What I like least about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the Assassin’s Creed part. I’m over 140 hours and at this point I’m too scared to ask what Basim was doing, why the golden magic staff is so central to the plot of Assassin’s Creed, or why Layla wanted to study Eivor. Imagine my joy, then, when I visited Asgard and Jotunheim for the first time in Valhalla. No weird subplots, no modern science stuff, just silly fantasy fun about vikings with barely a Marvel Cinematic Universe comparison in sight.
Valhalla is at its best when it ignores the hallmark characteristics of Assassin’s Creed games, namely the animus and the confusion of everything that happens next. Dawn of Ragnarok is proof that the series needs to embrace the mythology of the cultures it explores, which Ubisoft has done well here. Sometimes games don’t need any other stratagems – good dialogue, fantasy lands, hard-hitting weapons and a bit of polytheism are what make Valhalla so special.
Dawn of Ragnarok, Valhalla’s latest expansion, is a more serious, yet fun fantasy experience. It’s the largest of the three expansions to date, but the only one where you play almost exclusively as Havi. While playing Kingmaker in England, Ireland and France was cool, as was Ubisoft’s experience of actual historical events, I’d much rather play as the High One before gouging out one of my eyes to the knowledge.
Myths and legends
This version of Odin, Havi, the All-Father – whatever you want to call him – is a more emotional version than the one we’ve seen previously. He’s obviously a pretty intense guy – you don’t let Tyr have his arm ripped off to chain up a giant wolf for no reason – and the tension in him is palpable throughout Dawk of Ragnarok. While searching for his son, Baldr, he makes it pretty clear that he will wipe out the Muspels and destroy Svartalfheim if he needs to – anything to get his beloved son back. You can see a very real and raw love pouring out of Havi as he searches and eventually comes to an unhappy end, especially when playing as the female Eivor. The story invoked more emotion than half vanilla Vahalla, and while it makes me cringe to say it, stepping out of the final battle arena to a glorious Norse soundtrack after obliterating Surtr was badass.
The serious underlying message in Dawn of Ragnarok is that, despite our best efforts and intentions, sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees and we won’t always get the desired result. While that’s a lesson worth learning, I have to talk about something more important: hitting enemies with a flaming blade on a staff and how magical Svartalfheim looks.
You can scale golden cliffs, surrounded by beautiful dwarven structures, and said dwarves will sing to you from their shelters as you perform heroic deeds. Even the fortresses of Muspel, floating high in the sky, look impressively like Reaper as they tower over the horizon. All of this pales next to the ominous roots of Yggdrasil in the background, reminding you that Svartalfheim is full of mystery and wonder. It’s a welcome change from the “real” map where exploration can be summed up as follows: church, farm, church, sad village, ruined castle, before finding yet another church.
Although Dawn of Ragnarok’s storyline is quite dark, it feels oddly light. There’s a lot of unintended humor in the way Eivor/Havi delivers certain lines, and listening to the Muspels moan about something or the other as you sneak between them is a lot of fun. It reminds me of The Witcher 3 NPCs, who had a great talk about current events, listening to Geralt as he walked by while the kids sang songs; all this makes these fantasy worlds more interesting. All tours of the realm have some really fun quests and moments, whether it’s one of the Norse gods delivering a banger of a one-liner or a Jotun pretending he’s a fish to protect his scaly brethren. It’s just silly fun.
While the historical accuracy is very exciting for someone like me – I’ve played a lot of Crusader Kings 3 for this exact reason – it’s nice to have a Viking fantasy grounded in real Norse mythology. Thor isn’t a sexy ripped dude, Loki isn’t a polished Englishman with greasy hair, and the Hulk didn’t seem to break either. Havi is as arrogant and powerful as can be, always keen to make sure everyone knows he’s in charge. To be able to play a Viking game that doesn’t have a comic book smack or just focus on the deeds of Ragnar Lothbrok is refreshing. It’s not just about raiding, plundering or installing new rulers in Dawn Of Ragnarok; it’s about a father who takes revenge and destroys a great fire giant in a mythical land. And turn into a bird to swoop people down, of course.
Digging deeper into Norse mythology is absolutely the right direction for Valhalla. Asgard was a pretty place with a cool rainbow bridge and had one of the most interesting storylines in the whole game, whereas Jotunheim was just one big party and you could fight a huge cat. Given that this is Year 2 for Valhalla, hopefully we’ll visit more of the nine realms and culminate Eivor’s story with a big hit from Ragnarok. I want more Atgeir weapons that set enemies on fire, I want the Hugr-Rip available in the base game, I want more armor with eye patches – you get the idea. Yes, trudging through England and hitting posh people with my hammer is fun, but I’d rather ride the flaming cat up a golden mountain and find tattoo designs all over the world.
An unexpected twist in Dawn of Ragnarok that impacted the base game was Eivor confronting the wolf that bit her, which she fears. Until now, the opening sequence where she has her neck bitten by a wolf seemed meaningless, so having her face that fear and deal with her trauma feels like we’re just starting a new chapter for Eivor. This change allows him to relive Havi’s memories in Svartalfheim, so I hope to see a difference between Eivor and Havi in future updates. Maybe they’ll both be a little softer, or maybe, since Basim is technically the one “playing” as Eivor now, they’ll both become a pair of horrible bastards.
Basically I want more silly viking fun, where I can swing my silly little guns and run around with my silly little eye patch. Eivor’s cosplay as Havi is my favorite thing about Valhalla – seeing her strut around like a god is a lot of fun, especially since she’s one of my favorite protagonists. The setup at the end of Dawn of Ragnarok’s story hints at several new storylines, mostly involving Loki and Fenrir before Ragnarok, and I’m really looking forward to it, as long as there’s no no -meaning Animus or Assassin’s Creed involved.