I really do have to start off by saying that getting to be a Viking is right bloody good fun. That is probably no surprise but honestly, the Viking setting of post Roman ruled England is just a fantastic historical setting to be doing your raiding, pillaging and petting of random dogs and cats. The Assassin’s Creed series has evolved hugely in the last few years with the series finally moving to the Witcher 3 style open world open RPG style and it managed to accomplish the move in just two games. Valhalla makes only the 2nd entry though that is launched just as a new generation of consoles is also launching, with the previous being Black Flag which was on both the Xbox 360/PS3 and then at the time, the brand-new Xbox One and PlayStation 4. So, there are quite a lot of eyes on Valhalla and I am happy to report….by George it does tick a lot of boxes for me!
Valhalla really comes in at a strange time for Assassin’s Creed as a series following two games that when you look at it rationally were not very Assassin’s Creedy. By this I mean Origins, celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the series, is set before anything like an Assassin’s Brotherhood or Templar order existed, but introduced them for the very first time in an exhilarating trip to Ancient Egypt with Bayek. Next, we moved to Ancient Greece with Alexios and Kassandra in Odyssey, and depending on which you picked to play as, spent more time not being anything like what could be recognised as an Assassin. But for me as a fan of the series, two games away from the mainstay of the series was enough for me so I was hoping Valhalla would bring us back to more familiar ground.
Valhalla introduces us in a brutal fashion to Eivor, who witnesses his parents and clan wiped out by an attack of a ravel clan leaving Eivor quite literally in the mouth of a ferocious wolf. Then we are literally yanked out of the animus to once again return to Layla who in the present day is very much dealing with a lot following the events of Odyssey, and is now teamed with Shaun Hastings and Rebecca Crane who long-time fans of Assassin’s Creed will instantly remember as being in the team and friends of one Desmond Miles. The curious thing is that the Animus is detecting an issue with the data stream from the remains of Eivor, meaning that its detecting both male and female versions which the player can either select a gender to be for their playthrough or allow the animus to “choose the stronger signal” when the story requires it which means by default you will play as both genders at different points in the story but it will be the one Eivor that all over characters you meet will know.
Valhalla comes from the same team who did Origins and as a result, Valhalla feels more in tune with that than it does Odyssey which for me, is very much welcomed which is not saying that Odyssey did anything wrong but I did enjoy what Origins brought to this series and with Valhalla those improvements continue. The combat for example has a very satisfying dual hand system meaning you can equip a single hand weapon and a shield or two hand weapons or a two-handed weapon or even two shields which is actually more fun than you would imagine it to be. The combat retains the same light and heavy attacks that came in with Origins and Odyssey but it genuinely feels more refined and even more brutally violent that both of previous games. Parrying returns to a simple press of LB on Xbox instead of both bumpers that Odyssey used and again you have special ability attacks for ranged and melee weapons with Left and Right Triggers. It feels fluid and has some of the most fantastic weapon type triggered executions of any game in the series which just makes the combat so satisfying and rewarding all the way through.
I also welcome the new difficulty settings which really allow a more tailored experience, something the has flowed nicely from the evolution in Origins and Odyssey. For Valhalla players are able to choose a difficulty for combat, for stealth and for exploration. Combat is pretty self-explanatory and Stealth allows you to set how enemies will act to your attempts at stealth although having played it on Master Assassin and still having the enemies be dumb as mud, this setting does not really do as I feel the developers wanted it to. What is very interesting is the Exploration settings which means you can have the map show you everything right away, a criticism that Odyssey had with some players having so many question marks and hud information and it felt cluttered and overwhelming. But now you can set it to either show you everything, show you somethings or with the mode I chose, Pathfinder, have only an indication on the map of where things are but you will actively have to go to that location to know what is there which for me really is the best way to experience Valhalla.
I say that because so much of Valhalla is set around exploring the region you are in whether it is the opening area of Norway or the main area of England which the Raven Can aim to not only setup a new home but to rule it. Much of the run up to Valhalla’s release was about how it would be a smaller and shorter experience than Odyssey’s base game was but quite frankly, Valhalla is a massive world to be in, you may not be visiting all the Greek islands but a sliced up England with many different regions with different powers claiming Kingship and domain over them will see you sink a hell of a lot of hours into this game. Which I think is certainly by design because so much of Valhalla takes time, from upgrading weapons and gear to completing the alliances needed to gradually take over the map for Raven Clan.
