Ever since Assassin’s Creed: Origins released in 2017, this once third-person, action-stealth franchise has become more of an open-world, action-RPG series, packed with quests to complete, gear to collect, and abilities to unlock. After Origins came Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, an epic tale set in ancient Greece that turned out to be one of the best open-world games of the entire console generation. Now, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla pulls players into the vibrant realm of Viking lore, featuring an evocative world to explore, fierce and violent raids, and some new game mechanics to boot. While all of that sounds great, the checklist-style gameplay structure of recent Ubisoft releases has started to grow old. Does Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla fall prey to unfortunate yet inevitable franchise fatigue, or does this Viking tale provide another undeniably addictive gameplay loop? Let’s see how the newest Assassin’s Creed stacks up to the rest.
Eivor’s English Quest
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is set in the 9th century and revolves around Eivor, a powerful yet deft warrior in a Viking family called the Raven Clan. Players can choose whether they want Eivor to be a female or male protagonist, with no discernible plot changes either way. After watching over a sizable piece of land in Norway for decades, the Raven Clan is forced to relocate when the young King Harald stakes his claim on the land. Refusing to bend the knee, Eivor and his brother Sigurd, along with a hefty number of the Raven Clan family, travel to England in search of a new home. In this new and colorful country, the Raven Clan attempt to restart their legacy, requiring Eivor to venture out and seek alliances. Ultimately, this quest will test Eivor’s conviction and force him to reconsider his philosophy on family, loyalty, and glory.
Eivor’s journey exploring England and building up the Nordic settlement Ravensthorpe is packed with a long list of characters, locations, and pivotal events. It’s like a slightly less-fantastical version of Game of Thrones, as various factions and families attempt to secure their rightful property, usually through royal inheritance or victory in battle. Eivor often finds himself in the middle of these political squabbles, usually at the urge of his brother Sigurd in an attempt to strengthen their alliances in the new country. As you trek through England’s dozen-plus regions, you’ll dive into various story arcs, each with its own cast of aloof and personable characters. These self-contained political dramas range from intriguing to underwhelming, but are always engaging enough to keep you moving through the main quests.
There are a few key points in the story where the narrative takes a dramatic shift, either toward the fantastical or in an entirely unexpected direction. These sequences help the overall story of settling in England from getting predictable or stale. If you’re a fan of Nordic mythology and legend, you’ll likely enjoy Valhalla‘s fantastical swings, which consistently impressed and surprised me. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the “modern-day” overarching plot that continues from Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Odyssey. Layla Hassan and the other “real world” characters pop up throughout Valhalla, but I found it hard to care much about their story. These modern-day segments have always been the weakest part of the Assassin’s Creed franchise (ever since the Desmond era, anyhow), and that’s no different here. The narrative surrounding Eivor, Sigurd, and the Raven Clan slumps from time to time, but there’s enough momentum and a few late-game twists to keep things interesting.
The Mysteries of England
Your quest to reinstate the Raven Clan involves a whole lot of running and parkouring (or horse-back riding) through the untamed lands of England, completing quests and seeking out treasure. Valhalla is a beautiful game whether you’re playing on last or current-gen hardware, offering gorgeous vistas, lush scenery, and a vivid color palette. When compared to the other modern Assassin’s Creed games, namely Odyssey, AC: Valhalla offers an open-world experience that is much more straightforward, while still maintaining a sense of freedom and adventure.
As is the new Assassin’s Creed trend, you’ll explore a sprawling map while completing quests, many of which involve infiltrating and decimating outposts of enemy troops. Certain regions of the map are zoned off depending on your power level, offering a somewhat guided path through the massive landscape. There’s a vast arsenal of weapons to find and equip, dozens of skills and abilities to unlock, and a slew of points-of-interest to explore. Your efforts to rule England take you to plenty of stunning locations, where you’ll take on a wide variety of entertaining missions. However, in an effort to encourage exploration and intensify immersion, the side-content in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is delivered in a different way than usual.
In Valhalla, it’s easy to venture off and get distracted, thanks to the new structure of side-missions and activities. While you’re not pursuing the main quest objectives, you can run around England seeking out wealth, artifacts, and mysteries. Wealth is marked by gold dots on your map, while artifacts and mysteries are marked as white and blue dots respectively. You also have a scouting raven companion named Synin, who can be used to get an aerial view of your surroundings and mark areas of interest. There are also a handful of mini-games to enjoy (usually located in towns or settlements), including a surprisingly addictive dice game called Orlag, mead-chugging competitions, and more. I especially enjoyed the flyting side-activity, which is basically 9th century freestyle-rap battling. Mysteries are usually extremely short side-encounters, ranging from comedic world events to tough boss fights.
