Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an action role playing video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It is the twelfth major installment and the twenty-second release in the Assassin’s Creed series, and a successor to the 2018’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Set in 873 AD, the game recounts a fictional story during the Viking invasion of Britain. The player controls Eivor, a Viking raider who becomes embroiled in the conflict between the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Templar Order.
The game was released on November 10, 2020, for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, and Stadia, while the PlayStation 5 version was released on November 12. The game received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised the graphics and story, but criticized it for technical issues and lack of innovation.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an open-world action-adventure game structured around several main story arcs and numerous optional side-missions, called “World Events”. The player takes on the role of Eivor (/ˈeɪvɔːr/), a Viking raider, as they lead their fellow Vikings against the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The player has the choice of playing Eivor as either male (voiced by Magnus Bruun), female (voiced by Cecilie Stenspil) or letting the game alternate between the two at key moments in the story, and is able to customise Eivor’s hair, warpaint, clothing, armor, and tattoos. The variety of weapons available to the player has been expanded to include weapons such as flails and greatswords. Combat has been changed to allow dual-wielding of almost any weapon, including shields, and every piece of gear that the player collects is unique. The Eagle Vision mechanic of previous titles returns in the form of “Odin Sight”. The player’s companion animal is a raven named Sýnin (Old Norse for “insight”)[d] who can be used to scout the nearby areas, much like previous avian companions had done in Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey, and other parts of the game world from afar before Eivor engages in combat. There is more focus on the stealth aspects for both traversing the game world and in combat. The “social stealth” concept from earlier Assassin’s Creed games returns: Eivor can hide from enemies not only in stationary environmental objects but can pull down their hood and slip into certain crowds to use them as cover. Eivor can feign death, use their raven to distract guards, and can access a hidden blade for near-instantaneous assassinations. The game’s key bosses all, through specific combinations of approaches, tactics, and weapon selection, are able to be assassinated through a single attack, but still can be defeated through numerous other routes.
Valhalla has a familiar structure of main story missions and a number of optional side-missions. While the main storyline in past Assassin’s Creed games typically moved linearly through the main sections of the game world, Valhalla has the player often returning back to the main settlement and back to areas previously visited as information about the new areas of England is learned by the Vikings through reconnaissance or from contacts. Not all missions require violent ends, with some that can be resolved through diplomatic means. Player choices through conversation or gameplay options will affect the characters and their political alliances with other non-player characters. The game also relies less on a traditional leveling system and instead focuses more on the selection of skills through skill trees selected by the player as Eivor advances through the game. The difficulty posed by enemies is rated based on the player’s collection of skills.
The development team aimed to introduce a wider range of enemy archetypes to Valhalla than in previous titles as they wanted the player to be continually surprised by the game even after playing for tens of hours. Narrative director Darby McDevitt said that the game has 25 unique enemy archetypes, and each “has a unique way of challenging the player.” Enemies can also use objects in the environment to their advantage. Some enemies are also capable of adapting to the player’s actions and combat and finding ways to defend themselves. Enemies can also show personality during combat. While some might be intimidated by Eivor and fight more defensively, others might be more aggressive in their approach.
Conquest Battles, a feature introduced to the series in Odyssey, return. They are known as “Assaults” and see the player lead armies to attack fortresses. “Raids” are smaller engagements where the player leads a raiding party to attack a target and secure resources for their settlement. The player is able to build a raiding party by recruiting non-player characters to assist with these. The player is able to create a Viking mercenary, or Jomsviking, that can be recruited by other players to act as a non-playable character within those games; the player gains additional in-game rewards for successful missions that their Jomsviking takes part in.
The game also sees the return of settlements, which have been absent from the series since Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. However, where these settlements offered the player passive gameplay bonuses, the settlement in Valhalla takes on a renewed importance. Game director Ashraf Ismail described this as being “[because] a lot of what you’re doing in the game world is, at the end of the day, going to feed into the settlement so that it can grow, it can flourish.” Quests start and finish in the settlement and the player is able to direct the construction of certain types of buildings, which in turn provide benefits for gameplay. To build these structures, the player needs to lead the Vikings on raids to collect resources. As with Odyssey, the player is able to explore romance options for Eivor, including same-sex relations.
