After a shaky start to the generation, the Assassin’s Creed series turned things around with Assassin’s Creed Origins. This was the game that marked the series shift to an RPG style of play. Now their worlds ballooned even bigger than before, filled with numerous quests, dialogue choices, and a lot of gear to collect and levels to gain. This week we find ourselves transitioning to the next generation of consoles and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the newest entry in the series has arrived.
I’ve spent nearly 60 hours playing Ubisoft’s newest massive RPG adventure so I thought I’d write my thoughts and impressions on it. This isn’t a review though, the reasons behind that will become clear later on.
In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla you play as Eivor, a Viking hailing from Norway. With resources becoming scarce, Eivor and the rest of the Raven Clan flee Norway as they plan to establish a new future for their clan in 9th Century England. It’s here that Eivor and the Raven Clan begin their conquest as they slowly build up their settlement, battle the Anglo-Saxons, and get leaders of other territories to pledge their loyalty.
As you play Valhalla you’ll be returning to your settlement, Ravensthorpe, quite often. This is your basic hub filled with buildings and services you can upgrade over time with materials you get from completing quests and raiding camps. Also in Ravensthorpe, you’ll find the centerpiece of Valhalla’s gameplay loop – The Alliance Map. You’ll be checking the Alliance Map regularly as you choose territories to adventure to. Each territory has its own story arc composed of several quests you’ll have to complete which concludes with the leader(s) of those territories becoming your allies.
Each territory has its own problems to solve and characters to talk to. In one territory you find yourself helping a group reclaim their home and sussing out a traitor in their ranks. In another territory, you support a young future King while teaching him how to fight in a world of fearless killers. And in another you find yourself assassinating members of the mysterious Order of the Ancients – A group that will be manipulating and causing problems all across the game’s open world. Each of these story arcs has it’s own unique feel that keeps them from feeling too monotonous.
By the way, not everything in these story arcs is set in stone. You’ll have a variety of dialogue options to use in conversations. This gives you an opportunity to solve problems and progress through quests in a few different ways. This could be through bribing someone with money, using your silver tongue to get what you want for free, or just being like a normal Viking and immediately entering combat and splitting their skull open. Some choices also lead to major consequences for territories such as a key character dying or even some characters deciding they may just want to move to your settlement instead and join your cause.
Of course, being a Viking means you have some expectations about combat. Thrilling battles as you rip and tear through enemies and Valhalla (for the most part) does not disappoint. You can equip up to two weapons (or shields) at a time. I spent the large majority of my time wielding the one-handed ax and a small shield. My playstyle in combat is something I imagine some may consider bland. I focused more on watching my opponent’s movements and using my shield to parry their attacks and shredding their health with ripostes. Parries do a lot of damage to the enemy’s stamina meter and once depleted you can go for a “Stun” attack. Honestly, I have no idea why they call it “Stun” because most of these “Stuns” are you snapping their necks, chopping their heads off, or grabbing their large spear and planting them into the ground with it like a human kebab.
These “Stun” moves and other cinematic takedowns punctuate battles with a sometimes cartoon slapstick level of impact as you marvel at the sights and sounds of these enemies getting absolutely eviscerated. It can be really satisfying however I do feel like the automated finishers didn’t need to happen nearly as often. Some encounters feature dozens of enemies and you’ll at times mash the light attack to dispatch them and see the same takedown animation several times in the span of, say, 30 seconds. It also gets annoying when the automated and unskippable finishers happen as you watch in horror as an enemy scout is running to sound the alarm bell and you can’t do anything about it because Ubisoft decided you needed to turn this dude’s bones into confetti for the 8th time in a row.
The combat is strengthened through the Adrenaline/Ability system. As you invest in the game’s skill tree you gain Adrenaline nodes. These are a resource you build up through combat and you can use them to execute special moves. Some examples include making your next arrow create a fiery explode on impact, applying poison to your weapon, jumping into the air for an aerial strike, or even throwing a comical amount of axes you apparently store in your pockets.
Overall the combat has an almost cartoon level of satisfaction in it. The takedowns feel crunchy and the combat has just enough going on that it doesn’t feel completely mindless.
Of course, you may be desperately hoping that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has, you know, assassinations. Well, I’m pleased to say that stealth gameplay continues to be an option and honestly feels like one of the strongest options. Stealth takedowns with the hidden blade are here and if you invest in a skill early on you can even take down the strongest of enemies in one blow with the addition of a small timing minigame you have to perform on the strong enemies. I got really excited when I managed to topple a large goliath-class brute with a well-timed throat cut.
Between raiding camps, completing quests, and discovering new areas you’ll be gaining XP which leads to level-ups. Thankfully Valhalla does away with traditional RPG level systems instead of going for a “Power Level” system which is calculated based on how many nodes you activate in the game’s skill tree. That skill tree is modeled after the stars in the sky as you connect constellations together to improve your stats and unlock new skills.
