I had a lot of concerns going into my time with Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla for this review. I loved Odyssey but after the DLC released I could not help but feel as if the game was just too big. Even opening it today when new content has released, I am welcomed to a map with so many icons, a quest log with so many tabs and there’s just an overwhelmingly amount of content to do. Don’t get me wrong, I love an open-world game but how much sea can you sail across before it becomes boring? All I hoped is that Ubisoft found a sweet spot with Valhalla and that they did not just make things bigger for the sake of it.
Thankfully, not only does the game feel like just the right size but there’s also a great sense of direction throughout the entire experience. Pacing is levels beyond Odyssey as I approached each region knowing I had one main objective and that everything I did apart from that was optional. Keep in mind that Ubisoft’s embargo for this game was absolutely ridiculous and granted media six days max to play it. This meant I skipped so much. I walked past so many people with side quests to take on, I pretended to not notice that set armour in the ruins ahead and I used my mount as much as possible. This is definitely not the ideal way to play an Assassin’s Creed game but I do plan on replaying the game from the start on PS5 soon.
So is Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla good? No, it is great. There’s so much to love about it but at the same time, it still suffers from being so “non-Assassin’s Creed” that if it was not for the story, I would have laughed at Ubisoft calling it an Assassin’s Creed game. However, that is all up to self-interpretation. Ubisoft has also taken a lot of feedback to heart and you will be happy to know there is a range of settings that enhance the classic creed gameplay. For example, you can now enable instant assassinations to make the game feel like one of the older entries. I have always said that the hidden blade should kill enemies instantly and now it can.
A lot of options from Oddysey also return such as exploration tips, stealth damage and the game’s overall difficulty. For the most part, anyone who played Origins or Odyssey will feel right at home here. Much of the gameplay systems have carried over. I still had to gather clues about members of The Order of Ancients to kill them as they popped up. I still had to manage my inventory, upgrade gear and dive into a highly-detailed skill tree that let me build a character I felt like playing. This is an RPG. Don’t get it twisted. Dialogue options drastically affect the story to the point where the ending is altered too. Stats change how gear feels and managing a character build means paying attention to ruins which greatly change combat.
With all that said, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla also refines so much which felt bloated in Odyssey and this is thanks to the overall story arc. After witnessing her parents being slaughtered as a child, Eivor grows up to be a ruthless Viking alongside her adopted brother Sigurd. Things go down in Norway which forces Eivor and Sigurd to depart for England. They take a few people with and plan on building a settlement and at the same time, gaining power in the region. In short, besides the Ravensthorpe, Eivor needs to gain allegiance across the land by visiting each region, completing its main quest and moving onto the next.
This is where the game finds its footing. Instead of speaking to a bunch of people and having to travel up and down the map to follow the story, Valhalla is divided into a range of regions. Each of which hosts a unique story and set of characters. Later on, these also intertwine as the story expands, The Order of the Ancients becomes a real threat and the mysterious assassin character named Basim unveils more which unravels the classic Assassin’s Creed story we all know. It takes a while to get to this point but luckily, these regions are crammed full of personality and not only hold loads of secrets to uncover but each main quest is highly entertaining. The writing in Valhalla is fantastic and this helps carry each region and its characters to greatness.
If I was not helping out a loser king prove his worth to his soon-to-be-wife, I was uncovering a deadly murder that could either make or break an entire town. Not only did these stories keep me entertained but they also helped push me through the long hours of the night when I was sitting at 3 am playing this game. Of course, the whole plan is to gain allegiance and I did. Eivor often has to make decisions that ruin relationships, help gain new followers and even kill off characters. However, there were moments in the game where the fruits of my labour all came into play and these decisions were worth the struggle.
Anyone who has played an Assassin’s Creed game before will know it is all about exploration and Valhalla is no different. You will be happy to know that the game never felt overwhelming. Getting around is easy on a mount and sailing through the river on my longboat was fun. Each region holds a range of secrets including ability tomes, armour and plunder. This is where the Raid system comes in. Eivor can easily call in her posse and destroy a village of people while taking everything they own. It is the way of the Viking and these raids always felt satisfying. Raiding is also important to the game’s overall currency. Materials gained in these fights are used to upgrade my settlement, unlock new stores and things to do. For example, I could not change my hairstyle until I had built a tattoo and hair parlour.
The Settlement system brought back the Assassin’s Creed II days and is a lovely mechanic. To see a tent at first and then after spending the wood I gained by beheading soldiers there was a building, was satisfying. I also enjoyed how this feature is never forced. Raids are often found on the map but you don’t have to do them. They make up one of many side objectives. Of course, you want to be able to fish, upgrade gear and visit Asgard which is why I chose to build each upgrade that enabled this.
It was always nice to go back home after a long quest in a new region and see how things were going. I then visited the Alliance Map, got the low down on another region and set off to hopefully make friends. I thoroughly enjoyed the overall pacing that Valhalla delivers and while Odyssey had a big world to explore, this sense of direction will make most players feel like they have a purpose. That is to say, there is always stuff to get sidetracked with. Be it an Animus anomaly that saw me climb way up into the sky to solve a glitched-out puzzle. There’s always an Order member waiting to die nearby. Each region has some fun side quests too. In addition, collectables are aplenty and include tattoo designs, new gear, abilities and more. You just need to have the time to go and get all this done. Something I did not have.
