If you're taking down your Christmas decorations this week, you're not alone. Assassin's Creed Valhalla will do the same this Thursday, 7th January when its festive Yuletide event comes to an end.
You've still got a couple of days to drop in if you haven't done so already, and there's a couple of things worth seeing. But while I've long thought Valhalla's settlement area is one of its most promising features, its potential is never quite fully realised in the base game, and despite it being the focus of this seasonal update, the same is true again here at Yuletide.
If you're yet to check in, you'll have two short questlines waiting for you. The Case of The Missing Ale is a straightfoward mission which asks you to raid a bandit camp for a barrel of missing brew. It features new character Ake, your regular brewer's new apprentice, and it is seemingly bugged for a lot of people. (Don't go to Sciropescire to finish the quest as directed, Ake is actually just stood nearby the bandit camp.)
Cow Catcher, meanwhile, is another quick quest which introduces Bertham, the farmhand who tends your settlement's cattle farm. If you've gone round and read all the notes in your settlement's various buildings, you'll have heard about Bertham and his love affair with another local villager - and this is expanded in the mission's dialogue. It's the better and more original of the two missions, though a little buggy too. Also, playing both only reminded me of the far more elaborate Lost Tales of Greece offered for free on a regular schedule by Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Even taken together, these missions don't really come close.
There's more to the update, though. Apart from dusting Ravensthorpe in snow and stringing up some rustic decorations, a new section of the town is now available where villagers can gather and party. It reminds me of the old Destiny tower, which opened up a special wing of its social space when the Iron Banner event was active. Here, you'll find three mini-games you can play repeatedly for high scores and rewards. The best (and most easy to grind) of the three is a target shooting archery range. There's also a drinking competition and fight club, of the kinds you can find elsewhere in Valhalla's world.
Completing the two Yuletide quests and having a quick go at each of your new campsite activities will earn you a pocketful of event tokens you can swap at a new event merchant. In exchange, you'll get a new armour set and some settlement decorations. The gear is, unfortunately, a recoloured version of an existing armour set (the Huntsman) - which is a real shame when far more elaborate and creative designs are being pumped into Valhalla's premium cosmetic store every couple of weeks.
Finally, you can unlock three new skills in your constellation ability tree. These will let you slide into enemies to knock them down, automatically gain an ability bar when beginning a fight, and automatically carry a body after an assassination. None of these are game changers in the grand scheme of things, though I've had limited time to try them. In another common bug, these three seem to appear and disappear again on the skill tree at random.
I think Yuletide's core gameplay - to offer a string of repeatable activities you can dip into for a few minutes of time whenever you happen to visit your settlement during normal gameplay - is sound. I'm now at a point in my Valhalla save, hundreds of hours in, where I'm loading up the game to do a daily mission and see where in the game's sprawling world it takes me, then to head on from there to mop up other remaining treasures or side-activities which happen to be nearby. Starting or finishing my time in Valhalla at the settlement, it's not felt like a grind to have a game of archery now and then and scrape together enough tokens to unlock every event item. That part feels well balanced, and the idea of simply having Ravensthorpe move on in time, decorated to reflect the real-world season is a first for Assassin's Creed. But it's a shame the update didn't offer more here - unique interactions with the settlement's core characters or your partner. It's something, but it also feels like a small step.
Valhalla's next free update is due in February, and will add the three repeatable river raid maps, upgrades to the recruitable Jomsviking system and new abilities. Hopefully some more time post-launch will ensure it releases with fewer bugs (Ubisoft has been kept busy fixing plenty in the base game, let alone its add-ons). And I'm hopeful, still, that over time the settlement will continue to grow and reach the potential many players would really like.