From sneaking into forts and stabbing enemies with Altaïr’s hidden blade, to decapitating Saxon troops in broad daylight with Eivor’s axe. Ubisoft has shaped and reshaped its action stealth franchise to fit into any timeline and take up history lessons from around the world. This is probably why Ubisoft isn’t afraid to tinker, tweak and downright swing the series into a different genre. From stealth to open-world RPG. The series has come till Valhalla to showcase the latest addition to the Assassin's Creed game and if you’re familiar with Odyssey and Origins, Valhalla will feel quite similar.
Albeit, better too.
Yup, Valhalla has taken all the good bits from the previous games and cut out the excess fat that plagued the series with repetitive content. It works here and the Viking spin is exactly what we needed.
Unlike the previous games, things don’t just happen in Valhalla. I know it's a broad statement but hear me out. There are smaller details within the game world that make Valhalla feel like a thoughtful continuation of the series. Stuff like Leap of Faith for instance. Where Kassandra from Odyssey would jump in the iconic Assassin's Creed style from perch points without ever knowing the existence of the stab-happy group, and what the jump signifies. Eivor jumps differently before being introduced to the Leap of Faith. This makes sense because his character never really had any reason to spread his arms wide and do a half somersault in the end while landing on a conveniently placed haystack.
He also wears his hidden blade on top of his wrist rather. He explains that Vikings are proud warriors that do not need to hide their weapons. An honest statement.
This also means that Eivor isn’t an Assassin. Well, in the context of the game he is, but he never really sought the indoctrination of the Creed even after working with them in his travels. It’s only because his goals align with the Creed’s, he’s favourable to helping them out. This makes Eivor’s initiation into the Creed quite similar to Captain Edward Kenway’s from Assassin’s Creed Black Flag. This also means that you’re no longer jumping down on Templar’s throats for the sake of the story. In fact, the story is where Valhalla gets into full swing. The Assassin's Creed franchise often runs us through the personal life of the Assassin at hand. Intertwining their daily, with that of the Creed. And although Origins did a fantastic job of telling us the tale of Bayek, Odyssey felt a bit open-ended. Too often sending us on a carrot chase to kill this and stab that.
Valhalla is rather interesting. It feels as personal as Ezio’s tale but also fits into the new setting of Assassin’s Creed games - Here’s a massive world, go explore.
The game is huge. It demands around 60 or more hours. Maybe 100 if you’re a completionist or, you simply get lost in sightseeing. So for some gamers, this can get a bit overwhelming. For others, it’s a joyous treat worth every penny. So how you spend your time with Valhalla is a bit more subjective than other games. For me, I completely enjoy the Assassin’s Creed lore and the interesting history lessons from around the world, so this Viking crusade into dark ages England is another way for me to explore historic eras through video games. The timeline is also closer to the older Assassin’s Creed games too. Meaning, there are actual Assassins here. The Templar vs Assassin’s skirmish has set in place. So, wearing a hood and sneaking into forts feels reminiscent of the old games.
Choices are back and unlike Odyssey, they have a meaningful impact here. During some missions, I often wondered what it would be like to have taken the other option, whereas, in most cases, the dialogue options would just feel like additional padding for an undeniable outcome.
Your choices remain the same whether you choose to have a male or a female Eivor. You can swap between the two at any time. Your gear and tattoos will remain the same too. Hair and beard are also customisable in different colours and shapes but not to an extent where you start to look like Salman from Tere Naam.
Speaking of Salman, you can whack enemy noggins off their shoulders this time. It’s so visceral that I wonder why it wasn't implemented before. And it adds a nice touch to the combat worthy of a Viking saga.
After leaving Norway for greener pastures, Eivor and his clan have settled in England to make a name for themselves, forging alliances and swatting anyone who gets in the way. The best way to get your clan up and ready is by raiding and pillaging for treasure and loot of course, and this open-ended opportunity will let you raid any settlement (spoiler alert: you should be on a higher rank than the settlement you’re raiding) on the banks of the many rivers that divide the land. It’s also where you cut through defending enemies and make your way to the treasure and then skedaddling back to the longship.