Though the use of naval transport has returned, naval combat has been dialed back. Eivor’s longship acts more as a means of travel when performing raids and for escaping after land combat, rather than being used in combat with other naval vessels. In addition to these, the player can engage in a variety of activities such as; hunting, fishing, brawls with other Vikings, drinking contests, and flyting challenges, which Ubisoft described as “Viking rap battle[s]“, in addition to a dice game called “Orlog” and Cairn construction.
In AD 873, political pressures in Norway prompt Eivor Varinsdottir[e] and her adoptive older brother, Sigurd Styrbjornsson, to lead their clan of Vikings to settle new lands in Anglo-Saxon England, as part of the Viking expansion across Europe. The clan comes into conflict with the kingdoms of Wessex, Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia over the next several years, as well as the warring sons of the legendary Viking warrior Ragnar Lothbrok, who made up the Great Heathen Army. Eivor’s clan faces forces led by the leaders of these kingdoms, including Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex. It is during this time that Eivor meets the Hidden Ones and aids them in their fight against the Order of the Ancients.[c] Explorable cities include Winchester, London, and York.[f] Parts of Norway and Vinland are also included, while dreamscapes of Asgard and Jotunheim also feature.
As with previous games in the series, Valhalla features a narrative set in the modern day. This story follows Layla Hassan, the modern-day protagonist previously featured in Origins and Odyssey. Valhalla also contains story elements related to the Isu, who, as part of the lore of the Assassin’s Creed series, are an advanced civilisation that pre-date humanity.
A year after the events in Atlantis, the unexplained and continual strengthening of Earth’s magnetic field has started to disrupt global satellite communications and is adversely affecting the environment. The Assassins receive a mysterious signal leading them to co-ordinates in New England, where Layla Hassan, Shaun Hastings, and Rebecca Crane exhume the remains of a Viking raider. Layla, struggling under the influence of the Staff of Hermes and her guilt over her involvement in the death of Victoria Bibeau, enters the Animus to view the raider’s memories.
In 9th-century Norway, during a feast honoring King Styrbjorn of the Raven Clan, a young Eivor Varinsdottir[e] witnesses the sacking of her hometown by rogue warlord Kjotve the Cruel. Eivor’s father, Varin, surrenders in exchange for the safety of his people, defying Viking tradition to die honorably in battle. Kjotve kills Varin before massacring the town. Eivor is rescued by Sigurd, Styrbjorn’s son, but in their escape she is thrown from their horse and mauled by a wolf, earning her the nickname “Wolf-Kissed”. Seventeen years later, Eivor has been adopted by Styrbjorn and his clan, and relentlessly pursues Kjotve. Her latest attempt fails, but she manages to recover her father’s axe. Upon touching the axe, Eivor experiences a vision of Odin, leading her to consult the local seer, Valka. Valka induces another vision, this time of Sigurd losing an arm before being consumed by a giant wolf. Valka interprets the vision as a prophecy that Eivor will betray Sigurd, which she refuses to believe.
While Styrbjorn chastises Eivor for attacking Kjotve, which risks an open war the clan cannot win, Sigurd returns from a two-year raiding expedition, joined by a pair of mysterious foreigners, Basim and Hytham. Sigurd presents Eivor with a Hidden Blade, a gift from Basim. The siblings defy Styrbjorn’s orders and attack Kjotve, retaking a village from his forces before being met by King Harald, who offers support in eliminating Kjotve. Basim and Hytham explain to Eivor that they followed Sigurd to Norway to kill Kjotve, but agree to let Eivor do the deed. With Harald’s reinforcements, Sigurd leads an assault on Kjotve’s stronghold and Eivor kills Kjotve in combat.
Following their victory, Harald announces his intention to unite all of Norway into a single kingdom under his rule. Styrbjorn pledges fealty to Harald, angering Sigurd, who had expected to inherit his father’s crown. He and Eivor take their loyalists in the Raven Clan on an exodus to England to build their own kingdom free of Harald’s rule. The Raven Clan settles in an abandoned Viking camp in Mercia and name it Ravensthorpe. In order to secure their position, they make alliances with local Viking clans and Saxon kingdoms, putting Eivor in contact with notable allies such as Ivar, Halfdan and Ubba Ragnarsson, Guthrum Jarl, and Ceolwulf of Mercia. Meanwhile, Hytham reveals that the Order of the Ancients—long-time enemies of his and Basim’s brotherhood, the Hidden Ones—are present in England and enlists Eivor’s help in eliminating their members in the cities of Lunden, Jorvik and Winchester. As Eivor eliminates the Order, she is aided by anonymous tip-offs from someone working under the pseudonym of a “Poor Fellow-Soldier of Christ”.
