Review Copy provided by Ubisoft. Reviewed on PC.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a divisive game. So before I start this review, I’d like to talk about my experience with the Assassin’s Creed franchise so that you can better understand my opinion about various aspects of the game. I started my journey with the series from when it first began with Assassin’s Creed 1. Assassin’s Creed 2 was one of my favorite games I had played back then and also one of the first games that I 100%’d (including those pesky feathers). I’ve played, beaten, and enjoyed almost every title since then with the exception of finding Syndicate somewhat lackluster. I was also missing the lack of modern-day and sci-fi elements from the games post Assassin’s Creed 3 and hoped they’d return in some form or the other.
Then came the “reboot”. I was not very keen on the idea of an RPG Assassin’s Creed. Once I played Origins, I immediately disliked it and stopped midway once I started getting level gated. But I tried it again after the release of Odyssey and managed to push through, thanks to Bayek and Aya. Although the story for Origins is a bit of a mess in the 2nd half (IMO) I still enjoyed it. Then came Odyssey. The only Assassin’s Creed I haven’t beaten because I got bored (after 30 hours). Every side mission felt so repetitive and the only reward was either some shitty piece of equipment or sometimes, a beautiful or interesting location. But about 70% of the time I’d have already seen the location since I love synchronizing an area the moment I get there. And the story felt so boring and fragmented that I just gave up and looked up the story online.
So what about Valhalla? When it was announced I didn’t really care. Especially since it was going to release around the same time as Cyberpunk 2077. However about two weeks before release, two videos helped change my opinion of the game. One was this video by IGN, the other a video by Ubisoft themselves. The fact that Darby McDevitt (lead writer on AC Revelations and Black Flag) was returning to write the game and they had Jesper Kyd also returning to compose the music alongside Sarah Schachner (Worked on Origins, Unity) and Einar Selvik (famed Norwegian Black Metal artist) gave me hope that I’d like at least some parts of this game.
TL;DR: Played every AC game, missed modern-day and sci-fi, didn’t beat Odyssey, didn’t care about Valhalla until close to launch.
With that out of the way, let’s finally get to the review. I’ll break this down into different sections. Namely Gameplay, Main Story, World Activities, Audio-Visuals, and Technical Performance. At the time of the review, I have about 65 hours in the game and have experienced a lot of the main things it has to offer.
Let’s start off the review with the gameplay segment. In this, I’ll go over movement, combat, and the general gameplay loop. In terms of movement, this time around the movement is incredibly less arcadey as compared to Odyssey and heavier than even Origins. There’s weight and momentum to your movement now. You don’t just immediately glide across the world like Sonic the Hedgehog in the body of a Spartan. It feels good but at the same time, something about it to me felt unresponsive. While there were weight and heftiness, there was a lack of finesse. Maybe that was the intended idea, and some people even enjoy that but I did not like it. It felt like I was always fighting to control Eivor, not because of the weight and momentum but because of this “lack of finesse”.
This holds true for the parkour as well where there have been improvements. Some animations and movements from AC Unity can be seen here which made parkouring feel better. However, time and time again I was let down by the lack of finer control when hanging on the side of a wall and trying to move inside or climb up onto a specific spot only for Eivor to either completely jump down or jump backward which would get me spotted. It infuriated me at times because I would spend 25 minutes being extremely sneaky through a fortified camp only to be let down by either the parkour control screwing me over or the stealth (more on this in a bit).
Playing as a Viking you expect combat to be strong and brutal and this game delivers. Although it takes a while. When you first start off, you don’t have a lot of skills to be able to have variety in your combat. But as you level up and unlock new skills and find new abilities, there are a lot of fun new combat mechanics. You can throw weapons that are laying on the ground, you can catch spears and daggers mid-air and throw them back, you can parry and throw a smoke bomb to either run or take them out in the smoke. There’s a lot of cool combinations with the weapons as well, that I had a blast with the little combos you can make and mixing them with abilities and the skills to feel like the drengr (badass warrior) people claim Eivor is. However, there were moments in combat where it felt like I would “lose control” of Eivor. Either they would stop for like a second or two and the command would not get input or for some reason, they would feel extremely sluggish for maybe a second or two (not like when you drain your stamina bar). This coupled with sometimes the combat bugging out a bit with Eivor unable to perform finishers or stomps because of the model simply not being able to move led to mild annoyances.
