After going everywhere from France to Egypt, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is, as rumored, exploring the life of the Vikings who invaded England in the late 800s. This will be the 13th Assassin's Creed, and though the series has changed significantly over the years, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Valhalla: stabbing folks, climbing buildings, and charting your course across an enormous map overflowing with icons. Y'know, assassin stuff.
But 2018's Assassin's Creed Odyssey saw the series change into a full-blown RPG complete with optional romances, branching story decisions, and a lot of loot. Odyssey was pretty great, but there's a bunch of things we'd like to see Valhalla do differently or expand on, so here's what we want from Assassin's Creed Valhalla.
Encounters with Norse gods and monsters
Though Assassin's Creed has always flirted with mythology and the supernatural, Odyssey took that to another level by diving headlong into Greek myths like the Minotaur on Crete or Medusa. It was one of the coolest parts of its daunting 100-hour story and the basis of several expansions that dropped all pretense of historical realism as Kassandra fought her way through both Hades and Atlantis itself. And if Valhalla doesn't do the same for Norse mythology, I'll be sorely disappointed.
While some people at PC Gamer disagree (they're wrong, obviously), Valhalla should absolutely have protagonist Eivor cross axes with a troll or do some favors for a valkyrie. Norse mythology is brimming with so many amazing creatures that it'd be a huge missed opportunity to not encounter some on the journey from Norway to England. The official announcement trailer for Valhalla already teased this when Eivor glimpses a cloaked Odin leaning against a tree during a vicious melee, but I hope the pantheon of Norse gods gets their share of screen time.
The trick here, however, is balance. Odyssey's treatment of Greek myth was great because it kept those encounters hidden until the end of the main campaign. Each boss battle—and the DLC, for that matter—was entirely optional, and their existence wasn't rubbed in your face but treated like the stuff of vague rumors and unsolved mysteries. I wasn't even sure mythological creatures were in the game until I was fighting one.
Valhalla should follow that template: Keep the main campaign grounded in some semblance of historical authenticity, but tease the offer adventurous players who complete the campaign the chance to explore the legends that define so much of Norse lore.
Tone it down with the scale of the story, though
I like big maps, but Odyssey's map is too big. Recreating the entirety of the Aegean Sea was beyond ambitious, and the story suffered as it desperately tried to give you good reasons why you'd need to explore it all. In an interview with Eurogamer, lead producer Julien Laferrière said that Valhalla would have a different scope to Odyssey because much of the adventure centers on the colony you help settle. I hope that means Valhalla will also cool it on trying to tell an epic, oh-god-the-world-is-ending tale.
One of my least favorite parts about Odyssey is how desperate it is to have Kassandra meet every notable person living in Ancient Greece—a revolving door of philosophers, kings, and politicians from all corners of the Aegean. Though it's fun to see Ubisoft riff on famous dead people, the central plot is often incoherent and a little melodramatic as a result. Hopefully Valhalla's more intimate setting focuses more on original characters with compelling motivations rather than trying to shoehorn a who's who of ninth-grade history class into a game. It's okay to focus on a fascinating part of ancient history and let it speak for itself, Ubisoft. Not everything has to tie back into some nefarious plot that involves every single person of note from that time period.
Make cultist hunting a much bigger part of the story
One of the coolest parts of Odyssey was the Cultist system, a web of interconnected and mysterious villains that Kassandra could hunt down one by one. The identity of each cultist is a secret that has to be learned through exploring the environment, solving puzzles, and deciphering cryptic clues. It's an entirely optional subplot where you get to play detective for a bit, and it is awesome.
I know I just said Valhalla should steer clear of big, world-ending conspiracies, but it should absolutely keep the cultist system in some form and expand on it. Puzzling out the identity of each one and then devising the perfect way to execute them is so much fun, and it even leads to some surprising twists when you learn that a dear ally is secretly working against you. Trying to find who is a cultist hiding in plain sight when all you have is an approximate location and some vague clues made for some of Odyssey's best moments, harkening back to a more demanding generation of old-school RPGs.
Get rid of tedious level gating
Turning Assassin's Creed into The Witcher 3 is a gamble that largely works, except the few times during the story when I can't progress because I'm not a high enough level. It happened just often enough in Odyssey to become slightly infuriating—especially because Ubisoft was selling an experience boost for $10. Valhalla needs to be paced much better.
The problem with Odyssey is that I liked the side quests that were required to level up my character, but it was beyond frustrating to be in a groove with the main story only to be told I had to stop having fun and come back after I'd gained five levels. It's like being forced to play outside as a kid only I'm pretty sure there's no health benefit to side quests. Like their name implies, side quests should be optional stuff you do when you want to, not something you use to hold the main story hostage.
Let me Blood Eagle at least one bad guy (or not)
It's very clear from Valhalla's trailer that it's taking a lot of cues from History Channel's Vikings TV series. Hell, even the main characters look the same. And, like Vikings, I hope Valhalla doesn't shy away from the more disturbing and gruesome realities of life in the Middle Ages—namely the horrifyingly creative ways that people would murder one another.
Though historians debate whether this actually happened, Skaldic poems talk about a ritual execution called the Blood Eagle where victims are laid face down and their ribs severed from the spine. Then the executor pulls their lungs through this new opening in their rib cage and splays them outward to make a pair of wings. Though it's not stated explicitly, I'm guessing you get extra points if your victim survives the whole thing. If you're having a hard time picturing this, Vikings depicts such an execution and, yes, it's as horrifying as it sounds.
Actually, after watching that video, I take it back. I definitely don't want to Blood Eagle someone. I'm not a monster. But maybe there should be another Viking in my tribe who is, like, really mean, and maybe he Blood Eagles someone who is really evil. Like, really evil. The guy totally deserves it. And I just watch from exactly the right distance where I'm still a part of the moment but not directly complicit in the act because I'm the good guy who's totally capable of walking that extremely fine line—you know what? Forget I even brought it up.