Ubisoft has officially lifted the curtain on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the next installment in the iconic series set to hit current gen consoles, PC, Xbox Series X, and PlayStation 5 this holiday season. As the name might give away, the latest entry in Ubisoft’s series takes us back to the 9th century and places us in the shoes of Eivor, a Viking raider who leads their people across the kingdoms of England. While we’ll be getting a full gameplay reveal next week at Microsoft’s Xbox Series X event, the CG reveal trailer coupled with various interviews with the development team shined a light on some of the gameplay elements we can expect from Valhalla. And while there’s a lot of exciting details, the one major thing that stuck with me are the settlements — and how Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is taking its RPG world to the next level by offering a place to rest your head.
The Vikings of this time weren’t just invaders, spreading across large swaths of Europe like wildfire without an endgame in sight. For many, the goal was to eventually settle down and lean back into a life of hunting, farming, and becoming part of a newly growing society. This is something shown off in the initial trailer, as we see a transition that goes from the midst of a bloody battle to the peaceful calm of erecting buildings back home. This is the core idea of Valhalla’s settlements — a type of grounding anchor for Eivor and the community that you help create throughout the course of the adventure.
The problem with a lot of open-world games is that, once you set out on your journey, it’s just a constant forward motion. You’re so busy looking for where you might go next that you never stop to contemplate all you’ve done to get to where you currently are. It feels like you’re uncovering each new bit of unexplored territory on the map without ever really stopping to assess your successes and learn from your failures. Some games have done a better job of offering opportunities for contemplation, like with the excellent camps in Red Dead Redemption 2 and the home-away-from-home of the Normandy in Mass Effect. So it’s fitting that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s settlements feel like a mixture of these two, with an even larger emphasis placed on growth and evolution through the choices you make as the player throughout the game.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla lead producer Julien Laferrière told Eurogamer, “Instead of exploring one territory, then moving on to another and having no real opportunity or reason to return, the settlement changes the structure. So you’ll go on an adventure and then be encouraged to come back to your settlement.” I love the idea of your settlement acting as a familiar port that’s always present amidst the raging storm of your conquests. Having each journey begin with leaving home and end with coming back with spoils that will ultimately feed back into that economy adds a real sense of weight and consequence to your actions.
Laferrière went on to discuss how your settlement will grow and change throughout the game depending on some of the tough decisions that you will have to make as the player. Think weddings to forge alliances between camps and the ability to build new structures that will eventually aid you, like barracks, blacksmiths, and tattoo parlors. On top of this, many of the game’s auxiliary gameplay elements will take place in the surroundings of your settlement as well, including hunting, fishing, dice, drinking games, and the strange-but-wonderful flyting, which essentially boils down to viking rap battles. Again, this all seems like it feeds into a central idea of carving out a small slice of the world as your own, and building a society out of it.
This certainly isn’t the first time the series has dabbled in the idea of a place for your assassin to rest their weary head at night. Assassin’s Creed II had Ezio’s Villa and Assassin’s Creed III had the Homestead, both of which slowly grew as you invested more into them. But since then, it’s felt like each of the growing adventures has become more focused on the entire world being a playground, which certainly broadened the scope while sometimes losing sight of a central focal point.
I’ve written before about how some of the best hub worlds in games — stuff like Mother Base in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Eva’s Hammer in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and The End of Time in Chrono Trigger — allow you to take a moment to catch your breath and look back on all that you’ve achieved. It adds weight to your accomplishments and gravity to your upcoming decisions, which is something I’m thrilled to see coming back to the series.
It also feels like the emphasis on personalization elements in these settlements will help make up for the relative lack of broadly recognized landmarks in comparison to previous games. Given the nature of the source material, we won’t be stumbling across immediately identifiable scenery like the Parthenon, Great Pyramid of Giza, or Notre Dame Cathedral. So instead of those, having an evolving settlement that reflects all that we’ve accomplished throughout the course of the game has the potential to act as that familiar beacon in Valhalla.
Back in 2013, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was a standout launch title for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It showed off the kind of visuals that the new hardware was capable of delivering, while also giving us a massive and entertaining adventure to get lost in. In that regard, it’s almost serendipitous that the lead developers on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla are the same team at Ubisoft Montreal, including the same creative director, Ashraf Ismail. Given that it’s Assassin’s Creed we’re talking about, it seems almost fitting that history is going to be repeating itself with the launch of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.