Barry O'Rourke writes for Culture about the latest big gaming releases, including Assassin's Creed Valhalla and Watch Dogs: Legion. 

In a game that asks you to think, live, and conquer like a Viking; Assassins Creed Valhalla is a saga of immense proportion and of immense fun.

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Whether it's the Northern Lights of Norway or the serene pastures of Anglo-Saxon England, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is first and foremost a stunning game to play.

It also comes at an opportune time for lucky PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X owners to test the mettle of the next generation of consoles.

Taking place in the ninth century, Valhalla centres on the story of Eivor the Wolf-Kissed, a Viking plagued by family obligations and visions of a troubling destiny. As Norway becomes unified under one king, rather than bending the knee, Eivor and brother Sigurd set sail with their clan in hopes of new opportunities overseas.

The overarching goal in your new home of England is to strengthen your clan’s presence by forming alliances with the local leaders. To do this, you’ll travel to different territories and completes quests in the name of potential allies.

A Decisive Saga of Epic Proportions

Firstly, this game is huge. Both geographically, and in content. To cover the main storyline alone can easily take you 40+ hours, with some players reporting over 100+ hours to complete everything else.

Decisions matter in Valhalla and how you act in certain situations will of course have major consequences to what happens next in the story.

An example of this happens very early on in the game, where you must pick a person responsible for a crime. It's painstaking wondering if you’ve chosen correctly, and kudos to any player who bravely answers without googling it first.

But this sets the tone for the entire atmosphere of Valhalla, in that what you do and who you talk to is always worthwhile and has a cost attached. Thankfully, the dialogue of the game is witty and oftentimes very poetic. It’s a rarity in gaming but I never really tired of having to talk to NPCs or quest givers.

Let's Go 'A-Viking’

As an open-world game, there is plenty in Valhalla you can do besides linear quests. But the most obvious (and fun) is of course to set sail and raid.

Raiding is an odd feature to an Assassin's Creed game, where subtly and secrecy go out the window in favour of blood-thirsty close-combat. When you raid, you blow your battle horn and let every soldier, villager, and monk know you’re on a warpath.

There are a plethora of quiet villages and monasteries across south-east England that lie waiting for Eivor and company to wreak havoc upon. It’s at this time, all those history lessons from primary school on Vikings and Monks will reappear.

Except as you’re the Vikings, aren't you essentially the villians? Who knows. The game certainly does try and civilize your barbaric antics when raiding as harming innocent civilians is frowned upon.

Regardless of who you attack, combat has noticeably improved over previous Assassin’s Creed games. Eivor can dual-wield a variety of weapons including axes, swords, shields, and flails, all of which add gruesome ways for you to dispatch guard after guard.

At the start of the game, combat may seem very bare and limited, especially pre-England. But as you raid the vast countryside of England, you will discover ancient tomes which teach Eivor new abilities.

These tomes will teach you new abilities and are essential to adding razzmatazz to your gory fights.

By raiding, you will also net supplies for your settlement of Ravensthorpe, which brings us to the next big feature in Valhalla – developing your settlement.

Supplies are required to build services including a blacksmith, barracks, market, a Hidden One's assassin clubhouse, and more. While Ravensthorpe might start as a series of shacks and squalor, in time it can develop into a bustling trade hub.

More buildings equal more benefits and quests. In particular, you should concentrate on setting up the Hidden One's asap, to get their chain of quests up to and running in and bring some stealth back into the game.

A long, worthwhile Viking saga for any age

At its core, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is an open-world adventure on the Viking experience. Ubisoft has done a sizeable amount of homework to provide a long gateway into the past. But what I’m equally as interested in Valhalla’s future.

Seasonal content will be released periodically after launch and promises new cosmetics and ways to enjoy the game. Most importantly, Wrath of the Druids releases in spring of next year, where we’ll set sail to Ireland, and do battle with haunted forests, Gaelic myths, folklore, and kings.


Watch Dogs: Legion – an open-world revolution

What do a plastic surgeon, a barrister and a beekeeper have in common? They all have the potential to save London.

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Set in a futuristic dystopian-like London, Watch Dogs: Legion is an endless sprawl of skyscrapers, security drones, and possibility.

You play as a set of operatives belonging to the London branch of a hacker DedSec, who are fighting everything from military occupation, government propaganda to criminal gangs, and terrorism.

With civil unrest is at a cliff's edge, where merely bumping into a person on the street can potentially start a riot, it’s safe to say that Legion gets unapologetically political from the get-go.

A unique city of your own making

Aside from the myriad of protesters, security checkpoints and damage your reckless driving will cause, the city of London is beautiful and familiar. From Big Ben to Buckingham Palace, Westminster to Piccadilly Circus, the city feels, looks, and sounds alive.

That feeling is helped by the thousands upon thousands of in-game inhabitants, each citizen with their name, occupation, and backstory unique to your game.

Which brings us to the central mechanic of Legion; who exactly do you play as?

The idea behind Legion is that anyone can be a hero in the uprising. From doctors to musicians, celebrity footballers, the unemployed, to the enemy security guards themselves – if you can find them, you can recruit them.

The characters who appear in my game will be different than in yours...

The first character to join my DedSec branch was Rachel McDonnell, a 59-year-old playwright from Northern Ireland. She represented from the start what Legion stood for as a game; fun, cryptic and utterly bizarre.

It would have made sense to have a 'James Bond’ 20-something year old save the city; but would that be as much fun or symbolic? Not by a mile.

And so my 59-year-old unassuming playwright was tasked with circumnavigating a bomb scare one minute, to then breaking into Scotland Yard and downloading classified drone footage. A quick chase from police through Piccadilly, and then she was off to recruit more members for a myriad of other tasks.

Her only limit was my expectation of her. As it turns out, recruiting more characters to join you is highly entertaining. Many require you to do side-quests to earn their trust. At headquarters and throughout the numerous cut scenes, they’ll interact with each other, and make the story you are responsible for creating all the more rewarding and organic.

An open-world that really is an open world

With such variety, there is no one-way to enjoy Legion. Whilst the main story branches into some very dark territory, the core of the game shines through – you are always in control of who, what, where, when, and how.

It’s one of the few games described as an open-world where you have almost omniscient control and responsibility. In a game that doesn’t hold back on its social commentary, anyone can be the hero.

In Legion, you will hack, hijack and sneak your way through hours upon hours of content, whether through the main storyline, a sleuth of side-missions, or just by simply exploring the city and causing a fuss.

A permadeath mode is also on-hand for gamers seeking a high-stakes experience for their treasured characters. And with a hotly anticipated online mode tipped for December, there’ll be even more ways for you to enjoy the story.