Get your historically-inaccurate horned hat, it’s time to be Vikings in the all new Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. The new title in Ubisoft’s historic era simulator series has you playing as Eivor, the powerful Viking come to build a new settlement for his clan in medieval England.
One look at the game’s aggressive combat and Longboat raids and its obvious we’re quite a ways downriver from the old days of merely sneaking around stabbing guards. Is the game just a tired husk of the long-running franchise? Or has it earned a spot in the halls of Valhalla? Read on and find out.
Managing Your Cliques
In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, your main objective is to conquer England for your Raven Clan after you were made to leave your home in Norway.
Of course, rather than just planting your flag and inventing Facebook, there’s a bit more work to be had. Several kingdoms are already vying for control of England, and you’ll need to manage your alliances with them if you want to get anywhere.
The decision system in Valhalla is one of its strongest features, since it can have serious ramifications on your game. Some NPCs will completely avoid joining you based on the outcome of your conversations, so you’ll want to be mindful of the relationships you want to build.
Another Settlement Needs Your Help
There’s also the game’s settlement system, where you can develop buildings for your clan. One of these buildings is a Bureau for the Assassin’s Order. This is a great tie-in to the Assassin’s Creed series, as continued time spent here will have you learning more about the Assassin’s conflict with the Templars, making it feel a lot more like the older Assassin’s Creed games.
Managing these things is actually pretty fun, since they all play into Eivor’s plans for controlling England. Many of the characters also feel interesting, and it’s nice that there’s more to them than just being the guy who gives you your next story quest.
I’m particularly fond of Hytham, the guy who introduces you to the Assassin way of doing things. He doesn’t call the Assassins or Templars by their names, instead referring to them as the Hidden Ones and Ancient Ones. It’s a nice touch of world building since the conflict goes over so many countries, its only natural their names would be translated differently.
Combat in Valhalla is a huge step up from the more classic Assassin’s Creed games, in that it’s actually good. You have a stamina bar to manage, as well as your opponent’s poise before you get a big attack. Light attacks build up your stamina, which is great since it encourages more aggressive play.
You also have a great array of loadout customizations, from special skills to being able to dual-wield your weapons. I’m really fond of how the team approach combat, since it’s possible to use any of the game’s loadouts to clear encounters.
If you’d rather not get into a melee, the game’s still got you covered with ranged options like the bow. It’s great for stealth runs since not only do you have range, but certain skills can even let you do things seemingly thought impossible like sniping guards through walls.
Of course, this is still an Assassin’s Creed game, and assassinating enemies is entirely possible thanks to Eivor’s Hidden Blade. Enemies that are a lower level than Eivor can be snuck up on and killed immediately, which is great for the Assassin who likes to grind.
It’s not so easy for more elite enemies though, who require a special skill on the tech tree to be dealt with. These turn into a minigame that’s not too bad. I get locking it behind a skill tree makes a good reward for investing in it, but it does mean playing this the RPG way is mandatory.
Like games before it, there’s also naval combat, as you get on your Longboat and sail to get resources for your settlement. This is one of the most fun parts of the game, since you can even customize your own lieutenant to help you along.
While the multiplayer elements weren’t available for us to try out in our gameplay, we’re told you can also send your Jomsvikings to your friend’s games, helping them out in their worlds. It’s a nice little feature, and is sure to make a lot of people chuckle seeing their friends custom vikings in their own games.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is another in the line of RPG-leaning Assassin’s Creed games. This does feel a lot more honest to what the game wants to be, since in previous games you could tell the games wanted to go for the whole “big open world with stuff to do” but it always felt weird since you were also going around shanking people despite owning all the banks.
With the shift in tone, however, everything simply feels a part of the big “do anything” sandbox. Tonal dissonance is a really mild complaint with the Assassin’s Creed series, but it’s still nice to see less of it with Valhalla.
Overall the game works well as an RPG, with multiple skill trees and weapon options to suit any playstyle. There’s also a huge open world full of things to do like sidequests and minigames, so it’s not like you need to conquer England right away.
One gripe I have with the game’s RPG-isms is the way it handles its loot. The game uses “gear scores” to build to your level, which will determine a lot of your encounters. It’s a really popular mechanic used in many loot-based games, and that’s kind of the problem.
It doesn’t really add anything to the gameplay except more busywork, as you toil for a stick with a bigger number than your current stick. It works in games with more simplistic combat since these become the determining factor, but since Valhalla’s combat is actually involved having stats feels like an excuse to make players spend more time grinding.
At its worst, it makes the game feel like just another trend chaser, considering the prominence of the mechanic. While the game does have some interesting legendary loot, the idea that yet another game is forcing me to open hundreds of chests for near-identical weapons does leave a sour taste on the tongue.
If you were looking for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla to be your one game this season, it absolutely will suffice. There’s so much to do in the game from its various minigames to its great story that you can absolutely spend your days playing it with plenty to do no matter what you’re in the mood for.
That being said, its big open world is not immune to the shortcomings of its genre, so expect some bugs. While the game’s not a buggy mess, those gamers with low tolerance for characters abruptly sliding around will probably get annoyed any time one shows up here.
If you can look past that though, you’ll see an Assassin’s Creed hitting its stride as an RPG, but without being afraid to call back to its roots with plenty of interesting titbits about the game’s overall lore coming together.
Also, while we couldn’t test it on next-gen hardware, the current-gen versions do suffer when it comes to loading screens. Thankfully, you’ll get the faster loading times on the next gen systems, and you’ll get those for free even if you buy a current-gen version.
Either ways, it’s fun to be a viking.
|Great combat system||Loot system is boring|
|Great to work on your Settlements||Long loading times for current-gen|
Game reviewed on PS4. Review copy provided by Ubisoft.
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