Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the new mainline entry to Ubisoft’s flagship Assassin’s Creed franchise of open world action/adventure games. For thirteen years since the introduction of Assassin’s Creed in 2007, Ubisoft have elevated themselves as a company that creates quality open world games following a specific and well-worn formula that guarantees the player a content-rich world filled with activities and an intriguing plot surrounding the forces behind the conspiracies behind our religions and ideologies. However, that formula has a downside, it has become repetitive and has stagnated in recent years.
The third of their “Antiquities” trilogy, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla follows suit from its predecessors Origins and Odyssey where the characters are set before the events of Altair’s Assassin’s Creed journey, as each adventure tackles the conflicting ideologies between the Templars and Assassin’s: Order Through Absolute Control and Freedom Through Regulated Chaos.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla continues the RPG-style progression and loot based collect-a-thon that started with Origins and further refined in Odyssey. Having completed both, I enjoyed the most recent titles as I’ve stopped with the original saga as early as Assassin’s Creed 2: Revelations, due in most part to the repetitive nature of the formula.
Completing Odyssey showed me the extent of the scale that Assassin’s Creed has reached since then. From the humble beginnings of the original Assassin’s Creed, which was at most a 35-40 hour run unless you want to complete everything to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which extrapolated that by a hundred-fold with the entirety of Greece to explore and conquer, playing the game left me exhausted 40 hours in and yet, I had to push to 70 hours just to complete the story.
Will Assassin’s Creed Valhalla take the same macrocosmic formula or do they have enough surprises for us to keep us motivated for dozens of hours of content? There will be no story spoilers here, so read at your own leisure!
Hello Again, Animus
Similar to Odyssey, the game opens up with options of difficulty levels and game settings. I chose Pathfinder for Exploration, easier combat, and normal stealth as I’m more geared towards exploring the open world and sneaking around my enemies versus that of a head-on battle. Just like Bayek, Alexios/Kassandra, and even Ezio before you, Eivor our protagonist encounters a deep personal tragedy, which propels their journey towards revenge. This level of difficulty customization is always welcome, as you can choose to tailor your experience to your needs.
Compared to the two most recent games, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla had the most compelling prologue. The game gives you a real close personal look at Eivor’s backstory, giving just enough time to paint a picture of what their childhood life was like before the aforementioned tragedy. Also, on point with Origins and Odyssey, the story starts off with a call to attention of the world’s mystical thread and greater forces that are at play while our characters live their carefree lives about to be interrupted by the threads of fade.
Once again, I appreciate that like in Odyssey, we don’t delve into the Abstergo backstory too much from the get-go. Returning present day protagonist Layla Hassan appears briefly only to let the player know that Eivor’s gender is the most fluid of all the protagonists we’ve come to know. You can choose to be Male or Female Eivor, but I let Animus decide what Eivor’s gender identity would be and correlated it with my own, which resulted in a female presenting character who I’ve modified to lean towards having their gender identity being male.
The game throws you into the open world right away, presenting Eivor in a seemingly helpless state, about to be sold into slavery. It is similar in how in Skyrim, the protagonist has been saved from the executioner’s axe when Alduin attacks their captors, but Eivor is presented with more agency that they save themselves from their doom. It’s ironic that the island where you’re captured resembled Kephallonia on the map and now you have to gather your crew and return to your hometown.
The game already encourages you to explore said island presenting you with a Synchronization Point next to your spawning zone and then encouraging you to use your avian companion to be your eyes. Using the Pathfinder difficulty, the game does not handhold you at all compared to previous iterations of such systems and they don’t even present the estimated distance of travel. Playing enough open world games in this lifetime, it’s a breath of fresh air to experience something different. A player with less experience in that regard should go towards a more conventional route of having more heads-up-displays present.
Unlike Watch Dogs Legion, the controls took quite a bit getting used to. Valhalla has to ease you back into your Assassin’s Creed legs and re-educate you on the combat system from Odyssey, which you’ve probably already forgotten unless you’re fresh from that game. Otherwise, you could still traverse the maritimes with the same naval controls from Odyssey, and you can even call a mount right away. It’s like you’ve never left Odyssey at all. However, I wished the controls could’ve been simplified much further to make it more ergonomic and intuitive, noting the Odin’s Vision mechanic that could’ve been pressed rather than held.
