Assassin’s Creed Valhalla looks epic, but the series needs to ditch unnecessary lore

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

The trailer for the next Assassin’s Creed game – Assassin’s Creed Valhalla – has landed. Full of Vikings, medieval knights, soaring ravens, and a possible glimpse of the Norse god Odin, the short teaser offers an enticing glimpse of a new time and place for the long-running series – but the oddest thing about the trailer is how unlike the early Assassin’s Creed games it looks.

The stealth mechanics that the Assassin’s Creed franchise is built on are hard to imagine in the world painted by this trailer, being far more concerned with large-scale battles between the soldiers of Medieval Britain and Viking invaders, in largely open, rural environments rather than the dense cities that allows your sneaking assassin avatar to do their best work.

While we only got to see so much of the game’s world in its first trailer, it’s apparent that this is one AC game that isn’t overly interested in looking like an AC game.

There’s been a growing trend towards more RPG and action mechanics in the famously stealth-heavy series, and the overall impression is of a series desperate to break free of the template laid in the early games. The last 2 AC games, Origins and Odyssey, were far more focused on direct combat – parrying and dodging – rather than the sneaking and silent kill mechanics of earlier entries.

Seeing a surprise assassin’s blade jut from a Viking’s wrist is certainly exciting – but it also feels like a nod, or tribute, rather than the central mechanic being put forward in this game.

Some sense of dissonance is inevitable in a series so keen to jump between time periods and nations, and some settings simply won’t be as naturally suited to the guide of a silent, slink-in-the-shadows assassin. That’s not a bad thing, but it does raise the question over whether Valhalla needs to be forced into an AC template at all.

The biggest put-off, though, may be the continued inclusion of the lore that started it all.

History repeats itself

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

The initial framing device for the AC games – inhabiting the avatar of your ancestors, by hacking the memory held in your DNA (it’s sci-fi, deal with it) may have been exciting at first, but we’re at a point where these story trappings feel like unnecessary baggage. 

That’s especially the case when Valhalla’s new direction for the series (Vikings!) feels so fresh. Getting immersed in Ubisoft's historical epic is only going to be harder when you're being yanked out of the time period every few hours for the sake of the larger story arc, too.

The sheer number of entries in the AC series makes the drip-feed of cross-generation lore incredibly hard to follow, and how many of us are that fussed about it? The interest surrounding each AC entry is increasingly about the setting itself, and the stories within it – the thrills of piracy in Black Flag, or the romances in Odyssey – rather than the continuation of an overarching narrative set up in the first AC game.

Hearing new protagonist Eivor (ay-vor) roar a battle cry to Odin, and seeing Viking warriors wage war against medieval knights, is what’s going to draw people to this game. (I'm personally psyched to see the Assassin's Creed series visit my humble home city of Winchester, too.)

It’s telling that there wasn’t a single glimpse of the series’ sanitized sci-fi environments in the trailer. Who, after all, is going to be enticed in buying Assassin’s Creed Valhalla for more lab coats and talk of DNA? And if it isn't going to draw players in, why include it at all anymore?

Towards new shores

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

We’ve come a long way from the original Assassin’s Creed on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, with action sequences you could ‘hack’ by running in a circle to regenerate health (enemies would simply stop attacking in order to chase you, without gaining ground). 

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, especially, broke new ground with a massive open world RPG that’s plenty of fun just to explore, and we’re at a point where the studio is clearly able to create vivid worlds that don’t require a DNA simulation gimmick to get players interested.

While it’s obviously too late to change anything in Valhalla’s story, we hope it doesn’t distract with what’s happening in modern day – when the most interesting stories are going to be those sailing in Viking ships towards Britain’s shores. When will Ubisoft let its games roam free, like the Nordic explorers we so desperately want to inhabit?

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.