Once more we journey back into the Animus; into unseen lands as we fend off against the ongoing threat of Templar Knights, this time around doing it as some badass Vikings. Is this one Assassin’s Creed game that is worthy to enter the gates of Valhalla? Or is it one that should lay rest in the depths of Hel? Find out in out Assassin’s Creed Valhalla review!
Note: the main character can be either a male or a female, but for the purpose of this review we will refer to them as a male since we ran our playthrough with this selection.
From Strangers, to Friends, to Family
Let me first go off to say that this is probably the longest Assassin’s Creed game that Ubisoft has developed, easily beating the game time of the last two games in just the campaign alone. I wasn’t expecting something of this caliber, but by the end of it I’m glad it supplied me with an ample amount of story, along with side quests. I’m not too keen on sticking with games for such a long length, and honestly there are some brief moments of drag, but the overall experience is one that truly felt special once I reached that ending. This goes without saying though that there are some questionable story elements, more particularly the rushed intro that it honestly could have done without. In fact, this is probably my biggest complaint about the story.
The introduction to the world of Valhalla is a very strange one, as it begins the tale with a childhood flashback sequence of the main character, Eivor. Not a uncommon way to kick off an Assassin’s Creed as typically we learn about the character back story along with their motivations. Tasked by his father, Eivor offers their soon-to-be new king a peace offering while attending a ceremony that is celebrating the joining of Eivor’s clan with another. The cheerful joy and laughter however doesn’t last long as soon after the celebration begins, a rival clan ambushes them, killing a number of clan members including Eivor parents. What ensures next is a chase as Eivor quickly rides out, only to escape them by falling off a cliff onto a frozen lake.
Unlucky for Eivor, the ice begins breaking around him with matters only worsening as a viscous wolf also attacks. This is where the strangeness begins to happen as the Animus decides to glitch out in the weirdest moment, with the male or female choice being prompted. Immediately after the selection a time skip occurs with what we assume being 17 to 18 years passing. Eivor is once again in front of the very man who killed his parents, though as a captive. Escaping, Eivor meets up with his some of his old clan members to rally up a group so that they may once and for all take revenge.
Sounds like a pretty good motive right? The only issue is, it feels like we are missing a ton of story in-between it all. Faces that Eivor speak to are all unfamiliar to the player, though Eivor has known them his whole life. Even the “main” bad guy has a huge history as he remarks Eivor being on his trail for almost the last two decades. It all feels disjointed, with scenes being strung together with no real rhythm to them other than moving the story forward.
I was under the impression with how the intro went that we would be getting a massive story arc, but in truth this monster that Eivor has been on the hunt for so long ends up being killed in just a couple of short hours. Yeah, the main villain that puts Eivor on this warpath is killed off this early on.
It left me very confused as to what was happening in what was already a hard-to-follow start of the game. My first thoughts weren’t overly positive, which is why I mentioned it could have done without the intro altogether. A character journey should be one that players get to experience and not one already lived through, and thankfully this does end up being the case once you get past the title crawl.
With the main goal now being reached, the clan’s king makes a shocking announcement that he will be taking the knee in order to serve a new king who promises peace by uniting all the lands. Sigurd, the son of the current king is not happy by this decision as his birthright to rule is now being stolen from him. With a band of other clan member and Eivor, Sigurd leaves his home of Norway in search of glory through conquest in the lands of England.
Raiding, conquering, and building alliances is the core loop of Valhalla, one that truly makes you feel like a Viking at heart. The world map is divided into multiple factions, which works alongside with what is called the Alliance map. Basically your main goal is to set out across the lands and form as many alliances as you can. While the loop remains the same throughout, the way the player experiences each encounter is vastly different. You aren’t gonna be running the same task over and over to reach the end goal, as missions come in variety that certainly won’t bore players.
And with these being available in a large amounts, there is definitely a lot of story filled moments here that I have certainly come to enjoy. It was like watching my favorite TV show unfold before my eyes as I ran through a new region, meeting the different characters and learning of their own story while building my own. Again, I truly felt like a Viking warrior and with Norse mythology being heavily rooted in Valhalla, expect to see plenty of surprising story elements. If you’ve played any of the past Assassin’s Creed game, then you’ll know this means a lot more supernatural elements, which sadly I’m not allowed to talk about. Let’s just say that it elevates the game in not just the story, but also in some of it’s visual spectacles.
Returning to Where It All Started
The Assassin’s Creed series has gone through quite of bit gameplay changes over the last decade, more notably the shift from being a stealth game to a more character-building RPG. Some love the change, other not so much. Me? Well, I actually enjoy the change, though not a big fan on bullet sponge (or is it sword sponge?) enemies. Regardless, Valhalla seems to be taking a bit of a step back in some ways with how combat now feels, all while improving on RPG mechanics and general progression.
