Today we’re going to have a look at the recently released Ubisoft title Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. As the name already suggests, the latest installment of the popular franchise evolves around Norse mythology. You get to play a Viking looking to settle in the lands nowadays known as Great Britain after being kicked out of Norway. We’ll talk about some mechanics that might be introduced later in the game, but there are no story spoilers in this review.
I got this title first on the Xbox One X and then got the Xbox Series X so I can better compare the versions on the different generations of gaming consoles. I kept rescheduling to write this review too. The problem I had was simply that every couple of hours that I spent with the title changed my view a little more, and this made it difficult to prepare an early review, but I am now writing this based on roughly 60 hours into the game. Things might change going forward, and there will certainly be things to discover in the coming DLCs, but I feel confident to report my experiences as of now with you all.
It’s hard not to compare everything to previous titles
So how do you start to explain the pros and cons of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla to someone? I want to start by telling you it’s a really good title and absolutely worth playing. Is it perfect? Possibly it is not, but it’s a great way to start the generation of new consoles. This might be just another release to PC gamers, but on consoles, I believe this is the title that will unlock a new experience of console gaming quality. When playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, I kept comparing every little aspect to the previous installment Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and I’m not going to lie. I think Odyssey was a masterwork that set the standard for the franchise. Valhalla did not fully reach the mark here.
Many aspects that made Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (ACO) the game that it is were copied directly into Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (ACV) or changed in a way that made sense to the developers at the time. Naturally, they also tried out new things, but not everything new made the game better, and not everything they forced in from Odyssey was integrated the best possible way. For instance, the mercenary system and ranking mechanic in ACO was amazing fun and added a lot of hours of gameplay into the title. In ACV, we got the zealot system, which seems very similar at first glance but doesn’t stretch as far.
The zealots are part of the ‘Order of the Ancients’ system now, and there is no means to rank up in any way along with the zealots. The zealots are basically political targets to you in ACV, which are way too hard to beat at first and easy as pie once you reached their level. At some point early in the story, a quest even requires you to destroy the order of the zealots to hunt you, which means they are basically no longer hunting you, and the protagonist does not really have a reason to fight them either, except for getting clues to uncover more targets. There was some potential lost here in ACV, but it’s not a terrible mistake made either.
Next to the marketing buzz, what’s really going on here?
There was a huge hype heading towards the release of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla too. Starting from the reveal of what setting the game would be focusing on, to the cinematic trailer and finally, release week – everybody seemed excited for this to hit the shelves, I included. When I look back at the trailer and the messaging of the marketing material, however, I feel like some aspects were not properly advertised. The trailer appears to leave you the choice if your Viking and your settlement should be a tribe of violent raiders or gain momentum based on only your diplomatic skills.
This is, however, entirely untrue. You have no way to decide how you can grow your settlement. You will raid places, and you will use diplomacy at some points of the game, and there is no way for you to be a pure raider or a pure pacifist. Beyond that, you can’t choose to be a brutal raider. I know violence against civilians should not be part of a game. Still, it’s historically incorrect to suggest that a Viking raid would fail if you hurt a civilian, even by accident. Further observations along those lines made it clearer that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla does not try to be historically correct. In the early years of Assassin’s Creed, they had a strong focus on stealth and being historically correct, but this time is long gone. However, if you don’t expect it to be a trip to the museum, it’s still a great game.
Visuals on prev-gen and next-gen consoles
Let’s talk about graphics for a moment. On the Xbox One X, I could certainly enjoy the game in high resolution and HDR, but there were a lot of things that didn’t look very good. It’s clear that the game was developed for next-gen consoles like the Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and high-end gaming computers. In order to make the game run as well on previous-gen consoles, they removed a lot of visual components and reduced the quality of some other aspects of the graphic effects. For instance, smoke and clouds often looked terrible as a result of the effort to make the game run on old hardware.
Yet, I believe the effort of making the title run on both generations is very kind of the developers. As there is no extra charge for just downloading the newer client on the latest console generation, this is just a bonus to the general audience. If you play ACV first on old consoles and then compare it with how it looks on the latest hardware, provided you have a TV that supports the features, it is truly fantastic. You get a proper framerate and vibrant visuals that feel right and rich. Sometimes the equipped gear has clipping issues, which is weird, especially when you’re wearing a set of items that are supposed to match and complement each other, but it happens. Other than that, I have no complaints here. If you enjoy video game photography, you’ll find this to be your new go-to title for snapping those VGP artworks in the photo mode.
