Ubisoft took the Assassin’s Creed series back to its roots back in 2017 with the release of Origins. It marked a new approach to the series set in a massive open-world with a heavy emphasis on exploration, combat, story and characters. It was ambitious and it paid off. Fast forward a year later and Odyssey arrived. Bigger, better and did I mention it was big? No really, Odyssey was a massive game. So big that I still have fatigue from playing it. I went back to it a while back to play the DLC and gave up half-way through. Its open-world is often overwhelming and its back-and-forth exploration can be a chore at times. This year we have another Assassin’s Creed coming our way in the form of the Viking-themed Valhalla.
Check out our full Assassin’s Creed Valhalla video preview;
After a few hours with the game, we have a love and hate relationship with it. For starters, its darker tone is a welcome change as the Viking era delivers the opportunity for Ubisoft to present a new approach to the art style and story. From the first glimpse, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is not your Odyssey experience. The dark and gritty landscape replaces the vibrant rolling hills of Greece. The shiny shoulder guards of the hoplite Greek soldier is now replaced with layers of thick fur and the well-groomed and handsome fleet of men are now savage Vikings with makeshift tattoos, braided beards and a face full of scars. If anything, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla’s new aesthetic is attractive. It successfully forces you into the story and world around you even though the build we played lacked the polish of a final product.
Why am I going on about this you may ask? Well, because the game’s biggest selling point is its Viking-themed approach. Without it, it would be a cheap knockoff of the 2018 game. Much of its mechanics feel almost identical to the Assassin’s Creed formula which we have had shoved down our throats for a few years now. Is it enough to make the game relevant? Well, we hope so. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla may be a tough sell for those like me with open-world fatigue. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a massive open-world game but three in a row with very little to differentiate itself from the other is concerning.
Luckily, from our time with the game, it is damn fun. Valhalla introduces some exciting new mechanics from its combat, mini-games, story and RPG elements to deliver a solid game. While much of this has been built off the foundation of past entries, a lot of it offers some cool new ways to play the game. For example, no other game I played had me drinking ale until I could no longer walk within an hour of meeting the lead character, and no other game forced us to complete a bow and arrow shooting range while highly intoxicated and then have drunk sex with a friend. If there’s more of this to come, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is going to be one hell of a party.
Crazy Viking activities aside, Valhalla’s story and characters seem strong so far. Within the first few minutes of the game, we were infiltrating a castle to slay an army and loot their goods. Fast forward a little and we were leading a fleet of ships into battle towards an incoming army of men to save the kidnapped king whose wedding we just got drunk at. These moments were fun as the intense action and chaotic battles kept us on the edge of our seat. You then get to live you inner raging Viking fantasy at the same time through the combat and it is the most visceral to date. Smashing someone’s skull in with their shield you just ripped from their hands, beheading a soldier who gets to close to you and even tossing two axes at an archer in the distance. It all feels so damn good.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#F5BD00″ class=”” size=”21″]”No other game forced us to complete a bow and arrow shooting range while highly intoxicated”[/perfectpullquote] Thankfully, Eivor has some new tricks up her sleeve too as the robust skill tree lets you master stealth, archery and combat in different ways. This is backed by the same gear system anyone who has played Odyssey will remember. You can kit the main character out with axes, shields clothes and more. This goes hand-in-hand with the combat approach you decide to go with. The siege as I mentioned before, relies on pure power and fast reflexes. You can now chain combos together dealing heavy and light attacks and then finish it off with an unlocked ability. Melee abilities are mapped to your R2 and RT triggers making them easily accessible. L2 and LT are then used for range abilities. This means you have enough room for some pretty great combos as you can chain anything you wish together seamlessly. I can only imagine where the combat will go as you enter the later parts of the game and master more techniques.
Speaking of progression, the skill tree is also much bigger now too. This is thanks to the addition of Stat Nodes in the constellation-like map. Stat Nodes improves Evior’s attack power in stealth, archery and pure damage in combat. These nodes also need to be unlocked in order to gain a new set ability forcing you to refine your skill tree more than ever.
The game revolves around three trees; Bear, Wolf and Raven. The stats you upgrade will increase those abilities as well as the gear assigned to each power. For example, the Bear is red so going down the red skill tree and equipped red-icon gear will all combine together and benefit your playstyle. It is just a more advanced system of Odyssey, to be honest. However, it allows for a little more freedom and refinement this time around. It is also important to note that each tree offers a little bit of everything. The Raven tree while focusing mainly on stealth, also included a few skills to improve archery too. This means you won’t be locked into only taking the silent approach should you focus on the Raven line.
The changes to the skill tree can be felt in general gameplay. Assassinating a target, for example, is harder unless you increase the damage done in the tree. Some attacks also have a new focus ring that you need to time correctly in order to deal more damage. When performing a stealth kill, time will slow down and a ring will appear. Press the button at the right time and you will deal more damage. Enough to hopefully kill your target.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#00F538″ class=”” size=”21″]”Adding a drunk mechanic, and some brutal finishers might not be enough here”[/perfectpullquote] After a few hours, we explored the lands, sailed a boat around a village, plundered some keeps, beheaded some fools, drank more ale and bashed some doors down. It was fun and we wanted more. However, there is some concern here. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla feels way too familiar and it could be the game’s downfall. We know we are getting a bigger game here with more land to cover, quests to complete, awesome loot to find and a massive skill tree to master. My concern it may grow tiresome is more real than ever. Ubisoft has not reinvented the wheel here by any means. The game plays it safe and for some, that is great news. For others, it could be problematic. Adding a drunk mechanic, and some brutal finishers might not be enough here. Sure, the world is as gorgeous as ever and I cannot wait to dive into it and explore ever corner but after a couple of dozen hours, I hope it does not feel like I have done all of it before in 2018.
We still have some time to go before Valhalla releases later this year. It could be the best Assassin’s Creed to date even if it feels like a clone of the 2018 game. Only time will tell how well this will go down. For me, I loved and hated parts of it but in the end, I cannot wait to get back into it.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla releases on ?? for PS4, Xbox One and PC with a free upgrade to PS5 and Xbox Series X.
This post was put together in collaboration with Curtis Clarke who spent four hours with the game during a special Ubisoft preview event.