'Assassin's Creed Valhalla' Gameplay Preview: Settlements & Dual-Shield Fun

Assassin's Creed Valhalla is intensely focused on letting players live out their Viking fantasies, and the game does so to decent effect, despite a few potential pitfalls. In preparation for the game's release this November, we spent six hours exploring the Ledecestrecire region of the game, littered with story missions, side quests and opportunities for exploration.

But, before raiding the territory of our enemies and embarking on a wild goose chase to find a fled king, we got our first look at Valhalla's all-new Settlement. This is where our protagonist Eivor resides, and, in many ways, it's an expanded take on the camp feature found in games like Red Dead Redemption 2. It's not just a home base designed to open up options for questing and customization alike—it's also where you can check out your barracks and assign a custom-designed sidekick of any gender to your party.

assassins creed valhalla settlement
'Assassin's Creed Valhalla' features an all-new Settlement. Get quests and find new items to collect. 'Assassin's Creed Valhalla' releases November 10 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4 and PC. It comes to PS5 November 12. Ubisoft

With the raw supplies you find out in the open world, Eivor is able to upgrade buildings within the Settlement that offer various buffs. If you want more customization items, upgrade the fishing shack to collect and turn in aquatic creatures for rewards.

Having trouble fighting a tough boss? Go to your mess hall and pay a small purse of silver to feast and enjoy a temporary buff to your armor stat. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, as our collection of raw materials still left many buildings left to upgrade. Suffice to say, focusing on the Settlement is one part of Valhalla that will serve you well and keep you busy. Fishing in particular was far more of a time sink than a genuine thrill, but it's one of many possible rabbit holes for dedicated adventurers to consider.

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The combat of 'Valhalla' is more melee-heavy than past entries. Ubisoft

While fishing will likely become a bit stale for most, there's plenty of action within the rest of Valhalla to keep would-be Vikings on their toes. Before dipping into the main quest, we tried our hand at a Raid. Raids are a brand-new activity in Valhalla, and they're the primary means through which you earn the raw materials necessary to upgrade the Settlement.

These are very similar to the traditional Assassin's Creed outposts filled with skilled foes. But, while you can technically tackle raids with a stealthy approach by separating from your crew, the game seems to favor a loud strategy as you blow your horn on arrival. The Raids we played varied in scale between small villages and large puzzle-like monasteries, but the goal was largely the same: wipe out inhabitants, take their supplies and move on.

The activity was a solid way to get my feet wet with Valhalla's combat. True to the game's Viking aesthetic, there's lots of emphasis on melee weapons, like axes and hammers, more so than other recent titles in the franchise. Perhaps the star of the show was the large variety of offensive and defensive shields, which let players bash their way to victory like Captain America. Upgrade the vast melee skill tree far enough, and you can even wield two weapons at once. This might mean pairing an axe and a shield together for balance, but we had a blast equipping two shields instead. Find a setup you like, and it can be upgraded and improved using materials found in the environment.

assassins creed valhalla dual wield
It's possible to wield two primary weapons at once for the first time. Ubisoft

In addition to various buffs, your attacks are also made better via a small collection of abilities that operate on a cooldown. Because there's a limited number of abilities one can equip, there are truly meaningful tradeoffs in play at all times. Will you, for example, turn off your strong armor-piercing arrows in turn for having targeted slowdown with each shot? As your arsenal expands in time, there are lots of tough decisions to make.

This sense of choice parlays into the main quest, in which Eivor travels to Repton to track down an exiled king before their ally can be formally installed as ruler. Without spoiling too much of the plot, the arc we played featured an action-packed raid sequence with a battering ram, a couple of outpost areas, a short chase section and a boss fight. These moments often allowed you an opportunity for stealth if you chose, but we found it difficult to elect that tactic when the game places so much emphasis on brute-force weaponry.

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Player choice plays a big role in the main narrative missions. Ubisoft

Much of these chapters amounted to bog standard gameplay for recent series entries, but they were made interesting thanks to occasional moments of player choice. Over the course of the quest, Eivor had a chance to directly pay for intel or search a nearby area to steal it. There are also plot-driven events where you can choose to let critical characters live or die. And the affairs are given increased weight thanks to the diverse cast of characters who represent the angels and devils of your conscience. Is your Eivor a bloodthirsty warmonger, or is there room for diplomacy? It's difficult to know just how much impact these selections will have over the course of the entire campaign, but there was certainly a sense that individual playthroughs could be drastically different because of responses at certain juncture points.

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Ubisoft's commitment to embodying the Viking aesthetic is stunning. Ubisoft

When the quest was over, it was time to dig into some small activities. Blue-marked side quests generally existed to add levity to the grim narrative, but the ones we played were ultimately shallow and took just a few minutes to complete. One quest had Eivor rescuing precious goods from a burning building, while another left our hero defending an eccentric woman from a few silly guards. Some sidequests trigger organically through unplanned NPC encounters, and those were slightly more interesting. One passerby led us to a cursed item which increased our wealth. Also tied to wealth are the yellow-marked wealth missions that are essentially a substitute for the traditional outposts that can be approached through stealth or guns blazing.

After spending six hours with Assassin's Creed Valhalla, it appears this game seems primed to be the best distillation of the series' RPG formula established in recent years. While its quest design and basic loot mechanics are very familiar, enhancements like dual wielding and the Settlement expand the experience while making it more accessible than ever. We were also constantly drawn to Ubisoft's extreme commitment to the Viking aesthetic in environment, plot and sound. We're certainly more excited to see what the final version is like, but those who've played recent installments shouldn't expect a complete overhaul.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla releases November 10 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4 and PC. It comes to PS5 November 12.

Are you excited to see what Assassin's Creed Valhalla has to offer? What are you most excited to do when your quest begins? Tell us in the comments section!