The benefit of following a non-sports, (semi-)annualized series is that you get to experience, enjoy, and sometimes endure, the evolution of the story, gameplay, and focus of the series. With Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the series makes some incremental improvements in some areas and then takes a turn in some of the gameplay choices.
The story of Assassin’s Creed games are normally in 2 parts: the past and the present/near future. For the present, Valhalla’s story follows on the heels of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Atlantis DLC and the story of the spear. The past follows the story of a young Viking, Eivor, and his search for glory on the path to Valhalla. Steeped in Norse mythology and lore, AC Valhalla embraces this culture and Ubisoft gives this game its own feel as they do in each iteration.
More than any other Assassin’s Creed, Valhalla is all-in on this being a Role-Playing-Game and less of a linear adventure game. To power up, you utilize a branching skill tree, spending skill points on things like “+4.0 to light attacks” or “+5.3 to Assassination Damage” or perhaps you can pick up a skill.
Two of my favorite skills are “Advanced Assassination” and “Missile Reversal”. Advanced Assassination uses a pseudo-quick time event to increase your assassination damage on a higher level or high-risk targets. It is a risk, though, miss your timing and instead, you do no damage and the target has a chance to counter. Then again, when you hit it, it’s so satisfying. For Missile Reversal, this gives you the ability to counter ranged attacks. Tap the bumper at the right time and Eivor turns the table on a thrown rock or an arrow and sends it back at the target. A great and satisfying example of this happened just last night. We successfully raided a camp on the river and as I and the other Vikings headed back to the longboat, one remaining enemy yelled out “Hey!” and fired an arrow at me. I immediately sent that arrow back to him, killed him, and happily returned to my ship.
The fact that quite a bit of travel in the game is by longboat means that you have a ship full of Vikings at your disposal. This changed how I approached this Assassin’s Creed game. Often, in an Assassin’s Creed game, you see a fort or settlement full of treasure, you crouch, begin assassinating people one by one until the settlement is clear and you pick up the treasure. In Valhalla, more often than not, I throw all that pussyfooting out the window and instead point my longboat at the shore, “press Y to Raid” and blow my bighorn, secrecy be damned. The Vikings jump off the ship and we storm the monastery. You need those raids to get raw materials for your settlement.
Your settlement is your hub for quests, side quests, supplying, upgrading, and vision-searching. Building the settlement isn’t too involved, but it does give you the opportunity to customize your base. Mostly, I use the settlement building exercise as an excuse to hop in my longboat and storm monasteries in search of raw materials.
Besides the RPG elements and allowing for a different gameplay strategy, the most welcome change for me is the diversity in “world events” aka “mysteries”. In previous iterations, these sort of mysteries were “Kill this target” or “Escort person from A to B”, and that was it – over and over. By the third area, it was tedious to do anything other than the main quest. Now, you may stumble into any number of scenarios from stacking stones to a strange magic mushroom trip, to fetching something to fighting a mad seer to lining up runes to burning down a house for someone to simply listening to their story. This may seem mundane, but after a dozen or so Assassin’s Creed games, I welcome the change to exploration.
And that’s the thing that bothers me the most about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The exploration does not feel rewarding. The world of Valhalla is huge! But if you decide to run from point A to B, you may only find trees and rocks on your journey. No one wants to run a kilometer and barely find an animal to hunt or an enemy encounter.
There is one final thing I would like to address. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a 2020 game that is attempting to bridge the gap between the new generation of consoles (PlayStation 5/Xbox Series X) and the now-previous generation (PlayStation 4/Xbox One). While it does an excellent job of providing that experience, I played on a 2013 Day One Xbox One, and there were some muddy textures and at times the game chugged a bit. That did not take a whole lot away from the experience, but it bears mentioning.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Review Final Thoughts:
Overall, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a solid experience and an enjoyable entry in the series. While it did not revolutionize anything in the series, it certainly solidified the changes AC Odyssey made 2 years ago. If you are looking for something you can sink your teeth into that could easily send you into the 60-80 hour range, this is a great addition to your library.