Assassin's Creed Valhalla Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Google Stadia, Sony PlayStation 4, Sony PlayStation 5, Microsoft Xbox One, Microsoft Xbox Series X and PC
By Odin's beard, this is a big one! While I am not a 'classic' Assassin's Creed fan, due to not really enjoying being locked into instant fail stealth missions and not being a fan of stealth games in general, I started to enjoy the series more when I bought Black Flag at the launch of the PlayStation 4 and absolutely loved Origins when it launched. They still had stealth but it was far less forced than in previous entries and were more like open-world RPGs.
The concept of Assassin's Creed Valhalla really resonated with me, both for the fact is was Vikings and that it was mostly set in my beloved England. Who doesn't like Vikings? I relate much more with pillaging, drinking mead, Norse mythology and murder than I do with other Assassins Creed settings. So pass me my mead and hand me an axe because this game has the potential to be my favourite Assassin's Creed to date.
One thing that became immediately apparent was the number of options you got to tailor the game experience to meet your needs. When you first boot up the game I had pages of options thrust upon me. I was able to manipulate the difficulty in a variety of ways, from stealth to combat, the difficulty was individually adjustable. Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a very malleable game that will suit any players skillset. Along with this, there were a plethora of other options that meant you could tweak the title to be played how you want to play it. Very nice indeed.
In Valhalla you play as Eivor, the son or daughter (depending on your choice) of a Viking chief. During a festive meeting of clans, the brown stuff hits the proverbial spinning thing and things go south, fast. What unfolds after is a story of revenge, mythology, alliances, love, betrayal and an all manner of bloodthirsty Viking shenanigans. I will not spoil the story but I will say I found the story enough to propel me through the open-world tasks laid out in front of me. It surprised me in places, made me feel emotional at times and I found the protagonist enjoyable, driven and battle-worthy.
At the start of the game, you get to pick whether you want to play as a female, a male or what was a turn of events for me, both. This plays an important part of the story, especially in the sections set outside the Animus. These sections always removed the immersion for me, I don't know why they are still there but in this game they did add a little something distinctive. The fact you can pick from two genders plays out by the Animus recognising two DNA strains and it actually forms part of the narrative. You play as Layla and have been directed to the remains of the protagonist and you are led on a mystery to save mankind.
Gameplay-wise, fans of recent Assassin's Creed games will slide straight into the nitty-gritty of Viking life. Climbing is the same, traversal is similar and in true Ubisoft fashion, most icons are placed on the map for you to navigate too and cross off your virtual to-do list. The combat, however, has massively improved from the last Assassin's Creed title I played. In fact, the game Valhalla reminded me of, especially in the opening area of the game, was Horizon: Zero Dawn. I was sliding around in the snow, using my bow and with glorious sunsets in the background and a red-headed female under my control, the metallic dino-slaying PlayStation exclusive of 2017 was in the forefront of my mind and that is by no means a bad thing.
In a more, dare I say it? Dark Souls-like combat system your actions are governed by a stamina meter and you have light and heavy attacks. You have unlockable moves and special abilities to us, with stamping on enemies heads being one of my favourites. As I said, my gaming persona fits the Viking style of play perfectly, hit hard, hit fast and be rewarded. The stealth play is much the same as before and can be just as janky. It is very funny shooting someone with an arrow to see his colleague right next to him say "What's going on?" and going about his business as if nothing has happened. Hilarious.
Valhalla has a very nice parry and stamina system that I enjoyed thoroughly. From someone who loves the Souls games and games that are very combat-focused, older Assassin's Creed games had a very thin combat system and that may be another one of the reasons they did not resonate with me too much. In this game some enemies, tougher enemies, you know the ones, the ones where you cant just wade in and hack them to death, will block and attack back. Instead, you have to parry them to wear their stamina bar down then perform gruesome finishers like stabbing them in the face or chopping their head off. The combat system in this title has much more depth than before and I liked this game a lot more because of it.
