Next week, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla players will revel in the game’s second expansion: The Siege of Paris.
As anyone who has played Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will tell you, it’s a very big game indeed. So big in fact, that months into playing the thing there’s still more left for me to do than has already been done. From raiding monasteries, to customising longships and having incredibly awkward romantic encounters, Valhalla really does seem to offer players the complete Viking experience.
Yet, despite the hours and hours of gameplay there is one thing that the game is missing; an epic siege. Building vast castles, or any type of castle for that matter, wasn’t really an Anglo-Saxon thing, nor was it a Viking thing either. It wasn’t until the Normans conquered England in 1066 that a truly comprehensive castle building schedule began. As historian Marc Morris commented in a piece for History Extra, the action of castle building was a brand new tactic,: “at the time of the invasion in late September 1066, the Normans’ action was startlingly novel: prior to that point, castles had been virtually unknown in England.”
Once those Normans had started building castles, they just couldn’t stop. It was as if they’d all collectively opened a metaphorical tube of Pringles and wouldn’t stop munching until their crisp coated knuckles scraped the bottom. According to Morris, “at least 500, and possibly closer to 1,000, (castles) had been constructed by the end of the 11th century – barely two generations since the Normans’ initial landing.”. Which is why in England, rather awesomely, we have more castles than you can shake a battering ram at.
That’s not to say that in Anglo-Saxon England, when Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is set, there were no defensive installations whatsoever. There were hillforts, old dilapidated Roman forts, as well as defensive towns – known as burhs – the construction of which were instigated by King Alfred the Great in an effort to curb Viking raiders. All of this happened after the time of Eivor however, which means the possibility of an castle siege set-piece would be impossible, if Ubisoft were being truly authentic.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “I’ve seen some big castles in Valhalla. Are you saying, historically speaking, that they shouldn’t be there?” That’s exactly what I’m saying. I guess that Ubisoft were just hoping that no-one would notice. Proper stone castles shouldn’t be in Valhalla but they are there anyway because, erm, reasons. Besides which, it’s not like you had to lay siege to any of them anyway. My favoured technique is to send Eivor scampering around an enemy castle, refuse to fight anyone, open all the portcullises and drawbridges and finish the battle in about two minutes. What we’re missing then is a lengthy and drawn-out siege in which these cheap tactics won’t work. And that’s what the upcoming DLC ‘Siege of Paris’ could provide us with.
There were several Vikings ‘sieges’ and invasions of Paris, kicking off with the near mythological Ragnar Lothbrok when he successfully raided the place in 845 AD. For Ubisoft’s purposes however, the siege in question will be ‘The Great Viking Siege of Paris’ and that bad boy kicked off in 885 AD – perfect timing for Eivor to be a part of. So, what possible gameplay additions could the historical events of this siege provide?
Expect a sea invasion
There are examples of longship invasions by sea to be had in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but surely none that come close to the cinematic potential offered by the historical action that occurred at the towers of the Petit Chatelet and the Grand Chatelet.
Some context: The Viking invasion fleet was led by two powerful Viking chieftains named Earl Sigfred and Rollo – yes, I know, I’m imagining a giant axe wielding chocolate too. Though don’t mock Rollo, the legends state “he was so big no horse could carry him and thus, he received his nickname The Walker”. Though, confusingly, neither Sigfred nor Rollo were really in charge of the giant seething mass of Viking warriors that had assembled, they just sort of pointed them in the right direction and hoped they all came along for the ride. And a mass of Viking warriors it indeed was. An eye-witness account of the siege, a youthful Benedictine monk named Abbo Cernuus, wrote later that seven hundred ships and some 40,000 warriors sailed up the river Seine. Modern historians dispute this claim, estimating the actual number to be more like 10,000. No matter how you spin it though, that’s still a whole lot of Vikings.
Imagine playing as Eivor amongst such a vast force. The water of the river Seine teeming with longships as far as the eye can see. Eventually you’d reach a series of bridges and fortifications along the river, the aforementioned towers of the Petit Chatelet and the Grand Chatelet. Warriors leap from their vessels to gingerly clamber up the tower, as the defenders hurl burning oil down upon them. It could be an awesome in-game moment, one captured perfectly in Victor Kamenir’s account of the battle for Warfare History Network:
Furious fighting erupted all around the city, especially at the towers. Braving Viking archers in the boats, defenders rushed reinforcements to the towers. Especially heavy fighting broke out at the Grand Chatelet. Unable to break down the gates, a group of Vikings attacked the base of the tower with picks. The defenders “served them up with oil and wax and pitch, which was all mixed up together and made into hot liquid on a furnace,” wrote Abbo. Engulfed in flames, Vikings struck by the fire writhed on the ground, while others jumped in the river to extinguish the flames. More Vikings joined the fight at the Grand Chatelet as defenders fired arrows and dropped stones on the crowd of attackers at the bottom of the tower.
Intriguingly, the Vikings were not triumphant in their assault and were ultimately repulsed by the defenders. This would be a nice spin for the Assassin’s Creed series, which often see’s the protagonist being eminently successful in any enterprise they undertake – it could be an interesting and challenging character moment for Eivor if their attack were unsuccessful and countless comrades lay dead around our hero.
New siege engines and tactics
Siege Engines played an occasional part in Valhalla, but the ‘Siege of Paris’ DLC offers an opportunity for Ubisoft to expand their role and offer new gameplay mechanics. As the siege wore on over months and months the Vikings developed new tactics and strategies in a desperate attempt to take the city. Players will already be familiar with the use of battering rams but catapults could be a revelation. Whilst it’s doubtful the Vikings brought any siege engines with them, they had more than enough time, resources and opportunity to construct them on site – with Abbo confirming that some sort of catapult was used in the siege. Who wouldn’t want to swap Eivor’s role as frontline fighter for catapult operator? My money is on Eivor being launched over the walls by a catapult, ‘Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’ style.
Not only that but there’s the opportunity to bring a greater sense of strategy to the battles in this DLC. During the siege the Vikings attacked the Parisian defences from multiple flanks concurrently, I would imagine that Eivor would have the opportunity to concoct these plans. Ideally, we should expect far more tactical action in ‘Siege of Paris’ than in any Assassin’s Creed before, as the player must manage siege engines, mining, and attacks from their warriors to best effect. There’s also the tantalising possibility that Eivor will be able to exert more control over her raiders and gather them into different formations and shield walls. “They advanced behind painted shields held up above to form a life-preserving vault,” said our pal Abbo, “not one of them dared lift his head out from under it. And yet underneath they felt constant blows.” That sounds too tempting a dramatic proposition for any game developer to resist.
How did the Siege of Paris end?
Ultimately, who knows how the Siege of Paris DLC will wrap-up, though I rather hope it will conclude in the same underwhelming way that the historical siege did. After months of intense fighting, floods, fires and even a plague, the siege was eventually lifted by the arrival of the unfortunately named King Charles the Fat and his forces in October 886. Rather than one final spectacular battle to the death, Charles instead opted to bribe the Vikings with 700 pounds of silver and permission to invade the Duchy of Burgandy, the denizens of which had been naffing Charles off for quite some time.
The Parisians were, as you’d expect, not best pleased with this outcome, particularly as they had given everything they could to hold out for so long with such limited forces. When the Vikings returned from their raiding in Burgandy the Parisians refused them entry to the Seine, forcing them to drag their ships thousands of feet overland to another river. What a brilliant culmination to the Valhalla saga that would be, the player required to press a button and hold a thumbstick as Eivor slowly, painfully, drags their longship inch by inch across the game world. No-one would expect that.
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