If you’re a gaming parent who longs to live the exciting life of a medieval Viking raider, I have good news about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Ubisoft’s Norse-centric open-world action game is perfect to play in “Dad-Mode.” Valhalla features a ton of wholesome, engaging and even educational activities you can do with a child in in your lap, most of which will provide you with buffs and gear you can use when you’re alone, when you can finally unleash bloodshed and let mayhem reign.
Word of warning: Do not play any of the game’s missions if you want to keep violent content away from your kid. Valhalla’s Vikings are a bloodthirsty lot and the violence in missions is absolutely brutal. Unless you are ok with your kid seeing you lead a horde of battle-hardened berserkers to a peaceful monastery, then burn it down, steal all the gold, and paint the dirt red with the blood and viscera of your enemies, stick with the open-world content detailed below.
The joy of “flyting”
Flyting is verbal game based on a real Norse pastime where wags hurled insults at each other in rhyming verse; think of them as Viking rap battles. In Valhalla, the flyting tradition is represented as a dialogue-based, multiple-choice mini-game where you argue with smart asses all over Europe. If your adversary says, “You’re a misfit, a half-wit, a foolish old grouse!” you might respond with: “You’re a weakling, a milksop, a cadger, a louse!”
The winner gets some silver, as well as a boost in charisma that will open additional dialogue options throughout the game that will allow you to solve some future problems with your tongue instead of the blade of your war axe. Here’s a guide to all the Flyting locations in the game, but I urge you not to cheat and read the “correct” responses; it’s way more fun to play it legit.
Let’s play Orlog
Thanks to various carved bones found in archeological digs, we know that actual medieval Vikings were fond of dice games. Valhalla includes Orlog, a fictional game that bears a passing resemblance to Yahtzee, if it had been invented by Norwegian barbarians. The game is easy to learn and totally addictive. I wish I could buy a set of real Orlog dice to play with my family; it’s the kind of game that even the littlest youngster can understand quickly and help you play.
Plus: If you win, you collect a token that gives you advantages in future games of Orlog. Here’s a guide to Orlog locations.
Animus Anomalies, standing stones, and mushroom trips
I’ve played just about every Assassin’s Creed game, but I’m still not entirely sure how the cyber/science fiction overlay of the game universe is supposed to work. Narrative consistency aside: In Valhalla, you occasionally run across glitches in the matrix — called Animus Anomalies — that you can choose to repair. This is done through some short, puzzle-based platforming. Here’s a guide to the specific locations of each anomaly on the map, as well as some tips on how to solve them.
There are also standing stones strewn over the map, each of which presents a (kid-safe) perspective puzzle. Oh, and, there are mushroom trips. Don’t play the mushroom trip missions with your kids if you’re at all worried about encouraging drug use or the eating of random mushrooms, both of which are probably not good lessons for children.
Fishing and hunting: Perennial friends to Dad Gamers everywhere
Valhalla gives you stacks of opportunities to bag wildlife and snare fishies. Unlike the complicated hunting and fishing in some games, the mechanics of Valhalla’s outdoorsmanship are pretty straightforward. You won’t have to worry about what kind of bait to use or what weapon will work best; just go where the fish and critters live, find ‘em, and git ‘em. Snaring wild prey is fun enough on its own, but it also gives you in-game rewards. Collecting the right combinations of animal skins and fishes can earn you some minor rewards — tattoo designs, weapon runes, etc.
If you want a more epic hunting experience, you can go after the big game: Eleven legendary animals are scattered across England and offer challenging Viking vs. Nature battles that net you cool trophies to trick out your longhouse.
Collectibles, collectibles, collectibles!
There are more collectibles strewn throughout the massive open world of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla than I will ever have the patience to find. As I move through the game’s story, I leave a map littered with buried Roman artifacts, pages of a mysterious Codex, weapons and armour, and more — each blot hiding a puzzle I’m too lazy to solve. Dad-Mode time with the kid is the perfect opportunity to backtrack, clean up the map, and get that new gear.
If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can embark on longer, more complicated puzzle quests to collect artifacts that lead to being able to wield Thor’s hammer and the legendary Excalibur.
Be aware: Some treasures are hidden inside heavily fortified fortresses, so unless you’re really good at stealth missions, retrieving them is going to involve bloodshed perhaps best left for after bedtime.
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Exploration and viking podcasting
Valhalla is an absolutely beautiful game. Exploring its bucolic environments can provide a welcome respite from the blood-besotted death-struggles of the plot. You can sit down with your kid and try to climb the highest mountain in Norway solely for the pleasure of sliding back down it, catch some lightning bugs, or just cruise the rivers of England with your crew, stopping occasionally to fish or hunt down a stag in the English countryside.
One of my favourite details of the game: As you cruise on seas or rivers, your berserker horde will turn positively sensitive, regaling each other with plaintive tunes and telling amusing and heroic Viking tall tales. You can set a destination across the world, then sit back and relax while the beautiful scenery rolls by as Jorg tells you about his childhood. It’s like the Medieval version of putting on a podcast during your commute.
As an added bonus, you’ll no doubt float past unsuspecting monasteries on the way, so you can mark them down as raiding targets, and make those monks pay for their religious intolerance with their very lives — as soon as the kid goes to bed, of course.