Bit of bugs and killer bugs
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is still buggy. It’s not terrible, but bugs can happen. Some are small fry, and others can break your game. For instance, the gnarliest I encountered was an issue with a quest that takes you to a fantasy realm. Therefore it’s not the actual map, and you can’t just abandon the mission, and you are unable to finish the quest. So what did I do? I tried to load a previous save game. And what happened then? It brought me right back to where I was, and the save game from earlier was overwritten with the new content.
At that point in time, I was simply lucky that I had many save games to try, and at some point, it did let me finish the quest. I was very close to losing all progress that I’ve made until then, however, and it wouldn’t have been fun to start over – some save games even got corrupted. Other than that, you get occasional stuck-in-the-wall deaths, and sometimes it would stop the game, bringing you back to the dashboard. However, I am confident that many of these bugs will get patched in the coming updates soon. Until then, save often, friends!
The settlement and all that could have been
What also appealed to me in the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla marketing was the aspect of finally having a home and building your own settlement. This had a lot of potential, but I feel the way it got integrated does not leave me any freedom of choice. You can’t choose where you settle, what building you can build, where they are located, and the people who operate them are fixed and written in stone. It’s nice that they added the settlement, but it could have been a lot more, in my opinion.
When I compare to the village-building DLC of Kingdom Come: Deliverance called ‘From the Ashes’ even there, you could decide what sort of place you will build and make decisions that would impact on the quality of life of the inhabitants but also would change how the economy of the village would work and whether or not it would prosper and be profitable or end up costing you an arm and a leg to keep it alive. I would have loved to see more of that in ACV.
Great protagonist but missing NPC depth
How about the story, the protagonist, and the other characters? What’s happening here? I think the plot is fine but, even though I am not done with the game yet, I feel that it has a lot fewer story quests and gameplay than the precessors. Also, the main map size appears critically smaller in old England than in ancient Greece, where ACO was taking place. While I really enjoy playing with Eivor, the wolf-kissed protagonist, I feel like there is not enough depth in the relationships with other characters.
There isn’t that much development going on, and while you can have one custom champion as part of your raider crew, and you can at least choose some other premade characters to be part of that crew, you have really no point of interaction with these crewmembers other than seeing them sit in your boat or randomly walking about during a raid. Again, this is all okay, but so much potential to have been greater than what it is. I consider an improvement over ACO here, however, because you can swap the gender of Eivor as you go. You don’t need to start a new game to try out being a female Viking when you previously raided as a male. You can toggle over, and that’s that.
That one thing I didn’t like
One thing I dislike about ACV is that you can’t really farm any cool gear. Enemies will never drop good loot. It will not happen. Enemies will never give you random gear, except for some main story quest enemies. The only way to obtain new gear is to find them in treasure chests, which you encounter randomly as you explore, or you can buy maps to spot their locations. There are not enough pieces of gear throughout the whole game, which is sad, as the cross-cultural setting of making use of Norse and English equipment would provide for so many interesting weapons and pieces of armor.
All items you find are unique, and you’ll need to upgrade them to higher levels by investing resources that you can buy or find lying about. True, some of them get a cooler look and can improve their stats as you level them up, but it’s not the same as some good old grinding for that epic gear you were always looking for. Unlike in ACO, you can also not use a visual alias and differentiate between what stats you want and how you want to look like. All of that is disappointing, and I don’t understand why one would go from RPG back to action game as far as gear diversity goes.
If you wanted to hear a score from me now, I’d say the following. The game is great, but there were a lot of great opportunities missed out here. Still, it is a fantastic game, and it will be the title that many next-gen releases will be measured against. If Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a 10/10, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla would be a 9/10.
What edition should you buy? I haven’t seen anything of the DLCs yet, but other than that, the pre-order and enhanced edition content is not worth paying more than what the regular game costs, in my opinion. I hope you found this overview useful, and please feel invited to check out some of the footage below that we prepared for you.
YouTube: Let’s Play: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla [Gameplay, No Commentary]
Photo credit: All visuals are part of the game and are owned by Ubisoft.