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Clearer focus on the past helps secure Assassin’s Creed’s future

Three games into its rebirth era, whatever Assassin’s Creed once was, it is definitively not that anymore. Momentum is no longer the most important play pillar. The endless oceans of easily clambered two-story rooftops seen in Venice and Constantinple have faded into the historical record once more. Topography does not encourage flow. It often hinders it, in fact.

In the series’ latest entry Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, this is at its truest in the opening section; a Norwegian settlement nestled by huge, annoying mountains, slow and tedious to scale. And it remains true once your raiding party sets sail for the riches, fertile soil, and blood of England; those annoying mountains crumble into grassy fields and muddy swamps. This game literally has bogs, the geographic antithesis of Patrice Désilets original free-flowing design for the series.

Free-flowing movement gives way to something more interesting in the latest Assassin's Creed.

Free-flowing movement gives way to something more interesting in the latest Assassin’s Creed.

But change can be a blessing. Though this is clearly not the same series, what it has become is in many ways more interesting. With Valhalla, the RPG-lite pivot has been refined. Crucially, for the first time in a long time, Assassin’s Creed cares about pacing again. Valhalla, in stark contrast to Odyssey, manages to feel large and awe-inspiring without being disrespectful of your time.

It achieves this with an almost-episodic structure. You choose which English kingdom to visit and then interact with the local big shots — often kings, sometimes usurpers — messing the hierarchy up to your own ends. Over the course of a few hours you experience an arc with a satisfying conclusion, before moving on and doing it again. It works well.

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