Assassin’s Creed Valhalla casts you as a Viking, but the Vikings weren’t quite as relentlessly bloodthirsty as the legends might have you believe. The best of them were cool-headed and tactically minded, skilled negotiators who could turn foes into friends and rule through diplomacy as well as fear. Such is the case with Ivarr and Ubba Ragnarsson, two Viking warlords who want to conquer the English kingdom of Mercia not just through battle, but with an alliance that will crown a new king and win the people to their side. And they need you, as Eivor, to help them.
Our latest look at Assassin’s Creed Valhalla took us to the county of Ledecestrescire (known today as Leicestershire), where we helped broker a peace between the Ragnarssons and the Saxons – all while battering our way through forts, assassinating two-faced mercenaries, raiding riverside monasteries, and seeing what Eivor’s growing home settlement has to offer.
Welcome to Ravensthorpe
Eivor is the leader of the Raven Clan, and Ravensthorpe is their settlement at the southern edge of Ledecestrescire. Throughout the game, it’ll be Eivor’s headquarters, a place to rest, plan, and enthusiastically pet stray dogs. By gathering materials and new residents, you’ll be able to grow it from a collection of huts into a thriving village, and add facilities like farms, a tattoo parlor, a cartographer’s shop (for finding treasures), a workshop to repair the Roman relics you find in the world, and even a Hidden Ones bureau. You’ll also be able to designate a Jomsviking here – a lieutenant who can be sent out as a mercenary to assist other players – and recruit other players’ Jomsvikings to your own crew.
Ravensthorpe is also where you’ll consult with Randvi, who advises Eivor on which actions to take next. During our session, our goal is to strengthen our alliance with the Ragnarssons, and that means pledging Eivor to their conquest of Ledecestrescire. The brothers are holed up in a town far to the north, and while we could easily ride there on horseback, the abundance of rivers mean that jumping into Eivor’s longship and making the journey by water a lot faster.
Well, it’s faster if you don’t stop at every waterfront attraction along the way, which we absolutely did. The banks of England’s rivers are populated by monasteries and other tiny settlements, which are marked by big shiny raid beacons that invite you to rush onto land with your crew to pillage resources and unique gear (which you can find more easily by using Odin’s Sight, a vision mode that tags nearby valuables, enemies, and other points of interest). You’ll also see stately Roman ruins, eerie standing stones, and other mysteries that invite exploration and hold hidden treasures. Beware, though, because exploring on land can bring you into confrontations with Zealots, powerful wandering hunters who can absolutely wreck you if you’re not on their level (which, for the purposes of this preview, we weren’t).
Not all distractions involve fighting or looting. There are plenty of friendly settlements where you’re welcome to hang out and engage in Viking pastimes like flyting, essentially rap battles in which you’ll need to match your opponent’s rhyme and meter while trading insults. Do well at these, and you’ll win some cash, along with a boosted charisma score that can open up more options for negotiating with other characters. You can also try your hand at Orlog, an elaborate dice game that feels more like a card battle, with attacks, defenses, health points, and godly powers; or at drinking games that challenge you to rhythmically gulp mead while adjusting your balance to stay upright.
If, on the other hand, you’re just focused on reaching your destination, you can put your boat on autopilot and listen to the songs and stories your crewmates have to share. It’s a great way to take in the beautiful English scenery, and to sail past any threats undetected.
Meet Historical Badasses
Up in the war-torn town of Repton, we meet Ivarr the Boneless, an unsavory-looking warlord who – after dramatically torturing an alleged spy – takes us to meet his brother, Ubba Ragnarsson (as well as Eivor’s brother Sigurd, who got there ahead of us). The Ragnarsson brothers have forged an alliance with a Mercian noble named Ceolwulf, who’s agreed to become their puppet king in exchange for peace. The catch is that the transition of power has to be a (relatively) peaceful one, meaning we’ll need to take the current king, Burgred, alive. Given that he’s currently surrounded by a host of soldiers, a formidable “war-thegn” named Leofrith, and the walls of a fortress, this won’t be an easy task.
