A Long History
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the latest entry in Ubisoft’s three generation spanning Action-Adventure/Role-Playing series. The series is now a staple in modern gaming and Ubisoft has had to find ways to keep the series fresh while not moving too far off the love- it-or-hate-it “Ubisoft type game” formula.
Starting with Assassin’s Creed Origins in 2017, the series has moved toward a focus on being a massive, one hundred hour plus RPG series. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is luckily not just another solid entry in the series. It is a really, really good game and among the best games in the entire series.
The game follows Eivor and his (or her) band of Vikings as they leave their homeland of Norway to England. Throughout the game Eivor and their brother, Sigmund, make alliances, battle enemies, and gain new land as they fight throughout England. Like other Assassin’s Creed games there is a modern day plot in which a group of people use the animus, a machine that allows people to explore the memories of ancient ancestors. An interesting aspect of the game is that you are able to choose Eivor’s gender and can change it whenever you want. You also have the ability to let the animus choose the gender of Eivor for you which can dynamically change throughout the game. It is an interesting choice but it doesn’t have any actual impact on the game or how other characters interact with you.
From Action to RPG
Valhalla is Ubisoft’s best attempt at making an RPG so far while continuing to use the “Ubisoft” formula. There is a large map with seemingly endless to do. In past games like Odyssey, I often found the sheer amount to do overwhelming and almost discouraging. It felt like a precise formula that was meant to keep me strung along for dozens of hours rather than something that was neatly crafted.
While Valhalla still stays true to the formula in many ways, this iteration of the formula feels like the best put together version Ubisoft has ever crafted. There is a lot to do in this game. Just playing through the main story will probably take you dozens of hours, but that just scratches the surface of what Valhalla offers. There are hundreds of side quests and activities, base building and management, raids, mini games, and more. This is a Ubisoft game after all, meaning the game is full to the brim with things to do.
Valhalla could have felt overwhelming considering the sheer scope of the game, but Ubisoft have managed to make the game feel streamlined in a way that previous games have not. There is constantly something to do, but you really only have to engage with what you want to, meaning the game doesn’t feel like it has a lot of filler.
A lot of Space
The map itself is the best since Assassin’s Creed 2. Norway and England, the two primary locations, are beautiful locations and feature a mix of mountainous terrain, Viking and early England architecture, as well as a mix of other varied and distinct environments.
There are a lot of icons on the map, but Valhalla smartly avoids endless question marks in exchange for a less cumbersome mix of icons that are clearly identifiable. There is a clear identifier for quests, mysterious items, loot, and more. Again, you can engage with the content how you see fit. If you want to mainline the story you are more than welcome to. If you want to go off and engage with any side content the game offers you, the game encourages you to do so.
One of the more satisfying activities the game offers you is the ability to raid unsuspecting settlements and pillage the entire area. This involves you getting on a longboat with a crew of nameless other vikings, singing songs or telling stories, and then eventually hitting land and destroying everything in sight. While raiding isn’t necessarily varied, it never became unsatisfying.
Raiding isn’t just a meaningless activity. When you raid you earn supplies which can be used as currency or to upgrade your settlement. Settlements are an activity you can engage with which can help grow your settlement of vikings. Growing your settlement will benefit you in the long run so it is best to engage in this early in the game. Settlements are a part of the game you can fully engage with or choose to ignore from my experience, but it is incredibly satisfying to see your settlement grow from a barebones location to a fully built civilization.
Other activities in the game include well written side quests and random encounters. Some of the best characters in the game are ones that you’ll find outside of the main story. Whether it is a woman who wants you to find her comb or a man with an axe in his head, there are plenty of interesting characters to find.
Exploring the map is a lot of fun, but the next generation version of this game is even more enjoyable to explore. Fast travel takes around 4 or 5 seconds from any point on the map, meaning there is a lot more time for playing and less time looking at your phone. The quick resume feature on the Xbox Series X|S also came in handy, as you could pick up exactly where you left off in a matter of seconds irregardless of when you left off. Being able to boot up my console and get back to exactly where I stopped playing in 10-15 seconds is a really nice quality of life improvement. This doesn’t make the game any better or worse per se, but seeing Valhalla take advantage of the new hardware is nice to see.
Talk It Out
Valhalla features a dialogue system that lets you engage with key characters and force the narrative where you want it go. It isn’t the most robust dialogue system, as characters often only have a few things to say. The dialogue system can have some impact on the outcome of the story. One particular quest requires you to pick a traitor out of a group of three people. You are able to find out the correct answer if you are savy enough, but you can also just randomly choose and decide the characters fate that way. The game provides consequences within quests and story lines, but isn’t dynamic like some other RPGs where those choices will impact you down the road.
With My Axe
Combat has never been great in the Assassins Creed series, but Valhalla is the best iteration so far. Valhalla features ranged and melee combat as well as stealth gameplay. The ranged combat is barebones as Eivor can wield a bow and attack from afar. Melee combat is your standard shoulder button melee system, where you can mix light and heavy attacks as well as parry enemies to stun enemies. There are also chances at finishers where you can perform a stylish execution on a downed enemy. Melee combat feels crunchy and enemies are responsive and intelligent making combat feel satisfying.
The combat in Valhalla is able to hold its own with other open world RPGs which is a big accomplishment considering how quickly the series has changed. The weapons in Valhalla are mainly single handed weapons likes sword and axes, off hand weapons like shields and flails and dual wielded heavy weapons. They feel satisfying to use and each weapon variant feels unique.
There are also a ton of upgrades to the combat that you earn simply by advancing through the game. A special type of combat upgrade is learned through “Books of Knowledge.” One of my personal favorites is the ability to gain a full head of steam and charge through someone like a freight train. There are dozens of ways to customize your combat experience and you can truly make Eivor into the fighter you want.
Stealth gameplay is what Assassin’s Creed is known for, and that is featured here. It clearly isn’t the focus anymore though. You can stealth around the map, but Valhalla’s map isn’t a sprawling city like the original games were. It is more difficult and less intuitive to engage in the stealth mechanics when a majority of the encounters take place in open fields, but you can still sneak around if you feel like doing so.
Valhalla is a cross generation game but looks impressive on both generations. The Series X version of the game runs at 60 frames per second compared to 30 on the One X and the improvement is very noticeable. The game feels good to play but feels signicantly better at 60 frames. The one draw back is that the game currently has some serious screen tearing. It is most noticeable during cutscenes but does pop up occasionally during gameplay. It isn’t enough to ruin the game but it is something that should hopefully be fixed via a patch. (A patch has recently been released which improves the tearing but does not completely fix it)
Outside of the technical aspects of the game, the game is stunning. The art style is what really makes Valhalla shine. England especially is a beautiful location that is light and vibrant. The lighting is incredible and will completely set the scene. Valhalla’s map is the best map the series has seen in a long time and it features a wide variety of locations to explore.
I had a great time playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and was surprised by how much depth there was. This is Ubisoft’s best efforts yet at reinventing the series and Valhalla stands among the best RPGs in recent memory. Valhalla is still tied to the Ubisoft formula in some ways, but in other ways this is the largest departure from that formula an Assassin’s Creed game has gone.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a standout in the series, the best game since it adjusted the formula and became more of an RPG than stealth-action game, and a great way to end the Xbox One generation and begin the Xbox Series X|S generation of consoles.
Played on Xbox Series X