Briefly noting some software hiccups, there were a ton of bugs all around. Clipping glitches and frame rate issues plagued the scenes. Combat was choppy and loading times took quite a bit. Some quests were buggy, froze, and characters that I was meant to follow stopped on their tracks and I couldn’t finish the quest. All of this was pre-day one patch, so various fixes should be live by the time the public dives into the game. They’re not totally gone, so expect the experience to get better as more patches come in.
On a separate playthrough after the day one patch, we had child Eivor instead of their grown-up counterpart running around in Rygjafylke as if the elves kept them forever childlike. While I was amused by these glitches, some players might find it distracting to see a whale flying across the ocean, and Eivor’s not even on Fly Agaric (more on that type of mushroom later).
As I continued with the story, one thing that I found was that the first region Rygjafylke is most definitely the topmost tip of the iceberg. The world the game is about to show you is vast, and if you thought that Odyssey was huge, oh my sweet Mediterranean child, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has so many sights to show you.
The one point I noticed right away of worth is that exploration-wise, Valhalla has streamlined it to make it easier for newcomers to the game, but also makes it fresh for us veterans coming back for a third try. They break map progress down to three aspects: Wealth, Mysteries, and Artifacts.
Wealth is the accumulation of resources to help you acquire current equipment and upgrade their rarity. Major sources of wealth include Equipment and Ingots, which is the simplified loot system. The good news is, no more collection of useless equipment to break down into spare parts. I found that in the first twenty hours of Odyssey, I enjoyed picking up loot. By the time you hit hour forty, managing your inventory becomes a chore in itself and its own mini-game.
Bringing it back to the classic Assassin’s Creed system of a few choice equipment was a step in the right direction, but with the option of upgrading them to better quality items. Other sources of wealth include Raw Materials, Supplies, and Books of Knowledge, which we will discuss in detail soon. Each resource adds to your Wealth Bar by showing how many you have acquired from a region.
Mysteries break down all the activities you can partake in the game. World Event Side Quests are self-contained encounters in the game world where you could gain XP by aiding NPCs without it interfering with an ongoing quest. It’s seamless with the execution and you could continue to explore while pursuing it.
Minigames such as a rhythm drinking game, Orlog, a dice game that’s just as addicting as Gwent, and the infamous Flyting. It’s a rap battle minigame where you can build Charisma to unlock extra dialogue options.
Battle Challenges such as Lost Drengr and Legendary Animal Hunts await those who want to prove their mettle in combat. Save these challenges for later game as the power level requirement for them are quite high. However, even if you reach that power level, I’m sure they will offer up a challenge because as seen in the Artemis Hunts in Odyssey, they were quite epic.
Finally, Artifacts are the collectibles part of the game that used to just add flavor text and extra activities, but this time around they grant you cosmetic rewards such as chasing down Flying Papers for tattoo designs and Roman Artifacts to be traded at a museum. Also the open world staple Treasure Hoard Maps also make an appearance to acquire schematics for your longboat.
At first, I felt that it was an unnecessary activity, it actually rewards me for said activities instead of just needlessly chasing after flags and feathers. Yet as I continued to scour the game, not all artifacts are collectible, such as Cursed Symbols which you have to destroy to lift the effects from cursed areas.
You Got The Touch, You Got The Power!
Power Level is how you measure your, for the lack of a better term, power level. Every time you gain new skills, your power level increases and you’re introduced to a Sphere Grid reminiscent of Final Fantasy X. You could specialize towards a Stealth (Raven), Melee (Bear), or Ranged (Wolf) based skill tree, which are separated into nodes that increase a base stat and main skills that power-up a combat mechanic or an assassination ability.
Just like the Sphere Grid system, once you reach the edges of each pod, it branches out to an even wider array of stats, abilities, and benefits. You could say that if you go through the Stealth Skill Tree, you only get Assassination damage and stealth bonuses, but the skills are dispersed so that you get a rounded off character but with specialization in that branch.
Melee branches still have some stealth and ranged bonuses, but if you specialize just in that branch, you’ll have a brawnier character. Just the same with Ranged giving your character an edge with projectile weapons and you’re a better assassin if you go through Stealth. Don’t worry if you mess up in your skill build, you can respec it at any time.
For Active Skills known as Abilities, you need to collect specific Books of Knowledge hidden throughout the world that add to your Melee and Ranged capabilities that use up an Adrenaline Point. You can bind the skills on specific command slots the same way you did for Origins and Odyssey. For me, this part felt a bit redundant as they could’ve just streamlined it all under “Skills” and the Books mechanic could’ve still existed but used in a way to unlock an Active Skills or evolve a specific Active Skill already acquired.