Before speaking of the stealth mechanics, I’d like to talk about the Hidden Blade and Assassinations. 1 Hit KO Assassinations can be turned on in the menu but by default, the game will not let you assassinate higher level enemies until you get a certain skill. The skill allows you to attempt to properly assassinate them with a timed QTE which seemed to always have the same timing so I played with that throughout the game and had no trouble unless the game stuttered.
Stealth is an important aspect of Assassin’s Creed games. Or at least used to be and still can be should you choose to play that way. In this game, you can manually change the stealth difficulty. I played it on the normal one it defaulted to. However, even with a lot of points in the Raven (Stealth) Tree, I still had issues with stealth. Maybe it was because I was wearing a Bear armor which is essentially heavy armor but with the number of skill points in stealth, I expected that to not be an issue.
There were moments where I would sneak up behind someone only to somehow be spotted by them even though they had their back turned to me and I was crouch-walking really slowly. And in an attempt to kill them before they fully detected me, I’d press the Assassinate button which is the same as the Light Attack button and Eivor would swing at them instead of going for the Assassination. This would lead to a small fight that would sometimes get the attention of other enemies in the area who would come to join the fight. Thankfully, alerting one guard does not mean the whole camp will suddenly get alerted and only the ones in the nearby vicinity do. Unless they ring a bell, then it’s a full-on John Wick Action sequence.
Another absolutely infuriating issue with the stealth was when I would get spotted and I would flee instead of fighting. I would get to a spot with nobody around and no LOS (Line of Sight) on me. Yet somehow, I would still be in an active “combat encounter” and be unable to interact with quest objectives or my Raven. During one such occurrence I waited for a full 10 minutes but they still somehow had LOS on me even though I was in a closed room with only one entrance which could only be accessed by breaking a wooden pane. My only way to progress in these situations was by going back and killing everyone.
Speaking about my Raven, unlike Origins and Odyssey, your Raven in this game is nerfed quite a bit but I enjoyed it this way. You can’t just switch to Raven view, mark every enemy, and then plan your move. You can only mark enemies by using Odin Sight (which hurt my thumb since I did it so frequently) or by tracking an enemy by placing a marker on them using your Raven. The Raven also helps you find where your objective is when you don’t have an exact waypoint.
The boss fights in the game are fun and I eagerly waited for when I’d get to a boss fight cause I loved feeling like a boss thanks to Sekiro, Fallen Order, and Dark Souls turning me into a parry master. Doesn’t matter if it was a humanoid boss or an animal boss(except one, screw that one specific boss fight with a certain four-legged talking creature), I had an absolute blast fighting them.
That covers the wide majority of Gameplay elements, onward we go to the Main Story.
I’m going to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. The game starts off really slow. So slow that I almost felt like it wouldn’t be worth it. But all that changed once I got to England and the game opened up. Unlike Origins which doesn’t really have The Hidden Ones and Odyssey, which is well, Odyssey, this one immediately throws the Hidden Ones (Assassins) and Ancient Ones (Templars) conflict in your face. It’s not long before you get your Hidden Blade either.
Oh and no level gating and grinding meant I could play the story at my pace. So, I took on the final area while under-leveled by 150 levels and had no issues like getting 1HKO’d or going up against damage sponges. This meant I could do side-missions for leisure and fun, not because I needed XP.
