though it appears this version of it is purely cosmetic. Oh, and the levelling system is basically the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy 10 – a huge, branching selection of various buffs and skills, ever-expanding as you fill it out in three different directions, eventually looping back around like a spider’s web.
I won’t sit here and pretend I didn’t enjoy making the egg woman do a little parp. I can’t lie to you. It’s not what I expected, but it’s something I will remember. I’d take that over indifference any day of the week. I just want to prepare you for Valhalla, the ultimate Viking fantasy: also with eggs. Origins and Odyssey are brilliant games, and this seems like a refinement of that flavour of Assassin’s Creed – you know, the good Assassin’s Creed with the slightly shonky combat. I can’t wait to see what other weirdness lies in wait in the full release.
Next: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Launches With Xbox Series X On November 10 At 4K/60fps
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- Assassin's Creed Valhalla
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Kirk is the Editor-in-Chief at The Gamer. He likes Arkane games a little too much.
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