Seeking out Cairns and Standing Stones (akin to Origins’ stargazing puzzle) add additional Skill Points to increase your power and XP could be earned by almost every relevant activity you participate in your journey. I’m not a fan of areas with level requirements as I like pursuing every corner of the world at my leisure, but each area is so chock-full of activities, I feel that they’ve mapped it out enough that you don’t feel over-leveled coming back to previous areas. Though, you could sneak through high level areas and steal some high level rewards, just make sure you don’t start a fight.
Not Evie Frye’s England
I would have stayed in the Norway Prologue for another six to eight hours as there was so much to explore, so many mountains to climb, and so many more subquests to finish, but alas the story took me forward to England and thus my journey to Valhalla begins. After the first two hours, I assumed that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla could’ve been much of the same game as Origins and Odyssey were if I stayed in Norway doing mostly the same activities in the past games, but setting up my Settlement was a step towards a new frontier and it is arguably the biggest and best feature that Valhalla introduces.
Upon your entry in England, you’re tasked to build your settlement to aid in your Jarl’s conquest. The Settlement Building mechanics are akin to Dragon Age: Inquisition where constructing more buildings strengthens Eivor and your Raiding Party through the services provided by your settlement. That includes Smithing, Trading Post, Fishmonger, Hunting Lodge, Barracks, Stables, and Tattoo Artist to name a few. Much of the next seventy or so hours of you following Eivor’s journey is linked with the services built upon your little fief.
To grow your settlement, you need different forms of wealth such as Supplies and Raw Materials. Supplies like other resources could be collected in random treasure chests throughout the world. However, Raw Materials could only be collected through a successful raid as it requires another raider to force open both a cathedral door and a raw materials chest.
Raids are akin to attacking enemy bases such as monasteries where you lead the charge and summon your raiding party by blowing your horn. The best part of this feature is you don’t need to be actually raiding an area to call for one. If you need help with powerful enemies, call your crew and they will fight with you.
For those who loved the Naval Battles in Odyssey, Raids pretty much replaced that. I welcome that change because while I did enjoy building my warship, you could only use your crew during naval battles. Land missions became lopsided and infiltration missions tend to get prolonged and tiring. Having an army by your side could change that up a bit, so if you get tired of infiltration, you can start a raid and pillage that town with like-minded friends. Watch out though, because if you kill non-combatants, prepare to get desyncrhonized.
Building your Barracks allows you to manage your Raid Party and create your own Jomsviking lieutenant. While your personal Jomsviking doesn’t join your team, it’s a way to connect with other players of the game as they recruit said character and you earn their silver (as they earn yours by recruiting their Jomsviking). You can equip the lieutenant with gear that aren’t in use, maximizing your unused gear.
Once you build your settlement, you could take advantage of the diverse services your new allies have to offer. However, alongside your settlement renown, you need better friends with more power and influence and you could do that by pledging territories in your war room. Pledging would unlock area quests that opens up a new story thread for the game.
The difference between Territory Story Arcs and World Encounters is that the encounters are standalone subquests that end almost as fast as you found it, provided you complete the actual quest. Story Arcs are full-on sagas that span five chapters. Each chapter is relatively short and organically interlink with the world’s ecosystem. Once you complete said pledge and play your cards right and make sure you made the right story choices, you come back with a new ally and a new raid party member or two.
Speaking of equipment, I really enjoyed the crafting mechanic as it is an improvement over the equipment system in Origins and Odyssey. Ingots are crafting items that increase the rarity of your current piece of equipment. You start out with Carbon Ingots and it grows into a rarer grade such as Nickel and Tungsten the further you go. Upgrading your gear requires three of each and you’ll be kept busy collecting such a resource. Rarities, like in the older titles, still range from Common to Legendary, but they changed the nomenclature of such things, to keep it fresh. New eyes wouldn’t notice it, but I rolled my eyes when I realized what it was.
Resources have now been simplified to Iron Ore, Leather, Fabric and Titanium. They are used to upgrade your equipment for stats and also your containers: Quivers for Arrows and Rations for health items. Merchants will sell you these raw materials and basic equipment. They will also buy miscellaneous loot for Silver, the currency of the game that you use to wager on Flyt Battles and Drinking Games. Other items and services bought for silver: Horses and Training said horses from a Stable, and recruiting Jomsvikings.
Other pieces of loot and trade items could be delivered to your Hunting Lodge and Fishmonger. With that, they could reward you with silver and Runes, which you could slot into your weapons and armor.
By hunting Legendary Animals, you can earn a trophy for your quarters by taking said animal carcass to the Hunting Lodge.
