Assassins Creed Valhalla Review

By Pointus Blankus on 23rd November 2020

The number of day one players on Assassins Creed Valhalla doubled that of Assassins Creed Odyssey. Since the launch of Origins, I have been quite frustrated that this franchise is simply not getting the praise and attention that it deserves, often since Ubisoft would release its flagship game around the same time as other AAA titles are being released. However, with the launch of Valhalla, it looks like Assassins Creed is finally winning the fight and gamers are taking real notice of its true potential. Valhalla expands what Odyssey and Origins had to offer, and takes the concept of an open-world RPG to new levels. 

One of my issues with Origins and Odyssey was that the game placed less of an emphasis on stealth. Whilst Valhalla still doesn’t go entirely down the stealth route, there is certainly more care given to allowing you to approach most encounters in a stealthy manner if you prefer that option. What also made me so excited to play Valhalla was that it’s based in the dark ages of England, and during a period that has largely been avoided in video games: the Viking era.

It’s worth noting that at the time of writing this review, half of the game was played on PS4 and the other half on PS5. The difference between the two consoles is chalk and cheese. Whilst the game performs well on the PS4, it suffers from all of the same issues as the previous games; very slow load times, slight delays in textures popping up and overall visual fidelity being stretched to the max. On the PS5 however, you’re going to be in for a real treat. It initially felt strange to have the game load up almost instantaneously. Considering how large the open world is, the load times on PS5 are extremely impressive, not to mention that the game also runs in 4K and 60fps on next-gen. It’s worth noting that as long as you are connected to Ubisoft Connect on the PS4, your progress will carry over in case you start on the PS4. Anyone who purchases the game on PS4 will also get a free upgrade to next-gen, whether that’s Xbox One to Xbox Series X, or PS4 to PS5.

Valhalla tells the story of Eivor, who has been conveniently named as such in case you decide to play as the male or female character. There is also a third option to let the Animus decide what character you play as throughout various parts of the campaign. For the remainder of this review, I will refer to Eivor as a female since this is what I chose as my character. Eivor is a Norse Viking whose main purpose in life is to seek revenge after a series of brutal and heartbreaking events lead down a dark rabbit hole. Although your story initially begins in Norway (depending on how much you want to explore, you may even end up spending a good 5-10 hours roaming Norway!), you very quickly make your way to England to form alliances and naturally cause chaos against the factions of the country. Regardless of whether you play as the mail or female Eivor, rest assured that the voiceovers are particularly well-acted and you won’t be disappointed with either choice.

Unlike previous Assassins Creed games that take you to exotic locations that you’d want to visit in your current lifetime, Valhalla’s setting is often the opposite. It’s often dark, cold and dirty. The various kingdoms of England are run by equally as corrupt politicians and it’s a setting where you fight first and speak second. The world of Valhalla is cruel and harsh, and you’re often at the center of many difficult decisions that will have severe consequences for those around you. Quite often, Eivor will need to be the judge, jury and executioner without even knowing all of the facts. I am extremely pleased that Ubisoft has gone down this route with Valhalla. We’ve already experienced ancient Greece and Egypt, both of which are beautiful for their own reasons. However, there is an equal amount of beauty that lies beneath a cold and dark England. Perhaps playing the game on PS5 will help you appreciate that Valhalla is in fact the most stunning open world RPG that Ubisoft has created to date.

As far as Valhalla’s story goes, it is also one of the best in the series. There are plenty of factions in England (Norse, Saxons, Britons, Danes etc.) all of whom are horrendously possessive over their lands and people. Just the thought of an outsider potentially sabotaging what they feel is rightfully theirs will lead to severe conflict between Eivor and the factions. As Eivor, you’ll often need to make choices that could potentially burn bridges with a faction or turn the faction into your closest ally. Your decisions could be based on the political standpoints, religious beliefs or even just your gut feeling. The fact that the game lets you decide is what makes this such a compelling campaign to replay.

Ultimately, this wouldn’t be a very good Assassins Creed game without the actual assassins. They are also instrumental to the story, and you’ll have access to all of the tombs and crypts that you’ve become accustomed to raiding in the previous games. There are plenty of secrets to uncover and some fantastic treasure at the end of these tombs. Although the guild of assassins play a role in the game, they initially take a backseat. You will meet them early on, since they help you gain access to the hidden blade, but they rarely take the driving seat until the latter part of the game. Valhalla’s primary focus is on Eivor’s mission to expand the Viking footprint in England. Valhalla also features Ubisoft’s interpretation of Asgard and the pantheon. The word ‘epic’ doesn’t quite describe how incredible it will be to see what Ubisoft comes up with, I just haven’t gotten round to it yet.

One of my favourite aspects of Valhalla is that it lets you play as a character so different from what we’re used to. Vikings are messy but complete brutes. When they attack, they raid as loudly as they possibly can. Valhalla does a fantastic job of representing this. Quite often you’ll raid a village and by the time you’re done with it, the whole thing is set on fire! The friendly AI isn’t just there to add numbers – they will do real damage and even kill enemies for you. If you don’t protect them well, they could get downed and you need to get them back up. The raids are the best moments of Valhalla from the moment your entire clan tries to breach the walls of a fortress to the moment you kill the leader. Raiding is a fantastic source of materials, which you need to upgrade your settlement. Here, you can use your materials and coins to massively upgrade your base. Unlike other RPG games that often let you upgrade just for visual effects, Valhalla’s settlement upgrades give you real benefits. You can build a stand for a merchant to buy and sell goods, a blacksmith for upgrading your gear. There even is an option to build a barrack so you can choose who you want to take with you on raids. Unlike previous Assassins Creed games where shops for buying, selling and upgrading are scattered everywhere, your settlement is where you can carry out such tasks. Due to the nature of the settlement, you’ll end up coming back very frequently to constantly upgrade yourself.

