See You In Valhalla
Few franchises in gaming history have been put to work quite the same way Assassin’s Creed has. Since its inception in 2007, Ubisoft has released an almost unthinkable 11 mainline games in the series and nearly a dozen spin-offs in what has become one of the most iconic properties of the past two console generations; an impressive for sure. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has resulted in some franchise fatigue, which the developer has attempted to address with varying degrees of success in recent years.
Though the latest entry in the series doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla still manages to take Ubisoft’s flagship open-world franchise in an exciting new direction. Building upon the RPG elements introduced in Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey, it does a spectacular job of incorporating thrilling new mechanics while trimming the fat to deliver a blood-soaked river tour of 9th century England that hits like a Viking war hammer to the gut.
We Don’t Go To Ravensthorpe
In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, players assume the role of Eivor, a young but skilled Viking with a tragic past forced to flee Norway with his clan in search of a new life in Anglo-Saxon England. Throughout your journey, you’ll need to turn an abandoned settlement into a bustling city, forge alliances with the locals, overthrow kings, and pillage your way across the kingdom on your quest for glory.
Growing your new home of Ravensthorpe from a ramshackle settlement to a medieval metropolis isn’t easy, but it’s essential to progressing through the game’s story. Effectively your base of operations, you can upgrade the town with various buildings to make life in your new home more comfortable. These structures include a shipyard to customize your boats, a smithy to enhance your weapons and armor, a tattoo parlor to customize your character, and an Assassin Bureau, to name a few. Hell, there’s even a barracks where you can create custom Jomsvikings, which other players can hire for cold, hard silver coins.
As you probably already guessed, getting your town up to snuff is a pricey endeavor. Luckily, the Vikings in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla are more than happy to plunder England’s coasts to their hearts’ content.
As you cruise the winding English rivers in your longboat, you’ll come across fortresses, towns, and monasteries full of loot that’s ripe for the picking. These raids were some of my favorite moments of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Storming settlements with a dozen battle-hardened Jomsvikings and watching them smash enemy skulls like cantaloupes with their hammers and set buildings ablaze with torches and flaming arrows was always exciting. Thanks in no small part to the game’s polished combat system, which feels weightier and more responsive than ever before.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla goes all-in on its Viking theme with its in-your-face combat. Sure, stealth is still an option. You’ll almost always have plenty of opportunities to hide in bales of hay to deliver a killing blow on a patrolling baddie or dive from rooftops to impale them with your hidden blade. But more often than not, I found myself content to rush in with my dual hatchets like a honeybadger on methamphetamine and watch the severed limbs of my adversaries fly. This change of pace was quite liberating. Whether I chose to take the stealth route and methodically dispatch the opposition or go full Leroy Jenkins, I never felt like I wasn’t playing the game the way the developers had intended.
Like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey before it, you’ll be able to wield a vast arsenal of ancient weaponry like flails, swords, battle axes, hatchets, and a variety of bows. You can also parry enemy attacks by tapping the L1 button right before they hit. Again, this is all very familiar. However, Valhalla adds a new stun mechanic to the combat, making things a bit more exciting. As you attack guarding enemies or parry attacks, your enemy’s stun gauge will fill. Once stunned, you can press R3 to perform an instant kill. These attacks are gruesome and extremely useful. That said, you’ll want to learn to master the parrying mechanic and stamina management accordingly so you can take advantage of them.
As you complete quests and murder your enemies, you’ll gain skill points that you can use to enhance your character’s stats. A series of interconnected nodes on constellations, this sprawling celestial web makes Final Fantasy X‘s notorious Sphere Grid seem like child’s play. Honestly, it can be a little overwhelming at first as there are just so many different abilities and perks to unlock. Thankfully, you’re free to respec your character’s skill tree whenever you want, which leaves the door open for plenty of experimentation.
In addition to skills, you’ll also find dozens of tomes scattered throughout the land which unlock new combat abilities. Some of these abilities are completely insane, with my personal favorites being a barrage of dozens of arrows that can kill a handful of grunts simultaneously and even a harpoon on a chain that you can use to bludgeon nearby enemies with their impaled comrades. You can even equip up to eight of these abilities at once, meaning you’ll always have plenty of murderous possibilities at your fingertips.