As Eivor’s visions continue, Valka gives her an elixir that transports her to Asgard and into the body of Odin, who is attempting to avert his own fated death by Ragnarök. After Loki defies Odin’s laws against wolves and conceives a son, Fenrir, Odin travels to Jötunheimr to retrieve a magical mead that will ensure their souls will live on and be reincarnated after Ragnarök. After returning to Asgard and binding Fenrir, Odin and the other Aesir—including Thor, Tyr, and Freyja—drink the mead and pass their souls to Yggdrasil, but forbid Loki from partaking in the ritual. Layla realizes these visions are actually of the Isu during the Great Catastrophe and that, unknown to the other Aesir, Loki defied Odin and ensured his survival as well.
Sigurd and Basim discover an Isu relic called the Saga Stone and Sigurd comes to believe himself a god. However, he is captured by Fulke, a fanatical Order agent and servant of King Aelfred of Wessex, who believes Sigurd to be an Isu or descendant thereof. Eivor and Basim track Fulke to her stronghold and kill her, though not before she had tortured Sigurd and removed his right arm. Sigurd becomes increasingly withdrawn and disillusioned with Ravensthorpe. Convinced of his divinity, Sigurd returns to Norway with Eivor, and together they uncover a hidden Isu temple with an advanced computer system. Both Eivor and Sigurd connect themselves to the computer and are transported to Valhalla, where they can enjoy endless battles in paradise. However, after seeing her father among the warriors, Eivor realizes that Valhalla is merely a dream-world, and tries to break free. Eivor’s visions of Odin refuse to let her leave, but she is able to defeat him and escape with Sigurd. Outside the computer, they are confronted by Basim, who reveals that Eivor, Sigurd, and himself are reincarnations of Odin, Tyr, and Loki respectively. An enraged Basim attacks Eivor, seeking revenge for Odin’s treatment of Fenrir, but Eivor manages to trap Basim in the computer with Sigurd’s help.
Realizing the folly of his actions, Sigurd abdicates leadership of the Raven Clan to Eivor, choosing either to stay behind in Norway or follow Eivor back to England. In England, Eivor and her allies join Guthrum’s assault on Wessex. Despite heavy losses, the combined Dane-Saxon force defeats Aelfred at the battle of Chippenham, forcing him to flee. Eivor later tracks Aelfred down, now living in exile as a commoner in the village of Athelney, and learns that he is not only the Grand Master of the Order of the Ancients, but also the “Poor Fellow-Soldier of Christ”. Having inherited leadership from his brother and father before him, but disgusted by the Order’s apparent heresy against Christianity, Aelfred had worked to destroy it from the inside; with the Order of the Ancients finally destroyed, he plans to construct a new God-fearing order to take its place. Eivor returns to Ravensthorpe to a hero’s welcome.
In the present, the Assassins deduce from Eivor’s memories that the strengthening magnetic field is a result of Desmond Miles‘s activation of the Isu towers to protect Earth from a coronal mass ejection in 2012, with the field growing gradually but persistently ever since. To return the field to its proper strength, Layla travels to the Norway temple, bringing the Staff of Hermes to protect herself from the lethal radiation now within. Layla enters the temple’s simulation computer and encounters Basim, who has been trapped for over a thousand years. Basim reveals that he was the one who sent the message leading the Assassins to Eivor, and instructs Layla on how to stabilize the magnetic field. This in turn releases Basim. Now trapped in the simulation, Layla encounters a being called the Reader (implied to be Desmond Miles), and together they work to prevent another inevitable extinction event. Meanwhile, Basim steals the Staff of Hermes (which contains the consciousness of his lover, Aletheia) and rejuvenates his body before escaping the temple. He meets with Shaun and Rebecca and requests to meet William Miles. After they leave, Basim re-enters the Animus to track down his missing children.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla had been in development for more than two and a half years by its announcement in April 2020. The main development was led by the Assassin’s Creed Origins team at Ubisoft Montreal and supported by fourteen other Ubisoft studios worldwide. While the tail-end of the game’s development fell during the COVID-19 pandemic, the bulk of the Ubisoft staff assigned to the game were able to work from home with the support of Ubisoft’s information technology departments, assuring the game was ready for release in 2020.
