Assassin's Creed Valhalla is reaching its end-game, by which I mean the upcoming DLC Dawn Of Ragnarök is positioned as an end-game DLC, after last year's Wrath Of The Druids and The Siege Of Paris expansions. As such, this article is going to contain big honking spoilers for some of the more unbelievable bits of the AC: Valhalla story (which is most of it, tbh), because I really won't be able to set up talking about the Dawn Of Ragnarok preview presentation I attended the other week without mentioning those spoilers. All right? All right.
So. Remember how in the main game you could huf a bunch of plant smoke and have dreams where you lived through some of the life of Odin and the other Norse gods? Well, towards the end you find out the Norse gods are actually yet more of the futuristic-past aliens the Isu, and big buff Viking war legend Eivor is actually Odin reincarnated (kind of; let's busk the details). In Dawn Of Ragnarök, you play as Odin searching for their missing son Baldr in the mythic realm Svartalfheim. There's a new world to explore, your mount is some kind of magic pig, and you can turn into a bird.
The presentation I saw was about half an hour long and completely hands-off, so I can only tell you what Dawn Of Ragnarök looks like, not how it feels. What it looks like is that there Assassin's Creed Valhalla, with more magic and floating rocks and monsters. At least until you hit the Norse god stuff in the original game, the moody English landscape of Valhalla felt more grounded in reality compared to Odyssey, where it turned out that not only was the Minotaur real but also you could kick him up the bum. Dawn Of Ragnarök seems like it's driving full bore (or should that be full boar?) in that direction, to the point that you actually have a magic bar to go along with your stamina and health bars. You are a god, after all.
Rather than having a fixed book of spells, as it were, you use an ancient artefact that rips powers from enemies you kill.
Odin's magic comes from Hugr, a sort of life force resource that doesn't regenerate over time, but can be collected by, y'know, killing stuff - or by finding a root of Yggdrasil, the world tree, where Odin can sacrifice himself to, err, himself. Rather than having a fixed book of spells, as it were, you use an ancient artefact that rips powers from enemies you kill. But you can only have two equipped at a time, so if you come across a third that you think might be useful for the fight coming up, you'll have to swap something out. Game director Georgie "Joro" Popov and creative director Mikhail "Misho" Lozanov, who were playing the game for the presentation, said that this is to encourage players to try out different things.
The Power of Resurrection can raise enemies you kill until you have a little army, but if you give that up for the Power of Muspelheim so you can walk over some lava, then that army is going to drop dead. You can also use the Power of the Raven to fly to inconvenient places. But each spell also runs on a timer, so say goodbye to limitless flight powers. The idea is that you can, and should, be adaptive. In the segment of game we were shown, Odin (known as Havi in this DLC, one of the Allfather's many names) is rescuing a Dwarf named Fritjolf, who is a spy that's been imprisoned by the Muspels, aggressive fiery types who have invaded from Muspelheim. The spells have more than one application, so once Resurrection stopped being useful, Havi yoinked the Power of Muspelheim from an enemy and was able to disguise himself as a Muspel transporting a prisoner, and thus escape with Fritjolf all stealthy like.
The Muspels are this DLC's billboard baddies, although the trailer suggests that the frost giants are also involved, and that you'll be able to snatch some kind of frosty Power of Jotunheim. Still, it was the fire giants running the show in the DLC, and it's their leader Surtr who has captured Baldr. Muspels have some interesting group dynamics as enemies, in that if there are enough of them in one place they can do a war cry that makes them (somehow) even more on fire than their base level of 'lava'. The preview made them look pretty tasty to fight, although stealth will often be a better option if you want to come out the other side in tact. Although there was, of course, a glimpse of an unavoidably huge boss called Glod. We did not get to see a fight with Glod, but the name Glod made me laugh so I approve on that basis.
This DLC will be, apparently, about 35 hours worth of adventuring, which Ubisoft have decided is enough to make it its own standalone game that you'll have to buy separately to the existing season pass. Of course, how much of that is meaty stuff to do is unconfirmed. There are other new things: a kind of ancient Norse poleaxe called an Atgeir with big crowd control push-backs and sweeps, the ability to upgrade your gear to Divine quality and equip them with Odin runes, and a combat arena to test your skills and earn rewards. Plus, there's a whole new world to explore. We only saw a tiny bit of it, but Svartalfheim has the look of a European pine forest. An old, primal place, y'know? Fire and ice and earth. A big castle on an unreachable peak. And the big roots of the world tree on the horizon, which look kind of horrible, actually - menacing and spidery. There's potential in them thar hills.
We don't actually have that long to wait to find out if that potential is a huge, rich seam or just another few measily veins that will make us curse the day we set out prospecting. Dawn Of Ragnarok is coming out next month, on March 10th, and Ubisoft want everyone to be able to play it. According to producer Mariana Gosteva, the recommended power level for the DLC is 340, but you can just, you know, skip to that level if you want. The best case scenario is that Dawn Of Ragnarök is as chunky and as interesting a DLC as Fate Of Atlantis was for Odyssey, one of my favourite DLCs that any blockbuster game has ever had. Whether it actually will be is another matter, but I'll take being able to turn into a raven. Now, if I can turn into a giant magic pig? That will really be something.
A group of current and former Ubisoft employees, under the name ABetterUbisoft, are still calling for the company to meet their demands in the wake of allegations of widepsread sexual harrassment and discrimination. They have a public petition which has been supported by over 15,000 people. ABetterUbisoft have frequently voiced support for Activision Blizzard employees going through a similar situation, and their employee group, ABetterABK.