Reviewed on Playstation 4
It’s been two years since the release of the last installment in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise and over a year since the last additional content was added to it, and we finally get a new adventure in this gigantic world. Here is your long-awaited, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla review .
Valhalla is not a dramatic departure from what’s come before with Origins and Odyssey, but with an all new century, characters and even culture, this entry is set to keep players engrossed for, quite literally, months! I myself have played a reasonable amount of the game but that has barely scratched the surface of this behemoth of a game.
I’ve been a franchise long fan of the series and was extremely excited for this game. On the other hand, if you’re anything like me with a backlog of games like mine, the prospect of undertaking such a massive task of playing an open-world RPG like this is often quite off putting! But once you get started and the story starts to pick up, you’ll happily pour your time into it as this is surely set to be the first great open-world adventure to break out on next gen consoles.
Set in the late 9th century, Viking warrior Eivor and their adopted brother Sigurd set sail to England to avoid pledging their service to a new King after claiming revenge on a rival clan. When I started this game, I was sure it was going to be a full on revenge story as with many of the previous Assassin’s Creed games, but Valhalla got this wrapped up rather quickly before the title card is even displayed on screen. This is actually quite a refreshing start as it then becomes a story of new beginnings and embraces the RPG nature of the game. I actually felt like my character and their clan could be whoever they wanted to be when they get there. Obviously they would remain Vikings and will seek good fortune, but striking out on your own really does develop character and you soon find out who you want to be.
The modern day narrative returns as well and this is where newcomers to the franchise will probably struggle with. This picks up what appears to be many months after Odyssey concluded with Layla Hassan, who has been entering the Animus to relive genetic memories of people long dead to find ancient artefacts that will save the world from an oncoming global disaster.
As a franchise long fan, I was extremely pleased to find that, after so many instalments of the series seemingly not knowing what to do with the modern day story after the departure of Desmond Miles in Assassin’s Creed III, this game ties the new games in with the old perfectly. A key bit of backstory is that Desmond and his team relived memories of his ancestors to find a way to stop a major sun flare in 2012 that would have wiped out life on Earth as it had done to a technologically advanced civilisation that predated humanity, known as the Isu. It seems the world is once again at threat from a natural disaster and the key to saving the world again lies in the memories of Eivor.
What I have always loved about the modern-day story is that it makes the whole series a huge epic story that spans millennia. I often felt Ubisoft lost their way with this but Valhalla, in the first few hours, has taught me a lesson in patience, and this game is set to give a big payoff to us loyal followers. For fellow fans, this modern-day sequence gives an explanation as to why the previous eras were visited and canonizes some aspects that were very customizable. For example, Odyssey gave you a choice to play as either Alexios or Kasandra and it seems the true canon character was in fact the latter which pleased me greatly and the staff she wielded by the end of the game serves a purpose here.
Back into the historical adventure, Eivor and their clan arrive in Anglo-Saxon England and take an abandoned settlement as their own. This is where the story truly begins and it is clear from here that this will take months to complete. With only a week of playing this myself, I can only speak for the opening few chapters and speculate or predict what will happen. But with two men hailing from Constantinople, who are members of a brotherhood known as The Hidden Ones, it is easy to see that we are in for a truly authentic and classic Assassin’s Creed story that has been combined with this newer take on the franchise since 2017.
Valhalla is set several centuries after Odyssey and Origins, and about two centuries before the first game. Here we see the two warring factions of the Assassins and Templars just before they took on these titles. For now, they are known as The Hidden Ones and the Order of the Ancients respectively.
This really shows that Ubisoft have been planning out the ongoing story ever since their break from annual releases after Syndicate with Valhalla bridging the massive gap between the classic games and these new open-world RPGs. The Hidden Ones task Eivor with finding the members of this cult whilst they explore and forge an empire across the country.
After settling the clan in England, we begin our quest to strengthen our ties to the land. I went south to speak with another clan who had lost their city to a band of Saxons and help them reclaim it with various raids and battles. But once the city is retaken, this is where I started to feel the major problem with the story. The following missions were very repetitive – speak to someone and then go kill some people, then go do it again. I have read previews on the game before playing and get the sense that this sort of busy work will be an ongoing feature throughout.
