Assassin’s Creed has been a fan-favourite franchise across the world for more than a decade. And since it’s introduction about thirteen years ago, we’ve not only seen it evolve with the times, but also re-define the series a number of times. Even after 11 mainline games, Ubisoft has managed to keep things fresh and captivate players, both old and new, with the latest entry in the franchise – Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. With Assassin’s Creed Origins, we saw a departure from the original Assassin’s Creed formula, and Valhalla only continues to push it in a new direction. It improves upon some mechanics introduced in Origins and Odyssey, changes quite a lot of them for the better, and then adds it’s own flavour on top, making the experience feel familiar, yet refreshing.
In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, you play as Eivor the Wolf-Kissed, an important member of the proud Viking clan – the Raven Clan of Norway. After a brief prologue that walks you through the snow clad mountains and introduces you to the political dynamics of the Viking clans, you decide to venture out to the bigger, greener lands of England, in search of a new home. The England we see in Valhalla is quite different from the one we’ve seen in the Assassin’s Creed series before, it’s a land we know very little about, where every person you meet can be a friend or a foe, and you will need to choose your allegiances carefully as you will need help in claiming the lands for your clan. You’ll find yourself involved in local politics pretty often, pitting leaders against each other, aiding or preventing in conspiracies, raiding places of significance and a lot more. It’s filled action, intrigue and mystery. Oh yes, a lot of mystery.
The game is nothing short of a visual treat either. Playing on the PC at 1440p, it looks absolutely gorgeous. Ubisoft had already done a tremendous job recreating the barren deserts of Egypt and the architectural marvels of greece, and Valhalla manages to take it to another level. Whether it’s the frosty peaks of Norway, or the rustic settlements of the little England Shires or the vast green pastures, the game is a sight to behold, with vistas that will compel you to stop and just admire the nature around your character every now and then. It didn’t matter whether I was on an important mission or on my way to fight a battle, I would always find myself on a detour to just take in the sights. It definitely looks like a next-gen game, and I can’t wait to see how the experience plays on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
Speaking of battles, the combat system in Valhalla is sees a big change compared to previous games. Health no longer regenerates on its own, and you need to gather consumables to restore health during fights. This means you can’t just duck out of combat, hide for a few seconds to regain health and jump back in again, making the fights a lot more meaningful as you can only carry a limited amount at a time. Thankfully, health regen items are plentiful, so you will not run into a situation where you can’t find anything at all. Eivor can single or dual-wield axes, use a shield in either (or both) hands, and wield massive two-handed weapons. As you would expect from a game centered around Vikings, fights are pretty brutal, and you’ll see decapitations and your enemies getting “un-armed” pretty often. The abilities in Valhalla see an overhaul as well. As opposed to unlocking fixed abilites on levelling up as you did in Origin and Odyssey, abilities are now found as skill books, scattered around the world just waiting to be discovered. Another huge change in the combat system – both the player and enemies now have a stamina meter. So you need to keep an eye on your own while attacking and dodging while enemy stamina can be emptied by parrying or chaining attacks – allowing you land a fatal stun attack, often with your foe’s own weapon.
When you’re not busy bathing in the blood of your enemies, you’ll working on building and improving your settlement in England, talking to your clan about their needs and raiding monasteries and other key locations to procure resources. With the acquired resources, you’ll be able to construct new buildings in your settlement, some of which will help you unlock access to new locations and even open up certain questlines. Other structures will help you with customization and upgrades, like the tattoo shop and the blacksmith.
One of the biggest changes, and perhaps my favourite one, is exploration. Valhalla is a game about exploring uncharted territories and claiming untamed lands, and that is reflected beautifully with in the world design and exploration mechanics. Instead of being given pointers on the map that tell you exactly what you can find in a particular location, Valhalla opts to give players indicators that reveal that there is something to be explored or looted on the map, but doesn’t reveal what it is – giving the player a more organic feel to discovering characters and wealth. And playing on the highest exploration difficulty means you’ll have to rely a lot on your Raven and vision abilities, as well as interacting with the villagers you encounter in order to reveal the mysteries, resulting in a much more immersive experience.
The gear system sees a remarkable change too, from the previous entries. No longer can you just chuck your equipped weapons and armour in favour of better loot. In fact, enemies don’t drop any gear at all in Valhalla. Weapons and armour are limited, and consequently a lot more important, as you’ll be required to invest resources in upgrading the right ones for your playstyle. So while the raw stats still play an important role, you’ll find yourself sticking to the gear that you like and that suits your combat preference, rather than just simply going for the highest numbers. Another change that draws Valhalla away from the previous game’s more traditional action-RPG approach is the change in the skill tree, which is now massive, taking the form of Viking constellations, and you’ll see a lot of smaller, passive gains that add up over levels, contributing to your overall power level.
Apart from the changes we see from Odyssey that take Valhalla in a new direction, there a few ones that harken back to older titles, and it’s a great feeling to see them return. The best of them is the return of the Hidden Blade, whose absence in Odyssey was nothing short of disappointing. And the way it’s introduced in the game is quite an enjoyable moment, as is the introduction of the Leap of Faith, so we won’t spoil those for you here. Instead, I encourage you to look forward to them because you’ll not be disappointed. Another old feature that makes a comeback is the concept of “Distrust Areas”. In addition to having completely restricted areas you’ll be attacked on sight, there are plenty of Distrust Areas, where you can walk around without the fear of being attacked, as long as you wear your cloak and don’t wander too near to the guards.
The modern day segments of Valhalla see the return of Layla Hassan from the last two games, and things here are nothing short of. . . .weird. You see the return of Shaun and Rebecca, while Layla looks like a completely different person following the events of Odyssey where she obtained the Staff of Hermes. We won’t go into a lot of detail about the story to save you from spoilers, but be warned, there are plenty of twists and turns that you will not see coming.
While the game is impressive on the whole, that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect experience. There are some issues with movement and parkour, which feel off-putting as I remember it being better in both Origin and Odyssey. Then there are certain audio glitches, where sometimes a character would just skip on a line if you pause in the middle of dialogue, or get off suddenly as soon as you get to the point that triggers a cutscene. Other times I saw one character’s dialogue overlap with another, resulting in a weird jumble of words that were barely discernible. Fortunately, these issues didn’t pop up very frequently, and as such did not mar the overall experience of the game.
Optimization on PC seems like it could be improved as well, as there were some occassional stutters, and minor framerate drops during some sections. While the combat functioned without any real problems, the movement system left something to be desired. But none of it was game-breaking in any way, and hence nothing that would end up impacting your impression of the game.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is big, bold and beautiful, and shows very well that Ubisoft knows how to keep things fresh and engage players by reinventing the wheel, and still providing a familiar experience that we’ve all come to love. Not only is Valhalla an Assassin’s Creed game, it is also one of the first true Viking game. It blends in elements from the franchise and Norse mythology very well, and you’ll see a lot of that when you get to Asgard. Oh, did we mention? You can actually go to Asgard in this game. But that’s all we’ll say about it for now, because it’s something you have to experience for yourself.