As far as combat goes, Valhalla is by far the greatest in the franchise. Your inventory will let you wield a weapon in one hand and a shield in the other. Once unlocked, you can even dual wield weapons. The joy comes from the game’s ability to essentially let you dual-wield any type of weapon combination you want. You can have a sword in your primary hand and a spear in the other as an example. Similar to the previous games in the series, there is a dodging, parry and blocking system. However, there is a significant emphasis on stamina this time. Even dodging will massively reduce your stamina, so you can’t keep spamming it. If you miss attacks, you also lose stamina quickly. Valhalla punishes you for spamming your attacks or dodges, therefore making the entire combat system more challenging but rewarding too. Even your horse has stamina, so you can’t ride at full speed constantly! There are also plenty of new animations and abilities available to Eivor, with my favourite being the stomp. This is unlocked in the skill tree, and allows you to stamp on an enemy who is grounded. Surprisingly it deals a lot of damage, but doesn’t necessarily kill them in one blow.

The stealth aspect of Valhalla needs some tweaking. At times I would be raiding a fort and Sigmund (Eivor’s brother) would join you. I would try to assassinate someone, but frustratingly the option to assassinate is R1, which is the same as a light attack. It would result in Eivor unleashing a light attack rather than an assassination attempt. Although that is an issue, the bigger issue is that even if I kill the enemy soldier and nobody else is alerted, sometimes Sigmund would treat the initial attack as a reason to run off and pick fights with everyone else! What starts off as a stealth mission turns into a bloodbath immediately.

The health system is also different to Odyssey. In Valhalla, you need food to increase your health. You have the option to store food (often berries) in case you need a top-up during battle. I’m not completely against the new system, but I also think it didn’t need changing from Odyssey. My only issue is that if you can’t carry anymore food, the game shouldn’t show me food that I can interact with. Berries are scattered everywhere, so here I am spamming triangle in case something else may be lootable, only to find out that my rations are full.

I’m also not sure what I feel about the skill progression system. Unlike Odyssey, the skills and abilities are now totally independent. Skills are unlocked via the skill tree, but abilities are found through books of knowledge. The issue with the skill tree is that you cannot see the full tree in advance. The tree expands in a lot of different directions (like a neural network) only if you unlock those sections of it. This is very unlike a traditional RPG game. How can I tell which direction I want to unlock skills in, if I don’t know what skills are waiting for me in the next set of branches? Luckily, you can reset your skill tree and reapply your skill points, but the decision to hide the entire tree and only reveal it section by section is bizarre. It also doesn’t help that most of the nodes on the skill tree aren’t even really skills. They are very minor boosts to your existing abilities e.g. stealth damage, overall health. Only at the center of each cluster is there an actual skill worth unlocking. The skill tree system needs an overhaul; I don’t enjoy having to unlock a node connected to another cluster, just to see what is unlockable in that cluster. I suppose you can Google the entire tree and then figure it out from there, but where’s the fun in that?

The books of knowledge are the actual abilities that you need to find around the world. These are abilities that will actually let you perform actions during combat, including the infamous Spartan kick. Unfortunately, there is no way to know where the books of knowledge are, unless you follow a guide. You may end up going right past a part of the map that has one of these books hidden away.

Unlike Odyssey, Valhalla doesn’t spam you with weapons in loot crates. Instead, loot crates are much lesser in quantity, and will often give you runes or materials for your settlement or gear. You will find weapons, but they are unique enough for you to want to consider using them. Odyssey suffered from an issue where you’d constantly find weapons, and you instantly knew you were going to sell them off or deconstruct them for parts. The weapons you find in Valhalla will have unique abilities and will therefore make you think.

Valhalla also changes the side-quest mission structure. Your map will firstly have colour-coded points of interest. They can either be mystery quests, wealth or artefacts. Therefore, you can go to a location appearing on your radar and already know which category you are building towards. Most mystery points will result in side quests, whereas wealth could result in finding treasure. None of these are mandatory, but I found myself trying to complete as many as possible just to help increase my skill rating.

Valhalla is not without its shortcomings. I have played about 25 hours so far and already my game has crashed at least 5 times. Sometimes, it wasn’t during a mission. However once, it crashed when I had just completed raiding a castle that took me 30 minutes to do. The game didn’t save in time, so I had to do all of that again. Infuriating is an understatement.

I am also slightly confused why Ubisoft still hadn’t reintroduced multiplayer to the game. The multiplayer component of Brotherhood was honestly so refreshing and unique, but for some reason Ubisoft decided to axe it. Finally, there is no co-op play. I understand that there may be technical challenges and also the story may not lend itself well to a two-player campaign. With that in mind, I can let that slide. By the time the next Assassins Creed comes out, Ubisoft will have spent plenty of time developing for next-gen, and therefore I think a game without multiplayer or co-op wouldn’t be as forgivable.

Despite the lack of multiplayer or co-op, Assassins Creed Valhalla is the best in the franchise on current-gen platforms. It helps Ubisoft that the launch lineup of next-gen games is simply not that strong especially for first party titles. Valhalla performs well on current-gen, but is exceptional on next-gen. Although I haven’t played all of the PS5 launch titles, I’d be surprised if there are any games that look better than Valhalla. It is the perfect game to show off the true power and visual fidelity of next-gen consoles. It just so happens that the game is also full of substance, delivering a fantastic combat system and a very compelling story. If you’re a completionist, you’ll clock well over 100 hours into the game. Ubisoft has once again knocked it out of the park, and with the battle pass taking you to Ireland and Paris in the future, completing the very lengthy campaign mode will just be the beginning of your Valhalla journey. 

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