Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök is a mammoth-sized expansion. It's not a two-hour aside to play if you get tired of the main game's story, nor will it just be "more Assassin's Creed Valhalla." Instead, developer Ubisoft Sofia's upcoming expansion is a 35-hour adventure that makes some massive changes and additions to the base game's formula, putting you in full control of a Norse god and their mythical abilities.
GameSpot was able to watch a hands-off demonstration of Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök, giving us a look at the Svartalfheim region that's only accessible via Valka, Ravensthorpe's seer, in a similar manner to Asgard and Jotunheim in the main campaign. This land, historically told to be ruled by dwarves, has seen the native community scattered into hiding spots to avoid destruction and forced labor. Ubisoft Sofia has avoided the common trope of having buff, bearded dudes with Scottish accents for this role, instead depicting the dwarves as a slightly smaller human-like race--like Hobbits but without the hairy feet or insatiable hunger. It looks to be a good fit for Valhalla, offering a more-reserved take on mythology than, say, the cartoonish and silly characters in Immortals: Fenyx Rising.
Speaking to GameSpot, creative director Mikhail Lozonov stressed that the focus on mythology reflected the daily lives of the people of Valhalla's time period. It's for this reason they're included alongside actual historical events, even if we now have a better idea of what is "real" and what was made larger than life through storytellers.
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"They were definitely driving [people's] daily lives," Lozonov said. "They were creating the history we read today because of these myths--because of these beliefs. And for us, it felt natural to continue Eivor's story and to dive deeper into these memories of Odin's DNA inside their DNA."
Controlling Odin (referred to as Havi by their fellow Æsir, and playable as either male or female), your journey into one of the most dangerous areas of Valhalla is meant as endgame content, though newer players can receive a temporary power and equipment boost if they want to play it earlier. In addition to finding and (hopefully) rescuing Odin's son Baldr, you'll also face off against the unkillable fire god Surtr.
Typically, an "unkillable" enemy isn't exactly an easy foe, and it's unclear how Odin can turn the odds in his favor. However he does have a number of special abilities to deal with lesser enemies that weren't available during Valhalla's other mythical excursions. Acquirable through a new skill tree, they include the Power of the Raven, which lets Odin temporarily turn into a bird to quickly scale mountains or get the drop on enemies, as well as the appearance-disguising Power of Muspelheim.
All have their place alongside traditional Assassin's Creed abilities and tactics, and they're upgradeable if you find yourself relying on one more than the others. These abilities weren't picked just because they seemed "cool," either--though they are--with the team pulling inspiration from ancient writings to determine some of them. Power of the Raven, for example, came from a saga of poetry that concluded with Odin turning into a bird. In this case, the bird was an eagle, so Ubisoft Sofia did not limit itself to the literal text for its own interpretation.
Choice is at the heart of Dawn of Ragnarök's combat--the same can be said for the rest of Valhalla, but the difference is in the wild ways you can turn the tide of a battle via Odin's abilities. I was most impressed by the Power of Rebirth, an ability that, when activated, temporarily turns anyone Odin kills into an ally. Use it at an opportune time, such as when you're facing an enormous number of enemies, and you can change the fight from being a lost cause into an all-out slaughter in your favor. You do have to choose carefully, however, as only a few of these abilities can be equipped at a time. Their use is also tied to a new resource, Hugr, which you can get from enemies, certain objects in the environment, and shrines--though the latter option requires a sacrifice of health in order to do so.
This give-and-take balancing of these powers looks like it will be most interesting in Dawn of Ragnarök's combat arenas. These gauntlets provide extra combat challenges in exchange for ever-increasing rewards tied to their difficulty. Rather than have you pick "normal" or "hard" off a list, you instead get to have Odin boast about an accomplishment they made. The more boisterous, the harder the challenge will be, and extra modifiers can make things even harder.
But if you're clever, you can actually make this work in your favor. An example shown during the demonstration gave two extra layers of challenge. In addition to lowering Odin's attack damage with each subsequent blow, it also gave enemies higher damage. However, by using the Power of Rebirth, Odin could quickly dispatch a few enemies before the damage reduction became an issue and subsequently sent them after the remaining enemies. That damage buff still applied to the "enemies" now resurrected and fighting their former brethren, resulting in an easier victory.
Still, you'll have to be on your toes against even the smallest groups of baddies. These aren't mere humans armed with axes and swords in Svartalfheim, but powerful Muspels. The creatures are capable of conjuring fire spells, and a Flamekeeper archetype can also "reignite" fallen enemies and send exploding Furies to detonate around Odin.
Alongside the mythical abilities, Odin also has an entirely new weapon type in Dawn of Ragnarök: the Atgeir. Based on the Vikings' own spear but resembling something out of Monster Hunter, it's a powerful two-handed weapon with its own combo system. It's also capable of it's capable of delivering powerful blows into the ground as well as swift attacks to take out several enemies. For those tired of the axes that Valhalla features so prominently, it looks to be a very different alternative, and one that's flashy enough to appeal to character-action game fans who can imagine Odin is Dante or Bayonetta.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök is shaping up to be the series' furthest leap yet into fantasy, but as a reflection of the beliefs of the Norse people during the time period, it still feels like a natural fit in the Assassin's Creed universe. Despite bearing little resemblance to the adventures of Ezio and Altair, it seems to have a very good grasp on its own identity, and that's necessary in a game you'll be playing for 35 hours. Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarök releases for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|C, Stadia, and PC on March 10.
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