For example, one mystery had Eivor assisting an old married Viking couple as they tried to reignite their love life. There was also a mystery involving a feuding clan of nudists. In classic Ubisoft fashion, another mystery saw Eivor munching down on a hallucinogenic mushroom and trying to solve an environmental perspective puzzle. Although you’re never quite sure what you’re getting into when you approach a mystery (that’s a bit of the point, I think), there’s a good chance it’ll be entertaining and worth the stop.
On a few occasions, I encountered random glitches that prevented me from finishing mysteries, whether due to button prompts not appearing or characters getting stuck on parts of the environment. These problems can usually be resolved by reloading a previous auto-save or by leaving the mission area and coming back, which is annoying but not game-breaking. Regardless, each region of England contains a handful of mysteries to complete and many of them hold the most memorable parts of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Even when the main story urged me to keep moving forward, I still found it hard to ignore England’s extra mysteries, often choosing to fully explore a region before moving onto the next.
To Settle is to Raid
Although the opening hours of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla are set in the snowy mountains of Norway, you’ll soon leave the homeland and settle down on the shores of England. After clearing out some local bandits, you’ll quickly start building the foundation of your new settlement, dubbed “Ravensthorpe”. Ravensthorpe starts out as a few unassuming huts and a longhouse, but if you’ve gathered enough supplies, you can build entirely new structures.
Upgrading your settlement with a new building is simple and often unlocks a new game mechanic, so it’s always best to keep Ravensthorpe growing. For example, once you build the fishing hut, you’ll unlock the ability to cast your line and trade the water critters you catch for unique items. Building a stable allows you to buy new horses and upgrade your riding abilities. If you find yourself collecting tons of artifacts, it might be a good idea to build a museum, where the curator will display your finds and reward you along the way. Either way, expanding Ravensthorpe is a consistently satisfying and rewarding element, which kept me focused and engaged on my overall progression.
However, building supplies are in high demand and short order, so if you want to upgrade Ravensthorpe, you’re going to have to raid some villages. When you’re not knee-deep in a story quest, mystery, or treasure hunt, you can do some good ‘ol fashion pillaging. Historically speaking, the Vikings are known for their excessively brutal and violent raids, where no villager was safe from a warrior’s axe. In Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, that Viking tradition is upheld, as raiding is a bloody and hectic affair.
Whenever you stumble upon a town that’s due for a raid (usually marked by a set of red axes on your map), you can simply blow your war horn and start killing. With speed and efficiency, other Raven Clan warriors will appear, resulting in large-scale battles. As you use battering rams to knock down gates and slay everyone in sight, you can gather up precious building supplies by looting the village. With enough raids under your belt, Ravensthorpe will start to become a bustling and engaging area of trade, entertainment, and intrigue.
The Crush of the Axe
When it comes to dispatching enemies, either through stealth or brute-force, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla offers a combat experience that’s both nostalgic and modern. You can upgrade and equip a handful of different weapon types, including spears, flails, and maces, but the axe is the focal blade of Valhalla. The selection of ranged weapons is limited to three types of bows, including light, hunter, and predator bows. For the first time in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, you can now duel-wield weapons with a surprising amount of freedom. While I prefer the standard sword-and-shield combination, there’s nothing stopping you from doubling up on blades and going to town. You can even equip two shields and bash your way to victory, if that sounds appealing. Regardless of your choice, the combat is brutal fun, with dismemberment and beheading aplenty.
While Valhalla‘s combat feels similar to the last few Assassin’s Creed games, there are some notable changes and new mechanics. For instance, Eivor has an endurance meter, which is expended when you use heavy attacks, dodge, or block. The meter slowly refills over time and gets a boost when you land light attacks. Since you can’t dodge over and over again, there’s a bigger emphasis on parrying. Stronger enemies and bosses can also be stunned if you parry their attacks properly, giving you time to lay down some damage.