Now when I said step back, it wasn’t so much so in a negative way as the combat feels way more free flowing and responsive compared to the previous two. I would almost say it takes cues from Assassin’s Creed 2, which is arguably one of the best in the franchise. It’s rather fitting, especially since a majority of fights are done in groups during raids. so quickness and agility is a must.
The gear system also see’s some changes, with less equipment being in the game than Odyssey and Origins. In the case that less is more, loot is far more unique as developers can now focus on specific skills and traits without the need to drown players in it. Loot is now earned from opening chests, and/or finishing questlines. And because it’s more unique, it’s far easier to spec gear to have specific character builds. Not a bad trade off for having “less.”
Although if we are talking about anything being less, then we would have to point to the overall stealth experience. While the developers did bring back the insta-kill prompts (absent in the last,) stealth just doesn’t feel like the best way to play. And with the given setting perhaps that’s for the best? I mean the game stresses the idea that strength is in numbers as you travel across the open sea with a convoy of battle-ready vikings. Naturally, you’ll feel the instinct to rush head-on into battle with them. It just makes sense, though I can see fans taking an issue considering the name of the series. I will say that a mechanic that won’t be missed is the Wanted system, meaning you no longer have hound hungry soldiers chasing you around town should you commit a crime by mistake (or intentionally).
Looking at the parkour experience, I’m pretty satisfied with the overall experience. Just like in Odyssey, you’ll be able to climb literally anything you see, giving you a full sense of freedom. It’s extremely satisfying being able to go out your way to explore and wanting to reach the peak of a mountain without having to follow the preset path. It’s fun and I spent hours just wandering around, climbing things just for the sake of climbing, though honestly the visuals that Valhalla can pump certainly adds to the excitement.
A Beautiful World in Dire Need of Polishing
Trekking across vast open seas, venturing deep into lush green filled forests, and climbing the highest peaks, whatever you are doing in the world of Valhalla there is certainly beauty to be found around every corner. Even during the sailing moments, which I wasn’t too fond of, I found myself just stopping to behold the ungodly sights. There’s just this sense of adventuring that is felt by looking at the environment that made me want to go out my way, just to peak over a hill to see what was on the other side.
It honestly is one of the best looking current-gen titles I have ever played, and the thought of seeing what it looks like on a next-gen console such as the Series X or PS5 is certainly an exciting one. However, while the studio nails down the general environments, there are plenty of nagging issues that certainly take away from all that.
Lighting on the PS4 Pro for example can at times be a hit or miss with interiors seeing most of the issues, such as a random beam of light coming out of seemingly nowhere. Character animations look great in one instance, while in others are just completely off or skipping frames. We also found the general terrain to not be so friendly during combat as foliage would constantly block our view, or the character would hitch on some of the geometry making us miss our attacks. Clipping issues are pretty common with us falling through the floor multiple times, and in very rare cases, spawning in an endless pitfall from the sky after a death. If you are in a populated town or warzone, expect to see some screen tearing and slowdowns. The latter not so much as we found the performance to be surprisingly smooth for the most part.
The audio on the other hand seems to have a whole set of issues, such as desyncing from character lips, and cutting in and out during dialogue. Some of the mixing can be distracting as unneeded sound can be heard. An example of this happens fairly early during a character cutscene with an obscure amount of chatter happening in the background when there’s no one else talking. Eivor’s voice in the intro level also sounds very phoned in as there is a weird static and echo to it. We thought maybe this had to do with how the game was using the Animus in this moment, but it didn’t make a whole lot sense when in one line it was fine and then the next it wasn’t.
The worse of these issues, however, are the random crashes. Honestly I lost count after 10 crashes, though I know speaking with other reviewers that this doesn’t seem to be any better on next-gen consoles. Thankfully, learning from other games, I’ve been in the habit of backing up my saves though this by no means excuses the issue.
Sound the Horn
There is a lot to love about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and personally it’s amongst my favorite in the series now. Enjoyable gameplay that lightens up on the RPG elements for the better, encased in a world with sights that are to be behold, Valhalla may have a slow start to it’s story, but the pay-off is well worth it. You just have to cope through the bugs and potential crashes, though we’re sure the developers are already hard at work with fixing these issues.
- Gameplay heads back to it’s classic root for combat, with quality of life improvements for the RPG elements to make them enjoyable.
- Visually a breathtaking game.
- While a slow start, the story is one of the finest offered in the Assassin’s Creed series.
- Running on current-gen PS4 Pro, the performance is surprisingly smooth/
- Plenty of bugs that can get distracting, and downright annoying like game crashes.
- Audio mixing feels off at times.
- Stealth is lacking, which has been since Assassin’s Creed 2 trilogy.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla review code provided by the publisher. Game tested on the PS4 Pro. You can read SP1st and MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.