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Preview: 'Assassin's Creed Valhalla' has a notable sci-fi influence in its design

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Published in Science & Technology News

Although "Assassin's Creed Valhalla" is grounded in history, the inspiration for its structure comes from a game set in the stars. In my conversation with the project's level design director, Philippe Bergeron, "Mass Effect" kept coming up as we discussed the layout of the Ubisoft's upcoming game.

It makes sense if you think about it. The Vikings in "Valhalla" and the cast of "Mass Effect" have some things in common. They both spend time in the role of strangers in foreign land. In the case of "Mass Effect," the team travels to faraway planets looking for a way to fight the Reapers. In "Valhalla," the Vikings are the aliens who are emigrating from Norway and trying to establish a settlement in England. The natives view their presence as an invasion, and they're technically not wrong. The Vikings need resources and they must compete with other kingdoms and cities for them.

HEART OF THE EXPERIENCE

At the core of the experience is the settlement of Raventhorpe. That's where protagonist, Eivor, establishes a home for his or her Raven clan. Players choose to play as either a male or female protagonist. The creation of a town will echo previous installments such as Monteriggioni in "Assassin's Creed 2" or The Cafe Theater in "Assassin's Creed Unity", but Bergeron says the gameplay device acts more like the Normandy in "Mass Effect."

"It's your base. Your room in there is a mirror of the progression," he said. "It's the central point in the game. You establish the settlement. It's a small community. You'll meet people and people will move in with you. You'll grow it physically."

To do that, players must gather resources, and that's found by tackling quests, exploring the world and raiding. That last task is one of the first activities I did in my demo session. I shoved off from Ravensthorpe and used the rivers in England as highways. While auto traveling, I ran across a raid opportunity. These almost always involve battles around monasteries or churches. After rampaging through the locale and being reintroduced to combat, I scooped up the resources hidden in the buildings.

 

I found them by looking at the map for wealth, artifact or mystery dots. I marked those and the waypoint highlighted the treasure. Sometimes, I had more trouble spotting the spoils and relied on Odin sight, an ability carried over from the previous games. It highlighted treasure and other important objects in the short distance around me. If I wanted a higher view of the landscape, I switched over to my Raven which flies above Eivor and gives player a broader perspective. It's a tool that's great for scouting.

After acquiring those materials, I invested it into Raventhorpe. I bought wooden buildings for a cartographer and fishmonger, who were living in tents. I spruced up the hamlet by adding decorations and changing the look of the central tree. Perhaps, it's a stand-in for Yggdrasil. With more people and upgraded shops, I had access to more tools that helped me in the campaign. All of this creates a feedback loop that encourages players to explore and do side quests.

MEET THE JOMSVIKING

Another part of the resource-gathering equation is the Jomsviking, which are customizable characters that players add to their crew. They act almost like lieutenants with "Valhalla" letting players add two on a ship. Eivor will outfit them with different armor and weapons, but they're best used to complement a playstyle. If players like brawling and melee combat, gearing one for ranged attack will be helpful. If they like going stealth, perhaps a brawler that can cause distractions and act as meat shield would be beneficial.

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