The healing mechanic has also changed and feels like something pulled directly out of a game like Bloodborne or Dark Souls. Instead of using abilities to heal or naturally healing over time, you must replenish your life meter by using “rations”. You can only hold a couple of rations on you at a time (although this can be upgraded), and you can only resupply your rations by looting the environment or visiting a vendor. When compared to something like the Estus Flask mechanic from Dark Souls, Valhalla‘s healing system is much more forgiving. However, if you have your combat difficulty cranked up, you should expect combat that feels more like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, but without the one-hit deaths and brutally hard-hitting enemies.
Armor is more set-based this time around, as pieces of gear are categorized into a handful of different sets. Different armor sets provide various passive boosts, often increasing your damage, speed, or stealth. That said, I mostly utilized the same set of armor throughout the entire game, as there wasn’t much of an incentive to switch or upgrade anything else. Regardless, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is very much an action game with stealth elements, as silently killing an entire camp of baddies is usually a slower method of success. You can still stick to the shadows, blend in with civilians, and hide in stacks of hay, but it’s often easier to smash away your problems with an axe.
True Viking Power
Apart from upgrading your weapons and armor, you can enhance Eivor’s strength by unlocking passive and active skills using skill points. As you complete quests, find new locations, and defeat enemies, you’ll gain experience and be rewarded skill points at a pretty steady rate. You can use these skill points in Valhalla’s fancy new skill-tree, which is presented as a web of constellations. There are three sections of constellations, represented by blue, red, and yellow lines. By spending skill points, you can earn small passive boosts like increased damage, more health, and gear bonuses. Once you’ve uncovered the majority of a constellation, you can unlock a new passive ability, usually improving Eivor’s exploration or combat skills. Each skill you uncover adds to your overall power level, allowing you to access further parts of the map and round-out Eivor’s options during combat.
While the new constellation skill-trees and power level system might seem overwhelming at first, once you spend a bit of time with the game, you’ll realize that it’s not all that complex. Since Valhalla has a max power level of over 300, you have more than enough skill points to work with. This encourages you to experiment and uncover new constellations, expanding the web and increasing your general power. Although the game separates the constellations into three sections based on color, there are useful skills to unlock across the board, regardless of your play-style.
Take a Look, It’s in a Book
You can also gain new combat abilities by finding books of knowledge, scattered among the various points of wealth on the map. There are both ranged and melee abilities, offering a plethora of unique combat strategies. For example, one ranged ability allows you to shoot explosive arrows, which allows you to disrupt groups of enemies and open up blocked paths. Another ranged ability sends your raven to distract unwitting guards, giving you time to sneak past or assassinate your desired target.
Melee abilities offer a more aggressive style of fighting, with various grabs, slams, and axe moves to brutalize your foes. I particularly enjoyed the “Harpoon Impalement” ability, which is essentially Scorpion’s iconic “get over here!” move from Mortal Kombat. You can equip four ranged and four melee abilities at a time for a total of eight, allowing plenty of room to experiment. While the majority of the abilities aren’t incredibly inventive or unexpected, I still thoroughly enjoyed trying each one as I found them, trying to find the perfect mix of precision and aggression.
The Bottom Line on Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
Overall, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is another entertaining and expansive mixture of history and fantasy from the devs at Ubisoft. The game not only delivers a mostly compelling tale of loyalty and hardship, but it also provides players with an abundance of content complete with satisfying combat and stealth. It’s both easy and tough to compare Valhalla to other AC games, as it includes a hearty mix of both modern elements like gear sets and player levels while also bringing back some classic stealth mechanics. Valhalla is also not satisfied with resting on the franchise’s laurels, as it makes some significant changes to the combat and exploration as well.
Apart from a handful of glitches and some underwhelming sub-plots, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is a fulfilling and evocative adventure in the AC series. Simply put, Valhalla gives players another sprawling adventure with over 100 hours of gameplay, offering an experience that is both refined and nostalgic. Even if you don’t consider yourself the biggest fan of Viking lore, Valhalla has enough charm and personality to woo you into its world. While the overarching story might not feel as epic as Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, the universe that Valhalla presents is often just as addictive and interesting to explore.
Note: This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X using a review code provided by the publisher.
- Loads of side-quests, optional bosses, and collectable gear
- Satisfying and bloody combat
- Beautiful visuals with great use of color
- Fun and addictive progression systems
- Occasional glitches that interferred with progress
- Some plot elements and characters are underwhelming
- Uninteresting armor sets