At the time of finalizing Assassin’s Creed Origins, Ubisoft Montreal’s teams began to look into the future of the license and the potential locations of a new installment. While Ubisoft Quebec was at work on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, their Montreal neighbors opted for a very different period and territory with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which allows you to embody a Viking in the heart of the 9th century. We met Julien Laferrière, producer of this new episode, to discuss with him the news and the general philosophy of the newcomer to Ubisoft's flagship franchise.
After two episodes focused on Antiquity through major civilizations of the Mediterranean basin, the series returns to the heart of the Middle Ages for the first time since … 2007, that is to say its very first episode. A decision motivated by the desire of "freshness" of the main team, but also the possibilities offered by the period:
To touch a little in the Middle Ages, it also allowed us in terms of geography, topology, human constructions, to play in new basins, and also even in terms of fights, weapons, enemies, it brought something cool (…) Being able to explore a new historical period of the Middle Ages in a new location, it opened as much narrative possibilities as possibilities of gameplay.
This dive into the Viking universe will be done through Eivor, main character whose genre you can define, but who will not however change their name according to your decision. A different choice from that of Odyssey and his duo Alexios / Kassandra, which therefore implies an integration there also different from a narrative point of view. When asked about this point, Julien Laferrière did not want to say too much, for good reason: there is a “Beautiful narrative justification for all this that players will be able to discover”, but it's too early to talk about it because he doesn't want to "Ru ining history"
A new progression structure
You've probably seen a statement from Malek Teffaha (communications manager for Ubisoft in the Middle East) over the past few days, saying that Assassin's Creed Valhalla would not be “the longest or biggest game in the series ”. If he obviously does not have precise figures to give us on the size of his world or his lifespan, Julien Laferrière still clarified what was the philosophy behind the overall game design of this new episode, namely not to take over the structure of an Assassin's Creed Origins or an Assassin's Creed Odyssey, but to emancipate it. Instead of strolling on the map according to his adventures and staying regularly anchored for a few hours in each region, the development team here considered that he was here “Important to review the way the players were going to explore the map”. Concretely, this gives a title offering different quest arcs which have in common to always start from your colony, but also to end there. A more original narrative structure for the series therefore, and which is reminiscent of the relationship to the camp of your small group in Red Dead Redemption II. This approach changed the way Ubisoft Montreal designed the game, and it was “Important that each quest arc has good pacing (rhythm, editor's note)” and that they are "Able to provide a potentially different experience from one arc to another" in particular by exploiting various themes:
As one of our main features in Valhalla is the colony, and therefore the Viking village at the heart of the experience, we must understand that we are playing a character in hostile land. The village represents a bit of a kind of "safe zone" to which we return (…) The quests in which we embark generally serve to advance the Viking cause in England, the cause of our village – by going to seek resources, in particular – so we enter a quest arc, then we do a series of adventures and then we return to the village. So that changes the way the player will experience the adventure, we can imagine that each quest arc is like a TV series episode for example.
To conclude on this point, Julien Laferrière also insists on the importance of the player's choices, which will be exploited both from a narrative point of view and in terms of gameplay because of the position of our main character, a clan leader who has to make many decisions influencing his colony, his clan, but also other characters encountered in the adventure. Finally, he recalls that if the title is placed as a new proposal in the saga, we should not expect a smaller scale, on the contrary:
To refer to what has been said in the press, we have a different objective that focuses on the quality of the experience, and it is through quest arcs that we do it. But in terms of card, it's still a very generous offer, it's the way we consume it that is different.
Colony, raids and assaults of fortresses
When it comes to talking about the management system of our colony and comparing it to previous tests in the series in this area (the villa of Assassin's Creed II, the headquarters and the neighborhoods of Brotherhood and Revelations or even the domain of Assassin's Creed III), the producer of Assassin's Creed Valhalla evokes its main difference residing in its less annex character: in the previous opuses, it was certainly about "beautiful moments", but which remained largely optional whereas the approach of light management of your colony in Valhalla wants to be much more central in the adventure. A choice obviously resulting from the narrative structure mentioned earlier, and linked to the Scandinavian deep motivations of the time :
In Valhalla, we hope that the players will embrace this (the management of the colony, note) fully because it is at the heart of the experience and that's really how we feel like a Viking. They were certainly outstanding fighters, but also explorers, great merchants, and their primary motivation was the search for land. We went to Norway, we saw that it was not necessarily hospitable land suitable for cultivation, or at least that the areas available to do so were quite limited. They were looking for that, so it's a manifestation of this reality that we were looking to translate into the game.
More concretely and in terms of mechanics, you can therefore expect, as the first information already mentioned, the establishment of different evolving buildings (blacksmiths, tattoo artists, barracks …), but also the reception of non-player characters and the possibility of carrying out quests for them. The improvement of your colony will go through raids, your Drakkar being used here to bring back the resources acquired during these lootings. Interesting detail, if there are in addition to the classic raids real assaults that it will be possible to carry out against fortresses, these will not be subjected to a free and dynamic system of capture and then loss of castles (unlike titles like Mount & Blade, or Assassin’s Creed Revelations via the districts of Constantinople for example), but the game mechanics will change however as you chain these assaults, which are otherwise “Always linked to a goal with a quest bow”.