My main worry was something akin to Borderlands where being below a certain level would make fights an obnoxious drawn-out difficult experience but I’m pleased to report it was fine! I didn’t feel like I needed to grind XP or felt like I was being funneled into a “buy our XP booster” scheme. I felt like I was constantly progressing through the story and the world without any pace breakers like level gating.
Aside from general questing and combat you also have a few minigames. You’ve got Orlog, a dice game where you play out multiple phases of dice rolling as you attack your opponent and gain resources to use special skills. You’ve also got drinking contests where it’s a race to down a certain amount of alcohol. The game has you pressing buttons at the right time while it gets progressively faster and more difficult as you struggle to not fall over as you get more and more drunk. It’s a fun distraction that gets pretty hard in the later hours of the game.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the exploration in Valhalla. The game features plenty of castles, crypts, caves, and other dungeons to explore. This is where some of the puzzles of the game come into play. I wouldn’t say any of it is anything groundbreaking. Occasionally you’ll find yourself figuring out how to open a door that’s barred from the inside. Sometimes you’ll need to break in from the roof, other times you’ll have to get a little clever and shoot an arrow through the window to destroy the wood barring the door. Again, I wouldn’t call any of this amazing but it does reward exploring an area thoroughly and thinking about how to approach things.
You’ve also got walls to break with fire pots, keys to collect to unlock doors, and occasionally you’ll find the way forward could involve dropping several hundred pounds of rubble on a piece of cracked flooring.
All of this is strengthened by pretty good visuals and nice lighting. Valhalla is filled with some nice look vistas and when the sun hits the right spot the game can really look beautiful. I’d say its visuals aren’t on the level of something like Ghost of Tsushima but Ubisoft has pulled off something pretty solid.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has a lot going on. There’s plenty of stuff I haven’t even touched upon in this write-up. That said, this isn’t a review and I should get into why.
The fact of the matter is, in my experience this game is coming in hot. Clearly, they want Valhalla to launch alongside the next-gen consoles and be their big game in what is always the busiest month of the year for games. I get that, however, the experience I’ve had with this game has been rough, really rough.
Beneath the fun enough Open World RPG is numerous bugs and issues. Tracked quests randomly switching when you reload a checkpoint, NPCs “talk” prompt being unavailable unless you reload, and some cutscenes playing twice are just a few of the annoyances that are peppered throughout my 60 hours of playtime.
Even worse are the crashes. Honestly, I’ve never experienced this many crashes on a console game in a very very long time. Maybe even ever. I played on PS4 Pro and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla crashed no less than FOURTEEN (14) times. The game’s rough loading times really made this sting and I found myself consistently getting frustrated as every time I started really getting into the story or the gameplay one of these crashes would pop up and ruin the day.
Of course, crashes, and a slew of bugs wouldn’t prevent me from writing a review though. I’d just dock points! The reason this is an impressions post and not a review is very simple — I haven’t and cannot beat Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
Let me set the scene, 60 hours into this game I am approaching what very much feels like the final couple hours of the game. I complete a very cool sequence in the story that I will not spoil. The cutscene ends, I find myself unable to open my map. Weird. I am also alone with no NPCs, objectives, and any idea of where to go. Concerning. I also can’t leave as there is no exit I can reach. I am trapped in an area with no means of escape, no hint on what to do or if I can do anything. The game has broken on me.
I’m not one to give up, despite being upset at the entire flow of the game being shattered by yet another technical issue, I troubleshoot it. I relaunch the game, and load from several saves and redo the preceding section. It all ended the same way. I was trapped, the end of the game was out of reach and my 60 hours of play, in the end, amounted to nothing. That sucks.
Honestly, I was furious. I have never experienced something like this before and it just bums me out even now. Despite the game being a lot longer than I would have preferred, I was enjoying my time despite its technical issues. Being locked out of the conclusion of a story I spent over a week and 60 hours pouring over leaves a rancid taste in my mouth.
But it is what it is. I’m sure some of my experience may not happen to others thanks to patches, and the almost random nature some glitches can have. For me though, I’m done with Valhalla and likely won’t be returning. The experience I had was one of high highs and incredible obnoxious lows. Filled with fun exploration, and over 45 minutes of combined loading as a result of numerous crashes.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla shows a lot of promise. A game with a lot to see, a lot to do, and at times an engaging story to tell. But honestly, you should wait a few months for it to get some patches and play it on a next-gen system to combat the load times. Valhalla has the makings of a great game, it just needed a couple of months of polish. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t afforded that time.
Disclaimer: Ubisoft provided me a free code of the game on PS4 for review.