Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is my absolute favorite of this latest updated franchise games series, but the reasons I enjoy it could be turn-offs for others. The enhanced fighting and raiding with a platoon is the game’s emphasis, and although it’s well done, it actually casts aside the franchise’s stealth roots.
This is a move the series needs to take; seize up from what these games described almost a decade ago to become the norm for action RPGs.
I would also like to get this out of the way: if you were thinking about running this game on your PC, don’t. Not to say the console version can’t sometimes be sluggish, but the PC version was almost unplayable for me a challenge I also had with Watch Dogs: Legion,) and I got bored struggling to work through it crashing continuously after an hour. Another writer on our team had a dead NPC problem and they had to speak to that NPC in order to progress. They are now locked out of the game, and that’s the day one patch.
Originally familiar, the story goes to interesting places
Many of Assassin’s Creed games revolve in setting up their campaigns around family, deception, and political unrest, and Valhalla is no different. Set in the 9th century, Eivor, who can be played as a male or female at various points in the plot, seeks vengeance for their parents’ death by a rival clan chief. To get what they want, they make clear choices that eventually lead them with their brother Sigurd to form a new home in Anglo-Saxon England.
From there the main focus of the game is for this tiny group of Danes to extend their scope through destructive raids or diplomatic alliances, extending their base camp of Ravensthorpe to a flourishing city.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is my absolute favorite of this latest updated franchise game trilogy.
In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the familial core of the game is often remarkably similar to the Kassandra and Alexios dynamics. As time passes on and the plot gets a little more breathing room as the Raven clan spreads across England, Valhalla makes some fascinating variations that set it apart from the more recent editions in the series, but I sincerely hope that the next franchise game breaks completely from this setup.
The narrative that links directly to the gameplay of the expansion of Raven’s clan across England is the story that I found more fascinating, but sometimes off-balance. Eivor and their people are not refugees who have no option to flee Norway; they expressly chose to leave to enjoy the benefits of practically greener pastures.
Although they arrive intending to be as friendly as possible, they move very quickly to the raiding and pillaging part. The game then produces antagonists that are so spiteful and power-hungry, that you have no option but to cheer for Eivor. Valhalla at times attempts to pose both sides” claim, but it never really works as well as expected.
I very soon ended up taking it more at face value, and ultimately appreciated the story for what it was. But then it was never overlooked on me that Ubisoft is an organization going through its own internal problems about the misuse of power, so I never entirely gave up on evaluating the game’s narration.
A more organic, varied world
Another major turn-off for me on Origins and Odyssey was the sheer size and boundlessness of the gameplay and activities. This doesn’t mean Valhalla’s universe isn’t vast or lacking in missions, but it still seems much more manageable, and reaching goals is less like ticking stuff off a checklist and more about natural exploration.
England, the game’s biggest but it’s not the only map, is a single region that can be navigated on foot, on horseback, or by boat through its flowing rivers that extend across the region. Smack dab in the middle is Ravensthorpe, and the game coming to Eivor’s home base also offers more meaning for the environment that is simply non-existent in the ever-nomadic lives Bayek and Kasandra/Alexios lead in their games.
Each swing of my ax felt smooth and thrilling, and even after hours of gameplay, exclaims of disbelief at Eivor’s ruthlessness kept spewing from my mouth.
Rather than feeling obligated to gray out every marker on an island and inevitably struggling to do so as I did in Odyssey, Valhalla makes your ability to reinforce the Raven clan your traversal path, and the side events you come across seem far more important.
The need to depend on your bird partner to scan an environment, marking every enemy and asset you see before moving from marker to marker. Although you have a Raven as a companion who can scout for you, it’s more about having a preliminary lay of the land than getting to know each nook and cranny intimately.
Odin’s sight, a pulsating skill that identifies landmarks and enemies in your close surroundings, is much more useful this time around, enabling players to remain more in the aggressive action and interact spontaneously.
Of course, this is Assassin’s Creed, which means our contemporary protagonist Layla also has some modern-day portions. The game seeks to make it feel more important by bringing characters linked to Desmond’s story in the original trilogy and spin-offs, but it feels half-baked, both narratively and visually. Like stealth, modern-day stuff is something the series feels obligated to have, but without it, these games would be better, and I wouldn’t care if they removed it absolutely.
The gameplay is the finest the series has ever had
There are a term people sometimes use when critiquing video games: Gameplay is king. Although I’ve never entirely subscribed to that theory, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t valid in the context of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. What finally moved me back from Origins and Odyssey is the impression the restored battle system was just part of the process there. The two-year title gap helped the development team to improve it and I’m so excited about the results.
Valhalla makes some fascinating exceptions from the latest entries in the sequence.
Eivor and their clan are a powerful, persistent force, which is something that the gameplay catches. Every swing of my ax felt smooth and exciting, and even after hours of playing, exclaims of disbelief at Eivor’s ruthlessness kept spewing from my mouth.
Quite often, Eivor is followed by a squad of Viking warriors to help them extend the scope of Ravensthorpe and performs better than any previous Assassin’s Creed games. It feels like Brotherhood should’ve felt.
This delusion of operating reliably with NPC allies means there are also fewer instances during this time involving stealth. The point game urges you to use it but it’s rarely needed, or the most valuable tool to complete your target. Although restoring the opportunity to blend into the crowd was one of the major selling points, hacking and slashing your way against enemies is still the most rewarding and effective solution.
The idea that stealth takes second fiddle to aggressive war is an improvement, but for others, it may be a concern. Fans of the series who wanted to see a major return to form for stealth would definitely be frustrated by the heavier focus on face-to-face combat.
Both meta-systems sound more elegant than the previous series. Instead of obtaining loads of slightly better arms and armor, I see enhanced improvements more often, reducing the need for constant inventory management. Likewise, the ability tree slowly unfurls as you branch through it rather than providing you with everything it has to give from the jump. It makes the game’s RPG features, which many fans find turned off in recent years, much easier to understand.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla vowed to return to the roots of the series in Origins and Odyssey after two major steps, but what it seeks to rekindle ends up holding it back, and what it does best is what makes it decidedly so un-Creed. Assassin’s Many willing to embrace Valhalla will find a persuasive and rewarding RPG action.
Should you buy it?
Yes especially if you grab a next-generation console that will boost large frame rate and minimize load times.
How long will this last?
Hundreds of hours at least if you’re a completionist.
Is there a better alternative?
The only other major action RPG out around Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 is Watch Dogs: Legion, but Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is by a broad margin the better of both games.