I have often said that bigger does not mean better and this is the very reason I enjoyed the original format of the franchise over the open-world RPG one. I feel that if we could just have a more streamlined story, then it would truly make all the difference in the issue of fatigue – a problem Assassin’s Creed has had for numerous years.
This is really where my journey has gotten so far. I am looking forward to exploring more of the surrounding areas, forging alliances through battle and even through some tactical marriages (something I have heard is featured). As with the previous games, one quest leads straight into another and is quite hard to keep compartmentalized, but I can say that the first few quests you undertake has strong ties to actual Viking history, and is so well-planned in terms of natural progression that it will keep you entertained for hours.
Cut-scenes are well played, building characterization as you progress and many of the people I’ve met so far, I hope to see them grow, flourish, and spend a good amount of time with. With tonnes of side-quests (known as mysteries in this installment), it’s like an episodic TV series you would find on HBO. These and various mini-games across the land will give you a welcome break from the heavier main story.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an open-world RPG structured around several main story quests and what seems to be an unlimited amount of side missions. From the very moment you select the start game option, you’re presented with numerous choices of how you’d like to play. Some of these features have been present in previous games, but there are some new ones here too.
I started by choosing how violent I wished the game to be. For the full experience, I was happy to have blood and dismemberment switched on – I can understand why you would turn this off, but at the end of the day these are Vikings so what would you expect? This ties hand-in-hand with combat difficulty where you have a choice of easy to hard, but then a new difficulty feature here is the exploration difficulty. For such a huge game, I don’t really see the need for this as it’s hard enough to find hidden treasures across a vast countryside with soldiers attacking on sight, let alone than making it harder to find them on the map.
Now, the major decision most will be looking forward to is Eivor’s appearance. You have the choice of playing as either male or female, however you can also let the Animus decide. This is the default setting where the gender changes throughout the game. I was at first skeptical about this as gender reassignment was definitely not around in the late 9th century. However, this is explained away when the modern-day characters find there are two sets of DNA intertwined so picking this option means whichever signal is strongest will be displayed.
When I started playing Valhalla, my first thought was that it looked and felt very much like Horizon Zero Dawn with the highly customisable elements, the mission structure, and the stealth elements. I almost forgot I wasn’t playing as Aloy as I marched on through the snowy clifftops. These elements are not new to the franchise as they have been seen in the previous two games, but what is new is some of the combat system. For the most part, it doesn’t step much away from what we saw in Odyssey, but now we have the option of dual-wielding almost every weapon! I didn’t really use this feature as I was quite happy with an axe and shield, but as the game progresses, the need for this will become more necessary.
The combat overall is very forgiving compared to many other games out there. As you’d expect, progression will help defeat more powerful enemies, but I managed to hold my own for a good amount of time against a crowd of enemies who were 100 power levels above me! The combat is hectic but there is more than enough time allowed to you for dodging and parrying that, if you’re not overwhelmed with the number of enemies, you should do well each time. That being said, I actually really didn’t like the controls. I found them slow and clunky, and the classic problem of the character climbing up a wall when you don’t want them to is still present here. Quite frankly, there is so much to learn early in the game that many will most likely find a combo they like and will stick to it, which is a shame as there is so much to choose from.
As I said with the story bridging the gap between the classic games and the new ones, so does the gameplay. Some old features make a very welcome return in Valhalla. Yes, we have almost the same progression system as Origins and Odyssey, same with having a bird fly ahead to scout the surroundings which were brilliant features and I’m glad they’re still here. But, at last, we have the return of instant assassinations and the Eagle Vision (known as Odin Sight here) once again allows you to locate enemies without the use of the bird.
One of my favorite returning features is the social stealth, first introduced in the original AC but perfected in Assassin’s Creed II, where you hide in plain sight. As the setting is closer to the original game, these techniques are used very well to show how far the brotherhood has come in the centuries between Origins and AC1.
I don’t have much to say on the mission structure as they really are pretty much the same as they have been in the previous two games. The huge open world makes some quests seem a bit of a chore, especially as traveling takes so long to get to new locations. Of course, fast travel is once again available but more often than not, the nearest fast travel location is still some distance from your objective.
