After Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, I was thrilled for the release of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. I preordered a gold edition steel book since I like collecting physical copies of games, as artifacts of their own. When the game arrived at my door, I waited with anticipation for the three hours that it took to install the two-disk game and the day one patch. I was excited to start playing in medieval Britain and explore the landscape completing all the tasks given to me. 

Within the first few hours of the game, I was excited to see the inclusion of a mini-games within the settlements and explore the landscapes of Norway and Britain, embarking on the main story. As I got further into the game, I began to ask a lot of questions about the actual history of vikings in medieval Britain. Looking up the actual history of era, I was met with disappointment that continued when noticing the same two mosaics and few building models present in the landscape assets. Mostly I was disappointed in comparing the treatment of the Ancient Greek cities and landscapes which were done in a way that made each place feel unique, something that was not replicated in the Valhalla landscapes.

One of two mosaics which can be found in the Roman buildings of Britain in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Screenshot by author.

It’s taken me a long time to write this post because I felt like I had nothing really to say about the game. I feel like there was a lot that could have been done with the game that was not. When looking at the landscape and game assets, it is mostly a meh from me. The story and quests were not really enough to compel me or intrigue me. That’s not to say that many people probably liked the game and if that was you: I am genuinely very happy for you and hope you love the DLCs, too. 

I wanted to write an archaeogaming post about the dice game mini games, but after finding out that nothing about the dice game is based in Nord or viking archaeology or history, I couldn’t really find an angle. I wish the Ubisoft devs had looked into the archaeological record of games and gaming that we find in viking funerary contexts at the very least to make the game pieces look like these artifacts. This being said, I’m not an archaeologist specializing in Vikings or medieval Britain. 

The finding of the Roman artifacts to give to the museum excited me at first. But then, the in-game models and menu images for these artifacts were the same mask and, upon giving a large number of these looted artifacts to the guy, the reward is a statue decoration for your settlement. It seems a bit like a missed opportunity for the inclusion of a museum and unique, intriguing artifacts for a story of the Romans of Britiannia.  

Artifact Collector’s hut settlement upgrade in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Screenshot by author.

With the announcement of the Discovery Tour for Valhalla at E3, I hoping to be able to learn something about the decisions made by the devs and about the history and archaeological of the vikings and medieval Britain. I’ll find it interesting to see what, if any artifacts are included in the on-screen visuals and the information present, generating a similar project to for Valhalla that I did with Odyssey. [LINKS] An interesting archaeogaming study compiling the data could provide interesting results and data about the artifacts, online presence, and audience connection to history using these artifacts as aids. 

The Artifacts of Dev Teams

Moving away from my criticisms about the game, there is evidence in these games of different dev teams and periods in the game development. We can compare the mechanics and feel of Valhalla to other Assassin’s Creed games. Odyssey’s game mechanics in terms of button prompts and controls are much more comparable to other modern games than previous Assassin’s Creed games. By this I mean, I felt myself finding a lot of similarities between Horizon Zero Dawn controls and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Valhalla’s controls are much more comparable to Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Not to say there’s anything wrong with that but the controls and button maps felt more similar between Valhalla and Origins than between Odyssey and Origins or Odyssey and Valhalla. This is also similar the feel of the bird mechanics and targeting waypoints, quests, or resources. Skill trees and menus give a similar impact of comparison. 

This is comparable to other games like those made by BioWare. If we compare the controls, skill trees, and menus of the Mass Effect games to the Dragon Age games, similar comparisons can be made. Mass Effect (1) resembles Dragon Age: Origins in terms of contents and others, like the companion relationships. The War Table in Dragon Age: Inquisition is effectively the same mechanic and similar feel of the Nexus in Mass Effect: Andromeda. Games released in similar eras and the same publisher, developer, or studio tend to have similar controls. (Perhaps this is an analysis between these two franchises is worth revisiting in its own post.)

The differences could be in that Odyssey was crafted to be more of a role-playing game (RPG) than any other Assassin’s Creed game. Let’s not forget Odyssey is the first time in the Assassin’s Creed franchise that the player could pick between a male or a female character. But there is also a difference in the studios that created each of the games. Odyssey being made by Ubisoft Quebec and Origins and Valhalla being made by Ubisoft Montreal. Valhalla feels much more like Origins than it does Odyssey. The difference in studio could be noticed in the game’s story, assets, and characters.

This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing; rather it is like a difference in techniques of different ceramics workshops that creates a noticeable and traceable difference in the artifact. In this way, the artifact is the game and the game is the artifact. Perhaps there is more to this archaeogaming comparisons to be explored when talking about the fingerprints in the digital content. 

—Kaitlyn Kingsland
Archaeogaming, 17 July 2021

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