Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: Available Now
Price: $59.99 USD – Available Here $99.95 AUD – Available Here
For many years now the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been experimenting with different changes to its formula to the point that anyone who saw the initial 2007 release would believe that the latest game, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, was from an entirely different franchise. Where previous games saw more focus on stealth and smaller scale locations, or plenty of boat combat, the latest trilogy of games has seen the series bloom into an action RPG with large maps and plenty of combat variety. So now that the story has traveled as far back as ancient Greece to as modern as Victorian London, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla places players into the role of a Viking from Norway setting out to England to make their own path.
After a brutal childhood, the brash Viking warrior Eivor, who can be played as either a girl, a boy, or swapped between the two depending on the Animus and can be changed at any time should the player wish, finds herself learning she is doomed to an awful fate. With her clan arguing over the proper way to continue living, be it in peace under a new ruler or continuing the Viking way of expanding and pillaging, Eivor chooses to follow her sworn-brother Sigurd and many of the Raven Clan on an excursion that sees them leave the land of Norway for the war-torn shoes of England. Here Eivor and the rest of the clan establish a settlement and begin to carve their niche into the land, through blood and fire if need be.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla takes a rather interesting approach to telling its narrative this time around, though it ends up taking a bit too long to get going in general as most players will find themselves at least twelve to fifteen hours into the game before things start opening up properly. Rather than focus entirely on a driven narrative Eivor will find that they are tasked by Sigurd to ally with each of the four kingdoms of England: Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, and Northumbria in an effort to secure the clan’s land and each of these kingdom alliances plays out as their own little narrative arcs that generally feature their own style of storytelling and characters that are unique to each section. This works rather well as players will find themselves always seeing something new as they progress the story, as each arc consists of some lengthy missions, but it does mean that there is no significant character development for the bulk of the side characters that players come across, especially since most of these characters never end up appearing in the story again outside of some exceptions.
Although the side characters may not be the best, Eivor makes up for this in spades by having a larger than life personality, plenty of charm and wit, as well as a brutally fierce attitude when it comes to fighting against fate. Players will make various decisions throughout the game that help shape Eivor a bit and these choices can range from having smaller effects on the world overall to the point that they seem inconsequential to playing a major but not immediate role. On the other side of the coin, the modern day storyline picks up after the events of the Odyssey’s final piece of DLC where the world is at the brink of destruction and only through the help of a mysterious and cryptic message leading the group to Eivor’s bones does there seem to be a way to avoid the apocalypse. As usual, modern day elements of the story don’t quite work as well as the events that take place inside of the Animus and while there are some extreme twists that happen on both sides of the story, it is quite evident where the focus is being placed here.
Outside of the main storyline players will find that the land of England and Norway have plenty of lore and extra short stories well worth their time. Many locations feature tidbits of lore about the land that the player is exploring and the world events that players will come across run the gambit from being hilarious to downright crazy depending on what the players are tasked with doing. There is such a wide variety to these world events that players really have no way of finding out how things will play out when they come across them, especially since a few can be handled in more than one way.
For the most part players will find that combat in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla remains mostly the same as the previous two entries in the series only this time around Eivor is capable of dual wielding every type of single-handed weapon, including shields which make for some rather astounding looking fight sequences at times. Any weapon that is dual wielded will deal more damage with the primary hand compared to the off-hand but players can mix things up in a variety of ways to best fit their playstyle, even if it simply remains “axe and board.” Two handed weapons can still only be used one at a time and players always have access to three types of bows that provide either standard shots, rapid fire shots without much chance to aim, and slow but more deliberate aimed shots. It is interesting to note that combat skills, both for ranged and melee attacks, are no longer unlocked through leveling up and are instead found from books discovered by exploring the world, with the first book teaching a skill and the second one improving it in some manner.
For players that want to focus a bit more on stealth, things remain a bit more action oriented but there are some elements here to make stealth and assassinations play more of a role this time around. Assassinating enemies remains a viable option, especially since players can quickly obtain a passive ability that allows Eivor to take part in a simple quick time event to properly assassinate an enemy even if they happen to be way stronger than she is at the moment and a number of sneaking, blending with a crowd, and even distractions can be used to distract enemies from seeing what Eivor might be up to.
