Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre: RPG, Action & Adventure
Platform: Xbox Series S
Age Rating: PEGI 18
Release Date: 10/11/2020
A code was provided for review purposes.
The Journey to Valhalla
Our journey through the Assassin’s Creed series has taken us from Italy to London to Egypt, meeting historical figures along the way. We’ve delved into the past and become a pirate or a Medjay, yet always fighting for the Assassins against the Templars. In the latest addition to the series, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, we now take on the role of a ruthless Viking warrior!
Of course, as is always the case with a long-running franchise, it’s had its fair share of controversy along the way. Recent games have seemed to stray further from the Assassins concept, and evolved into 50+ hour time consuming open worlds. So, where does Valhalla fit into the series? How is it as a game generally? And, perhaps most importantly at the moment, how is it as a next-gen experience?
The Dark Ages
Our protagonist is Eivor, a Viking warrior living in the harsh winter of Norway. You can choose to be a female or male version of Eivor, or let the game choose for you! I opted for the female version being a woman myself, and I was pleased that she is just as boisterous regardless of gender. Though I do wish Ubisoft would market a female protagonist more, but that’s a whole other post…
Alongside your brother and fearsome friends, your journey takes you to a Dark Age Britain. Not the Britain we know, but one filled with Saxon troops and bustling kingdoms. Yet, it is also a broken, fractured nation ravaged by war and political unrest. However, it’s the perfect opportunity for Eivor to conquer the land, and earn their place in Valhalla.
I absolutely adored the setting of a 9th century England, roaming through the countryside, taking my longboat along the rivers and clambering up castles. If you’re interested in this time period or Vikings in general, I could not recommend the immersive experience more! With the help of the Xbox Series S’ stunning graphics, which will be discussed later, I truly felt like a Viking exploring a simultaneously familiar but completely new open world.
The story mainly revolves around securing allies in varying kingdoms. In your camp’s longhouse, you choose which area to try and befriend next. This will then start an arc for that kingdom, which is almost like a self-contained line of missions. I found this a great improvement to the series; it gave the story much more focus and allowed you to spend time with the characters involved.
In Origins or Odyssey, for example, you’d often be flitting between various missions and meeting so many characters. A lot of the time, you would also have to do multiple side quests to increase your power, to be able to do main missions. Valhalla doesn’t feel like a slog at all, with no restrictions in playing out the story. Spending contained time with an arc and its characters made me much more attached to them. Though the aim is to gain the trust of leaders, it can often end to warring with them too!
I enjoyed this freedom and control over how you wanted to play. Side quests aren’t compulsory, but a nice way to expand the world. However, the Assassins side of things felt separated, as the Hidden Order related quests were almost pushed into side quests too. They didn’t have much relevance to the main story, and the noticeable lack of outside the Animus sections made Valhalla so distant from the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Though a thoroughly enjoyable game in itself, it seems so disconnected from the original titles. Personally, I loved the choice of setting and its accompanying missions, along with a touch of magic and fantasy too. However, the gameplay did have that hint of Assassin’s Creed that we’ve come to expect.
We Work in the Dark to Serve the Light
Though the focus on the titular Assassins themselves is minimal, there are certainly elements we are used to within the mechanics. Throwing our hood up and crouching in bushes is crucial to taking a stealthy approach. The Hidden Blade gifted to us by some mysterious newcomers to our clan is the key to assassinations. Whether sneaking up from behind or diving down from above, you are reminded by Eivor’s dialogue when you’re in an area of danger or distrust that requires stealth.
Thankfully, traversing walls is becoming less finicky with each title. Flinging yourself to your death like in the original games, one of the most frustrating parts of gameplay, is something I haven’t experienced in Valhalla. Instead, climbing feels smooth and where you control your character is where you’ll go.
An Assassin’s Creed game wouldn’t be complete without A Leap of Faith, climbing up to synchronisation spots only to leap off into a bedding of leaves or hay below. Reminding me of Shadow of Mordor, there is a tree of targets for you to assassinate who belong to an order who are essentially the Templars. Taking high targets down affects their power, establishing a Viking hold over England the more you assassinate.
However, stealth is not your only option. And, Vikings aren’t exactly the stealthiest of people…
Like A Viking
As you’d imagine, Vikings are brutal and ferocious people. Their fighting style is gruesome and they don’t hold back! This is why it seems a little odd to feature them in an Assassin’s Creed game. Nevertheless, it makes for some fantastically gory fighting.
A Viking’s weapon of choice is an axe, and so the ability to dual wield axes leads to violent battles. Decapitations and the lopping off of limbs are the norm here (if you’re not into that, there is an option to turn off the blood)! Swap out an axe for a sword, or grab a shield to parry against Saxon attackers. Your bow is, of course, perfect for those ranged headshots too. No matter what you choose, it’s guaranteed to be a bloody battle.