What the game doesn’t lack is content and I’m sure as you explore England, you’ll find many twists and turns and fantastic surprises to your adventure. I’m just glad that many mechanics of the game are simplified to break tedium besides just adding more activities to distract you from said tedium. I feel that such overwhelm causes open world fatigue and I’m glad that the new features cut through that quite a bit.
My favorite addition is the Orlog mini-game. While in Gwent from The Witcher 3, you don’t really earn anything else by collecting the cards, you could still benefit from the gold wagered. Orlog mainly is played for the sake of the game, and believe me once you’ve tried it, you’ll be hooked. Watch out for my Newbie Guide for it coming soon!
Reclaiming Assassin’s Creed‘s Creed
One thing that I found missing from the Odyssey saga was the lack of reference to the Assassin Order. Origins touched on it quite a bit, but in Odyssey it felt like it was removed altogether. While I was open to the change, my biggest criticism of the game was it deviated from the lore established from the previous games to become a generic open world adventure in its later parts. If Layla Hassan didn’t make an appearance, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Odyssey and The Witcher 3.
Speaking of Layla, she could break from her Animus slumber and solve an Animus Anomaly puzzle in the world, which hearkens back to the memory fragment puzzle dungeon back in Revelations. I enjoyed the easter egg as well as a low dose of that past challenge. The difference is, it takes a few minutes to solve versus a thirty minute commitment back in Revelations.
What Valhalla did that stood out was they implemented the right amount of old school lore without it taking away from what the Antiquities saga have built in the last two games. It gives credit to how the game made a name for itself in the first place, but does not throw away the advances made by Odyssey and Origins. After seeing its execution on how they’ve married Odyssey’s system and lore with the original Assassin’s Creed mechanic, I welcomed this synergy.
If you’ve been following trailers and announcements for this game, it’s no secret that Eivor will receive the Hidden Blade missing in Odyssey (replaced by the Spear of Leonidas). While it came with all the benefits enjoyed by Ezio, Edward, and Evie alike, I liked that they nerfed it quite a bit. The moment you break from stealth a little, you could not just assassinate everyone in your vicinity. They’ve added quite a bit of specialized enemies who are impervious to your cheap tricks.
I appreciated that they brought back the stealth mechanics from the early game. What I enjoyed playing as Altair and Ezio was rifling through the crowd before emerging for the well calculated kill. Areas are now divided into Distrust and Restricted Zones. Distrust zones are a great variety from the standard restricted zones as you could utilize those mechanics to blend in with the crowd and get to your target faster. Yet, remember that you’re also a Raider, so if the going gets tough, blow that horn and burn that shire to the ground!
I like that you’re not penalized for breaking stealth or being forced into an infiltration mission for more rewards. While attempting perfect stealth is cool, the novelty has always worn off pretty fast and I’m glad that Valhalla recognized that. The game adapts to your level of play and I feel that makes it accessible to all kinds of players. Because even if you learn cool assassin rites you could still raid and fight head-on without being punished for it. You also don’t get punished for chasing after cats to pet them.
Combat has evolved in Valhalla as I did mention that elite enemies learn how to get around your cheap tricks. Though, to level the playing field, it’s a good idea to attack their weak points with a bow and chip away at their defense meter. Reducing it to zero will stun them giving you a window to instant kill with a Deathblow. The same strategy could be used for Lost Drengr and Legendary Animals, so it adds variety to the many ways to dispatch your adversaries.
To expand on Eivor’s spiritual journey, you could visit several altars in the game that ask for an offering, the one I found near Grantebridgeschire requires ten bull horns. You think I’m made of bull horns?! I can’t even get antlers to complete that random hunting request back in Norway!
Fly Agaric mysteries require you to solve hallucination challenges unlocked by a certain type of mushroom found in the wild. I actually found them by accident looking for edible mushrooms to fill my ration meter, apparently these ones get you lit.
Finally, without spoiling too much of the cooler surprises Valhalla has in store, do yourself a favor and get your settlement to Level 3. Build a Seer’s Hut and take a particular kind of potion. If you think the trip unlocked by Fly Agaric is intense? Wait until you see how deep into your psyche such an elixir would take you.
By combining what worked with the original Assassin’s Creed and the Antiquities Trilogy, Valhalla really stepped up in providing quite a fresh experience. It’s what the franchise has been missing. Sure, we get the same game with the same mechanics that we enjoy. However, personally I felt that it lacked that X-Factor present in Final Fantasy and what Nintendo fans see in their games. It’s that confidence to knowing that you will get the exact same game but with enough surprises to elevate your experience.
