Review – Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that I have a weird relationship with. For the most part I’m very critical of the franchise, even with some of the most popular games within them, whilst defending the underdogs. Brotherhood I have often said is one of the weakest games in the franchise whilst I avidly defend 2014’s French Revolution entry in Unity (after all the patches of course). There’s been a lot of inconsistency in the franchise until recently.
Since the soft reboot with Assassin’s Creed Origins back in 2015, the series has begun reinventing itself whilst keeping a lot of the core of the franchise intact. We’ve seen some of the best historical time periods that the series has presented whilst going deeper into the mythology. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in particular is my personal favourite entry, thanks to its stunning recreation of Greece, with fantastic combat and the best protagonist the series has seen. It’s been a magnificent turn around for a series that was becoming stale and repetitive. I’m happy to say that Valhalla is continuing the upward trajectory. Plus, it’s Ubisoft’s second game this year to be set in England, my homeland.
Set in 873 AD. You play as Eivor, who can be male or female in this game (I picked female and will refer to her as such). After their clan’s leader pledges allegiance to King Harald, they aren’t very happy and decide to leave to England in search of honour and riches. This isn’t a typical Viking conquest story, but one that is about Eivor and her clan looking for a place to call home. The Assassin’s Brotherhood also makes their appearance in the game. They offer the hidden blade to Eivor who is not quite willing to join the Assassin’s order, but who’s goals line up with theirs.
The story of Valhalla is one that I greatly enjoyed. It’s a surprisingly heartfelt tale full of interesting characters with their own motivations and personalities you will fall in love with. I thoroughly enjoyed Eivor’s relationship with her honour-bound brother Sigurd. The main story will take you across England and forging alliances with other clans; each of which have their own stories that take on darker themes than the franchise has before. There are plenty of dialogue choices and difficult decisions that really progress Eivor as a character.
In the modern day storyline you will continue the story as Layla and there’s really not much to say. If you didn’t like Layla before, then you probably won’t here. The game will still pull you out of the Animus at key moments to progress the end of the world storyline that I haven’t paid much attention to since Assassin’s Creed 2‘s annoying ending. Thankfully it is still a minor addition and whenever it does pull you out you can jump back in. I can’t help to think the the Assassin’s franchise would do better without these sections.
Booting up the game on my Xbox One X, I was worried this would be a horrible experience. It’s clear going into the release of Valhalla that this was designed for the next-generation consoles and high-end PC’s in mind. Thankfully though, I was pleasantly surprised with how things looked and ran. Especially on aging hardware that is heavily limited on the CPU. To start with, the performance the Xbox One X runs at a near locked 30FPS with only a couple of drops that I have noticed. It’s a very playable experience.
Moving onto the visuals and once again Assassin’s Creed hit’s the mark. From the stunning Aurora Borealis lit skies of Norway to the English country side and even Asgard itself. Valhalla looks beautiful in every landscape. This is a fine farewell to the current gen platforms. However, it’s not perfect and you will see plenty of issues with the graphics. A lot of textures look muddy and low resolutions give the world a unfinished look. As for the sound design, for the most part it is excellent. The main cast of characters all sound believable, with the female Eivor in particular doing an excellent job throughout.
I also encountered a number of bugs and crashes throughout my time with the game. For the most part, these are just minor annoyances, but some of them are more annoying and require a restart. Glitched enemies and broken AI that will often not see you is one thing. Then you’ve got the raids themselves. The big main loot chests need Eivor and a fellow Viking warrior to open them and unfortunately, on multiple occasions the friendly AI just won’t follow through. Finally, I have encountered a number of freezes and crashes every now and then. Thankfully not a lot of progress is lost, but the long loading times of the One X makes it a touch annoying. This is not an issue that Next-Gen and SSD equipped PC’s will have, but for those on last gen consoles it’s worth keeping in mind.
