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November 10, 2020
“Where fault can be found, the good is ignored.” – that’s a real Viking phrase, and it just so happens to reflect the repute of this game. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the twelfth instalment of the blockbuster franchise and the third of the series with an RPG focus. After a few years of ups-and-downs and some buggy messes, Valhalla doesn’t challenge many expectations. What it does do is present an exceptionally alluring and exciting world to explore, raid, and conquer. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla isn’t the most perfect game around, though it’s a memorable one and will be a series favourite for many.
The open-world adventure follows the Viking raider Eivor and their brother Sigurd of the Raven Clan. The two leave their Scandinavia after a dispute and settle in Anglo-Saxon kingdoms with the help of the Ragnarssons. The realms of Wessex, Northumbria, East Anglia, and Mercia cause their clan difficulties in developing their settlement. A group of mysterious assassins named The Hidden Ones offers to help on the condition that Eivor aid their fight against the Order of the Ancients. From here, the ties between the lore of the Assassin’s Creed series and the modern-day become much more clear.
Eivor absolutely carries the main story. The performances by English voice actors Cecilie Stenspil and Magnus Bruun are above and beyond any other Assassin’s Creed game so far. Their voice work has such authenticity and the animation of the character truly feels Viking. Choices are so well written that even if the player chooses to be a reckless Norse raider or have thought and rationale behind decisions, it makes sense. With a supporting cast of equally fantastic performances, the characters of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla are captivating and faithful to their nature.
Flashing forward to the future, Layla Hassan returns from Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey. Elements of the Isu, the ancient civilisation that pre-dates human life, make an appearance in the story as well. Following the life of Eivor across the Anglo-Saxon land is great but isn’t anything special. While the writing and personalities are good, the main storyline is about on par with Odyssey or Origins. Some of the Viking elements will seem overdone with so much Norse mythology in pop-culture in recent years; however, with the added spice of the Assassin’s Creed lore sneaking in every so often the adventure begins to build its own identity.
“Eivor’s flippant reaction to many of the trivial tasks and morons they meet is as hilarious as the quests themselves.”
Where the writing shines most is within the unique activities placed throughout the world. Glimmering blue points of interest mark Mysteries that lead Eivor into exciting puzzles and side-missions that add to outstanding world-building. This includes hunting up to eleven legendary animals of Norse mythology, Animus Anomalies that add to the lore, or world events which are basically isolated stories. Eivor can encounter a family plagued by the stink of their disgustingly unhygienic father and need to find a way to rid the smell. Another includes two wannabe Ragnarsson brothers who are practising raiding by burning their own house down and need Eivor’s help to retrieve their endangered goods. Eivor’s flippant reaction to many of the trivial tasks and morons they meet is as hilarious as the quests themselves. The characters are well-written and compelling, helping build immersion within this predated world.
Right out of the longhouse, the adventure begins with open exploration of the Norse North. The cold and snowy mountains have visual elements that drive discovering side-quests, collectables, and synchronisation points. Despite the formulaic points of interest at this point in the series, the 360 design to encounters fosters a variety of pathways so no playthrough will be the same. Elements like mysterious crevasses in mountain ranges will lead to lost legends of Viking tales or the sound of disgruntled men by a waterfall raises a curious competition. It’s very clear early on the focus upon exploration and taking time to smell the opium poppies.
To aid the exploration of the vast world, you’ll be given a scouting raven, mounts, and a longboat of clan Vikings. The raven is used to get an understanding of nearby surroundings, acting as a recon for spotting targets, wealth, or other areas of interest. It’s a mechanic essential for higher difficulty playthroughs, although isn’t exactly vital for the normal run. Many of these points are marked on the HUD compass and doesn’t really give more information than the Odin Sense radar already does without even taking you out of gameplay.
Mounts are used to cross long distances of land and they are much faster at travelling over empty plains. Still, they do get finicky in situations with hills and large obstacles. Sometimes mounts will get stuck or glitch-out forcing the player to recount a few steps and try again or go around. Attempting to collect materials or fight horseback requires managing space and adds to the awkwardness of riding. It’s not game-breaking but it’s frustrating when it happens often.
The longboat is the best part of exploring in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Jumping in with your crew, automatically following the rivers and listening to ballads or Norse tales is a fantastic way to spend the time on the sea. It’s a speedy and engaging way to get from Point A to Point B and is unique to the Viking setting. They can be used to start raids, aiming the boat towards a nearby monastery or village and blowing the horn to announce the pillaging. The only issue with the longboat is how specifically placed Eivor must be to be able to command and use it. While the boats don’t have the capabilities of Assassin’s Creed Black Flag’s ship-combat, they are unique in their own right.
