Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Is Bringing Back The Instakill Hidden Blade, In A Signal To Hardcore Fans

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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Is Bringing Back The Instakill Hidden Blade, In A Signal To Hardcore Fans
Promotional artwork for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Image: Ubisoft)

Upcoming Assassin’s Creed games always sound terrific in autumn, when the marketing machinery jolts into motion to describe the series’ next potentially great adventure. The new one will mix the best of what’s come before, plus new things, all set, this time, in the exotic era of (the Renaissance)(the American Revolution)(ancient Egypt) the Vikings. I won’t pretend to be unmoved.

Even the littlest details about the next game can be a big deal. For example, Ashraf Ismail, creative director for this fall’s Viking-themed Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, recently told me that this latest entry won’t just bring back the series’ iconic hidden blade, but will once again make it lethal enough to regularly pull off one-hit kills.

If you’re not an Assassin’s Creed devotee that might not sound like much. If you are, it’s a positive signal to the many fans who’ve been grumbling that the series has lost its way, despite—or perhaps, because of—the popular success of recent releases. Don’t worry, he’s saying, they get it: It’s once again time for new Assassin’s Creed games to not just be good, but to feel more like their classic predecessors.

“We wanted to look at the old games and see the greatness that those games had and acknowledge what’s great about the updated formula,” Ismail told me. “There was an identity and a uniqueness that we wanted to bring back for Valhalla.”

Ismail is referring to a split among the dozen mainline Assassin’s Creed games, and among many people who enjoyed them. Some fans revere the so-called old formula—the original games starring Altair, Ezio, and the Kenways were focused, stealth-based action adventures featuring assassins in interesting historical eras.

And some fans are fond of the new formula—the recent Assassin’s Creeds of Bayek, Alexios, and Kassandra: loot-filled role-playing games featuring proto-assassins in interesting historical eras.

Visit Assassin’s Creed forums, subreddits, and YouTube channels and you’ll find fans of the old lamenting the approach of the new, saying the recent games, while fun, have abandoned too many of the series’ traditions and lore. Where they draw the line varies. For some it’s the introduction of dialogue choices, or the minimising of the franchise’s modern-day story. Other people mourn things like the faded relevance of the hidden blade, which Ismail wants to restore.

The hidden blade as seen in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s debut cinematic trailer (Screenshot: Ubisoft)

The hidden blade’s original implementation, dating back to 2007’s inaugural Assassin’s Creed, suggested a series of games meant to emphasise the sneaky and subtle. The series’ signature weapon, the blade was a wrist-holstered dagger used for quiet, short-range stabbing in the Assassins’ first 10 or so outings. This was a tool for stealth killing, for quiet close-range assassination: into a target’s gut while walking past them in a crowd, onto a target’s neck while pouncing from a cart full of hay, into a target’s back, undetected, while infiltrating a base full of guards.

But in recent Assassin’s Creed games the hidden blade lost its edge. In 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, the previous game Ismail oversaw, it didn’t always kill its target in one thrust, turning it into an agitant that alerted guards and spoiled stealth missions. In 2018’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, players couldn’t even wield it. Only a non-playable character in the game’s first expansion could.

These changes came as part of a shift in how Ubisoft designed the games to be played. Their developers were so focused on delivering action that they made conflicts with enemies play out like violent shouts instead of vicious whispers.

But even as Valhalla’s trailer and initial marketing points highlight the potency and aggression of an axe-swinging Viking, Ismail’s revelation about the hidden blade suggests that the more subtle approach may be returning to series vogue.

“Eivor receives the hidden blade quite early on,” Ismail told me, referring to Valhalla’s main character. “We continue with the idea that Eivor is not a trained assassin. Eivor is a Viking who receives this badass weapon and has to learn very quickly. Early in the experience, Eivor will learn a technique that, with the right timing … can one-shot-kill virtually anybody.”

That last bit is the key. If we can one-hit kill with the hidden blade (it will require some skill, he notes) then we can be stealthy. If we can be stealthy, then perhaps we can play this new game as we could the old: from the shadows or, cue another positive revelation from Ismail, from crowds.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Image: Ubisoft)

Ismail promises that another recently abandoned Assassin’s Creed staple is coming back, too: social stealth. That’s the ability for the hero of our adventure to blend into a crowd and remain undetected in plain sight. That feature, too, was in the first 10 or so games, and then omitted from Origins and Odyssey.

“We have a cool new spin on it,” Ismail told me. “But, yes, social stealth is back.” He said bringing that back was a “major piece” of ensuring that Valhalla exhibits the series’ most distinctive traits. How does social stealth co-exist make sense for axe-swinging Vikings? Bear in mind that the game is about them invading England. “The idea that a Norse person or a Viking is in a place that they’re not wanted, for them to sort of go incognito and kind of hide in the crowd, if you will, made a lot of sense,” he said.

Plenty of fans of Origins and Odyssey will say moving on from certain franchise staples has been good. Many players were uninterested in or confused by the game’s modern metastory and probably don’t care that Ubisoft resolved much of it through spin-off comics rather than mainline games. Others may not miss references to the Isu, the god-like aliens who, in Assassin’s Creed lore, created humanity, or may be relieved that when Ubisoft decided to go deep into Isu lore in 2018’s Odyssey, it did so only in an optional 2019 downloadable expansion.