I do not joke either, it was at the 40hour mark where I managed to get my current gear and weapons all upgraded to the silver tier of quality. This is in part due to the fact that the style of getting multiple weapons and amour pieces from every kill you made in Odyssey has now been replaced with the need to seek out and find special chests to gain new weapons and gear which then have to be upgraded with materials you find in the world and then improved in quality using much rarer materials in the world which will all take time to do so. I really liked this new way of crafting and upgrading as it felt more personal for Eivor to maintain and look after his/her equipment as you would in the real world and the extra bonus of a visual change each time you improve the quality of the gear and weapons is very much welcomed.
The regions of England are also separated by power levels which means for a good portion of the game you are restricted to where Eivor can go if you do not want to be one hit killed by an enemy or even wildlife. Now this really will give you a sense that you are boxed in, each alliance you work towards will open more of the map and every time Eivor levels up, you will earn two skill points that will help increase your power level. The Skill tree is quite frankly mind blowing at first as you work our where you want to put your skills points into either a more Raven, Bear or Wolf gear line of skills. Progress enough into one group and another will appear for you to pick and choose where you go. Raven, Wolf and Bear are the types of weapons and gear you can use with some skill points able to boost the wearing of a complete set alongside the natural boost wearing a complete set will give you. All of this, because it can get a huge chunk of game time just to unlock enough to give you a chance to really go exploring England confident enough that you will not get your butt kicked or have to walk away from an area or side quest due to not being strong enough yet.
What is also refreshing to see is that not only has Valhalla been influenced by what has been done in the two most recent games Origins and Odyssey but you can see other Assassin’s Creed titles playing their role in this such as the homestead system, which is how Eivor helps to grow the Raven Clan’s settlement and home in England by upgraded stores there by raiding local Churches and Abbeys to upgrade these stores so they can improve the benefits for the Raven Clan’s new home and is all so very similar to what Connor Kenway did in Assassin’s Creed III. Unity also has an influence in some of the side quests and main missions will have Eivor investigating a situation by examining clues which is what you did in Unity. But you can easily see the Witcher 3 here too with the ability to meditate in order to speed up moving from day to night cycles and how you upgrade your gear and the power of seeking out and upgrading gear sets. Valhalla has sown its roots in many different games but it very much stands on its own by bring all these elements together so well that even though you may notice them, they are not distractions to what Valhalla offers.
The strength of the writing and voice acting is the glue that binds all these aspects together with a wonderful political battle by all the factions looking to grasp as much power in England as possible which Eivor ultimately helps to steer by his/her actions and the voice cast is excellent starting with Magnus Bruun as male Eivor and Cecilie Stenspil voicing the female Eivor, both Danish actors who deliver incredible performances as do all the characters that are brought to life in the story. There are also little touches that just help make this an incredible world to be in from Eivor being able to pet random dogs and cats with a full short animation of maximum cuteness to something that I have been hoping for all series, the ability to raise or lower the hood at a whim, which is something that always made sense to have but never came to be until Valhalla.
On top of all this, Valhalla is just a stunning beautiful game to play and a true feast for the eyes. Having felt that Ghost of Tsushima was the best that this, well last generation consoles, could do, Valhalla absolutely picked up that challenge and is just stunning. The lighting effects, the worlds of Viking Norway and post Roman ruled England and be warned, you will be spending a lot of time enjoying the fantastic photo mode to capture these visuals each and every time you play. I was also able to add an Xbox Series S to my gaming setup and Valhalla is glorious on it with increased speed times and smooth 60FPS gameplay. Now the Series X version has suffered from issues visually which at the time of posting this review, has just taken a new update to allow players to select a performance or quality mode but hopefully future updates will improve how Valhalla plays on the Series X. But playing on the Xbox One X in 4K with HDR really making this world so vibrant, its by far the prettiest game in the Assassin’s Creed series.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla really is the right AC game for this launch of a new console generation but also serving as an example of the developers learning from what worked well and did not work so well about previous titles in the series and being smart enough to make the changes needed to rebalance things but adding new aspects to keep things fresh. I love that more focus has returned to the modern day side which for me is the key to the AC games but starting to see the Assassin’s or Hidden Ones still at this point in the history and The Order of the Ancients soon to be the Templars we know so well, return to the narrative in a way that both feels organic leading on from Origins and Odyssey is a welcome one for me.
There is just so much to do and see in Valhalla which I have purposefully refrained from divulging too much about the main story so not to spoil it for you. Know this, Valhalla Is exactly the game this series needed right now by continuing on the path to the open world RPG that began with Origins but also being mindful to remember the games that brought us to this point and both celebrating it and using elements to enhance the experience of playing a good Assassin’s Creed game should give fans.