If you’ve played any of the Assassin’s Creed games since Origins you pretty much know what to expect and not a lot has been innovated on here. For the most part, you will be exploring these vast open worlds with a checklist of activities to complete. There’s no shortage of things to do in the world of Valhalla. From raiding enemy camps and towns for resources to help build up Ravenholm. To world events that act as fun little short stories, crypts to discover, and mini-games such as the amazing Flyting dialogue where you must insult the opponent with the most fitting dialogue choice. I was never bored and felt like I was always progressing towards or rewarded with something.
As you would expect from Vikings, the combat is brutal. The combat feels identical to that of games like Dark Souls; where Eivor can simply dodge, parry, and attack opponents, combining both heavy and light attacks. Initially, the combat is pretty basic with enemies choreographing their attacks for you and glowing if an attack can’t be blocked. It can often become a button spam especially during the early game boss fights. However, it is still entertaining with brutal kill animations and epic raids. Fighting alongside fellow Viking Warriors is a blast in the opening hours and is still a blast dozens of hours in, especially when you start getting more abilities.
When you start levelling up and finding abilities around the world, the gameplay really starts opening up. The skill tree starts small, but as you start expanding out you will see a lot more of it. Now not many will like this system since you can’t quite see what lies too far ahead in the tree, but a reset option allows you to refund your skill points and re-allocate them with ease. The more exciting abilities are scattered throughout the world as a collectable, so make sure to explore the worlds and keep an eye out for the book icon. It’s a great incentive to truly explore the world and uncover its mysteries since your favourite ability might be just around the corner.
As you start gathering abilities and delving into the skill tree the combat will also begin to click into place. Turning the game from a basic hack and slash into something a little more exciting. Eivor also has a number of weapons available to her. With Axes, Hammers, Bows, Shield, and much more Eivor can also equip many of them in dual wield form with some unique moves. There’s a lot more to the combat than the game initially reveals.
Stealth has also seen some major work done to it as well. The social stealth elements of Assassin’s Creed 1 are back, where you can blend into the crowd to get past or away from guards. Eivor can also put on a cloak that will massively increase undetectability. As for stealth kills, the Hidden Blade is back and so are instant kill takedowns against regular enemies. The stealth has been the most enjoyable it has been in years. However, being a Viking, I did much prefer just rushing and laying waste to my enemies.
Customising your main character has seen some much needed change. Where Odyssey and Origins were a numbers game and had you chasing higher level loot for no apparent reason, which made it feel a bit to close to Destiny 2 for me. Valhalla ditches this and lets you use whatever loot you want, which is how it should be done. You are in full control over the gear that Eivor has equipped and not what the game wants you to equip. If you want to equip two shield and just pummel enemies, you can and the game won’t punish you for it. Progression is still tied to power ratings and each region has its own assigned to it, but now your power is dictated by how many skill points you’ve spent. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a significant step up.
Finally, I’ve got to give credit to the options menu of this game. Being able to change simple things such as gore and nudity is pretty standard in most games, but Valhalla let’s you change a number of parameters. Multiple combat, puzzle, and exploration difficulties exist, so if combat isn’t your thing, but you want to explore the world with no guidance, you can. You can also change the Quick Time Event behaviour and boost the Hidden Blade damage even more to guarantee a instant kill on all enemies (for the most part the Hidden Blade is a one hit kill with exceptions with this option off). There’s plenty of options that allow you to fine tune the game to your playstyle.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a game that doesn’t innovate on the franchise’s formula, but instead focuses on refining it. Valhalla is a game worthy of your time and if you haven’t played an Assassin’s Creed game before or are looking at jumping back in then this is a perfect new entry point.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla looks great when it really matters on Xbox One X. But start looking closely and the cracks start forming.
More of a refinement than an innovation over previous games but it doesn’t matter. The gameplay here is on point and returns some of the classic AC elements.
The voice acting from the main cast help deliver a believable Viking story, whilst the soundtrack immerses into the experience.
Bugs aside, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is one of the best entries in the series.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
Played on Xbox One X.
A copy of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was provided by the publisher.