Your main goal in the game is to form alliances in England so that you and your people can live comfortably. Every Shire (a state) has its own arc in the game with 4 chapters that at the minimum will progress the main story. A lot of these Shire’s have a very similar loop. Find the person you’re going to ally with, help them out with whatever they need (tends to fetch quest>investigate> fetch quest>battle), and then finally storming and raiding a fortified location with your comrades. Certain Shire arcs do break this up which ended up being my favorite (Lunden, Gloucestershire). Each Shire arc is about approximately 2 hours long and the main story will have you uncover almost the whole map.
Some of these Arcs I didn’t care much about but some of them are incredibly interesting and lead you through some crazy twists and turns. Some of the twists and the plot I did not expect. Including some of the main character story arcs that without saying much, take you to different locations that left me awestruck and flabbergasted when I realized what was happening.
The main story offers you choices throughout the 50 hours you’ll spend but a lot of these choices end up not mattering while some choices that you don’t think are important end up being important for a character’s final story arc. At times it felt like I had the illusion of choice because I’d go back and try a different choice only for the same thing to happen.
As for the Eivor themself, I absolutely loved them. Throughout the story, you’ll watch Eivor grow as a character, have their worldview change, and try to accept it or adjust to it even if they don’t understand it. Your reputation grows as the game goes on but you’re still a human being and Eivor makes mistakes and those mistakes do have consequences. But the best part to me was that Eivor and the characters around Eivor helped flesh out each other. It wasn’t just a one-dimensional view of people. There wasn’t just “badass Viking”, “meek character”, “scheming person”. You might find people with similar characteristics to those but they were layered and almost felt like protagonists of their own game.
Fans of the previous games and folks who wanted more Modern Day content will find some neat surprises and a bit of fan service as well. If you get the game make sure to read all the emails and such on Layla’s laptop because there’s a lot of lore there.
One thing that I probably didn’t like was how fragmented the ending was. Without spoiling anything, to get a full understanding regarding certain plot events you need to do a specific bunch of side activities and main side-quests. And while the ending of the past story was not as satisfying as I hoped it would be, I’m still excited to see what the story holds in the future.
Also, if you’re someone who is curious about how the male/female Eivor works in this it’s pretty simple. You can pick Male, Female or let the Animus pick the one which it thinks is more suitable for the mission/scene. In that mode, you’ll mostly be playing female Eivor because according to canon, Female Eivor was the one that existed but the reasoning for Male Eivor is pretty cool. I personally played the first few hours as Female Eivor then switched to Male Eivor to see what he sounded like and preferred his voice( I felt he sounded like Anthony Hopkins at times lol).
I was dreading what the side-quests in this game would be thanks to the PTSD caused by Odyssey’s Quest log. But I was extremely surprised by the way they are handled here. Certain important “side missions” are in your quest log which I do recommend doing but the rest of it was very organic. I never sought out the “Blue Dots” that mark side missions like I did with the Golden Wealth Dots. But I would always stumble upon some interesting conversation or see something so weird that I would just have to check it out.
To spoil a few encounters, I’ve stumbled upon a man with an axe stuck in his head, a child being dared to jump from a roof, revitalizing a couple’s sex life, someone talking about song and dance being the devil’s work and so many more. Some were funny, some were eh, some were heartbreaking.
The legendary beasts were also fun and had their own move sets and were quite the challenge. Especially since I fought a lot of them under-leveled which made it way more intense and fun. I had to use all my abilities and parry even more than usual. I loved every single one of them.
You also have a lot of different types of collectibles like Roman Artefacts, Flying pages, Treasure Maps, secret tablets, and some more stuff. All of these also reward you in some way or the other which is also a good incentive.
Special shout-out here to Orlog, a strategy dice game that you can play against NPCs around the world. Remember how addictive Gwent got in Witcher 3? Well, Orlog has a similar “screw everything, wanna play Orlog?” quality to it. I’m not going to explain Orlog because it is a little complex but it boils down to using your die and special tokens to reduce the opponent’s HP to 0. So if you see a Dice icon on the map, do yourself a favor and ROLL THE DICE.
