Just when you thought Assassin’s Creed Valhalla couldn’t get any bigger, it does. Last week, Ubisoft added a free roguelike mode called “the Forgotten Saga,” which is basically the size of a whole game unto itself. Even worse, it’s genuinely really good. Dammit!
I say “dammit” because I am now dedicating a solid tenth of my Xbox Series X’s storage space to a game I thought I was well and truly done with. First released in 2020, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the most recent entry in Ubisoft’s open-world series of historical murder sims. Largely set in Scandinavia and Great Britain around the 9th century, Valhalla is a lot of game (too much, some might say). I figured I’d had my fill after sinking 90 hours into it—and that’s without having touched any of the expansions: the Wrath of Druids, the Siege of Paris, or the Dawn of Ragnarok.
Few genres grab me by the collar as much as roguelikes do, whether it’s the moody action of Returnal or the compulsive dungeon-crawling of Hades or the brain-stumping strategy of Into the Breach. Obviously, I couldn’t leave “the Forgotten Saga” forgotten.
“The Forgotten Saga” is part of a free Assassin’s Creed Valhalla update that rolled out last week for all platforms. You’re told there’s a new quest, “A Gift from the Otherworld,” in Ravensthorpe, your main hub in Valhalla once you reach England. What you’re not told, however, is that you need to at least start the Asgard arc—something I had not done in my initial playthrough. (Again, Valhalla is a lot of game!) That requires completing a quest for a seer named Velka, who’s located on the north side of town. It’s pretty easy: You just find five flowers, all on the lakeshore by her house.
Once you finish that quest, Velka brews you a potion that knocks you clean out. You wake up in an ethereal realm, kickstarting the Asgard arc. Typically in Valhalla, once you start an arc, you’re locked into it until you finish all of the affiliated missions, but you needn’t finish Asgard’s before tackling other tasks. By heading back to the entrance, you can “wake up.” (Yes, this raises all sorts of questions about an animus-within-an-animus, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Back in Ravensthorpe, you can start “A Gift from the Otherworld” by talking to a bearded craftsman named Everold; he’s on the east side of the village. Sit through a cutscene—in which Everold gives you another potion that knocks you unconscious, sending you to the godly plane—and you’ll gain access to “The Forgotten Saga.”
Narratively, “The Forgotten Saga” picks up after the events of the Asgard arc and the Dawn of Ragnarok expansion. Though you look like main character Eivor, you’re actually playing as Norse deity Odin (in a twist that’s so bonkers it already knocked the brain out of my skull once). Your son Baldr has been kidnapped by the goddess Hel. You venture to Niflheim to rescue him and blah blah blah.
The narrative, for me at least, is secondary to what makes “the Forgotten Saga” such a welcome addition to one of this console generation’s largest games: It fundamentally strips Assassin’s Creed’s gameplay down to its essence.
“The Forgotten Saga” follows a typical roguelike structure, where you make your way through a series of small arenas that increasingly throw more—and tougher—enemies as you move on. Clearing all of the enemies in one opens up a treasure chest containing a prize. At every fork, you’ve gotta make a choice. Maybe you want to go right and earn a new weapon; that means you’re closed off from going left, which could hold a health upgrade, a stat-boosting accessory, or a new combat ability. All the while, you can earn “memories,” which serves as an in-game currency used to unlock permanent stat upgrades that’ll help you on subsequent runs.
The second area introduces a time constraint. Rather than branching paths, every new segment of the map starts a countdown clock. Each segment has a handful of individual arenas. If you manage to take out all of the enemies within the allotted time, you can get all of the rewards. But as you make your way through the area, the enemies get tougher and take longer to beat, so you’ll typically only have time to clear one arena (and thus get just one reward).
I…have not made it past the second area, because like any good roguelike, “the Forgotten Saga” is kicking my ass. But the mode has reminded me what drew me to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla in the first place.
Each run starts you off with a randomized set of low-level gear: a bow, a weapon, and a shield. During my initial playthrough of Valhalla, I found a sword so big it’d make Cloud Strife jealous. It worked terrifically for me, and I never really shook up my loadout of the course of the main campaign. But “the Forgotten Saga” is forcing me to play with weapons I’d otherwise never look twice at. Like the daggers I never cared for; they’re now one of my favorite weapons. I skipped through the tutorial for blocking in the main game; I’m now starting to learn how to use a shield (well, kinda). In the first area, where enemies have low health, I’ve—get this—even fallen back on treating it like an old-school Assassin’s Creed game: by sneakily plotting out a series of instant-kill assassinations without getting noticed.
“The Forgotten Saga” has its claws in me, and I’m once again finding new things to love about an older game. (It’s certainly miles ahead of “River Raids,” the free loot-hunting mode released last year.) But seriously, after this, that’s enough Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Please, Ubisoft, no more. We can only take so much.