You cannot accuse Ubisoft of not changing with the times. From the Crusades, to the Renaissance to the American Revolution, French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution – the series made its mark by immersing players in authenticity through landmark events in history. In 2017 Assassins Creed was reworked and rejuvenated thanks to the Ancient Egyptian setting of Assassins Creed: Origins which was then followed up a year later with the much lauded Ancient Grecian Assassins Creed: Odyssey. Now a further two years have passed and we turn our attentions to the pillaging and raiding of Assassins Creed: Valhalla where Vikings rule the land, travelling from Norway to Anglo-Saxon England to conquer settlements and forge important alliances. Does Valhalla deal an almighty blow or is it about time the Assassins Creed series needed to be axed?
Starting out as a child called Eivor, you are welcomed into the world of Valhalla with a party where dancing and feasting are the festivities. Suddenly a conflict breaks out and Eivor’s father is killed, prompting no discernible reaction from Eivor upon witnessing his father being slain in front of him. Afterwards Eivor starts enduring strange visions of his brother Sigurd betraying him and this inevitably leaves Eivor to find answers and prove these visions wrong. Eivor is your mighty soft-spoken Norwegian Viking protagonist and along with brother Sigurd and their army of raiders they leave Norway due to overcrowding and look to settle lands in Saxon England on their ongoing expansion to conquer Europe. This means Eivor must forge alliances and wipe out enemy territories in a bid to takeover England. As a protagonist Eivor is rather dry and dull, suffering from many of Assassins Creed‘s shortcomings regarding characterisation. NPC’s fare better and can be strange and interesting, but they too can seem threadbare and lacking pronounced charm and depth, coming across like theatrical actors performing a stage play rather than meaningful characters you can emotionally invest in.
Wars will be waged, castles will be plundered and raided, and treasures will be unearthed as ill-gotten gains as you explore the vast, grand lands of Valhalla. Make no mistake, Valhalla is an almighty feast of a game clocking in over a hundred hours of meaty gameplay, and in typical Ubisoft fashion there is a gigantic Christmas tree’s worth of icons lighting up the map indicating treasures and side quests – meaning that you’ll have a near-endless amount of things to do. It’s undoubtedly impressive how much Ubisoft stuffs into every entry of Assassins Creed but more isn’t necessarily better. Thankfully Valhalla sidesteps the feeling of fatigue thanks to the variety of stuff to do and how much of it is deftly crafted, but unfortunately is another example of Assassins Creed and Ubisoft going through the motions, offering a wealth of diversions and sights to see and things to do, but the addictiveness largely outweighs the entertainment value.
Unpacking the meat of Valhalla is a monumental task because there is plenty to keep you occupied. You start the game in Norway and after a few hours of raiding and getting to know your brothers in arms you’re swept into the vast and diverse swathes of English land for you to ransack and claim as your own. Not long after your arrival you and your company touchdown and find a settlement named Raventhorpe, which can be upgraded and furnished with a smorgasbord of refinements that open up new missions, perks, and activities, provided you have the necessary amount of raw materials to craft them-which you can do so by foraging supplies and raw materials you can usually find whilst raiding enemy camps. You can access upgrades by finding wooden posts outside construction tents dotted throughout Raventhorpe. Such upgrades include building a fishing hut that will gain you access to fishing as an activity, building a bakery gives your crew of Jomsvikings feast buffs, constructing a museum allows you to trade in Roman artefacts for trophies, barracks that can send Jomsvikings off on missions and reap your settlements, and the Hidden One’s Bureau can be forged where you will go on a hunt for codex pages and find out about the titular Hidden Ones who preceded the Assassins. There are many other settlement upgrades available and much like the game itself they are plentiful but you feel the sense of power permeating through Eivor and his allies.
Empowerment is more progressively realised through Valhalla‘s numerous forms of levelling and upgrade systems. Firstly there’s a constellations-based power level upgrade system – which once again is exhaustive just like the rest of the game. When you level up, you acquire two power points used to purchase a range of upgrades and specialisations. Some of these give minor boosts to your attributes while others can grant you temporary or everlasting perks such as slowing down time after a timely evasive manoeuvre or allowing you to set traps on slain enemies in stealth – so while some of these perks are useful and add meaningfully to your gameplay experience, others are too minimal and you’ll be collecting certain boosts again and again by using the power skill tree that will leave you wondering why a simplified upgrade system wasn’t implemented.
In addition to power ascension, Eivor’s gear can be augmented with runes that offer slight advantages in combat with elemental effects such as an axe inflamed in fire, and various other benefits that can rez up your gear with formidable buffs that further contribute to the sense of ascending empowerment that makes Eivor more and more formidable.
Abilities are another form of combat speciality but unlike other types, these are found in ruins and hidden locations within the world and can be mapped and then applied in a menu. Abilities are both melee and ranged focused and can give you access to a hook device that can pull enemies close to you and modify your arrows with explosive potential. They make combat more enjoyable as you can clear out foes in stylish ways, especially those black knights you’ll undoubtedly encounter; make sure you keep your guard up with them and that you take note of the power required needed to defeat them.