On the plus side, we have an army of Vikings equipped with a battering ram, which we slam through gate after gate of Tamworth Fortress. The skirmish that follows is an excellent chance to try out Eivor’s arsenal of weapons, each of which has a distinct feel and rhythm, as well as a special off-hand attack. If you’re wielding a two-handed longsword, for example, that attack might be an impaling charge at the nearest opponent, while dual-wielding axes or knives might unleash a flurry of quick, hard-to-escape blows.
Your weapons and other gear can also be upgraded at any time from the inventory menu, even mid-battle, so if you feel like you need a little extra power to win, you can check your stash of materials and reinforce your favorite hammer or sword on the fly.
To end this particular battle, we need to take down two elite soldiers guarding Burgred’s longhouse at the heart of the fort – but once we do, it’s clear that Burgred and Leofrith are nowhere to be seen. Our only lead is that Tonna, a treacherous mercenary captain who’s been going behind the brothers’ backs to make deals with Burgred, might know where he’s hiding.
The Hunt for Burgred
Despite the bad blood between her and the Ragnarssons, Tonna’s willing to make a deal, giving up two possible hiding spots in exchange for a sack of coins (which, thanks to our flyting experience, we bargained down to half of what she asked for). Each hiding spot led to a different mission; in one, we traveled with Ivarr to the town of Ledecestre to hunt down a missing scout, and hopefully Burgred along with him.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of English towns aren’t particularly friendly toward Vikings, and Ledecestre was distrustful toward Eivor. Eivor’s status varies from place to place, and can change depending on your actions, but for now we had to put on Eivor’s cloak and avoid getting too close to any guards if we wanted to avoid a fight. Social stealth options, like blending into crowds of monks and sitting on benches, are great ways to avoid detection, and if you need to lure a guard away from their post, you can create distractions by befriending local drunks (for example) and making them cause a scene near guards.
After a little furtive searching, we found the scout – who turned out to be Ceolwulf’s naïve son, Ceolbert – but not Burgred, and then had to fight our way out of town because Ivarr got tired of waiting and attacked.
The other mission centered on Templebrough Fort, where Burgred’s queen was hiding with a retinue of soldiers. After sneaking in with Sigurd and getting tricked by one of the queen’s braver servants, we chased the queen down the river, hijacked her rowboat, and took her back to Tamworth, which was now Ceolwulf’s seat of power.
One interrogation later (which was helped along by the gruesome spectacle of Ivarr feeding some heads to some pigs), and we were able to track Burgred to a crypt downriver, where he was hiding out along with some especially powerful, lootable weapons. We couldn’t use any of them on Burgred himself, though; while the old king wasn’t about to go down without a fight, keeping him alive meant we had to take him on with Eivor’s bare fists. Fortunately, Eivor’s an extremely competent brawler, and after trussing up the king, we dragged him back to Tamworth so he could hand over his crown to Ceolwulf before being exiled to Rome.
A Hopeless Battle
The coronation ceremony was marred by one conspicuous absence: Ceolbert. The prince was trapped by Leofrith’s forces at Repton, and after making a beeline for the town, we found him doing his best to convince the formidable war-thegn that the fight was over. Leofrith wasn’t having any of it, and so Eivor stepped in to take the boy’s place in the duel, kicking off a vicious boss fight against the most powerful foe we’d faced yet (Zealots notwithstanding). One of the weapons we’d found in the crypt – a golden two-handed axe that lit on fire on critical hits – proved especially helpful in the fight, and once it was done, we were faced with a choice: give Leofrith an honorable death, or set him free with the truth.
We opted for the latter choice, telling Leofrith that Burgred had already abandoned him and fled for Rome. This triggered a change of heart in Leofrith, and before leaving in peace, he confessed that he’d put Eivor’s name on a list of targets for the Zealots. Eivor would need to find and burn it as quickly as possible, or be hunted relentlessly by powerful enemies.
The choice to kill or spare Leofrith is just one of many decisions you’ll face when Assassin’s Creed Valhalla launches on November 10, when you’ll be able to play on Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, PS4, PC, Stadia, and on PlayStation 5 when it launches on November 12. (Grabbing the game on Xbox One or PS4 will allow you to upgrade to the next-gen version at no additional cost.) Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will also launch on Amazon Luna alongside the launch of the Ubisoft channel. For more on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, check out our previous coverage.