Those characters do ACV‘s heavy emotional lifting, and they establish tricky family bonds and lead you to paths of bloody vengeance—all while leaving the game open to letting characters live or die as best serves the plot. My recent session introduced me to the sadistic mercenary Ivarr, his more practical brother Ubba (who seeks to disrupt one of Britain’s courts), and the father-and-son pair of Ceolwulf and Ceolbert, who contend with their status as pawns in a larger violent game of turf control. The mission chain I played did well to establish these characters’ unified purpose in battling, then carefully dropped hints of disunity and squabbling along the way.
In other words, if this were a translation of a novel, I’d applaud it for not fast-forwarding character development and thus letting conflict simmer. (This, again, reinforces the very easy Witcher 3 quest comparisons that Ubisoft’s recent previews have inspired.) And between its heavier beats, ACV offers ample opportunities to revel in sillier or more lighthearted fare, and so far, the results have felt appropriate and grounded as opposed to distractingly wacky.
Travel by river. You’ll use a longboat to quickly traverse newly discovered territory, and its speed and maneuverability have been markedly improved since I last played the game. What previously felt like a chore is now a lovely mix of nimble steering and auto-directed charters to your next destination. You may prefer the olden days of Assassin’s Creed games full of open-sea combat, but I’m partial to a skiff as a means to get around giant swaths of land full of content instead of riding a boat for an eternity to find something to do.
Visuals. With this build’s improved facial animations, I’m even more comfortable oohing and ahhing over ACV‘s gorgeous art direction. (Which I already did in July.) Exactly how this gorgeous preview version will translate to a variety of PCs and consoles, however, remains to be seen.
Things I’m ho-hum on:
Combat. While I’ve seen a pair of cool boss encounters that emphasize Eivor’s suite of movement-filled combat abilities, most of ACV asks you to dive into crowded, shout-filled combat encounters that pit you and your Viking troops against whoever pissed you off that day. Had ACV shipped with a combat system that worked more like an RTS, where you order various units around to exploit vulnerabilities, that might have been more interesting—but I don’t blame Ubisoft for keeping these massive battles simple. Just don’t expect that the game’s charging-meter abilities, which range from “rush at foes” or “lasso a foe to subdue them” to “shoot a poison-tipped arrow,” will make combat boil down to much more than mashing buttons.
The settlement. I finally got to check out ACV’s “hub” zone in last week’s preview session, and I only rank it as “ho-hum” because I haven’t gotten to test it out as part of a fuller adventure.
I like the concept, at least. Once you accumulate enough plunder and bonus shinies through primary and secondary quests, you can ride or warp back to the game’s settlement zone in Ravensthorpe, roughly in the center of the game’s take on England, to build and invest in various buildings. Each time you erect a new building, you’ll unlock different features in the game, from stat-point bonuses to specialty shops. You’ll need the fishing center unlocked before you can freely fish in the game’s rivers, and you’ll need the “Hidden Ones” bureau to set off on a series of bounties.
Each of these buildings has its own chatty characters, and I like the idea of a conversation-filled alternative to the usual “upgrades in a quest” menu interface. Since the primary quest dialog has been solid in my tests so far, I’m hopeful that this part turns out charming as opposed to a chore.
Things I’m iffy about:
Mini-games. The dice-rolling game of Orlog appeared at the outset of my most-recent demo and felt like a serious timesink, but not in a good way. I would call it “Viking Yahtzee”—just as unsatisfyingly random, only with way more slow steps as you go. Along the way, I stumbled upon the same mini-game content found in the prior preview session, including a button-tapping drinking game, a stone-stacking “cairn” puzzle, and an admittedly cute poetry challenge that asks you to match a foe’s rhyme and meter in a sort of Viking rap battle. That’s all well and good for a few hours, but I have a sneaking suspicion this content will get old fast in the game proper.
Crashes. I was playing unfinished code in my most recent session, as opposed to a final or retail build, so I know things could turn out better or worse before ACV‘s formal launch. But my romp through this latest preview’s satisfying quest line was cut short by a severe bug that erased about an hour of progress.
One of the quests concluded with me chasing a target who jumped into a river and swam away. I was able to very quickly catch up to the target while she was still swimming, but I had to wait until she reached land to tie her up and throw her on the back of my horse (yes, this gave off serious Red Dead Redemption 2 vibes). But the game glitched when I tried to apprehend her while she was pulling herself out of the water—which is an unfortunate bug for a quest that revolves around arresting someone who’s been swimming. Shortly after this glitch, the game spawned a super-powerful foe nearby who insta-killed me, and the autosave system repeatedly forced me to deal with this knight while my target somehow despawned.
I imagine that bug will be fixed by the game’s November 10 launch, but I point it out for a reason. Between the game’s arrival on PCs, current-gen consoles, and new-gen consoles, plus the inherent issues of getting a game across the finish line during a quarantine, I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll all need to exercise patience with open-world bugs in the immediate aftermath of the game’s launch.
… and that’s it for now. I look forward to testing the game further for the sake of a November review, but if you have questions in the meantime, send them my way, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Listing image by Ubisoft