Norse By Norsewest
Whether on foot, boat, or horseback, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s world is a joy to explore. It’s massive and littered with interesting secrets to uncover and things to see. From the rugged fjords of Norway to the crumbling Roman ruins and bustling cities that dot the English landscape, there’s an astonishing amount of visual variety packed into the game’s world that makes wandering the countryside so exciting. I frequently found myself just letting my boat cruise so that I could take in the fiery autumn leaves slowly dancing in the breeze or resting atop a synchronization point so I could soak up a striking HDR-illuminated sunset.
One welcome thing longtime fans of the series will notice is that you’ll no longer find yourself buried under a litany of side quests to complete. That’s right, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla respects your time and mostly does away with these. That’s not to say those looking for things to do will be disappointed (this is a Ubisoft game, after all. And as such, map icons are never in short supply). Valhalla has hundreds of World Events scattered throughout the map. However, these aren’t long and drawn-out affairs. Instead, they range from bite-sized and often amusing vignettes, optional boss battles, hidden treasures to collect, and more.
One of these missions had me settling a dispute between a brewer and his brother, who owned a barley mill. After growing tired of their bickering, I chose to burn the whole mill to the ground, quickly ending the dispute as their entire farm went up in flames. Another, more somber World Event tasked me fulfilling a Viking-turned-fisherman’s wish to die a hero’s death in a bloody duel in front of his young son.
These are just a small sampling of the things you can expect to find. Flyting challenges dot the land, allowing you to practice your prose in what are essentially Viking rap battles. Additionally, if you’re a fan of The Witcher 3‘s Gwent, you’d do well to check out Orlog. It’s a surprisingly strategic dice game played in most towns. Simple to pick up but difficult to master, it’s a devilishly addicting time-sink that’s quite tough to put down once you start to find your groove.
Ubisoft’s Norse epic is easily one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played this year. However, that’s not to say it’s without its share of issues, at least at the moment. I experienced a handful of frustrating performance problems on my PlayStation 4 review build using a PS4 Pro. For starters, the load times, especially when using the fast travel feature, can be agonizingly long and regularly made me wonder just traveling to my desired location would have been faster. Still, they’re the perfect excuse for a bathroom break or to make a moderately-sized sandwich, which is nice.
Additionally, the framerate can really take a hit, sometimes falling noticeably below 30 frames per second. This is most common during raids where fires are blazing, and many characters are on screen at once. Unfortunately, these dips in performance can make trying to anticipate and parry enemy attacks unnecessarily frustrating.
Other minor things, such as weird pauses in the spoken dialog and occasional pathfinding problems, can prevent events from triggering correctly. As annoying as these were, Ubisoft seems to be aware and plans to release a substantial day-one patch for the game. That said, these kinks could very well be entirely resolved by the time you get your hands on the game, though I’d be remiss not to mention them here.
Flashier Than A Viking Funeral
In terms of storytelling, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a bit of a slow burn. It begins quite strong, with a heart-rending scene that does a great job of setting the stage for the game’s tale of revenge and rebuilding. Despite this rollercoaster start, once you reach England, the narrative starts to move at a glacial pace. Still, when things finally do pick up, it’s an exciting and heady adventure worthy of the Assassin’s Creed name. And with multiple endings, you’ll probably want to keep an extra save slot or two to see everything the game has to offer.
At the end of the day, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an exceptional adventure that should please fans of the series. Ubisoft Montreal has succeeded in crafting a striking medieval world that’s just begging to be explored. I loved the new town-building mechanic. It was hugely addicting and provided a satisfying sense of progression. Speaking of progression, while initially overwhelming, the staggeringly deep skill tree and wealth of unlockable combat abilities combine to give the player an incredible amount of freedom when it comes to customizing their ideal assassin.
If you’re a fan of the series, don’t sit this one out. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an adventure fit for Odin himself.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed); Xbox One, Xbox X|S, PS5, PC; Publisher: Ubisoft; Developer: Ubisoft Montreal; Players: 1; Released: November 10, 2020; MSRP: $59.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.