Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Release date: 2020
Version played: Xbox Series X in 2020

The twelfth instalment in Ubisoft’s open-world action/adventure series, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was released in late 2020 as a launch title for the next generation of home game consoles. Taking control of Eivor, a Viking raider in the year 873 AD, players are able to utilise stealth or assault-based tactics, recruit allies or make enemies from historical figures, and explore Norway and England as they establish their settlement in the face of different religions and war across the country. As always hundreds of collectibles, side quests and other activities return, including the new ability to raid monasteries for resources and treasures.

+ as expected for the series, there is a great cast of characters to interact with, ally yourself to or begin a battle against. Cameos from King Aelfred and Ubba and Ivar Ragnarsson add some “real” stakes to the story, as you work alongside or against these real life characters from history
+ the combat system is essentially the same as Odyssey, with a light/heavy attack, your choice of three bows for various styles (which roughly translate to fast but small damage, balanced, or slow but heavy damage) and various abilities all working together to defeat foes. I personally liked the axe throwing skills, as well as the skill to summon a wolf ally to your side. As mentioned in My Early Thoughts, I used either a two-handed axe or a greatsword for almost my entire playthrough and I have absolutely no regrets. As a very minor negative, the “stun attacks” occurred too frequently and were overpowers, not to mention some had an annoyingly long animation
+ the soundtrack and audio effects are just as good a hundred hours in as they were the first time I heard them. I mentioned that the soundtrack sounded like Wardruna’s music, so imagine my non-surprise when I found out that Einar Selvik from Wardruna was involved in the soundtrack. Aside from the music, the clang of swords and shields and the screams and grunts of combat are a joy to hear
+ the modern day segments return, and while I can’t say I want anything close to a full game featuring these characters, what was offered here was brief and harmless. I had no issues with it

– first things first, however justified it was intended to be, I hate this insistence on male and female Eivor “both being canon” – that just does not make any sense. Worse still that despite that pre-release claim, my Eivor was consistently called “her” and “she”, and had the canon name “Eivor Varinsdottir”, aka “daughter of Varin”. Yes, I am aware that “Eivor” is a female name. Stop this garbage, and just make one playable character, male or female. Or make them separate characters, like Syndicate did so well
– by virtue of this being an open world game, the main story moves at a frustrating pace and is full of overly predictable story beats. The free roam nature of the game also means that you’ll come across interesting locations, spending hours trying to get to one of the million map markers inside, only to be unable to do so until a story mission takes you there later. Let me tell you, that really pissed me off
– both of the above points can be summed up to say that Ubisoft’s desire to make this an RPG with choices, but also a strictly story-based game leads to many instances where Eivor doesn’t react as “my” Eivor would. Giving players the option to respond to some questions, but not the important ones, just made my Evor look like he had dissociative identity disorder
– for the majority of the game, there is no real need for any parkour. Outside of the now overly formulaic “Ubisoft Towers” which reveal the surrounding map, there is almost no benefit of climbing a building when you could just sprint around it. There are no long-form tree lines like in Assassin’s Creed III, and the majority of the need for parkour is diminished as soon as you get into combat, which is nearly all the time.
– the whole game is very repetitive, not just in style but in substance. Pledging aid to a new area of England requires you to travel to a city that usually all look the same just to help whoever is in charge with one of three, by-the-books quests: traitor in their ranks, Order of the Ancients has infiltrated the city, or they are an old friend who need personal guidance. A third of these end in an assault on a fortress that all play exactly the same way. The raids, too, feel overly formulaic, and once you’ve done the tutorial raid you’ll know exactly what to expect from every subsequent one
– much like Odyssey, the world is unnecessarily huge. This new need to always have snow, swamps forests, sandy deserts and populated cities in every single open world game means that they all look different but never feel any different. I’ve written before that bigger is not always better
– even in the final hours of my game time, I was still encountering a huge number of glitches, like floating weapons, the inability to control my horse and enemies that either could not see me, or simply refused to attack. I can’t even count the number of hours I lost through corrupted game saves, which happened entirely at random. I’m not going to pretend that having no glitches at all is possible, but these were big glitches that simply pointed to this being an unfinished game
– you will get “desynchronised” if you kill too many civilians… including monks on a monastery raid. What kind of shitty Viking was Eivor if he never even killed a monk or two on a raid of a Christian religious site? I say that somewhat in jest but it’s that story and gameplay segregation that makes me think this simply should not have even been an Assassin’s Creed game
– I really hope the next Assassin’s Creed game actually features an Assassin; Origins gets a pass, because it was the origins. Odyssey and Valhalla are just lazy period pieces

> I have written about this game on a few occasions, including well before it was announced and then in My Early Thoughts, and it’s somewhat reaffirming that I was so close with so many mechanics. But it’s also disheartening that I had a full section on the potential negatives in the former article, and they were apparently not addressed by the designers at all. “Treating the Viking towns as a hub, and having the bulk of the parkour movement take place in the other areas of the game likewise feels a little bit cheap.” It sure does, Me. It sure does.
> Ubisoft really missed the opportunity to make this the officially fifth numbered entry in their series, since “Valhalla” already starts with V.

Should you play this game: Certainly not yet, if at all. Neither Odyssey nor Valhalla has managed to re-capture what made Origins such a joy to play, and the continued attempts by Ubisoft to satisfy the “historical events versus freedom of choice”, “stealth versus action” and even “male protagonist versus female protagonist” camps is wearing undeniably thin.

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