At speaking of collectibles, armor and weapons in this are actually unique. No more 100+ armor and weapons out of which the most are useless. There’s a select amount of gear that you can get and they all work for different playstyles. It was nice that I didn’t have to always worry about two same axes every time I received the same one but with slightly different perks like in Odyssey.
The Order of the Ancient list also returns and a bunch of it is done in the main story. Bounty Hunters also return in the form of Zealots and depending on a choice you make, they’ll either chase you a lot or hang out in their little zone where you can go and fight them.
There are also Hidden Bosses and fights that can be quite challenging and fun which I won’t talk much about because some of them are really cool and I’d prefer to not spoil anything about them besides the fact that they exist.
Let’s start this section with the visuals. Valhalla is a cross-gen title so while it’s visually good, it’s nothing astounding or exceptional. Main character models and textures are good, the fields and snowy landscapes look gorgeous, thanks to the lighting. The lighting is probably the best thing visually that adds a lot of depth, variety, and character to the world. You’ll also encounter a lot of foggy and gloomy areas that drastically affect visibility and can make the area feel way more spooky and sneak friendly.
On the other hand, the animations are downright pathetic. I can’t believe that in 2020 we have games with such bad and janky animations. It feels so uncanny at times, similar to Skyrim and Oblivion but without the charm of those two titles. Even in important cutscenes that are filled with emotions, the animations look extremely out of place and will pull you out.
Thankfully, the voice acting is quite good throughout the game, including NPCs that can be over the top at certain times in hilarious ways. But there’s a but. The audio can sound very tin-like at times. Sometimes the mixing is all over the place. Sometimes it feels like your character is speaking from inside a cave. It’s just all over the place and spoils the work of the voice actors who have some really good performances.
I mentioned Jesper Kyd, Sarah Schachner, and Einar Selvik earlier and expected a lot from them in terms of the soundtrack. And they delivered in spades. When I first booted up the game, I didn’t like the Menu theme. I was spoiled by the Menu themes from Origins and Odyssey. Over time though, it grew over me and by the time I reached my journey’s end, I was in love with the track. I feel it perfectly captures the feel and tone of the story (except the brutality). The Synchronization song invokes a sense of wonder and I would at times just aimlessly wander around to just hear it play it before I started a cutscene. There’s a lot of great tracks here and I know I’m going to be listening to the full OST very often.
As with most Assassin’s Creed titles, this one is not too great on performance when playing on PC as well. I played this on a PC with an RTX 3080 GPU and a Ryzen 5600X CPU and installed the game on an NVMe SSD. And yet, the performance was still disappointing when playing at Ultra High 1080p(82fps) and 1440p(67fps). The visual difference between the Very High and Ultra High preset won’t be noticeable to most people but those extra frames gained will be. Not to mention, there were insane stuttering and hitching issues which I think may have been fixed now.
I really feel that it’s time for Ubisoft to move on from their current engine or at least make changes to accommodate for better animations, movement and combat especially since next-gen is not next-gen anymore but current-gen now and the scope of the future games will only get bigger and larger.
Alright, this was a long review. Possibly as long as the game itself which I still want to get back and play after 66 hours. Even though I’ve completed the main story, I still want to explore England, improve my settlement, and get some of that legendary gear.
So who do I recommend this game to? If you’ve enjoyed any of the Assassin’s Creed games, older or newer you should do yourself a favor and play it. For newer fans, you’ll get to enjoy a badass and interesting Viking story while for the old ones like me, there’s some good fan services and a few retcons that do a good job of connecting things that we thought was abandoned.
It’s got its fair share of bugs, annoyances, and slight repetitiveness but I can count on my hand the number of annoying “classic trailing missions” the game had. There’s a lot of organic exploration, a story full of twists and turns, and an interesting approach to a Viking story that I feel people should experience.