The act of playing Valhalla is about as refined and enjoyable as Assassins Creed has ever been yet it also stays with the tried and true mechanics and techniques the series has built its foundation on from the beginning – in other words, it’s playing to its strengths.
Similar to Odyssey you will have the option to take to Valhalla with as much or as little guidance as you want, with the game giving you three options that tailor the experience to your liking. If discovery really is your thing you can take the training wheels off and find the path forward yourself, which was the way Odyssey and now Valhalla is intended to be played. Also like Odyssey, you have a trusty bird that can survey the area for you so you can mark enemies and find the next objective and it certainly helps bridge the gap between discovery and guidance in a way that doesn’t impede you from making progress, but encourages you to explore the vast swathes of lands set out before you.
Combat is as slick and and engaging as ever before, the power of a Norse Viking flows through you and it’s a dominating and exacting sensation thanks in part to the mighty and meaty melee options on offer. The gigantic axe and hammers feel almighty and devastating whilst newer inclusions such the mace are lethal but light – you might say they’re a-mace-ing. After pummelling enemies Eivor will be able to finish them off with a glorious decapitation animation which are sickeningly brutal, but just as rewarding
Stealth is still about clearing out castles and settlements of guards whilst hunched up in shrubbery. The main appeal of stealth can be found with the knick-knacks you acquire upon improving your power level and using those skills in stealth – nothing can be quite as gratifying as stabbing a lacky and then hurling an axe towards a nearby straggler. Maybe you want to rig a dead enemy with an explosive charge for his curious pals to run into when they attempt to discover his corpse. If it isn’t broken don’t fix it, and Valhalla‘s stealth is a testament to that saying, providing enough flourishes to keep proceedings appealing but not altering anything drastically to feel markedly different from what has come before.
Besides the fundamentals Valhalla includes a bountiful bevvy of activities to keep you slaying for hours and hours and hours on end. Raiding is a frequent necessity in Valhalla, which has you storming camps and villages for raw materials so you can craft better gear and refine Raventhorpe. They do boil down to simple skirmishes, but the sight of seeing yourself and your crew invading and heading into war is thrilling. A heightened sense of awe can be gained from laying siege to castles and fortifications, when your men can be seen huffing a battering ram up to a gate aiming to ram it until it busts wide open allowing you to filter through. You can help your men in using the battering ram and the force and feedback you get from the impact is satisfying through its resounding reverberation. Unfortunately laying siege can be too rinse and repeat where you’re performing gate crashes, detaching chains to make a bridge fall so you can get across to another area of a fort, and then proceeding to your objective whereby you’ll have to conquer a boss.
When you aren’t looking to make progress through the story or have outright finished it, there are many side stories to uncover that tend to be more ludicrous and interesting than anything found in the main story. All those blue lights on the map signal these side activities and they should be savoured, as they truly are where Valhalla feels like a living, breathing world. Golden lights on the map can steer you towards treasures and goodies. Also be sure to uncover ruins and catacombs where you’ll be able to find more chests to loot and read notes-the latter of which can be found all over the place and offers further intrigue into the game’s story, characters and mythos. You can take in a spot of flyting (basically the Norse version of rapping), play a drinking mini-game where you chug down alcohol from a horn against a willing participant and play a unique board game that begs reminders of Gwent from The Witcher III: Wild Hunt.
Valhalla is at times an amazing looking game, doubly so if you happen to own a Series X. Meticulous details abound with diverse and pretty swathes of land that look as grand and as ancient as the time of which the game is set. Certain views will take your breath away and the painstaking details are so pleasing that your eyes won’t rest upon witnessing them. There are an assortment of funny technical issues such as Eivor getting stuck in the world geometry, and times where a companion won’t aid Eivor with bashing down a door, but the insignificance of these problems will become apparent when you’re submerged so deeply into all the game has to offer.
Sound design is pleasing but doesn’t go out of its way to impress as it has in previous Assassins Creed games. Of course, listening to your crew of Vikings singing a shanty is always a highlight, and the subtle viewpoint music does a lovely job of granting a moment of reflection, but there’s not a lot of remarkable sound design here to take note of. The voice acting is passable but lacking in charisma, although Eivarr is a memorable and eccentric character what with all his thirstiness for blood and war, but the cast in generally fine.
Perhaps it’s off kilter to say another year, another Assassins Creed entry – particularly with the fact that the last game came out in 2018 – but Valhalla assuages much of the scepticism surrounding the frequency of Assassins Creed games by being one of the best entries in the entire series, with its only considerable setbacks a circumstance of Ubisoft’s penchant to create huge open-worlds with too much going on in them and the matter that a handful of bugs can stymie the experience. Yet Valhalla does an exemplary job of immersing players in a world of Vikings and raiding that you’ll hardly want to acknowledge its shortfalls. There’s hours upon hours of entertainment here bolstered by satisfying combat and a story that will engage throughout, although the addictive nature of playing Valhalla often overwhelms the enjoyability – there are so many distractions and enhancements that make it a fully bolstered adventure that you’ll find yourself lost and entrenched in time and again. Valhalla swings for the fences and lands a satisfying and devastating blow that will certainly be felt by most players who experience it, just don’t go looking for a game-changer.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.