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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla review: One of the franchise’s best

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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla review: One of the franchise’s best
MSRP $60.00
“Valhalla marries the best combat in the series with a more organic world.”
  • Breathtaking combat
  • Refined meta systems
  • A more thoughtful open world
  • Raiding never gets old
  • Expanding your settlement is compelling
  • Familiar story
  • Buggy, especially on PC
  • Stealth and modern-day content lacking

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is my personal favorite of this new revamped trilogy of games in the franchise, but the reasons I enjoy it might be turn-offs for others. The improved combat and raiding with a platoon is the focus of the game, and while it is well-executed, it ultimately casts aside the stealth roots of the franchise.

This is a step the series needs to take; to break loose from what defined these games nearly a decade ago in order to become the standard-bearer for action RPGs.

I also would like to get this out of the way: If you were planning on picking this game up on PC at launch, don’t. Not to say the console version can’t be buggy at times, but the PC version was nigh unplayable for me (a problem I also had with Watch Dogs: Legion,) and I gave up trying to work through it crashing constantly after an hour in. Another writer on our team had an issue regarding an NPC that died, and in order to progress, they had to talk with that NPC. They are now soft locked out of proceeding any further in the game, and that’s with the day one patch.

Initially familiar, the story goes to some interesting places

Many Assassin’s Creed games revolve around family, betrayal, and political strife in the setup for their campaigns, and Valhalla is no different. Set in the 9th century, Eivor, who can be played as male or female the entire time or either sex at different points in the story, is seeking revenge for the death of their parents at the hands of a rival clan leader. In order to get what they desire, they make specific choices that ultimately lead them out of Norway with their brother Sigurd to form a new home in Anglo-Saxon England.

From there, the main thrust of the game is for this small group of Danes to extend their reach through devastating raids or diplomatic alliances, expanding their base camp of Ravensthorpe from a ramshackle village to a thriving community.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is my personal favorite of this new revamped trilogy of games in the franchise.

The game’s familial core, of Eivor and their brother Sigurd, at times is strikingly similar to the Kassandra and Alexios dynamic in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. As time goes on, and the story gets a little more breathing room as the Raven clan expands throughout England, Valhalla makes some interesting deviations that set it apart from the more recent entries in the series, but I truly hope that the next game in the franchise breaks from this set up entirely.

The narrative that ties directly into the gameplay, of Raven clan’s expansion across England, is the story that I found more compelling, but at times can be off-balance. Eivor and their people are not refugees that have no other choice to flee Norway; they explicitly decide to leave in order to reap the rewards of literal greener pastures.

While they initially arrive with the goal of being as peaceful as possible, they very quickly move to the raiding and pillaging part. The game then creates villains that are so spiteful and power-hungry, that you have no choice to root for Eivor. Valhalla at times tries to raise a “both sides” argument, but it never really works as well as intended.

I very quickly ended up taking things more at face value, and ultimately enjoyed the narrative for what it was. However, it was never lost on me that Ubisoft is a company going through its own internal issues regarding abuse of power, so I never fully gave up on scrutinizing the game’s narrative.

The gameplay is the best the series has ever had

There’s a phrase people like to use when critiquing video games: Gameplay is king. While I’ve never fully subscribed to that idea, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t true in the case of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Something that ultimately pushed me away from Origins and Odyssey is the feeling that the rebuilt combat system was only part of the way there. The two-year gap in titles has allowed the development team to refine it, and I’m so thrilled with the results.

Valhalla makes some interesting deviations that set it apart from the more recent entries in the series.

Eivor and their clan are a devastating and relentless force, something the gameplay completely captures. Every swing of my ax felt snappy and satisfying, and even after hours of playing, exclamations of disbelief at Eivor’s ruthlessness continued to spew from my mouth.

More often than not, Eivor is accompanied by a squad of Viking warriors to aid them in expanding Ravensthorpe’s reach, and it works better than any system that prior Assassin’s Creed games have implemented. It feels the way Brotherhood should have felt.

This conceit of consistently working cooperatively with NPC allies means that there are even fewer instances that require stealth this time around. The game at points tries to nudge you into using it, but it rarely is ever required or the more desirable tool to complete your goal. While one of the big selling points was the return of the ability to blend into the crowd, hacking and slashing your way through enemies is always the more satisfying and successful solution.

The fact that stealth plays second fiddle to confrontational combat is an improvement, but it may be a problem for some. Fans of the series who were hoping to see a return to form for stealth in a big way will likely be disappointed by the heavier emphasis on face-to-face combat.

All of the meta systems feel more refined than previous entries, too. Instead of receiving tons of marginally better weapons and armor, I’m more frequently finding improved upgrades, reducing the need to constantly manage my inventory. Likewise, the skill tree slowly unfurls as you branch out across it, rather than presenting you with the totality of what it has to offer from the jump. It makes the RPG features of the game, which many fans have found themselves turned off by in recent years, far easier to swallow.

A more organic and varied world

Another big turn off for me regarding Origins and Odyssey was the sheer magnitude and endlessness of the game’s map and activities. This isn’t to say that the world of Valhalla isn’t massive or is lacking in quests, but it all feels far more manageable, and completing objectives is less like ticking things off a checklist and more about natural discovery.

England, the largest map in the game but not the only one, is a single landmass that can be traversed on foot, on horseback, or by boat through its branching rivers that stretch across the entire country. Smack dab in the center is Ravensthorpe, and the game returning Eivor to their home base frequently provides more context for the world that is simply non-existent in the ever-nomadic lives that Bayek and Kasandra/Alexios led in their games.

Every swing of my ax felt snappy and satisfying, and even after hours of playing, exclamations of disbelief at Eivor’s ruthlessness continued to spew from my mouth.

Instead of feeling compelled to gray out every marker on an island, and ultimately failing to do so as I did in Odyssey, Valhalla lets your desire to strengthen the Raven clan be your guide for traversal, and side activities that you do come across feel far more integral because of it.

Gone is the need to rely on your bird partner to scout out an area, tagging every enemy and resource you see, before systematically moving from marker to marker. While you do have a Raven as a partner that can scout for you, it’s more about receiving an initial lay of the land rather than intimately acquainting yourself with every nook and cranny.

Odin’s sight, a pulsating ability that highlights points of interest and enemies in your immediate vicinity, is far more useful this time around, allowing players to stay more in the immediate action and organically engaging with it.

Of course, this is Assassin’s Creed, which means that there are also some modern-day portions with our contemporary protagonist Layla. The game attempts to make it feel more relevant by bringing in characters that tied into Desmond’s story in the original trilogy and spin-offs, but it once again feels half-baked, both narratively and visually. Like stealth, the modern-day content is something that the series feels compelled to include, but these games would be stronger without it, and at this point, I wouldn’t care if they dropped it entirely.

Our take

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla promised to return to the series’ roots after two big steps away from them in Origins and Odyssey, but what it attempts to rekindle ends up holding it back, and what it does best is what makes it decidedly very un-Assassin’s Creed. Those willing to embrace Valhalla for what it is will find a compelling and satisfying action RPG.

Is there a better alternative?

The only other big action RPG out around the launch of the Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 is Watch Dogs: Legion, but Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the better of the two games by a wide margin.

How long will it last?

Tens of hours at minimum, hundreds of hours if you’re a completionist.

Should you buy it?

Yes, especially if you are picking up a next-generation console that will give it big frame rate boosts and will eliminate load times.

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