Assassin's Creed Valhalla Review: A-Raiding We Will Go
The Assassin's Creed franchise has had its ups and downs, but it seems to have turned things around within the last few entries. It's true it had grown a bit stale with yearly releases, but 2018's Assassin's Creed: Odyssey showed that Ubisoft regained its grasp on what fans wanted from the series and had (hopefully) righted the ship.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla, the newest entry in the franchise, transports players to a Norse setting full of Vikings, and in the process, stays on course.
Valhalla isn't dramatically different from AC Odyssey, or other AAA, open-world, third-person action games, for that matter. There's a lot of polish in Valhalla, and there is a ton of stuff to do and plenty of little details that draw you into the world. Combat has many options but is not overly interesting or challenging, and sidequests too often fall into the "go here, then go there, then get your XP" formula.
But it is a fun, jam-packed world to play in.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla Review — A-Raiding We Will Go
Just like Valhalla's customization options, there are multiple avenues by which you can handle combat.
I've been out of the Assassin's Creed picture for a while. Somewhere in the middle of the series, between the twists and turns brought about by the Animus and the centuries-spanning battles between secret societies, Assassin's Creed started to feel more like busywork than a game.
Luckily, that's changed. Valhalla injects some fun back into things, with memorable characters and an interesting narrative to punctuate moving between icons on the map.
The customization options for your main character, Eivor, are substantial enough to stand out, and the story gives you enough small options (and a few fairly large ones) to help shape the story as you want. The roleplaying elements in Valhalla are many — I played Eivor as a proud, sneaky hothead who frequently deferred to the few people she looked up to. Still, she remained stubborn when dealing with pretty much everyone else.
It would take another playthrough to see exactly how much some of those "stubborn jerk" decisions actually affected my story and the things I saw in Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, but it seemed to do a good job of making my choices matter at the end of the day.
There are also ways to set quests one of two ways: one where you actually have to solve the puzzles and search for your objectives and another where pretty much everything is marked on your map immediately. The default settings are a nice in-between, and it's great that there are all sorts of options like this in Valhalla.
The Assassin's Creed games have always been replete with combat, and Valhalla is no different. Overall, combat here is... not overly exciting, but it gets the job done. It's fairly standard, third-person action stuff: you have light and heavy melee attacks, a couple of dodges, and some ranged abilities. For the most part, if you don't get caught in a corner or enter a fight with a sliver of health, you probably won't have a ton of trouble with most of the game's foes.
Luckily, just like Valhalla's customization options, there are multiple avenues by which you can handle combat. You can equip an armory of different weapons, and you can dual-wield most for a huge number of combinations. I typically went with the handaxe/shield combo, as it gave me a lot of versatility when combined with my focus on range.
Speaking of that focus, there are dozens of specializations for Eivor. As you complete quests and level up, you unlock skill points that you can stretch out across a huge grid, building up stats and unlocking new abilities along the way. Those abilities can be assigned to quick actions, so you can use them to patch holes in your build or to accentuate the areas you focus on.
For example, an early ranged skill allows you to "paint" a target multiple times, then unleash a flurry of arrows for a nasty knock to their health bar. This is great for taking out multiple weak foes at once or for knocking a major chunk of HP off a tougher enemy.
Iconic Assassin's Creed stealth kills are as thrilling as ever, but, especially early in the game, you'll likely need to mix it up fairly often.
Lots to Do
It's also to Valhalla's credit that its writing and voice acting are so strong.
In the grand scheme of things, though, combat is only a small cog in the mighty machine that is Assassin's Creed Valhalla. The game's open-world isn't quite as convincing as some of the best representatives of the genre, like The Witcher or Red Dead Redemption 2. However, you're never at a loss for things to do in the series' largest game.
There are songs and stories to hear as you sail the seas around England and Norway. There are tattoo blueprints to track down and set to your skin. There is a dice game to play. Cats to pet. Viking word duels (basically rap battles) called "flyts" to engage in. Romances to have. Horses to ride. A settlement to upgrade. And a home to improve.
Much of these points of interest are marked on your map and within easy distance of a fast travel point. Like the best open-world games, however, Valhalla's most interesting moments are found on the journeys between points.
As a recurring theme, it boils back down to a simple fact: AC Valhalla puts so many paths and options in front of you. There's no problem if you want to jump between fast travel points, checking off your virtual to-do list while watching Eivor grow into an unstoppable killing machine.
There's also no problem in wandering through the world and making your own stories. The world is populous enough that you're never far from something new and interesting.
A Story for the Ages
It's also to Valhalla's credit that its writing and voice acting are so strong. The main characters, secondary characters, and even little minor characters alike help create the illusion that the world is alive. Whether you play Eivor as a male or female, you'll find the character relatable, interesting, and nuanced.
The story is easy to sympathize with, especially when you take things in conjunction with our real world view of history and Assassin's Creed's own bizarre overarching storyline.
Maybe it's because I took such a long break from the Assassin's Creed series, but anytime the focus shifted back into the "modern-day," I stopped being interested. Maybe that part's totally your jam, but good thing for me (and others in the same boat), those moments are fewer and farther between this time around.
Still, it might not be a bad idea to brush up on the "story so far" if you've missed a few entries in the series.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla Review — The Bottom Line
- Tons of different things to do
- Strong writing and characters
- Plenty of customization options to help make the game how you want
- The world feels like a living, breathing place
- Combat is unexciting
- Events don't always trigger when they should
- Too often, events are often glorified fetch quests
If you've been away from Assassin's Creed for a while, Valhalla is a great entry back into the series. There are myriad ways to make the experience your own, and sailing around in a longship while listening to a bunch of drunk Vikings tell war stories never gets old.
If you've had your fill of Assassin's Creed or games of its ilk, I'm not sure there's enough here to bring you along for the journey. Combat is still kind of messy, and your goals are too often centered on "get to this spot on the map."
Still, Eivor's yarn is a pretty good one, so narrative-driven gamers will find a lot to like with Assassin's Creed Valhalla.
[Note: Ubisoft provided the copy of Assassin's Creed Valhalla used for this review.]