Ashraf Ismail served as the creative director,[b] having previously led work on Assassin’s Creed Origins and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The game’s narrative director was Darby McDevitt, who was the lead writer for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and Black Flag and co-writer of Assassin’s Creed Unity. USGamer‘s Mike Williams described the large scope and effort behind Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as the equivalent of the series’s “grand unifying theory” to combine all the past design and development work into a single vision without necessarily reinventing any of the previously-developed concepts. McDevitt explained that Valhalla‘s story was written as a recap of all the prior Assassin’s Creed games, connecting them in non-trivial fashions, but not intended to be the final game in the series. He also stated that his experimental structure to the narrative was “quite unique for any game” he had seen as well as for the Assassin’s Creed series itself.
Ismail cited Michael Crichton‘s 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead—itself a retelling of the epic poem Beowulf—as playing a major role in influencing Valhalla‘s setting. McDevitt said that the development team recognized there would be similarities to the God of War games, but felt those games “skew very heavily towards the mythology”, whereas Ubisoft wanted Valhalla to be a more “historically grounded” experience. Elements of Norse mythology appear in the story. According to Ismail, this was based on how Eivor and the Vikings may take uncommon events to be signs of their gods’ involvement rather than the more overt role that mythology played in Origins and Odyssey. This was particularly in light that much of the game takes place in England where Christianity dominated, so that the narrative and gameplay shows how Eivor would incorporate such foreign elements into their belief system. On the ability to select Eivor’s gender, Thierry Noël, an advisor to the game, stated that while there was still historical debate to how much degree females participated as warriors within the Vikings, Ubisoft believed that women featured prominently in both Norse mythology and society, and so sought to reflect the Viking idea that “women and men are equally formidable in battle”.
In researching the time period, Ismail and McDevitt said that the development team found that most historical records of the Viking expansion into Britain were written decades, if not centuries, after the event. They were often written from the perspective of the Anglo-Saxons and so portrayed Vikings as bloodthirsty invaders. However, the development team felt that this overlooked the Vikings’ success in settling in England and the contributions they made to agricultural practices and their influence on the English language. The development team thus sought to portray the Viking Age more accurately, emphasising elements such as the settlement. This was represented in the trailer and promotional materials by juxtaposing Alfred the Great’s narration warning of the threat posed by the Vikings with scenes showing the Viking community. This research, in turn, led the team to make the settlement a focal point of the game and gave Valhalla more of a role-playing flavor, according to lead producer Julien Laferrière. He compared the settlement’s relevance to the importance of Skyhold in Dragon Age: Inquisition or the SSV Normandy in Mass Effect. Laferrière added that the team came to use the settlement not only to show the more cultured side of the Vikings, but as a means to show the player the results of choices they made in the game, including the “harsh choices [one had] to face” from missions.
In a Tweet that was later deleted, Ubisoft’s head of communications for the Middle East Malek Teffaha discussed the subject of the game world where he stated that Valhalla will not be the largest or biggest game in the series. Teffaha also stated that Valhalla would address one of the main criticisms of Odyssey, namely that the game suffered from a bloated world populated by repetitive locations; in their review of Odyssey, IGN noted that the main story campaign—not including downloadable content—lasted for roughly forty hours, but that completing every side quest and location could extend that to over one hundred hours. In a later interview with Kotaku, Ismail described that much of the game’s world was “handcrafted” and that they had put effort to developing content that was worthwhile for the player to explore and find that content, keeping it about “uniqueness” and “about respecting our players’ time and giving them mysteries and puzzles to sort of resolve”.
Music for the game was composed by Jesper Kyd and Sarah Schachner, both of whom have worked on past Assassin’s Creed games. Einar Selvik, who had written original songs for the History Channel show Vikings, will work with Kyd and Schachner for new songs for Valhalla.
