I reviewed Assassin’s Creed Odyssey a couple of years back but it actually took playing it on and off until this year to get the Platinum in it. It was so chock full, overflowing maybe, with content. Now, at the dawn of a new console generation we have Assassin’s Creed Valhalla which features some changes but has a very similar approach. If the thought of another 100+ hours of a Ubisoft open world fills you with dread then this isn’t for you, but if you’ve not been put off yet then read on.
As is generally the case, the character and location has changed again, swapping ancient Greece for Norway and England. The story starts with you as a young child as a rival Viking clan raid a celebration. You then fast forward and get to choose your gender, before exploring the snowy landscapes of Norway. Your gender doesn’t matter, to the point where you can choose an option to have the gender change throughout the story, rather than sticking to one. You can also change it any time yourself. After some time in Norway the story has you travel to England to forge your own path with your brother.
Once you are given free reign in the open world you’ll be right at home if you’ve played one of these before. You’ll have your missions which are marked very clearly on the map and your compass at the top of the screen. These will progress the main story and may have choices for you to make with regards to killing or not killing someone, or taking sides. Not all choices have meaningful repercussions but some certainly do. Naturally if you have an open world you need to fill it with other things and here they’re separated into Wealth, Mysteries and Artifacts.
Wealth represents loot which are generally hidden in treasure chests but can be held by high ranking enemies also. These can be new armour, weapons or can be materials used for upgrading your gear. Unlike Odyssey loot doesn’t fall like rain, you have specific items with no level requirement. That’s good in so far as you don’t have to go into the menus constantly to equip a better item or scrap the many worthless ones but it does mean I experimented far less. You can also find books in these spots which grant you new abilities for combat, finding two of the same book upgrades the effectiveness of this ability.
Mysteries are side quests, which can involve characters and be short or rather more involved. They can also be little puzzles, such as balancing stones, lining up parts of a symbol through camera perspective, flyting (ancient rap battles) or battling a strong foe. Artifacts are collectibles like Roman masks or important documents. Wealth and Artifacts can often take a bit of effort to get to. All these things are marked on the map after climbing a tower so they’re easy to find, but often they’ll be underground or behind a locked door so you’ll have to find a way in by finding a secret entrance, a key or shooting a lock through a window or some such, including story progression which is a pain as it’s not stated to be the case so I ended up just wasting time trying to collect something I couldn’t at that time. Solving them is fun but there are so many of these side things (nearly 800) that having to do this for the vast majority of them did get tedious.
Not that you have to do them of course, that’s only for those that want to 100% everything. You do gain experience by doing these though, which leads to skill point unlocks. You get two per ‘level’ which you can put into a massive skill tree and then each point you put into that raises your Power level which is how different areas in the game are rated. The skill tree is hidden by fog and you reveal clusters of nodes as you reach the end of another. These nodes can give percentage increases to different stats but can also unlock new abilities. You can enter higher level regions but if you’re too low a level then enemies will take very little damage from you whilst killing you in one or two hits.
Much like the more recent Assassin’s Creed games you have three approaches to combat. You can stealth your way in, able to assassinate enemies silently once you’ve acquired the hidden blade, hide bodies and get in and out of an area without being seen if you’re good enough. Then there’s ranged combat where you can use your bow and limited arrows, either stealthily or in general combat. Then there’s the melee combat which is slightly different from before. You have a light and heavy attack, you can block/parry and dodge. Now however you have stamina. It’s not as strict as a Souls game, but heavy attacks, dodges and whiffed attacks drain stamina whilst landing light attacks or simply waiting generates it. Otherwise the flow is very similar with weaker enemies dying within one combo whilst stronger enemies require patience and effective use of your abilities which are governed by what you’ve unlocked and a meter.
You also get access to a long boat but as you’re not travelling from island to island as often in this game it’s far less prevalent. It does house your crew however and they’ll help you on raids. These are set pieces where you storm a base but you’ll have a load of AI helping you, burning houses and stealing treasure. These raids will grant you materials to upgrade your home base, giving you access to new facilities like fishing and hunting and opening up more missions. Effectively though you’re just fighting your way through a base but you have to wait for an AI companion to help you barge open doors or open large chests.
The other pillar of gameplay dates back to the first Assassin’s Creed and that’s the traversal. Back in the 9th Century you haven’t got massive buildings populating huge towns but that doesn’t mean you can’t climb pretty much anything. There are larger forts and mountains as well as smaller buildings, posts and what have you. I would say there is still an issue, which I remember from the very first game, where the free running is automatic so sometimes it will guess incorrectly what you want to do. There are side activities where you need to chase a scrap of paper across these obstacles and when your character jumps off an obstacle rather than continuing along the obviously designed path it can be a pain.
However when Assassin’s Creed Valhalla works it is enjoyable. I’ve heard tales of bugs and glitches but I didn’t encounter anything like that in my time playing it, nothing game breaking certainly. How much you’ll get out of it just depends on what type of player you are. I enjoy the process of clearing out an open world map, I recently played through Mad Max which I enjoyed quite a bit, so all the collectibles and side stuff doesn’t phase me. However the amount is very daunting and players who like their games to be tighter and more linear probably won’t get much satisfaction from this.
Exploring the world and seeing the sights is great though. Whilst in Norway I was a little underwhelmed by the visuals as everything is covered in snow and it’s very samey but when you move to England everything is wonderfully green and more varied. It runs well on my PS4 Pro as well, and I’ll report back on the performance on a PS5 (along with many other games with the other writers) once us European plebs get our hands on one.
Ultimately Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is another Ubisoft open world game. If you’re into that then you’re in for a treat, it does everything as well as Odyssey did, nothing particularly better or worse to my eyes. It doesn’t do too much to entice new people however and although I’ve enjoyed my huge amount of time with it there is an element of deja vu, even from the recent Ghost of Tsushima (which is a better, tighter game), which when you’re talking about such a time investment will be a problem for some.
+ Variety in approaches and customisation
+ Running around the open world is still fun
- Nothing particularly game changing
- Free running can frustrate