Regardless of how players choose to take on the missions and enemies they come across, nearly every activity in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla provides XP in some form and helps Eivor level up and gain skill points that can be applied to a skill tree designed around constellations. Most of these points unlock various passive bonuses such as boosts to health, melee damage, stealth damage, etc. but there are a number of passive skills that can also be obtained through this system. This includes the aforementioned quick time assassinations on stronger targets, various additions to the melee arsenal, additional stealth abilities such as chain assassination, and more. Even gear is given a bit more freedom this time around as most equipment features the same stats that can then be improved through a blacksmith or player upgrades, allowing players to use equipment that can be a bit more cosmetic if they feel like it.
This level of freedom is continued a bit in the way that world exploration works. As soon as players set foot in England they have the ability to travel across most of, if not all, of the map should they so choose. Of course various regions will feature higher powered enemies but these encounters appear to be more like suggestions this time around as it is entirely possible to survive and even take down higher level foes, giving players plenty of chances to see everything the game has to offer whenever they feel like going off the beaten path or taking part in the numerous world events, side-activities, collectibles, and mini-games that dot the map in what is easily the largest feeling world the series has seen so far outside of maybe Black Flag, though this is mostly due to the fact that the Viking ship this time around is mostly used to simply travel through the riverways or transport Eivor’s fellow Vikings to a raid location.
Raids are a simple enough affair that often end up being far too easy for their own good outside of a few specific story related ones that scale up the amount of combatants to a surprisingly high amount. Players will aim their Viking ship towards the shore and blow the horn to send their men fighting through a monastery or enemy camp in search of riches and, most importantly, construction materials that can be used for Eivor and the Raven Clan’s settlement. Oddly enough even though Viking raids were likely bloody affairs that, while I’m far from a history buff, would probably see the deaths of innocents, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla threatens and will desynchronize players should they slay more than one or two innocents in the turmoil.
As mentioned before, players will spend many resources from their raids building up the Viking settlement through various building upgrades and additions. These range from creating an easy to reach trading post to sell random spoils and purchase items, various production sites to improve player buffs, buildings that can be used to customize Eivor’s appearance, train her mounts and raven, fish, and more. This provides an interesting area full of upgrades and the more time players invest in the settlement the more missions can come from it as most buildings offer unique objectives that players will need to accomplish, making sure that there is always a little something new to do.
Unfortunately with such a grand world to explore and so much variety in the way of side-activities and even main missions, there are a number of bugs that rear their head even on the next-gen Xbox Series X version of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. On more than one occasion entire world events needed to be reloaded as characters either would not spawn properly or react as they should to the actions taken by the player. Even standard environmental puzzles would glitch out entirely, with explodable walls not breaking when directly hit by jars or floating platforms not appearing. Most of these issues were resolved simply by reloading the game but these appeared far too frequently and even one significant boss battle was cut laughably short due to the opponent glitching and dying immediately.
Visuals & Audio
Players will be delighted to hear that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has seen some significant graphical improvements on the Xbox Series X release of the game as the lands of both England and Norway are gorgeously represented here. Norway is shown in its snowy glory with some variety here and there while England truly shines as it ranges from lush fields, ruined locations of previously great buildings, swamp lands, and more. Combat features a variety of unique animations for every weapon type and the fights can be quite gory as enemies will readily be dismembered with heads or arms being sent flying from executions. It is also worth noting that the game loads incredibly fast be it through fast travel or simply starting the game up from a cold start, traversing the extremely large map and making use of quick travel spots ends up being a quick and easy endeavor thanks to such fast load speeds.
It is interesting to note that since players can swap between the male and female versions of Eivor at will, or randomly as chosen by the Animus, players have the option to experience the voice work of the character in either form and while Odyssey saw the female version of the main character providing the stronger performance, Valhalla‘s voice acting leans a bit closer to the male’s performance this time around though both put in a solid enough performance regardless of what players choose. The soundtrack features some great tracks that are extremely fitting for the theme of the game and players can even choose to listen to both songs as well as tales while traveling on their boat once again.
After spending two iterations of Assassin’s Creed trying out a new style of gameplay Assassin’s Creed Valhalla tightens the combat up with more customization and freedom than before while also giving stealth players at least some options to work with while also providing perhaps the biggest map to explore to date. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a massive game that provides an almost exhaustive amount of content to explore as well as a solid storyline told in a unique manner that allows for easy breaks between focusing on story and spreading Eivor’s wings a bit to see everything else the game has to offer.