Combat in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla follows similar gameplay to Odyssey and Origins. The Viking can equip a two-handed axe, a shield, a flail, and one-handed axes in a range of combinations. All weapons are part of either the Bear, Raven, or Wolf class which indicates their playstyles and set bonuses. Coupled with the bow for long-ranged encounters and the hidden blade for close-quarter action, there are plenty of ways to play. Equipping two powerful shields and raiding monasteries as a charging-bear while the rest of the clan is helping to pick off Saxons is visceral. Valhalla’s combat is satisfying through incredibly gory finishing moves and how versatile it all is.
Once Eivor and Sigurd have settled in the Anglo-Saxon land, a town-building component is available. The settlement is the beating heart of the adventure where many impactful alliances and romances will flourish. Players can customise their appearance, decorations, mounts and even birth their own Jomsviking. These additions can be made upon upgrading parts of the settlement using supplies and raw materials looted from raids or exploration. Upgrades like building workshops for the Blacksmith, Barracks, Fishing Hut, Museum and more.
The settlement feature is reminiscent of the villa in Assassin’s Creed II with even more bang for your buck. Storing resources into the camp will introduce new characters and storylines. For example, The Hidden One’s Bureau opens an assassination plotline that requires Eivor to discover clues and eliminate targets of the Order of the Ancients. It’s not in-depth or super-strategic town-management but what it does provide is a simple yet absorbing feature to an already vast adventure. The settlement is another way the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla digs its axe deep, complimenting a world of remarkable stories and characters.
Unfortunately, the world itself continues to become too large. The setting doesn’t lend much to the enjoyment of the gameplay, often requiring Eivor to travel far distances across open landscapes. While exploring the world in-between mission markers isn’t empty by any means, it does eventually become a chore once the initial bewilderment of the environment is gone. This also demerits the Assassin’s Creed stealth gameplay the series is traditionally known for, even more so than Odyssey and Origins. Admittedly, it is made clear early on that Eivor is no typical assassin. Yet, this truly does not feel like an Assassin’s Creed game as crowds, verticality, and stealth are essentially useless outside a handful of large kingdoms.
While there is a lot of it, the variety in the landscape is impressive and detailed kingdoms are populated with common people and guards with all the equipment and trinkets set within their homes. Fields of grass and ruins are set against battles of flaming huts and bloody axes. There is an authentic amount of detail in this world and the next-generation hardware shows it off. Graphically the game doesn’t look next-gen, but its performance is where it glows. Running at a smooth 60 frames per second at 1080p on the PlayStation 5 feels great and even more so on a PC. Unfortunately, we couldn’t test the performance and quality of the 4K settings, but reports say it still looks terrific at the lower frame rate of 30.
“Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has more glitches than an unfinished Early Access game.”
Many a fair skin hides a foul mind. Vast plains of meadows and damp swamps present a backdrop for mead kegs full of bugs. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has more glitches than an unfinished Early Access game. Most of them are graphical; issues with clipping and getting stuck on surfaces, wonky camera angles and disjointed cutscenes, or weapons or NPCs simply not showing up. Occasionally a few will halt progress and require a restart. One instance, Eivor got stuck in a hidden basement room because a barrier to a ladder wasn’t destroyed properly. Another left Eivor with permanent vision-loss which resulted in having to re-complete an entire mission. At least the developers are self-aware, naming a trophy for the game “It’s Not a Bug, It’s a Feature!”
The arsenal of weapons and armour is impressive and rewarding to use, but selecting them isn’t as much. With so many mechanics and features the game has, the menus feel bloated and cumbersome. Inventory management is luckily not a big problem, as there isn’t a storage limit. But it is cumbersome to move through different menus, slide through the map, look up quests, inventory, skills, lore, and more. The interface even uses menus within menus, using multiple directional pad buttons to take you to the main menu settings or the store.
Yes, Valhalla includes a microtransaction store. There are no game-breaking purchasable items or gated content: the store consists of mainly cosmetic items like Draugr outfits for Eivor or a cute rainbow skin for the longboat. There are buyable map hints that unlock all the marked collectables and places of interest on the map. All this is unlocked in-game and the option is probably only there for people with too much gold from real-life raids.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla proves Viking culture can still be fun even with so many representations of it right now. Eivor will be one of the more memorable protagonists in the series, up there with Ezio and Altaïr, as the Dane is triumphantly performed by two amazing voice actors and a cast of animators and writers. The often charming and utterly amusing quests and characters make the adventure that much more entertaining.
Exploration of an open-world is now the main draw-point of the series and the various stories that arise deep within the land are astounding. While this does mean a lot of the stealth and deceit of Assassin’s Creed’s past is lost for good, a new RPG-centric experience now blossoms. Sure, there are some awkward control issues and the game is so physically large it can be overwhelming, but the allure is still there to come back and play more. If it weren’t for the horrific number of bugs and glitches, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla could have gotten our vote for game of the year.