Not everyone’s going to be pleased with Valhalla, though the springtime art of hyping the latest and (Ubisoft assures fans) greatest Assassin’s Creed game mandates making the largest imaginable population feel like their specific tastes will be catered to, because sure, it’s possible… right?

To that end, Ismail and his fellow Valhalla creators have been conducting their initial socially distanced press tour with a lot of overt reverence for the series’ past. When I asked if Valhalla would connect to the Viking references in 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Ismail declined to offer specifics. But he said: “We tried to anchor this game deep into the franchise and into what we’ve done, let’s say, across many of the games. So there are tendrils of the lore, of course.” And if you didn’t even know there was an Assassin’s Creed Rogue, fear not: It sounds like any such connections to prior games will exist as subtle bonuses to longtime fans rather than crucial aspects of the storyline. Connections to the other games will be there “for the fans and for the people who want to dig,” he said.

Perhaps riding high on the positivity and promise endemic to promoting a new Assassin’s Creed in the spring, Ismail speculated about potentially bringing both fanbases together by offering an “incredible Viking experience and fantasy,” that also “makes the Assassin’s Creed world shine in terms of what’s happened in the past.

Following his lead, I try to imagine a new Assassin’s Creed that truly celebrates Assassin’s Creed’s past. “How does this game sort of anchor all of that together?” he mused. “It was important for us that we had that reflection.”

Comments

  • So I might be in the minority here but I actually enjoyed Origins/Odyssey let you build sets of armour that turned you into a stealth monster that could one hit assassinate basically anything… Or a straight up combat god that just walked into a fort and started an all out brawl.

    I enjoyed that, it had you make a choice and then have to deal with situations based on how you were kitted out.

    That said, I’m all for seeing a return of the classic hidden blade.

    • I liked having the choice in the last game. being able to walk through the front gate of a fort and wait for the entire place to go on alert and charge you knowing you could take them all on was amazing

      • Very few games of this sort give you that kind of feeling in my opinion… Only other really good examples I can think of currently are the Shadow of Mordor/War games.

    • You are not alone. I was sick of the old assassins creed formula and the last 2 games, odyssey in particular, were outstanding. Proper RPG style games with much much better open world game play. Ive also heard Valhalla is much shorter compared to odyssey because apparently people said it was too bloated? too much game play aye? Add to that with articles like this one ……Im worried about the next installment

      • It is very much bloated. When they released the “create your own quest” device it became apparent that alot of the quests you were doing for half the game were churned out by that exact system.

        There’s only so many times I can hear “so you want me to kill all the bandits?” Not all gameplay time is geared equally I am afraid.

        • The create your own quest feature wasn’t that great. I think i did only one of those quests and still managed to spend 150 plus hours in the actual game and DLC. Let me re phrase for you, I hope they dont shrink the campaign itself because some people felt the added content bloated the game. I want my 100 plus hour open world RPG again 😉

          • Yeah I wouldn’t think that they would shrink the campaign down but the side quests could be shrunk down a bit. The daily changing “deliver the item” quests were a real chore.

        • I also heard somewhere they were actually looking to scale back size of the game a little for Valhalla… And I imagine if true that it is for reasons much like those quest issues.

          I loved Odyssey but there’s absolutely a lot of filler content that is basically copy and pasted from other areas, and you really have to be dedicated to bother clearing the entire map… I wouldn’t mind seeing a reduction in overall map size if it meant that more of the content was more interesting.

          • I agree. A world a thousand miles wide but only one inch deep is not fun for anyone.

      • I’ve always loved the AC games, with II and IV my favourites among the old school games.

        I’ve really enjoyed the recent games. I preferred Origins over Odyssey, largely because I likes Bayek of Siwa more than I liked the Greeks.

        I love big, open world games that I can get lost in, and both have delivered this in spades.

        But I missed the hidden blade. I missed being able to ghost through a fortress, leaving a trail of corpse. I missed strolling between two guards and taking them both out. I missed having the choice between stealth and chaos. The same for blending into a crowd.

        Hopefully they can bring this back without losing the scope and action the newer installments have brought to the franchise.

        Plus, VIKINGS!!

        • Good call, a combination would be very cool. Black flag was such a good game. Hopefully they can find the right balance

  • The title of this article confused me at first, and realised it was because I’d never played the last two AC games. I didn’t realise they’d removed the fancy blade.
    I remember Rogue. It was interestingly put together. The only downside I recall was Shay’s accent, which was the worst this side of F4’s Cait. As someone with Irish family, I winced on many occasions.

    • For what it’s worth, they didn’t really remove the hidden blade it in Origins/Odyssey… It was just that you had to equip armour/weapons with assassination damage bonuses, so it would still instakill higher tier enemies like armoured captains, etc.

      Basically, the last two games had a whole RPG item system of armour and weapon sets that went towards increasing player power… They just tied the hidden blade’s overall damage to some of that also.

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