I feel that this should be the last game in the franchise to use the sailing mechanics, at least for a while as it’s a tired feature. A good chunk of my playtime was just sitting in a boat watching it drift along the sea and rivers when all I really wanted to do was get into the action. I would put this down to Ubisoft creating another overly large world, maybe in future games, we could have a cut down on the scale so that we can really enjoy a more streamlined game that cuts all the unnecessary fat.
As to be expected, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is visually stunning. Every detail has been thought of here, from the grand scale of the snow-peaked mountains of Norway and the autumn fields of England to the way the light glints off your ax in the morning sun, it’s a wonder to behold.
I mentioned earlier that it feels like Horizon Zero Dawn and a big part of this is down to how the game looks. Making your way through the snow is a joy to do as you leave a trail behind you, and what’s interesting to see is that it stays there! At least for a good while anyway. Most games will soon erase your path in a few seconds but Valhalla has pushed the boundaries of realism. When you fall into the freezing waters of the Norwegian seas, the outer edges of the screen start to ice over indicating that you will most certainly die if you remain in there too long – an absolutely brilliant touch, especially being such a contrast to the blazing heat of Egypt and Greece.
During combat, if you’ve selected the higher violence settings, the brutality of the action is worthy of a Viking. A weakened enemy is impaled in a finishing blow whereas another is overpowered and beheaded with an explosion of blood as his head rolls away and the body drops to the ground. This of course would probably not be recommended to younger players as it may give nightmares, but if you’re playing alone, it’s quite fun to satisfy a bloodlust.
With the Norse culture heavily influencing the game – it’s about Vikings after all – many little touches have been effortlessly woven into how the game looks overall. Even the progression skill tree is displayed as if it were viewed in the night’s sky with each skill section is a different constellation. The detailing of the longboats is phenomenal, combined with the buildings in the settlements give the player a truly engaging experience.
One small thing that bugged me is that the NPCs don’t seem to really do anything. I mean they go about their business but when in a crowd, they just all seem to be a uniform group with no individuality to them. This of course can be forgiven as everything else is just a pure masterpiece of visuals. I played this on a standard PS4 and with the release of next-gen consoles this month, I’m extremely excited to see just how realistic and beautiful this game can really be in 4K Ultra HD!
Music & Audio
Personally, I’ve never been one to take much note of the soundtrack of games. I’m more stimulated by the visuals and gameplay more than anything else, but the score of Valhalla has that beautifully epic quality to it that enhances those jaw-dropping moments when you synchronize with a viewpoint and get a panoramic view of the lands, creating a sense of wonder.
The battles are as realistic as I could imagine as well, although I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve heard a sword piercing flesh or the sound of an axe cutting through bone so I can only imagine!
The voice acting in this is superb as well. The actors playing each character have really been able to portray the emotions and thoughts of the characters very well. As a resident Brit, I can confirm many of the accents are pretty spot on from what I’ve heard, albeit a bit exaggerated. But I would assume these would be a little different as this is set over a thousand years ago at a time when the country had been invaded countless times and were still yet to be conquered by the French.
From what I have played so far, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is shaping up to be the crowning jewel in Ubisoft’s flagship franchise and a masterpiece all on its own. Over the last thirteen years, Ubisoft has experimented and learned from each release. A strong set of well planned out characters combined with an epic story is one thing, but to then add in the spectacle and wonder of these magnificent locations is the icing on the cake.
With many who enjoyed the old games and many more who enjoy the open-world RPG games over the last three years, Ubisoft has now combined both to create the ultimate Assassin’s Creed game.
What lets the game down is the clunky and slow controls, the overused sailing feature from previous installments, and the tedious traveling times. However with a brilliant story and the beautiful eye candy, it brings with it, these can be overlooked and will no doubt over time, submerge you in the deeper lore and side stories.
Newcomers may struggle a bit, to begin with, but this is a decades-long story that is building to a big pay off, that of which I’m sure. I would highly recommend this to anyone and cannot wait to play this in full on PlayStation 5.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is released on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Stadia, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S worldwide on 10 November 2020. It’s released on PlayStation 5 in North America and Australia on 12 November 2020 and in the EU on 19 November 2020.
For more on Gaming, don’t forget to check it over here. We have also given our verdict on our personal picks for next-gen consoles with reasons over here for you to check out. Will you be picking up Valhalla for current or next-gen?