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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Preview
November 7, 2020
“Nothing is true; everything is permitted.”
In the epic world built by Ubisoft game franchise Assassin’s Creed, the meaning of this mysterious phrase unlocks a hidden struggle between dueling secret societies that have existed and clashed through the ages, silently shaping all of humankind’s history.
These two forces, the Assassins and Templars, wage a clandestine battle throughout time to foil one another’s aims. The freedom or enslavement of humanity hangs in the balance.
Find out what new gameplay wrinkles you can expect from Ubisoft’s latest installment, the 9th century Viking-themed Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Later on, we’ll touch on what hardware and gaming systems will let you experience all the axe and sword swinging fun to the fullest extent.
The overarching story of the Assassin’s Creed series
Secret societies, hidden histories, and dark conspiracies that span centuries: this is all heady stuff, to be sure. But in the Assassin’s Creed line of games, we learn of it by way of controlling super-maneuverable gymnastic parkour-and-weapons-master characters. We lead these characters through lavishly rich, beautiful, painstakingly created, historically accurate, open-world environments. Each is set in a different real-world time period, but all involve stealth and combat missions filled with swordplay, rogue-like sneaking, and high-diving escapes.
The latest installment, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, sees the player viewing and shaping the memories of a 9th century Viking warrior and rogue named Eivor. It’s set in the time of Alfred the Great’s wars with the “heathen army” of Thor-worshipping raiders from the North.
Since this is the 12th game in the main series of the game (and the 23rd, if you count all the side-story releases) there is a lot of history and backstory to cover, but here’s the “Assassin’s Creed-iverse” idea in a nutshell.
Assassins vs. Templars
The Order of Assassins is an ancient sect. They wage a shadow war throughout history against a group known as the Templars, with the Assassins being agents of freedom for humankind, and the Templar agents of order and control, seeking to make humanity obedient and subservient.
Both groups know the true secrets of humanity’s origins. They involve a mostly extinct race of powerful beings called the Isu or “Precursors,” who created humans as a docile servant race, controlled completely via technological and magical artifacts known as the “Pieces of Eden.” As Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
The seeds of mythology and religion
When two Isu/human hybrids, known as “Adam and Eve” proved immune to the control of the “Pieces of Eden,” they rebelled and stole them. A war ensued, in this time before history, which ended in a solar flare that wiped out the Isu. The memory of this race of godlike overlords remained in early human lore, and the tales of them formed the seeds of all the world’s mythology and religion.
But the “Pieces of Eden,” though scattered and hidden across the globe, remained. Gathered together, they could assert total dominion over the minds and bodies of humans. The Order of Assassins, over the millennia of human history, have found and secreted them away to keep humanity free from control.
The Templars, their nemesis organization, desire to obtain the Pieces to bend humanity to their will and shepherd them to what they feel will be a utopian future. Both groups believe that any violence or action is justified in pursuit of their goals. For the Order of Assassins, it’s to keep people free, and for the Templars, to force them to serve a greater good.
Tapping into ancestral memories of the past
The Assassin’s Creed games take place in a kind of metafiction future, where the Templars are the secret masters of a multinational mega-corporation called Abstergo Industries. They have developed a neural-interface computer called the Animus, which allows a user hooked up to it to tap into ancestral memories and access visions of the past, guided in part by their minds in the present.
Over the course of the game series, they attempt to use this on captive descendants of ancient Assassins, to key into and relive the memories of their ancestors, in order to find the location of these hidden pieces.
In this Valhalla chapter, a former Abstergo employee, Layla Hassan, will be accessing the memories of a Nordic mercenary, discovering secrets locked in the past of the Dark Ages in an attempt to bring balance between the Templars and Assassins.
Thus, the games are a mix of Matrix meets Highlander meets The Da Vinci Code, with the players assuming the roles of the modern/future descendants, hooked up to machines that let them experience ancestral memories, locked in their DNA.
“Playing” the memories is a skill the descendants must master. Their own thoughts and identities act as lenses that guide and shape and distort the messages from the past, which is how your character can “die” in the game. Making the wrong choices causes a “de-synchronization” with the genetic memory, whereupon they must reboot the trapped memory and try again.
The setting and characters
In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the player will relive and play through the memories of a Viking mercenary, Eivor, somewhere around the historical time period of the Viking Invasion of Ivar the Boneless against the Anglo-Saxons. Depending on how you choose to “remember” it, Eivor will either be male or female, and fully customizable with various Nordic tattoos, warpaint, and hairstyle choices.
Historical 9th-century figures
The real-life human player, playing as Layla, playing as Eivor (as we said, meta-fiction!), will become immersed in the historical setting of the late 800s, which found Danes from the North drawn to the rich soil and resources of the feuding and broken kingdoms of England to their south, which lacked central leadership.
Readers of Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories book series (or watchers of its TV series dramatization, The Last Kingdom) may recognize some of the historical 9th-century figures who weave into and out the story of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. They include the feared Norse king, Ragnar Lothbrok, and the English King who united the shattered provinces to fight against the Norse invasion, Alfred.
England: A target for conquest
At the time, England was very much a multi-ethnic society. The Germanic Anglo-Saxons (themselves an amalgam of the once-warring Angles and Saxons), the Britons, the Celts, and others. But in the late 800s, the reign of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had fallen, leaving a scattered series of small powers with no central command. Only Wessex remained firmly under Anglo-Saxon rule, which made invasion from the Norsemen a threat, and set England as a rich target for conquest.