Raids offer Raw Materials and Supplies which are used to turn your ragtag settlement into a prosperous one. Each section of the map also has three types of ‘carrot-chases’. Wealth, Mysteries and Artefacts to indulge your time and effort when you’re taking a break from the campaign missions. These are side missions that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has implemented and left it up to the player to approach them. The mystery is you’ll either find a small side mission along the way or just regular loot. It’s implemented so well, that it fixes Odyssey’s To-Do List-way of doing things. Funny and quirky side missions are also littered across the map. You can even find folks tempting you into rap battles or drinking challenges. Even dice games are here to keep you from leaving this captivating world. Rap battles, in particular, are useful as they grant Charisma charm that unlocks new dialogue opportunities. According to Ubisoft, Flyting (rap battles) was a way of spewing words and dissing opponents without bloodshed.
Loot gear is skimped down. You no longer are given gear and weapons as easily as Odyssey. This too is a thoughtful implementation. One that focuses on visiting the blacksmith for upgrades and alterations, and a feeling of genuine happiness in finding rare and good loot.
Valhalla sells the impression of exploration but it locks you under its level progression. Thankfully, it’s not heavily relying on your gear this time. Rather, your XP points, which you spend to unlock new abilities and increase your stat points. It’s all polished into an intriguing constellation-shaped chart. One that is obscured until you branch out in three directions - stealth, combat and ranged.
Should you choose to venture off on your own on any side of the river-cut England, enemies will immediately kill you because of level disparity. So sticking to kingdoms that come your way through the main quest is how Valhalla keeps you from straying away.
It’s also filled with mythical mysteries. These drug-induced explorations for the mystical and mythical side are fun and beautiful-looking. I often didn’t want to visit that side of Valhalla though. Primarily because of how good the main arcs of the stories were, with politics and religion at the centre of it. These main story arcs felt real and intriguing enough that time in Valhalla was interesting, insightful and downright fun!
Oddly enough, I cannot stop playing Valhalla. And that’s mostly because the game is so well written. The narrative dialogues and multiple intertwining stories running together that drive the Viking experience forward is well worth your time.
It’s also extremely beautiful. Should you have the latest Xbox consoles, the game looks fantastic on Xbox Series X and a high-end gaming rig. It’s plenty demanding too. We ran the game on 2K ultra settings on our gaming PC and it delivered around 65+ frame rate. Occasionally dipping down to 55 for a second. Those frame drops are quite prevalent. Even on the Xbox Series X. Although, it uses dynamic resolution on Xbox Series X, the game occasionally dips hard when entering light-sensitive areas like crypts and dungeons. It’s also where the Xbox Series X compromises on a few things like shadows and global illumination tech that is richer and much complex on the PC.
Mind you, the game runs whisper-quiet on the Xbox Series X and much of my grief with its graphics is after sticking my eye-lids to the telly and running back and forth with the PC version to compare. If I had to pick, I’d say the Xbox Series X is a better, and a seamless experience to indulge your time with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The game is also optimised for XBSX which means the Quick Resume feature is nearly indispensable when it works. For the untrained eye, distinguishing between the XBSX 4K version and the PC 4K version is nearly impossible.
Valhalla is a perfect concoction of the old and new. It takes the Assassin bit of the old like blending in with a crowd in bustling town areas to avoid detection and the open combat system from the new and adds a visceral touch to it. It works here and this is probably one of the best Assassin’s Creed games in a very long time.
It also improves in every direction, feels less tiresome than the previous titles in the storytelling department and respects your time with engaging activities, beautiful vistas and thoughtfully controlled weapon/gear drops.
If you’re a fan of the series, I see no reason why you should not pick up Valhalla. And judging from Odyssey’s post-launch road-map, Assassin’s Creed has one of the best DLCs around, so you can throw in a few extra bucks to grab the DLCs too if you like.