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Assassin’s Creed in test: Axe swinging in England
By John Arnold on November 9, 2020
Swamps and forests instead of Mediterranean: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla sends us to England – for which the Vikings use an old name.
from Peter Steinlechner
9 November 2020, 12:09 pm
Thick ropes and chains, stretched across the estuaries of rivers in eastern England near the sea, were to keep the Vikings away. Right at the beginning of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla we learn that already in the 9th century the thing with the “protection of the outer borders” didn’t really work.
In any case, we jump out of our longboat with the main character Eivor and destroy the cables with the war axe. And then we sail with our Viking troupe, singing seafaring songs, further inland towards the setting sun.
This arrival in 873 is the real prelude to Valhalla. Before that, in the approximately five-hour prologue, we were given an insight into the customs and habits of the Vikings. And then we said goodbye to the Danish winter, because we do not want to serve under the new king. But the break with the actually quite nice king is not really radical – later we can and must return again.
Just a few minutes after cutting the rope we find a river crossing where we build our main settlement Hraefnathorp.
In the beginning it consists of rickety wooden huts and thin tents, but as the game progresses we can build a village that is as solid as it is beautiful by supplying raw materials. Among other things, this serves as a starting point for many quests, and the weapons can be improved there, for example at the blacksmith’s.
As in the earlier series parts, we can follow the main plot in Valhalla or go on a hunt with Eivor for treasures, experience points and equipment or go on side missions.
The huge area is divided into lordships, the recommended experience level is given – if we go there too early, we most likely won’t survive a single fight.
In Valhalla we will compete with a figure called Eivor. We are free to choose whether it is a female or male Viking. We make the choice right at the beginning and can change it later at any time. The game even provides a vague explanation for this possibility, namely overlapping memory and DNA sequences in the animus.
Longer distances can be covered faster with our horse. (Picture: Ubisoft/Screenshot: Golem.de)
And yes, in Valhalla too, there are again periods of action in the present. The battle between Templars and Assassins is also taken up. However, we won’t go into these elements and other details of the main plot here. The story is told more clearly than earlier series parts. We especially liked the fact that we as Vikings are not always fought by the English population in the beginning, but we are still rejected – and how this changes little by little.
However, we give the natives enough reasons not to like us right away. One of the new elements of Valhalla is the raids: In order to do this, we take a long boat and sail down a river. As soon as we have reached a promising little village, marked accordingly on the map, our troop jumps out of the boat and storms ashore.
Ubisoft has discreetly scaled back some elements. So now there are still masses of symbols with treasures, puzzles and side missions on the map. But there are less than before – we like that. Especially with the treasures the developers apparently wanted to create more challenges by a trick.
In order to reach the gold bars, very often we cannot simply march through a door or jump onto a balcony. Instead, access is only possible through cellars and tunnels – and finding their entrance is sometimes damn difficult because they are not highlighted with the supernatural special Odin look.
With our raven we explore the surroundings. (Picture: Ubisoft/Screenshot: Golem.de)
Valhalla offers many somewhat more complex side missions, which almost remind us of adventures and some of which we really enjoyed. For example, like a detective we investigate which of three allies is actually a traitor. For this we have to search for clues, conduct interrogations and collect evidence – great!
Graphically, we didn’t like Valhalla very much at first: Denmark with its snow-covered mountains and the bad weather doesn’t look like much. Later in England, however, this changes noticeably: The swamps, forests and hills there are mostly in beautiful autumn colours, which is partly a visual impact. We climb through many beautiful castles and palaces and even through amazingly many ruins of the Romans.
The male version of Eivor explores a swampland. (Picture: Ubisoft/Screenshot: Golem.de)
A big plus, on the other hand, are the masses of costly secondary missions in Valhalla. Unfortunately, the hunt for treasures is too often replaced by the annoying search for cellar entrances. The main characters remain very pale in the long run – but the story is relatively comprehensible and excitingly told.
We find the combat system better than the one in the games before, especially since there is more variety of opponents. In the long run, however, too much simple hitting is needed, and sometimes the fights look unintentionally funny. For example, if we throw one opponent after the other with one axe blow each a few meters far.
It would be nice if Ubisoft focuses on the sword fights of Ghost of Tsushima for the next part of the series. They are more gripping and challenging than any battle in an Assassin’s Creed so far. And: They offer enough variety over almost the whole plot.
Bottom line, Valhalla has nevertheless become an above average Assassin’s Creed. Those who mourn the ancient world and find Vikings per se less exciting than Romans or Greeks should still give the game a chance and dive into history.