Interest in Viking video games has never been higher, and Assassin's Creed Valhalla may have just served up its most traditional slice yet. There are no ancient civilisations here in Valhalla's new river raids mode, no friendly Saxon alliances to settle. It's just you and a bunch of bastards bombing up English rivers on a boat.
As it stands, it's pretty fun. I've spent about five hours raiding since the mode arrived in yesterday's 1.1.2 update - enough time to tick off its main objectives - and will probably dip back in again to unlock more of its lengthier cosmetic pursuits. It's not perfect - more on that in a bit - and for a mode about raiding it could do with some juicer ongoing incentives. But there is something to it - and there's signs Ubisoft will stick with it and hopefully build on it from here.
How's it all work? Well, head to your Settlement and you'll find a new crew have pitched up on shore, lead by a piratical Viking named Vagn. He has a ship you can use and a crew you can hire. In return, you'll quickly build him a house to settle into and a hall for your Jomsvikingr recruits, which you can upgrade further to find more (and more sturdy) crewmembers.
The mode uses a fresh Foreign Supplies resource which you'll ferret out while raiding, and spend on building and upgrading the above. You can upgrade your new raiding boat to carry more of the cargo without having to return and "bank" it at Ravensthorpe, or you can choose to trade it with Vagn for new ship cosmetics.
Raiding itself takes place on a series of large new maps you'll generally traverse by boat, except for when you hop off to dismantle obstacles and/or enemies. There are three maps at present - based around the English rivers of the Exe, Severn and Dee - which each hold around a dozen places to pitch up and cause trouble.
As with sailing normally, you'll be prompted to raid at specific sites, which in this mode come in three flavours: civilian camps, military forts and monasteries. Civilian settlements are the easiest, obviously, and provide health items (pots of food, berries) which you'll need to revive your crew. Military areas hold the majority of Foreign Cargo, while the rarer monastery areas are where you'll find a couple of new abilities and map clues which open up the River Dee map.
The spine of this mode at the moment is a hunt for a shiny new armour set - something fans will likely tell you there isn't an abundance of in Valhalla if you ignore its premium cosmetics. This armour is Saint George-themed, and scattered among various sites over the three areas. It is also, rather disastrously, a repainted version of the Thegn armour set from the base game (a trick Ubisoft also pulled with its free Yuletide armour set, too). There's also a sword and shield to find, one of which is held by a boss at the end of the River Dee area.
Once you've picked up all the new gear and abilities, there are longer goals to hit. After fully upgrading my ship's cargo capacity (which you should do first, since it is the only real limiting factor to when you need to head back to Ravensthorpe), only a couple of my crew have levelled up. Right now they're quite weak, and so have to sit out a raid or two if they fall in combat. Higher level crew members will last longer, and carry more resources to heal themselves.
Levelling these up means either taking existing Jomsvikings on more voyages, or upgrading their building to acquire higher level Jomsvikings direct. With a high-levelled Eivor, raids do not pose much challenge even with low-level crewmates. I was actually surprised how straightforward a lot of these encounters were, but keeping at least some crew alive as well is important, as while you can tackle areas at your own pace you do still need their help breaking open larger cargo chests.
Continued raiding in areas is possible ad infinitum, or at least until you tire of the mode's rather familiar location types. Doing so will get you more Foreign Supplies to trade with Vagn for more of his set of ship cosmetics. Additionally, this week, launch 10 raiding sessions and you'll unlock a further range of cosmetics via Ubisoft Connect themed around Assassin's Creed: Black Flag's beloved pirate ship Jackdaw, which is a nice touch. It would be nice to see continued weekly rewards for raiding also provided this way - and maybe even as a further route to Opals, the game's currency for unlocking premium cosmetics through gameplay.
There's surely scope here for Jomsvikings to continue to level and get new abilities down the line, while the mode's map is tellingly large for the three rivers included at launch. It seems a safe bet we'll see Norwegian rivers added at some point, as well as spots in France and Ireland when those locations are added to the game in its two big expansions. Whether you continue down its rivers long-term, this new raiding mode is another side dish to the already generous spread of things to do and see in Valhalla, and one which will hopefully expand further as the game continues to grow.