Assassin’s Creed ditches historical fiction in favour of all out fantasy in this expansion from Ubisoft Sofia.
Although it’s rooted firmly in human history, Assassin’s Creed has dabbled with fantasy and myth since its inception. The Isu, Pieces of Eden and the Animus are all absolute fictions, yet, Assassin’s Creed has mostly tied itself firmly to actual human history. In recent years, the franchise has dabbled with more overtly mythological elements, beginning with Origins.
Now, with Year Two of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Ubisoft Sofia’s Dawn of Ragnarok expansion, the series is diving headlong into sagas and legends. Set in Svartalfheim and starring Odin/Havi, Earth is left behind in favour of the home of the Dwarves and bandits and Templars are replaced with Musphels and Jotnars.
Initially, it seems like a shocking turn for the series, but Creative Director Mikail Lozanov suggests that Dawn of Ragnarok may be more than it appears.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok
“In order to deliver the whole and complete Viking experience within Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, we had to touch on their mythology,” Lozanov told PowerUp! in an interview this week. “Their [Vikings’] mythology was so important for these people in the 9th century that it was driving their daily life as well. It’s impossible to create a Viking fantasy without touching on the mythology.” Lozanov expands on this notion by explaining that Dawn of Ragnarok is seen through the lens of a 9th-century Viking warrior which explains how and why we’re seeing this version of Svartalfheim. Dawn of Ragnarok is skewed by what a 9th-century Viking could imagine.
So…while Dawn of Ragnarok is pretty far removed from historical fiction, it is still rooted in history. Lozanov told me that the team had done extensive research into the beliefs held by the Vikings and the ideas that were constructed through their sags and stories. In the hands-off preview shown by Ubisoft Sofia, Odin/Havi is searching for a key relic in one of the oldest areas of Svartelfheim. Right away it’s clear how different (yet similar) Dawn of Ragnarok is.
Opening on an unbelievable view of the game world, looking over Svartalfheim, the roots of Yggdrasil in the distance, Odin immediately performs a leap of faith into a trusty haystack. It’s a clever way to marry the two competing aspects of Dawn of Ragnarok. Ubisoft Sofia is saying, “It might look vastly different and otherworldly but it’s the same game you know and love.” And it is, but it also isn’t. Ubisoft Sofia promises that Dawn of Ragnarok allows players to wield the power of a god by expanding on all core aspects: stealth, combat and exploration. To do so, the developer has made some pretty wild choices and introduced some unprecedented gameplay mechanics. At least, unprecedented in the context of Assassin’s Creed.
As a god, Odin is able to acquire the powers of fallen enemies and use them to his advantage. He’s able to do so by making use of a powerful relic called the Hugr Rip. In the preview we were shown three of these powers;
- Power of Musphelheim – Lava and Fire do not inflict damage. Giants perceive you as a Musphel until provoked – 25 seconds duration
- Power of the Raven – Shapeshift into a Raven, take to the skies to reach new heights. You can land on any flat solid surface. Hold Triangle to land , Auto land with Circle. 30 seconds or until you land
- Power of Rebirth – Imbues your weapons with Volcanic Fire. While it is active, killed enemies are raised from the dead and fight on your side. This power is especially effective against Jotun Giants.
What’s interesting is that players will need to choose and switch between these powers as they play, radically altering how they proceed and tackle various challenges. It seems as though Odin is only able to have a couple of powers equipped at a time, so if you want to switch things up, you’ll need to decide which one to ditch.
Watching the demo I can already tell which powers I’ll gravitate to and depending on your playstyle, you’ll find your own preferences. Power of the Raven is absolutely outside of anything we’ve encountered in Assassin’s Creed before. Shapeshifting into a bird who can air-assassinate enemies from the sky is a power fantasy far beyond leaping from a building with a hidden blade. It also allows you to instantly escape combat if things get too hairy. The Power of Musphelheim does the same. Odin can use the power to gain instant social stealth and reset the combat status.
The Power of Rebirth’s ability to turn the dead into an undead army is very cool. With this power active, any enemies Odin kills revive as allies and join him in combat. All of Odin’s powers are time-based but, the effects can be extended by collecting Hugr. Roughly translating to mean ‘Life Force,’ Hugr depletes while Odin has a power active. By killing enemies he’s able to absorb additional Hugr and keep the power going. Hugr can also be obtained through Hugr Shrines and by sacrificing some health at monuments built by the Dwarves.
As the hands-off demo draws to a close, we’re shown how combat can very quickly get away from Odin, especially when, new enemy type, Flamekeepers are in play. Flamekeepers can revive fallen Musphels so they can get back into the fight as well as ignite lava to summon Surtr Furies who are kamikaze units, exploding when they reach Odin. During combat, large groups of Musphels unleash a warcry which ignites their chests and powers them up.
Luckily, Odin can make use of the brand-new weapon clas; Atgeir. Based on a type of Viking polearm, the Atgeir has a unique combo system that allows Odin to perform devastating attacks and brutal finishes. Combat in Dawn of Ragnarok also looks great when fighting the Musephels as trails of lava spray out and drip all over the ground when Odin deals damage. Taking the place of blood, the Musphels lava reinforces that fantastical nature of Dawn of Ragnarok but also just makes it visually appealing.
Ubisoft Sofia told us that Dawn of Ragnarok adds around 35-hours of playtime to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla in addition to a number of new features that will be usable outside of the expansion. All of the weapons and armour in-game will be able to be upgraded to Divine Quality which adds a new rune slot. This new slot can be equipped with Odin Runes that can be found scattered across Svartalfheim.
A special Fighting Arena will also be included with Dawn of Ragnarok and here, combat skills will be tested. By applying boons that increase the difficulty, players will be able to fight against Valkyries and attempt to come out on top. Ubisoft Sofia has said the Fighting Arena will also be a good place for players to test new weapons and playstyles as well as experiment with abilities and upgrades.
The recommended power level for the expansion is 340, however, players who’ve not levelled up this far will have the option to boost their stats and gear inside Dawn of Ragnarok so that everyone can immediately jump in and experience the new content. The hands-off demo shown off by Ubisoft Sofia appears to be only scratching the surface of what Dawn of Ragnarok will offer. During the preview, Odin rides an enormous boar rather than a horse and makes his way across an enormous environment.
Like Valhalla, the HUD shows a litany of things to see and do in the distance as well as innumerable side-quests, treasure and more. That part of Valhalla seems to have remained intact in the transition from reality to fantasy.
“The dwarves, they are dear to me…
I remember when they first wriggled free from Ymir’s flesh, even as I forced the dying breath out of his throat. I took pity on them. Gifted them with reason…
For this, they will always be in my heart. And in my debt.”
– Odin, speaking to the young child Baldr
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok is a bold experiment for the franchise but one that looks, so far, to be headed in the right direction. We won’t have to wait too long to find out for sure though, as the expansion will be released on March 10, 2022.
Leo Stevenson attended a hands-off preview via a digital, online event.