Much like in previous games, you still have an overhead friend to survey the area. In this game, it is a raven, which is quite fitting because your part of the raven clan. As in previous games the raven is used to survey quest locations, scout ahead and just generally being another eye for you to plan your jaunts with. In Valhalla I thought the healing system was well done, you forage for food and it either heals you instantly or gets reserved as rations for healing later. It's a very simple but very easy to use system and when it is something like healing, it’s all you need.
What I really liked about Valhalla, maybe because it is probably the biggest change from other Assassin's Creed games, is that you can now manage, build and develop your home village. Ravensthorpe, as it is called, is yours to grow. As you go on raids and as you gain resources you can add buildings, improve your on-site services and unlock more activities to take part in. I really loved this gameplay loop, go out in your boat, rob some poor buggers blind then build some new buildings back home. Some of these upgrades even give you stat bonuses such as more health. It feels closer to an RPG than traditional Assassin's Creed and I really relished it.
The more broad gameplay loop is quite different to other Creed games too, it plays out more like a development simulator with Assassin's Creed woven into it rather than the traditional stealth simulator the series was known for. Yes, there is still stealth gameplay in it but the game is more about making connections, making alliances and spreading your Viking Clan throughout England like an axe wielding virus of ultimate destruction. I always looked forward to meeting new people, making new friends and watching my clan flourish.
Along with managing your village, you will have to manage alliances on another map and your skills on what can only be described as a spider-web of unlockable talents which follow animal-like constellations in the sky. This along with the aforementioned combat skills, unlocked by reading texts scattered throughout the world means that there is a lot to keep on top of and a lot of stuff to do. With various story threads, various tasks to accomplish for the brotherhood and managing your village, there was always a new task for you to concentrate your Viking efforts on.
Valhalla is not one giant map like the last few entries of the series but rather a handful of smaller, yet large enough maps for you to conquer. I will not spoil some end game locations but you start in your native country, then move to England for a massive part of your playthrough. Other maps include some very traditional Viking locations but Shhhhhh! Spoilers! It certainly made a change having such varied locations and not looking at a massive map of icons and feeling a bit overwhelmed about what to do next. Sure there were still loads of icons and activities but it was not all-encompassing like in previous entries due to it being split into smaller chunks.
Even though I feel this game is probably the least Assassin's Creedy game I have played, now and again you get reminded that it is still a Creed game. When you play an outside the Animus section for example or swan-dive off a synchronization point or even do some work for the Brotherhood. Also, playing the massive Order of the Ancients questline which has you assassinate a massive grid of unfortunate folks, keeps the game feeling like an Assassin Creed title. However learning Brotherhood techniques as Vikings, who are anything but clandestine, makes for a really fun narrative.
In between all this robbing, pillaging and Brotherhood shenanigans you are treated to some very entertaining side activities and quests. My new favourites being Flyting, which is like an old-school rap battle played out with poetry, and Orlog, which is a dice-based board game. I love board games so I will neglect to tell you how long I spent in-game throwing the bones around with various NPC's. All in all, I really admired how many different activities and distractions there were between raids, assassinations and pure daylight robbery. It kept the game fresh, fun and broke up the action segments of the game nicely. I do have to mention the axehead side-quest which really tickled me. When you find it, you will know. Haha, axehead, brilliant.
Graphically I was in two minds with Valhalla, on one hand, as you can see from some of my screenshots, the game is stunning. On the other hand though, sometimes it could look quite basic. The game also suffered from a fair bit of graphical pop-in, especially when travelling by boat. It is by no means a bad looking game, just with everything I have watched over the last few days on PlayStation 5 you can definitely tell, in places, that this is a PS4 game at heart. I will be very interested to see what the game looks like on PS5.
Musically, I really dug the Valhalla soundtrack. I love the ethereal, folk-tale like sounds, I loved the very human tones, the songs and the very fitting accompaniment while the traversing this ancient world. I loved the changes in music as I boarded my boat or ran up a hill to raid a village with my crew. The soundtrack goes perfectly with the style and subject matter of Valhalla and it is a testament to the sound team. They did a great job making the sounds and music fit the tones of the game throughout.
While Valhalla does sometimes fall into the open-world problems many games of this ilk suffer from, the slightly new take on the Assassin's Creed formula does make it feel different. This game is more RPG than Assassin's Creed and I am fine with that.