Title: Assassin's Creed Valhalla
Release Date: November 12, 2020
Reviewed On: PS4
The Assassin’s Creed series has had its ups-and-downs as it adjusted to the changing market and figured out exactly what it wanted to be. The yearly releases hurt the mainline entries’ quality, but Ubisoft turned things around with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Now, we are taken to a land of Vikings and bloody battles in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which happens to be the best entry in the series to date.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla introduces us to Eivor, a Viking who is as skilled in the art of learning as they are pillaging. Before the game, you can choose the gender of the lead, but it doesn’t affect the story outside of changing their voice and appearance. In my playthrough, Eivor was a girl, so I’ll address her as such in this review, but it can be changed at any time.
As the main protagonist, Eivor is an excellent vessel for this adventure. She is curious and approaches situations with an open mind. However, she can also be moved by emotions and willing to fight at a moment’s notice on the foundation of loyalty alone. These traits lead Eivor and her brother to leave their settlement in Norway for new shores in England. Here, they establish themselves and construct a settlement for their people to thrive.
The narrative becomes the driving force for the entire game, and I’d honestly hate to spoil any part of it in this review. There are choices made that will change the outcome of Eivor and her crew of Ravens, but that only makes the stakes higher when they are revealed. She is fighting to thrive at first, but forces beyond her control are at play here, and she will ultimately serve a bigger purpose.
I undoubtedly loved the story and its many branching paths that made it feel like I was making an impact on the world. This is an excellent feeling given that you spend so much time exploring the surrounding valleys, mountains, and streams. There was never a point that I wasn’t looking forward to unlocking a new area to explore more, but that didn’t stop the game from offering more to do in places I’ve already been. This connection to the environment and its effects on the narrative make this a genuinely unique open-world experience.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla subtly ties itself to the Creed by allowing you to construct an Assassin Bureau in your town. There is a reason that this exists without feeling shoehorned into the Viking world, but I don’t want to spoil it. After construction, you unlock the Order of the Ancients, which gives you a list of targets around England, but many of their appearances are distorted and require further investigation.
Aside from almost an endless amount of activities to take on in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the Order of the Ancients is perhaps the most fun to complete. It makes you feel like a detective at some points as you discover new targets, and it forces you to pay attention to your surroundings to look for clues that may lead to special gear and more information about the history of the brotherhood.
There’s no shortage of things to do in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and the developer wants you to experience all of it. Completing activities provide experience points that reward Skill Points to raise your Skill Level. This is entirely controlled by the player to fit their playstyle. Here, players can unlock stat increases, new skills, and new abilities. Abilities can be tied to either ranged or melee attacks and assigned a hotkey. These are powerful moves that can quickly turn a tough encounter and exhaust adrenaline when used.
The map is broken up into different sections that may suggest a high Skill Level before exploring. However, this is a Viking game, so raids are a substantial part of your people’s overall gameloop and settlement. Raids are marked across the map, and players can invade in a few ways, but the coolest would have to be by water as you ride up the port and rush to pillage goods from the enemy.
Raids provide materials for building new structures at your settlement, which unlocks new things to do. It’s satisfying to see your colony grow and expand as new people join and offer additional tasks. There’s even a black market trader who gives you timed targets and special gear as well as a barracks to create a warrior that can be enlisted by other players.
As grand as the adventure is, the pressure is put on the player to do everything to be strong enough to take on some of the later missions. In this regard, there were moments in the game where I’d be under-leveled for a boss encounter and forced to complete side events to become stronger.
I would have liked this to happen more naturally because it ended up ruining the impact of some quests. After all, I had already been to specific locations looking for ways to gain experience. However, the story would then lead me back to these locations, and they weren’t as exciting the second time through.
I think the pacing of the first five hours of the game is just so fast that you are on your way to England in about an hour, but you aren’t told that there is still a ton of stuff to do in Norway. It’s easy enough to change maps, but it isn’t explicitly explained to you that you could hang out in Norway for a while and get some easy experience points. The sense of being underpowered is cured after a time, but you may hit a wall where you need to complete quests for experience sooner or later.
However, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has some gorgeous environments full of treasure, unique events, and discoveries. One of the more unique elements is the Mysteries that you’ll come across. These encounters can be anything from dealing with a nudist colony to helping out a blind man. The only real issue that some of these events have is that they don’t appear in the quests tab and can be confusing if you forget what you have to do. Other than that, they are quite fun and adequately marked on the map.
Still, there’s plenty more to uncover around the map, which will lead you to some brilliant set-pieces. I enjoyed the amount of detail that went into creating this vast environment and then filling it up with things to do. Out of everything, though, I think my favorite is when you’d be sent down a cavern, which sometimes requires light-puzzle solving, where you can explore tunnels that typically led to new equipment or treasure.
Character customization is pretty straight forward in this entry when it comes to equipment. The game encourages finding complete sets of gear to increase their stats, and you can also use materials to make things stronger. There are Runes, which add additional passive effects, but it’s all pretty base level and doesn’t get too complicated.
Players can equip two weapons or mix and match with a shield. It’s possible to still guard with two weapons in hand, though. Fighting requires a few different approaches to chain together light and strong attacks with strong exhausting stamina. Stamina is also drained by dodging, but players can also parry if they guard at the right time. Parrying an enemy will allow you to stun lock them for a special attack, which is sometimes required to get through tougher boss battles or take out a strong opponent quicker.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a beautiful game, but I feel its true potential will be unlocked from high-end consoles and PC. The game pushes the PS4 graphically to the point where glitches became more prominent the more you play. Nothing is ever game-breaking or in your face, but there were moments of flickering or objects not appearing. Still, I found that resetting fixed many of the glitches that I encountered.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla ties into the series masterfully and will keep you glued to the screen as you reach the climax. The more time you spend in the game, the more there is to do, and each event seems to tie into the overarching narrative masterfully. The ties to myths and lore, along with key moments of history, take players through a truly gripping story that adjusts to how they approach the adventure.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla takes the advancements of the series found in Odyssey and applies it to a whole new setting. As brutal as the period of Vikings is, there’s something beautiful about this adventure. Every action is rewarded with some great moments of storytelling, and besides a few narrative roadblocks tied to the player’s level, there’s an amazing world here just waiting to be discovered.
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