We spoke with Ubisoft Sofia and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Darn of Ragnarok’s Creative Director on the future of the franchise and what this dive into full-on fantasy means for the series.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s DLC-cum-expansion, Dawn of Ragnarok, is just around the corner and recently we were able to take a closer look at it. We were also able to chat with Creative Director Mikhail Lozanov from Ubisoft Sofia.
In our conversation, we learned more about the use of Norse mythology, the way a fantasy experience fits within the Assassin’s Creed universe and the changes made to the core gameplay.
Leo Stevenson, PowerUp! – With Dawn of Ragnarok, it struck me that it’s really Assassin’s Creed’s first big, proper step into all-out fantasy. Stepping away from reality altogether and diving into this whole other realm.
Is this the continuation of the evolution of Assassin’s Creed?
Mikhail Lozanov, Ubisoft Sofia – It’s a very broad and challenging question. What we wanted to do with Dawn of Ragnarok is to expand Valhalla. The main focus in Valhalla was the daily life of Vikings, how they found new territories and what happened during the Viking age started back then in the ninth century. However, in order to deliver the whole and complete vital experience within Valhalla, we had to touch on their mythology as well because their mythology was so important for these people back then in the ninth century that it was driving their daily life as well.
So it is impossible to resemble and to create this Viking fantasy representation without touching to mythology. And it felt like a natural continuation for us to do this expansion within one of the mythological worlds.
The expansion is set right after Jotunheim’s narrative arc when Odin finds the poetry and finds how to evade the extension at Ragnarok. Dawn of Ragnarok will expand on what Odin did before we lost all the memories of him because of the catastrophe that happened 8,000 years ago.
Of course, this is seen through the lens of the ninth-century Viking warrior because this is how our brand works, and this is how the Animus can read these genetic memories. And that’s why you can see these memories of Odin through the lens of this ninth-century Viking warrior. And this that’s why you see this kind of representation of Svartalfheim. This is a world that is driven by the beliefs of the Norse and it’s our inspiration and references were taken from the sagas that were written back then.
So it was a natural continuation for Valhalla I itself to complete and to show the other side of the coin in how Vikings saw the mythology and what they believed.
PowerUp! – Does Dawn of Ragnarok give us our best look yet in the series of the Isu who has been at the core of Assassin’s Creed from the very beginning,
Lozanov – It touches certain ideas and narratives that you will recognise from the Isu, however, again, it is through the eyes of a ninth-century warrior. You will not see something that cannot be imagined by a ninth-century person.
What we managed to achieve, and I really believe that it is super strong, is to position this into myths and sagas that humans wrote down and at the same time be positioned within the whole Assassin’s Creed lore. If you pay attention carefully to certain moments and certain metaphors and certain elements within the story within the world, you may recognise things from some of the earlier games as well, because it’s one consistent lore. I won’t spoil anymore because I really believe that our audience and all the players that will experience this awesome expansion, should find these by themselves.
PowerUp! – You mentioned it has to be framed from the perspective of this Viking warrior in the ninth century and what they could imagine and envision. Does that allow you to create an unreliable narrator in a way? Can you frame things in a certain way to have extra meaning that the player will understand based on experience with the series?
Lozanov – What we do is to allow you with the main game to participate in specific historical events that actually you are creating as a player. That’s the beauty of the brand. So with mythology, we do the same. We find gaps in the stories that, after a lot of analysis and research, we found where we can put and embed our narratives and makes you participants in this myth and make you the creator of this myth. We did the same with Curse of the Pharaohs.
I do believe that it’s a way how to approach mythology, stay consistent with the brand itself and create our own voice, There’s a visual vocabulary and voice of how we treat these beliefs of people, stay true to those beliefs and don’t change them and respect the cultural heritage, and yet find places in these gaps, in the stories where we can put our players and make them participants and make them the ones who are responsible for some of the myths that they will experience.
PowerUp! – With all of the research that you’ve done and of the things you’ve read and seen, is there a strong singular narrative for the Viking mythology? Do you find that there are competing ideas and stories of certain characters and events? Is that the sort of gap that you can fit into?
Lozanov – Both. I can say there is this strong idea in their narratives and beliefs in mythology that life is like a cycle. That everything will be obliterated by Surtr and the world who disappear. After the waters dry out, the world will start a new cycle. You can see it in a lot of documents that we researched. This theme is important for those people and to some extent, we touched it.
There are a number of gaps, especially with the dwarves and all artefacts. So we find such a gap and the Hugr-Rip is very much inspired by a lot of sagas where dwarves are creating artefacts for the gods. This is something that we used as a gap to make you experience new gameplay to make you play the game in various different ways and refresh the whole experience.