When it comes to the RPG systems in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, they work for the most part. Everything is divided into three “schools”. You have the Bear which is basically powerful melee attacks with high defence. Raven is all about ranged attacks with powerful bows. Lastly, there’s Wolf which is all about stealth and being fast. Gear and skills revolve around these three categories and picking up a new chest piece with a Raven sign mean it is lighter has more evasion stat and often set perks that buff certain skills. Bear is a heavy armour set with greater heavy damage resistance and an overall higher armour stat.
You can equip whatever you want and change things on the fly. This is thanks to the skill tree which is a massive constellation of nodes that splits into the three schools. Most of the nodes are all about increasing a set stat such as health, stealth and ranged damage. However, every collection also has a perk which fits into the school too. For example, in the Bear tree, I could dual wield two-handed hammers but in the Wolf tree, I could automatically detect enemies when crouching.
Nodes are unlocked using skill points earned by doing almost everything in the game. They can also be reset which means if I got tired of a specific playstyle I would then reset the nodes, equip new gear sets and go to town on my foes. I went with the Bear build first with dual-wielding axes. It was fun. My armour set increased my attack and armour rating and gave me a boost of speed when taking damage. I then swapped out the other axe for a shield after I unlocked a damage boost to my parry.
There’s a lot to enjoy here and you can build the perfect character for the way you want to play. However, it also comes with its drawbacks. I could not see myself using a bow and Raven build after being so over-powered in my Bear build that could complete Raids solo. I had a mass amount of health, dealt crazy damage to my enemies and felt godly. I would never pass that up for sneaking around in a bush hoping that some guy turns his back so I can stab him. I am sure people out there will make Raven and Wolf builds but the combat in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is so fun that I wanted to smash everyone’s head in.
This is one of the issues I had. It often does not feel like an Assassin’s Creed game. Sure, Eivor has a hidden blade but apart from the story, it is pointless. I guess I just need to start accepting that gone are the days of timing my jumps and sneaking around killing people. This also feeds into the so-called stealth builds which don’t feel as great as melee. You Raids and Sieges are tough to complete by taking is slow and stealthy too which kinda makes the whole approach pointless.
Thankfully, combat in the game is fantastic. It is all about managing a stamina gauge, dealing heavy attacks which deplete the gauge and then hitting with light attacks to refill it. Parrying is also key to combat as a perfectly-timed parry can stun enemies which meant they were open for a deadly attack. Then there are the abilities which unlike Odyssey, are unlocked by finding them in the world. These are fun to use. One was a massive blow of arrows into a group of enemies. The best of all, even if I had no arrows or passed on the “ranged damage increase” nodes, this still dealt some decent damage. Abilities are divided into ranged and close combat and further enhance the gameplay. I did not find them all but I plan on doing so to see what they offer.
All the great combat mechanics often combine together during a Siege which are massive onslaughts on an enemy castle or compound. These battles take a while to complete as there are hundreds of enemies to kill and often mechanics such as ramming down a door or destroying war machinery. These are fun and the energy the game fed to me felt great. They are like Raids but on steroids. There’s also a lot to do besides the standard story. I could drink myself to a silly by taking on someone in a drinking challenge. I could also challenge someone to flyte competition which is an exchange of insults while keeping the rhythm and rhyme to my opponent.
We then have Eivor who is played by either a male or female throughout the game. I could change them at any time too if I got bored of seeing the same face. For the most part, I played the female version for most of the experience and it was okay. While Vahalla is a whole different setting to Odyssey, I could not connect with either the male of female Eivor like I did Kassandra. I found the character was often bland and uninteresting. The voice work is also questionable. The female Eivor comes across aggro and self-centred while the male version is timid and sounds like he is afraid of everything. It does not ruin the game at all but I spent a lot of time with these characters and it was sad to see supporting the NPC and supporting cast deliver stronger roles.
Lastly, we have visuals. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is a beautiful game. I played most of it on the PS4 Pro but thankfully I was able to switch to the Series X and continue my progress thanks to the Ubisoft Connect feature. It is truly gorgeous and could be the best-looking Assassin’s Creed to date. The hills of England glow throughout the day. Be it the yellow setting of the sun shining through the trees or the icy hills whistling at night. Smaller details such as fur on Eivor’s armour look fantastic. If you are going to play this game it needs to be on next-gen systems or PC. It is a visual masterpiece for sure.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla may be an even further step away from the traditional Assassin’s Creed recipe but it is still a great game. Besides the addictive combat and fantastic skill tree, I loved how it fixed the pacing issues from Odyssey. I had a purpose this time around and knew where I was going and what I was doing. The Viking setting is refreshing too and delivers some decent tales to experience while exploring a breathtaking world.
This Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla review is based on a code sent to us by Ubisoft
Available On: PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X / S / One, PC | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 10 November 2020 | Price: R1,280