THE more I play Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, the more I’m convinced the pitch meeting was basically “let’s make a game about The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin”.
Developed and published by Ubisoft for PC, Xbox and Playstation, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is the 11th game in the historical action-adventure series which involves an Inception meets The Matrix plot that is entirely too complicated to go into in this review (and yes, the ‘real world’ aspects and framing plot feature in this game too).
This game is set during the 9th Century Viking Age in Britain, and makes full use of the many possibilities the setting offers. It’s also excellent.
This time around our hero Eivor hails from the land of ice and snow, of the midnight sun where the hot springs flow; and is a Viking warrior. Eivor can be male or female (you can switch at any time, or even let the game chop and change at various times if you like).
The game starts in Norway, where Eivor’s clan is in conflict with a rival kingdom. Due to shifting alliances and unwelcome change in the political situation, Eivor and his clan decide to sail to their ship to new lands – their goal: The shores of Britain.
From there, it’s a similar experience to the reinvigorated post-2017 Assassin’s Creed games – a gorgeous and detailed world to explore, an interesting cast, engaging story, great combat, and an incredibly immersive experience that really does feel like you’re exploring a real historical setting.
One new feature this outing is the ability to develop your settlement, Ravensthorpe. While it’s nowhere near Fallout 4’s levels of customisation, it’s still very rewarding watching your settlement grow and expand over time; it really adds to the sense of progression as well as creating a sense of ownership with your home base.
The progression system has been tweaked since Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and I was pleased to see I no longer had the situation of finding the main story coming to a screeching halt because I had a power level far, far too low to attempt the next main mission and was forced to travel all over the map doing random side quests until I could level up.
As long as you complete the areas in the suggested order, you shouldn’t have any issues in that regard, and although the main story took a few surprising turns I found them to be pleasantly well timed and interesting.
It’s no secret I loved Odyssey, but it was a huge sprawling game and to be honest I utterly lost track of the main story because there was just so much going on.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla does not have that problem. It’s still a huge game, but it felt a lot more focussed than Odyssey for me; I never felt like anything I was doing was busywork or padding – and there is a lot to do, from the main story to raids to treasure hunting to assorted side missions to get opals to trade for ultra-rare gear to drinking contests to playing dice exploring or even little mini-missions known as “World Events”. In my favourite of those so far, Eivor rescues a cat who gives you a big cat hug and then joins your longship as the ship’s cat.
It’s so rare to see cats in video games in anything except NPCs adding some colour to township settings, so I was very pleased indeed to find one in a game about Vikings of all places.
Raids are an important mechanic in Valhalla – basically, you and your longship crew (you can sail your longship around England’s rivers and coastline) show up at a location such as a monastery, sound the war-horn, climb over the gunwhales and charge into the place fighting guards and ransacking the buildings for loot, especially building supplies which can be used to upgrade Ravensthorpe.
The raids are quite a spectacle – from the sounding of your warhorn (you only engage soldiers in combat, fortunately) to the tolling of church bells warning civilians to flee to the smoke rising from burning buildings and chaos of clashing with the guards, it goes beyond the usual resource-grab mission.
The writing in the game is very good, although not quite as light-hearted as Odyssey. Eivor is a likeable character and surprisingly practical, and I was pleased to see a return of the dialogue choices mechanic too (even though they generally don’t have much impact on the game from what I can tell).
One of the delights of the game is simply exploring Dark Ages Britain. From Norse settlements to the repurposed Roman ruins of London, the game looks absolutely incredible and filled me with the same sense I had in Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, namely that I was exploring a realistic (with creative licence for the fact this is a video game) recreation of a world more than a millennia removed from our own and was genuinely getting some insight into an era of history that tends to be murkily thought of “Like the Middle Ages but without knights and everything sucked more, and Vikings were there too.”
I would not be at all surprised if we see a “Discovery Mode” for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla much like the one implemented for the previous two games, either.
In case you hadn’t gathered yet, I have really enjoyed Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. In a time when I’ve been flat out reviewing next-generation consoles, smartwatches, and other video games, I still keep coming back to play this one
I’ve played the game on both an Xbox Series X and a respectable spec gaming PC (with an RTX 2060 graphics card) and I can comfortably say that with native 4K graphics and raytracing running at 60fps, the Xbox Series X version looks better than what I can manage on my PC.
I mentioned in my preview story that I wasn’t sure if assassination would feature as prominently here as it has in previous titles – but it does, fortunately. Whether it’s leaping off a church tower to skewer a guard or appearing out of a bale of hay to say “Gotcha!” before stabbing a member of the Order of Ancients, you have an Assassin’s Blade and can make plenty of use of it.
Of course, if you want a dynamic approach you can go all out for combat too. In Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, you can dual-wield weapons if you want, or you can have a shield in your off-hand. It should surprise no-one that I went in like the Norse equivalent of a hero in a Hong Kong action movie, with a sharp bladed weapon in each hand and enjoying time slowing down while I leapt off rafters with a bow and arrow to shoot enemies in the head (or knee).
The gear system has been pared back a lot more as well, probably a bit too much for my liking. While I thought there was far too much to keep track of in Odyssey, there isn’t enough in Valhalla, and the differences between “Raven” and “Bear” and “Huntsman” gear weren’t immediately clear to me either, except Bear gear (which I found the most of) was berserker based and I didn’t really like how it looked.
While the game looks breathtaking on the Xbox Series X – some of the scenery is photorealistic – I did have a couple of minor performance issues, including two sudden crashes to desktop (consoletop?) and an issue with a manually saved game file corrupting, although it fixed itself when I fully exited out of the game and restarted it.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla requires a valid Ubisoft Connect account to play, and one of the things this facilitates is cross-platform saves.
What this meant in a practical sense was I could play the game on the Xbox Series X until the kids started complaining they wanted to play Golf With Your Friends or Minecraft or something equally suitable for primary school children – at which point I could go to my PC, fire up Ubisoft Connect, sync my Xbox save from the cloud, and carry on the Mead-Fuelled Adventures of Eivor The Viking In The 9th Century AD on my gaming computer.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla once again proves that taking a bit of extra time on games leads to outstanding results; the game is easily as good as Odyssey and improves on it in several areas.
If I might conclude this saga of a review: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a tour-de-force of epic proportions and an absolute must-play, get-it-as-soon as it launches experience. It’s an incredible showcase for the Xbox Series X as well as a Game Of The Year contender.
Board your longship, sound your warhorn, and get a copy of this – it’ll keep you a-viking for quite some time.