PowerUp! – When you speak of creating new gameplay experiences based on these mythologies and the gaps in these mythologies, one of the most interesting, exciting things I saw in the first look was becoming the Raven and using that to assassinate and dive into groups of enemies. Is that drawn from mythology?
Lozanov – It’s absolutely inspired and drawn from mythology because in several sagas we find that Odin is a shapeshifter and transforms into an eagle even in mid poetry saga, which is the story behind Jotunheim’s arc, in the end, Odin transforms into an eagle and escapes.
This is very much Odin as a shapeshifter and this was the main driver behind some of these powers. In our case, you transform into a Raven because you take the power of the Raven from the gigantic Ravens that you can find in the world and feed them. It is completely grounded in these beliefs that Odin is a shapeshifter and can transform into many things. And in general, in the whole beliefs and mythology of Norse, we can witness a lot of characters that transform into various species. It’s not foreign, so driven by this, you are taking powers from your enemies and basically shapeshifting into something.
PowerUp! – The combat looks like the most complex and interesting it’s ever been in the series. The shape-shifting idea and taking powers from the enemies, how much did that drive that and how else has mythology and poetry affected the gameplay experience?
Lozanov – It does not affect only combat, but in the case of combat this adds a new tactical layer. If you want to, of course, you can make a conscious decision on how to adapt to a particular situation. For example, I, as a still player, often want to escape, refocus my efforts and then continue to fight. Shapeshifting allows me to do this.
For example, I start to fight, if I see that the challenge is way too much in terms of enemies I transform into the Raven, fly in a circle and reengage with the fight, or I infiltrate into a location with assassination from the Raven form and then immediately after that, transforming to a Musphel and disappear among their lines.
So it gives me a lot of empowerment and I feel really like a God shapeshifting. There are other people in the team that play differently. And I am sure that a lot of players will find various ways to change these powers and come up with really inventive ways to progress further. For exploration, you can traverse the world in a very efficient way. You can access certain places where you never managed before. You need to observe the world and explore it, and this will lead you to discoveries that will reward you. These new powers expand the way you interact with the world and how you explore and discover cool stuff.
Of course, stealth is also enhanced and expanded because you have the power of Jotunheim and Muspelheim, which allows you to blend socially blend with these places which is very much appreciated as well.
PowerUp! – Because there’s so much research and because there’s so much effort that you put into finding the mythology and finding the poetry, is there any chance that we’ll see a Discovery Tour for Dawn of Ragnarok?
Lozanov – For year two, we will receive seasonal content that you can expect together with Dawn of Ragnarok for the whole year. For Discovery Tour, we can’t share more information at the moment.
PowerUp! – How big of an expansion is Dawn of Ragnarok? How big is the story? How much time can people spend in this world?
Lozanov – It is difficult to estimate for every single person, and player, because we have a very wide spectrum of different players. On average, the content that players will receive with Dawn of Ragnarok is more than 35 hours. A good chunk of this is the main storyline that leads the players on this potential journey for him to find his son. There are a number of locations that you can discover that are not part of the narrative and you can find a lot of secrets.
There are some world events that you will stumble upon and they will show you what is the daily life of the dwarves and how their life was affected by the invasion of Musphels. There is a lot of things to be discovered. For many players the content will be a lot because there is a lot of cool things to enjoy and to discover. There’s a lot of scenery to admire and to be taken as photos with the photo mode.
PowerUp! – Does anything that you’ve built in Dawn of Ragnarok bleed back into the main game? Different features or story elements?
Lozanov – Players will be able to take weapons and gear sets from Svartalfheim in England and other expansions as well. The Hugr-Rip won’t be able to be taken out of Svartalfheim because we wanted to be very consistent with the whole narrative and not interfere with the narrative of the main in games. Because it happens after those events, you can’t take it out.
The abilities and the skills that come with Dawn of Ragnarok can be used as well in England and the other expansions. But in Svartalfheim they will be a bit more powerful. They will hear this mythological treatment over them as well. For the most dedicated players who spent a lot of time in Valhalla, there will be a small surprise in the settlement as well, which will reward them into Svartalfheim.
PowerUp! – Given that there’s a lot of shapeshifting with Odin and disappearing into the crowd, do you think we can have multiplayer again?
Lozanov– This is something that I can’t share any more information of what you know until now. I know that people are very curious and our players are super curious as well. That’s why we love them so much, but they are some questions that I can’t answer.
Thanks to Creative Director Mikhail Lozanov for his time.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Dawn of Ragnarok will be available on on March 10, 2022.