In addition to war, construction of settlements was a key skill for Vikings. The game begins with the management of one such settlement. Playing through the game as Assassin’s Creed Vikings will open up exploration and conquest through other areas in Anglo-Saxon England such Winchester, London, and York (referred to as its old Norse name Jorvik), as well as parts of Norway.
The Assassin’s Creed series takes pride in and gains distinction by paying close attention to historical detail in the various eras that it sees players relive. Valhalla continues this tradition. In addition to programmers, designers, and software engineers, Ubisoft also employs Editorial Research Units, and consults with historians versed in the time period, such as Thierry Noel, to make sure they get the cultural dynamics, building, and weapon design right.
In the game, players will manage settlements and organize raids to gain resources, in an “open-world” setting, allowing for different playthroughs to play out in a variety of ways. They’ll have core missions central to the storyline, but also many optional side missions that will incorporate the historical realities of the war-torn, Dark Age era. On the Ubisoft blog, consulting historian Noel said this:
“We know that combat at the time was rough and rustic. It was really harsh; our research taught us that Vikings were very versatile fighters. They knew how to use a wide variety of weapons; and managed to dual-wield any kind of weapons they could get their hands on.
They even weaponized their shields, which is why you can dual-wield them in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. There was so much variety in Viking combat, and that’s what we wanted to make available to the player as well. Research also taught us that Vikings had many different battle tactics, and that’s where the raids come from. We wanted to make sure to reflect those raids and let players control them.”
Gameplay: Norse aesthetic
Familiar gameplay elements from past games return, but with a Norse aesthetic: Instead of the “Eagle Vision,” the heightened sense of perception granted to Assassins in previous games, Eivor will have “Odin-Sight,” which also allows him (or her!) to see through the eyes of the raven companion Synir that perches on Eivor’s shoulder.
The Hidden Blade of the Order of the Assassins is also gifted to Eivor; and is tweaked to fit the Scandinavian motif. Naval combat is not as emphasized as in previous editions. Ships in Valhalla are more for transport to raid different geographical areas than for ship-to-ship combat.
Viking rap battles (or the art of the boast)
The commitment to the culture of Norse heroes also finds a new gameplay element being introduced. In addition to armed combat, epic raids, and stealth-based assassinations, there will also be a “flyting” mini-game dynamic at various points.
The Vikings of the old sagas were skilled in sailing, survival, trading, and combat, but they also took pride in their superhuman constitution in both drinking and boasting. Boasting, in fact, was an art form, and a truly complete warrior could not only defeat his foes in battle, but also in words, by way of clever braggadocio and insults.
This was historically known as “flyting.” Think of it as a kind of “Viking rap battle.” Or literally adding insult to injury for your opponents, with freestyling rhyming and rhythmic insults. This will show up as a timed dialogue tree mini-game, where you must choose the response that fits best, and choose it at the correct moment. It’s sort of like the old-school PlayStation game Parappa The Rapper, but with mead and axes.
Valhalla promises a truly open setting where players can explore and navigate their own Eivor’s way through Wessex and Northumbria, taking time to accomplish the trading, raiding, and settling side goals that accompany the main storyline.
One can get so lost in the setting that it is easy to forget the larger story at play, of the modern-day/future Assassins and Templars, and the legacy of the Isu. But in this installment, for the first time, Ubisoft has revealed that an in-game “anachronism” mechanic will allow them to actually play as modern-day Layla in the 9th century as well as Eivor.
The saga of Assassin’s Creed continues, and this time, it’s truly a saga.
Recommended specs and HP gaming systems
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a beautiful game, but you’re going to need a system that’s ready to handle its requirements if you want to see the Dark Ages in all their glory. The official spec sheet from Ubisoft has yet to be released. However, we can say with some confidence, since they have a track record of games that look gorgeous but require beefy builds to fully experience, that the recommended specs will look something like this:
Graphics: AMD Radeon RX 580 or NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1070/GTX 1650/GTX 1660 or above
System memory: 16GB RAM
Storage: 80GB hard drive (HDD)
These gaming desktops will meet the likely recommended specs for playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
The game would run beautifully on the HP Pavilion gaming desktop in particular. This powerful tower is both compact yet upgradable, featuring a 10th Generation Intel Core i7 processor with a 6GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 graphics card, 16GB of RAM, and 2TB of HDD storage.
The HP OMEN 30L desktop is a gamer’s dream, both in terms of looks and features. It has tempered glass front and side panels with a full-metal frame, and RGB controls. It’s highly expandable and configurable up to a whopping 12-core AMD Ryzen 9 3900 W/RGB Air Cooling CPU and an 11GB NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti GPU, 32GB RAM, and 2TB PCIe® NVMe SSD storage.
If you would prefer gaming on a more portable system, these laptops are more than ready to meet the challenge.
The HP Pavilion gaming laptop has a generous 17.3-inch diagonal Full HD (FHD) display, along with a 10th Generation Intel Core i7 processor, a 4GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage.
The HP OMEN 15t laptop has a sleek, slim design and advanced thermal cooling system that is optimized and engineered for gaming performance. Single-panel access to internals gives you easy upgradeability as well. It features a 15.6-inch diagonal 4K UWVA BrightView micro-edge AMOLED display as well as high-performance specs that include a 6-core Intel Core i7-10750H and a 6GB NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of SATA storage.
Summing it all up
Ubisoft has a proven track record of providing years’ worth of solid, high-quality, and entertaining video games. The Assassin’s Creed franchise of titles are all triple-A (AAA), must-have games, and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla looks to be a worthy addition to the series with a complex, historically accurate, and intriguing aesthetic.
About the Author
Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.