In June 2020, among other issues related to sexual misconduct within Ubisoft, Polygon reported that Ismail “said he would step down from the project following accusations of multiple extramarital affairs with younger fans. […] Ubisoft later confirmed his departure to Polygon”. In the month that followed, several other high-level executives from Ubisoft were also forced to leave the company, including the company’s chief creative officer Serge Hascoët. Reports from French newspaper Libération and American news agency Bloomberg News stated that besides concerns related to professional misconduct within the company, Hascoët and other members of the editorial team had also suppressed the use of female characters in several of the Assassin’s Creed games. Some members of the Valhalla development team later stated that they had wanted the protagonist to be exclusively female and had selected the name “Eivor” as an exclusively female name in Nordic databases, but had been turned down by executives who believed that a female-only protagonist would be detrimental to total game sales. McDevitt said that in writing the story, Ubisoft wanted to give players the ability to select the gender of the player-character of the game, and thus had built this aspect since the start of the narrative development.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla introduces to the series a number of features designed to make the game more accessible to physically impaired gamers. These include, among other things, audio menu narration, and audio cues for interactive objects and partial/full quest completion, adjustments for quick-time events (QTEs), and the addition of “Guaranteed Assassinate,” a feature that enables players to skip the in-game timing window to successfully dispatch a target without concern.
Valhalla was originally announced to release on November 17, 2020, before later confirming that the release date had been brought forward to November 10, 2020, so that the game could be released on the launch of the Xbox Series X/S. The game was being released for the Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows, the Xbox One, Stadia, the PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5. It is also the first Assassin’s Creed title for the next generation of consoles, the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5. Ismail said that Valhalla represents Ubisoft’s “flagship” game for these next-generation systems, and has been developed to take advantage of faster loading times both new consoles offer. Players on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 are able to upgrade their game to the next-gen version on their respective platform at no extra cost.
Ubisoft’s 2019 title Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 included an Easter egg in the form of a poster that appeared to tease the next Assassin’s Creed game as named Valhalla. The poster included an image of a Viking dressed in a similar fashion to an Assassin of the series’ previous titles and held what appeared to be an Apple of Eden, one of the Isu artifacts featured in the series. The Easter egg led Jason Schreier of Kotaku to report that there was a new Assassin’s Creed title in development, planned for release in 2020. However, on the game’s official announcement in April 2020, McDevitt said that the Easter egg in The Division 2 was a coincidence as the Swedish studio behind the game, Massive Entertainment, wanted to incorporate some Swedish iconography into The Division 2 and had no intention of referencing or teasing Valhalla.
Ubisoft announced that they would release an exclusive mission titled The Legend of Beowulf for players who pre-ordered the game. Additional post-release content will be available through a season pass. This will include story content; the first is titled Wrath of the Druids, which takes the player to Ireland to kill a cult of druids named the Children of Danu. The second, titled The Siege of Paris, will include traveling to Francia for the Siege of Paris. Additionally, Ubisoft will release a “Discovery Tour” version of the game after release similar to Origins and Odyssey. This version removes combat and other encounters but allows players to explore the game’s world at their own pace.
|PC Gamer (US)||92/100|
GamesRadar+ summarized its 4.5/5 star review by saying: “With a sprawling world to conquer and gory combat but also the chance to use that iconic hidden blade, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla brings a triumphant balance to the series.” GameSpot gave the game 8/10, praising the story and conclusion to several plotlines from the franchise, but noted the lack of character development, ultimately saying “Valhalla is a confident Assassin’s Creed title that takes a few narrative risks which, as a whole, pay off.” IGN also gave it 8/10, writing: “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a massive, beautiful open-world fuelled by brutal living and the dirty work of conquerors. It’s a lot buggier than it should be but also impressive on multiple levels.” Game Informer in its 9.25/10 review gave high praise to the combat and narrative and went on to remark that the “content and design of Valhalla are the best the series has seen in years.”
GameRevolution gave the game 2.5/4 stars, writing: “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla should serve as a learning experience like Assassin’s Creed Unity, the last installment that forced Ubisoft to rethink its approach. Valhalla‘s unnecessarily inflated hour count, limited stealth mechanics, disconnected story, and overwhelming sense of familiarity all point to a series once again on the decline because of its inability to focus on its strengths.”
Rock, Paper, Shotgun gave a compromising review of the game. While praising its scope, the reviewer wrote that “Valhalla is so complex that it’s a poor entry point if you’ve never played an [Assassin’s Creed] game before”.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla sold more copies during its first week of release than any other Assassin’s Creed game, and the PC version also had the most successful launch of any PC game published by Ubisoft. On November 17, 2020, Ubisoft confirmed that the game had over 1.8 million players. The PlayStation 4 version sold 45,055 physical copies within its first week on sale in Japan, making it the second bestselling retail game of the week in the country. The PlayStation 5 version was the twenty-fifth bestselling retail game in Japan throughout the same week, with 4,227 copies being sold.