Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the 12th major release for the franchise in just 13 years. As you would expect with any video game series that pumps out that many releases in a short amount of time, they had their share of disappointments. Assassins Creed: Rogue, Unity, and Syndicate were all fairly disappointing by the series standards. Assassins Creed went from being one of the premier franchises to a cautionary tale — that no series that doesn’t have a multiplayer should release a game each year. But just as quickly as Assassin’s Creed fell from grace, it has regained its mojo. Origins, Odyssey, and now Valhalla have all been a blast. The developers, Ubisoft Montreal (Origins and Valhalla) and Ubisoft Quebec (Odyssey) deserve praise for resuscitating the franchise.
Valhalla follows the blueprint of the previous two iterations. It has more of an open-world RPG feel to it than the originals. Instead of spending most of your time climbing large buildings in dense cities, you’ll spend a large portion on your Viking boat or your trusty steed.
Story: All you could want from an Assassin’s Creed game
In Valhalla, the character who’s life you get to relive is Eivor Varinsdottir — a member of a small group of Norsemen called the Raven clan. The story begins in 867 AD in Norway. This period in time is the beginning of the Viking Age, where Norse and Danes were colonizing many parts of Europe. Eivor and his adoptive older brother Sigurd follow this trend and leave Norway for England to begin a colony of their own.
After you build your settlement you do what any foreigners in a faraway land should do, form alliances. And that’s exactly how you, the player, will be spending most of your time. The country is divided up into many regions and cities. You must travel to each one to gain the alliance. This usually involves helping someone rise to power or stay in power in exchange for friendship. Each region has its own micro-story. They are all fairly unique but the actions you must make are pretty similar. The best part of these arcs is that the last mission usually involves raiding a fort with a small army.
The storming of castles are the most exciting missions, even though they don’t fit with the traditional Assassin’s Creed gameplay style of stealth. In fact, there is little need to be stealthy at all in Valhalla. This makes sense. Assassin culture is a small part of the main story. Eivor works with the organization that would become the Assassins but doesn’t fully commit to them. They mostly work together to defeat a common enemy called The Order who act the part of the Templars in this game. I’m guessing Ubisoft has toned down on the Assassins bit because they realized that players were tired of going through the same song and dance of discovering the creed, learning its history, and then joining them.
Throughout the game, during certain key points in conversations, you will get choices on how you want to respond. A few of these choices will affect the outcome of the story. Anytime a game lets you make these kinds of decisions you can sign me up. It makes me feel more invested in what’s happening. For all you romantics out there, some of these choices can even get your character laid.
Anyone who’s played an Assassins Creed game knows there is a whole other story outside of the one in the Animus. Personally, I’ve always been someone who cared more about the stories taking place inside the Animus than out. After a certain point, everything that takes place in the present-day started to feel like a half-baked Sci-Fi movie. Luckily with Valhalla, only a little bit of time is spent outside the Animus. And while it was still a bit confusing it was at least coherent and compelling enough to pique my interest. I’m even a little excited to see where they go with it in the next game.
Gameplay: A Blast from the past
The fighting mechanics in Valhalla are similar to previous Assassin’s Creed games. This used to be the strong point of these games — the striking movements felt smoother than almost any other game. I wouldn’t say it’s bad now, but other games have caught up and even surpassed it. Ghost of Tshumina for example makes the player feel like they are mastering their weapon as they progress and overall feels less clunky. Valhalla still lets you get away with dodging/blocking and then spamming attack moves. On the bright side, Valhalla does give many ways to customize the way you fight.
The game gives you a plethora of weapons to choose from. You get axes, spears, shields hammers, swords, flails, and more at your disposal to kill the Anglo-Saxons. You can go all offense and wield two weapons or play more passive and choose to have a shield in your off-hand. The skill tree for your character is massive and lets you focus on stealth, fighting, and ranged attacks, but you earn points fast enough to fill out most of the three branches. You can gain fun abilities such as being able to wield two two-handed weapons. If you don’t like the path you’ve chosen your free at any time to undo your selections and use those skill points elsewhere. A perfect feature for all of us that tend to overthink these kinds of decisions.
The combat is great so I really wish I spent more time doing it. It seems the developers wanted to make sure the user experienced the large map they created by forcing players to spend a large portion of their time traveling from objective to objective. Which was fine at first. But with a game that takes around 60 hours to beat, traveling back and forth between villages gets old. Being able to fast travel to certain locations helps but doesn’t totally fix the issue.
Part of the problem might be that it’s hard to get completely immersed in the game because the AI of the characters and animals is pretty poor. The creatures don’t always notice you even when you’re a few feet away. I’m pretty sure I killed more of them by running them over with my horse on the roads than actually hunting them. NPC’s that aren’t apart of the story have a similar issue. They spout the same lines over and over again. The voice of a peasant woman screaming “fluga FLUUUGA!” will be etched into my brain for as long as I live. Adding more realistic AI would go a long way. Easier said than done I know, but still.
Graphics and Audio: Beautiful yet Buggy
I want to make it a point to remind everyone that I played Valhalla on PS4, not the next-gen consoles. This means I’m comparing the graphics to other PS4 games. With all that being said, Valhalla is a pretty game. Certain settings like the snow-coated mountains were gorgeous enough that I had to stop and soak it all in. Many different parts of the game look almost identical but the unique spots are wonderfully done.
There were some minor glitches with the graphics though. Items phasing through clothing, characters teleporting when getting hit. These kinds of things I can live with and can sometimes find amusing as long as they don’t get me killed, but the game has more serious bugs. Like when my game stopped saving. I had to defeat the same boss 4 times before figuring out how to fix it. The solution? Making my character throw a party. Proof that drinking can solve all of life’s problems. The other major issue was the game crashed randomly multiple times.
The game lets you choose the gender of Eivor. I choose female so I can’t speak for the voice acting of the male version but the female version was solid. As were all the other main voice actors in the game.
Assassins Creed Valhalla was reviewed on PS4.