This year, Assassin’s Creed turns 13, and with that, the series is back after a break of nearly two years. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla definitely brings some quality of life improvements to the table, but it is more or less the same Assassin’s Creed game you’ve been playing since Origins. If that’s a turn off for you, skip the review and the game because Valhalla won’t change your mind. However, if like me, you enjoy open-world action RPG games with a ton of content, Valhalla delivers an enjoyable experience. And that’s why we all play games, right?
Valhalla puts you in the boots of a Viking named Eivor – one of the leaders of the Raven Clan, a Nordic clan looking for greener pastures. Their hunger for fame and fortune leads them to England, where they must forge alliances with other danes (Vikings) to survive and flourish. Your journey through the campaign will take you all over England as you help out the locals, the danes and other like-minded individuals who may help your cause. I enjoyed Valhalla’s story because I love the whole Viking setting, and I appreciated the plot’s focus on gaining control of England. Sadly, most characters suffer from bad and repeated animations and look wooden. Dialogue delivery is also amateurish and feels more like a janky AA Euro RPG than a AAA block buster.
Thankfully, gameplay is a much higher priority for me, and in that respect, Valhalla delivers. As I mentioned before, Valhalla does seem a lot like Odyssey from a bird’s eye perspective, but it does make quite a few gameplay changes. Combat, for instance, is a lot more visceral this time around, and Eivor can dual-wield almost any weapon, be it an axe and shield, axe and hammer, or even dual shields. Those who prefer hitting harder (but slower) can roll with a broadsword, while players who prefer to put a bit of distance between themselves and the enemy will find themselves at home with spears and fails. But no matter which weapons you choose, you’ll annihilate your foes in insanely violent ways never seen before in an Assassin’s Creed game. Heads and limbs will get lopped off, shields will be used to bash skulls in, and spears will skew your enemies like seekh kebabs. It’s super violent and satisfying, and always kept me on the lookout for the next skirmish.
That being said, you can still play the game stealthily, and quietly assassinate enemies from the shadows. Social stealth – something that was last seen in the past generation of Assassin’s Creed games – is also back, and works well enough here. You can use crowds to blend in or create distractions using drunks to slip by unnoticed. Off course, if all fails, you can always fall back on brute force.
Valhalla also doubles down on the RPG mechanics introduced since Origins, and while that’s music to my ears, this may not appeal to every Assassin’s Creed fan. I also felt this led to many mechanics forcibly being locked behind upgrades. Your horse, for example, can’t sprint a lot at the start, but if you put some silver behind training him, he’ll run like the wind and never get tired. Even something like rolling while jumping from a height to reduce fall damage is introduced as part of a skill tree I unlocked close to power level 50.
And while the game boasts a huge and branching skill tree, a lot of the skills offer terribly insignificant upgrades like a 1.5% increase in melee damage or a 3.5% increase in stealth. Abilities are now not tied to your skill tree, but instead are unlocked by finding various Books of Knowledge hidden all over the game world. These abilities include powerful attacks like throwing a flurry of axes or slowing time down to fire off a volley of arrows, and really pull their weight in combat. This is one change I’m definitely happy with, as I don’t have to invest a hundred points into, say archery, to be able to unlock powerful abilities.
Gear chasers will also be glad to know that Eivor can equip different sets of gear, and different gear sets will give you a set bonus, like dealing out more critical damage, or inflicting more damage with ranged weapons. Should you find just once piece of a set, you can then hunt down the rest of the set without depending on RNG which is a nice touch.
Valhalla’s world is massive, and feels a lot bigger than that of Odyssey. Once again, if you’re kind of burnt out with Ubisoft’s massive worlds, avoid this game straight up. I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed Valhalla’s game world, because while it did seem massive, it’s not constantly assaulting you with content every two feet. In fact, there were many stretches of empty land where I could calmly ride my horse and take in the sights and sounds of this beautiful world, enjoying the downtime. Sadly, the world of Valhalla is level gated to a certain extent, and venturing into higher levels will get you killed in an instant.
Your power level in Valhalla is directly tied to the amount of skills you’ve invested in. So, for example, if I’ve invested in 50 kills, I’ll be at power level 50. Skill points are passed out like candy on Halloween so you’ll level up pretty fast. Faster if you explore the game world within your power level range. I like the fact that Valhalla has done away with side-quests, replacing them with something called World Activities. These are small self-contained stories that thankfully don’t devolve into fetch quests. Most of them offer XP rewards, so you can completely ignore them if you want, but they’re quirky enough and shed some light on the life of those who lived during that time.
I also really liked how treasure and loot in general is handled in this game now. In Odyssey, I earned so much loot that it ceased to be of any value to me. In Valhalla, the loot is limited, so when you do come across something good, you’ll genuinely be excited to try it out. Finding loot scattered across the game world also requires a bit of effort, as it could be hidden behind small puzzles that I thoroughly enjoyed figuring out.
The final bit on the gameplay front comes in the form of Settlements – a huge part of the game, offering players both aesthetic and gameplay benefits. Building new structures for different vendors will then unlock their quest lines or standalone quests that will grant you certain rewards. Build an armoury, for example, and you no longer have to depend on blacksmiths in different towns to tweak your gear. The more you grow your settlement, the more people will eventually join up, opening even more cosmetic options like the ability to customise your ship, horse, raven, Eivor and so on.
Valhalla is a bit of a mixed bag in the technical department. On one hand, it looks stunning and runs really well at a locked-in 30 FPS at 4K (we played it on the PS4 Pro), but on the other hand, load times are really long. And they’re everywhere. Right from the insanely lengthy starting up load time to loading while transitioning from cut-scene to gameplay, and vice-versa. And then, there’s the jank. My first hour of the game was plagued by some annoying glitches, like being stuck in geometry or dialogues not being initiated unless I was standing in a particular place. I’ve also had instances where animations didn’t trigger, so instead of helping me open a chest, my teammate just clipped through it. I then faced numerous clipping issues and glitches during climbing. At one time, I even saw soldiers running at me backward. A lot of the jank was rectified with a day one patch, but it’s still a fairly buggy game.
But you know what; even after all these issues, I still can’t stop playing this game. There’s something about the core gameplay loop that’s so satisfying that I can’t wait to go back and plunder England. But this is me. I love open-world RPGs like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Witcher 3, The Division 2 and this scratches that itch really well for players who won’t burn out with the grind. If you’re looking for a more linear, focused experience, this isn’t it. However, if you don’t mind getting lost in a buggy but gorgeous game world that offers a lot of content, Valhalla will see you through the holidays just fine.