Apart from some glitchy finishing animations, fighting, for the most part, is fluid and oh so satisfying to watch. Garnering a ‘souls-like’ description from many fans, hacking and slashing is part of the process but so is timing your dodges and parries. But dodging causes your stamina to decrease, so save your energy for when you need it! Like avoiding a pike heading straight for your face…
Another favourite past time of the Vikings is raiding and pillaging! Hop in your longboat with the rest of your clan and pull up full steam ahead on an unsuspecting monastery. Here you can steal materials to build and expand your settlement, such as stables and even a tattoo parlour. It felt so exciting to hear the Vikings cry and Eivor blow their horn, before leaping from the boat to ravage a poor village.
I also loved the insight into the bond of Vikings too. They are fiercely loyal and will die to protect their friends. I warmed to the characters so much more being shown both their sensitive and their brutal side.
Valhalla is the first optimised game I got to play on my Series S, and I am so glad it was. The photos throughout the review are all taken by me on the game’s photo mode, and I could not stop using it. Having gone from an original Xbox One, there was a noticeable difference.
The lighting in particular stood out for me. Whether that was the sun casting dappled light while you roamed through forests, or the fog of the swamps creeping its way around your feet, it blew me away. The environments were so detailed and could genuinely be mistaken for real-life shots. The water physics too were stunning, which combined perfectly with the fantastic lighting.
The Power of Next Gen
Though similar open-world games such as Red Dead Redemption 2 had me in awe, Valhalla on the Series S takes it to the next level. It is the perfect game to show off this new console’s capabilities. Though there were some issues with quick resume at the game’s launch, I haven’t had any problems. I loved being able to pick up where I left off even after hours, and loading times are next to nothing. Though I was already glued to the game, being able to fast travel quickly just made me want to play more. No hanging around, just straight into the action.
Frame rates were smooth throughout, and I only encountered a few instances of dropping when assassinating from an awkward angle for example. Some textures were a little off, such as hair or fur and aspects of the environment like trees, but nothing too off-putting. It’s important to note I am using a pretty basic TV monitor and I have still found the graphics to be outstanding. I can’t imagine how it would look on a 4K TV with the Xbox Series X! For someone on a budget, the Series S is more than enough in my opinion to satisfy that next-gen itch.
To really put you in the Viking atmosphere is an intense soundtrack, with beautiful folk music to encompass the Nordic spirit. Music is important to Vikings and they can be very poetic (you can take part in flyting – essentially Viking rap battles – to increase your charisma!) so it only makes sense for it to play a great part in Valhalla. Just like in Black Flag, you’re able to cycle through songs and Viking tales whilst travelling via longboat. If that doesn’t make you feel like a Viking, I don’t know what will!
Audio of bones cracking and axe meeting flesh immerses you on the field of battle, while Saxons scream as you force them to the ground and head stomp them. On the brighter side of things, you can also hear forest critters and the howling of wolves on your ventures across England. The sound of your horse’s hooves hitting the ground or snow beneath your boots was incredibly satisfying too!
There’s loads of content to keep you occupied besides the main story, and many collectables to have you returning to Valhalla. It never feels like you have to complete them in order to progress though. Doing side quests is a fun way to meet colourful characters and have an excuse to explore the beautiful environment further. It’s also an easy way to gather skills points, with the ability to spend them on skill trees to increase your health or attacks for example.
Hidden in the monasteries and kingdoms across England are collectables such as armour and Books of Knowledge. These give you either a ranged or melee special ability, giving you an advantage when fighting. They have a cooldown, but it’s a great way to get an upper hand when struggling. There is so much for you to find in this vast and beautiful world, but it doesn’t seem neverending. You can put a lot of hours in sure, yet it’s doable and down to you compared to previous games.
Do Viking Assassins Work?
I can honestly say Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is one of the best games that I have played this year. It’s the perfect entry into next-gen showing the power of the small but mighty Series S. The life of a Viking is captured perfectly in its brutal gameplay and stunning setting. There’s a clear focus and freedom that recent Assassin’s Creed games have lacked, and it’s an RPG that’s a joy to get lost in.
However, it’s a strange addition to the franchise and at times doesn’t feel like an Assassin’s Creed game at all. There are of course familiar elements I have discussed, such as the Hidden Blade and stealth-based missions. But Valhalla could easily work well on its own, and it’s a world away from the original games.
It’s a game I can easily recommend to RPG or Viking fans alike. However, the violence of Vikings seems so disjointed from the work of an Assassin. Fans of the series may not appreciate this step even further away, with minimal focus on outside of the Animus and the Assassins themselves.
However, it’s a no brainer to pick this up for your shiny new console. With likeable characters, gorgeous environments and a true immersion into a torn, Dark Ages Britain, I couldn’t recommend Valhalla more. You can also pet cats and dogs so what are you waiting for?
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Assassin’s Creed Valhalla for Xbox Series X|S at the following link: Microsoft Store
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.