For The Veteran Explorer
The curse of the completionist is that we’re hardwired to collect everything before moving on from a spot. If I wasn’t dealing with a review deadline for this game, I would still be in Norway scouring the region for every ounce of wealth, mystery, artifact and whatnot so I could be satisfied that I’ve completed this region thoroughly. The Pathfinder Difficulty is a blessing in disguise because with the game not prompting you to commit to ALL the activities in your current play area. The map gradually reveals itself as I arrive at said area, which is a good thing for us completionists, because when the game says fetch, we run after it like a dog in heat.
For those cursed with the same quirk, I urge you to use the Pathfinder Difficulty to help you resist that compulsion. Of course there are some downsides to this difficulty: during investigative missions, clues aren’t automatically logged into your map and you would have to mark them manually. At my leisure, that would’ve been the perfect challenge as I like scouring the world for the smallest item. Little things like that brings me a lot of joy, it’s probably why I loved The Sinking City so much.
I also find that on several islands, terrain is straightforward and you could get to your immediate destination within moments compared to Watch Dogs: Legion where walking down a few blocks takes up a lot of your time. It reduces my use of Fast Travel, which I don’t like very much because it kills momentum from your exploration with its extended loading times. I could always ride back on my mount or longship down the River Trent with a dope soundtrack by your bard. Odyssey’s singing sailors got on my nerves after they sang that Keroberos song the 80th time. Your longship’s bard switches from their speorg notes to storytelling. If he can sing Volcano Man or some ABBA, it’d be perfect.
Unlike the previous games with endless radiant quests, the game intrinsically lets me know what I earn for that said activity, it’s not just an activity for activity’s sake. It ultimately reduces open world fatigue and allows me to enjoy the world instead of it just one becoming one big to-do list. Playtime will vary, of course, as is the case with these types of games, but expect upwards of at least 45 / 50 hours. It’s a massive game!
Screw that, I’m gonna catch some fireflies and release them over rivers and climb the highest mountain to get the best panoramic view mode for my best selfie for Photo Mode. Take that open world fatigue! You’re not the boss of me!
What We Liked:
- Keeping the genre fresh by synergizing the best mechanics of the OG Assassin’s Creed and the Antiquities Saga.
- Improved crafting mechanics does away with the tedium of repetitive collecting and dismantling of loot.
- Pathfinder Difficulty subverts the open world expectation by allowing the map to open up gradually.
- Settlement mechanic streamlines all activities into a well managed home base where all your hard work is up for display.
- The story is up there with the Ezio Auditore saga and with the introduction of Location Arcs and World Encounters, it blends exploration and storytelling into an organic ecosystem.
What We Didn’t Like
- While the Skill Tree additions are a nice touch, it could’ve been better simplified by streamlining Abilities into the same category.
- It takes some time to ease into the controls.
- Load times for fast travel could take a while, but could be different on next-gen consoles.
- Various glitches and bugs, which includes clipping, camera angle mishaps, and interrupted quests that will take some patches to sort out.
Verdict: Buy It!
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an excellent revision of the open world title from a franchise that is constantly seeking to revitalize itself. I feel that it is a step in the right direction for the IP and I believe that if they follow through with the changes that they’ve implemented moving forward, they can take steps in the direction that Final Fantasy VII Remake has done to elevate their genre but keep enough of the familiarity and charm that made Assassin’s Creed a widely popular title.
If you’re on the fence with Valhalla because of the notion that the Assassin’s Creed franchise is a copy-paste job from previous iterations, you’re not wrong, because I also came in with that bias before reviewing this game. However, color me surprised with what Valhalla has achieved and I actually enjoyed this game far more than I thought I would. It brought back some of that goodwill lost after Assassin’s Creed 2 Brotherhood and rekindled a bit of that excitement from Ezio Auditore’s era. While it will not bring back my original passion for this IP, at the very least, it has reconciled my hang-ups.
I commend the developers for streamlining tedious activities that plague this genre lessening the pressure to complete every activity and pushing back against open world fatigue. I could see the effort to bypass this by obviously learning and improving on their competitor’s games. The biggest achievement on why this is the most polished out of the Antiquities trilogy of Assassin’s Creed games is that they have reclaimed the franchise’s identity and how they’ve masterfully executed fresh ideas to create a perfect blend of old and new.
*Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla was reviewed on a PS4 Pro via a review code provided by the publishers.