These choices stem from the structure defined for the game, Julien Laferrière believing that the team “Found the narrative angle to be the most historic angle, the most interesting for the player” because it ultimately offers an effective compromise between the pleasure of the person behind the controller and the concern to offer a credible and faithful experience at the time she intends to describe:
This is a bit like how you manage the player’s progress in England, because it was not necessarily a conquest advance until the occupation of all of England. There was a notion of political strategy, alliances, arranged marriages, it was fractured kingdoms with a lot of political intrigue and the Vikings were a political actor on this chessboard there. There's a level of political strategy via quest arcs, via player implications, and that's what we're trying to translate into the game.
A fortress attack was briefly shown in the latest teaser in Assassin's Creed Valhalla
Drakkar, mounts and closely related companions
In his interviews with Carole quintaine or Julien Chièze, Julien Laferrière mentioned the presence of the Drakkar as another means of transport serving here as a “River horse”. An announcement that may have cast doubt on the presence of real horses at stake: this one is now lifted, the horses will be there and can once again be used as a classic mount for your exploration of the land. Horses and Drakkars have the common characteristic of being able to be called at any time, even if the latter will obviously be limited to rivers. In addition to being useful for pure transport, the Drakkar will allow you to disembark your companions, since 8 of them can accompany you on your ship. Our interview with Julien Laferrière allowed us to learn more on this point, and in particular on the calling conditions of your teammates: unlike the episodes of the series allowing to call assassins at any time whatever the context, the presence of the Drakkar nearby is required here :
The way it works is that it's intimately linked to the Drakkar. The companions are on it, so any position that is along the water, whether for a full raid with resources to obtain or a camp of bandits having taken position along the shores, becomes in fact an opportunity for your crew. But this one is associated with the Drakkar, so they are able to leave it, accompany you in fights, but have a certain scope around that because it is intimately linked to the Drakkar.
What give the player a “Feeling of supremacy” when he is along the river, but also potentially force him to be more careful if he is in a place far from any shore. Main tool to bring back your loot from looting, transport element for you and your companions, the Drakkar was not however reputed to be a warship, a point that we wanted to clarify there too by asking Julien Laferrière if the naval battles of the previous opuses would be renewed :
That's right, the Drakkar was not necessarily a boat for waging war on the sea, the Vikings did not do that. Historically, what they did was they docked two longship together, pulled out the axes and then fought. So there isn’t necessarily a mechanical shot, things like that, we have chosen to be historically faithful to history at this level. It forced us to rethink what the naval looked like, that's when we came up with the idea of saying that we're just going to be fair in history, and give this tactical advantage for the player to reach positions more easily, make raids, etc.
Despite the disappearance of naval battles in their classic form, players will still be able to customize their ship as they see fit in order to get the best out of it, and benefit from the innovations linked to its privileged transport status of the Scandinavians on the English rivers. Besides, concerning companions, the official Ubisoft site evokes the possibility of “Recruit Viking mercenaries designed by other players” or create and personalize your own to share it online. We asked Julien Laferrière if all the Vikings companions would be from such a creation tool, or if they could also be characters created by the developers and benefiting from a real story:
Both. We offer the possibility to personalize a fighter and share it, there are also characters who can join you for narrative reasons, then there are characters who are there just like that, obviously. But the idea is to have the feeling that you are with your gang of Vikings, and as you go along, there are faces that you end up recognizing, people who are also named, and we also wanted to offer some options to players.
A new skill tree… and the “Rap Battle” of the Middle Ages!
The transition from the series to action-RPG from Origins and Odyssey was accompanied of a globally well-supplied skill tree, a trend that should not go down on Valhalla, on the contrary. If the producer of the title confirmed the presence of three large archetypes as on the previous episode (without specifying if they would be the same), the progression of the character will be much more open:
For Valhalla, we have invested a lot in the angle related to progression, we have reviewed the entire skills tree to precisely offer even more personalization, so we completely exploded the number of possibilities compared to that to leave the player customize the type of game he wants to have, the type of profile he wants to do. When we combine this with the very wide variety of weapons, two-weapon combat, we hope that we will see several types of play styles emerge because the skill tree allows that. There are ways to really make your journey as you wish. There are obviously major categories to guide the player in there, but it should not be imagined as being as defined as on Odyssey. It is much more “granular” than a selection of capacities.
Finally, to finish on a lighter note, we wanted to know more about an addition that almost went unnoticed: flyting. In addition to hunting, fishing, drinking games, this addition will be one of the notable side activities of the episode, which will allow you to engage in real verbal contests. Julien Laferrière recognizes for himself that he is a “A nod to Monkey Island and its famous duels of insults”, but would like to point out that this is also a proven element in the history of the Scandinavians of the time, who were based on an oral tradition as rich as varied:
It was really to test people's verbal skills. They returned to a kind of stylized insulting game, rhythmic and rhyming towards each other. They were Viking rap battles of the time, the sagas even say that Thor and Loki would have met in a Flyting. With our dialogue system, it was too good to let it pass, so it is indeed one of the activities that we have in the game just to bring another authentic flavor (…) For us, it was something something super original that we wanted to do, so our authors had fun finding insults of the time and making them rhyme with an interesting cadence. I can't wait to see the players return.
Licensed enthusiasts are also probably waiting to try all of this, to find out who was the distant ancestor of Yo Momma. They will however have to be patient, because Assassin's Creed Valhalla will not be released until the end of 2020 on PC via Uplay and Epic Games Store, but also on PS4, Xbox One, PS5, Xbox Series X and Stadia.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla Announcement Trailer
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