I never had to hunt for ‘x’ amount of animals, kill ‘x’ bandits, or even go on a dreadful ‘delivery’ quest this time. Why? Because Assassin’s Creed Valhalla doesn’t have this kind of gameplay in the first place. What Valhalla instead has is a consistently engaging open world with activities that have great variety. Sure, that’s all well and good but what about the ‘Assassin’s Creed’ in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla?
Well, for starters, you are gifted with a cloak and the Hidden Blade. For the end (avoiding spoilers), you have an hour or two of sequences that act as a bridge between Valhalla and previous AC titles. As for the in-between, you will hunt Templars, learn of the various tenets of the Creed, and solve puzzles for the Hidden Truth (yeah, that thing from AC 2!).
With Valhalla, Ubisoft has embodied the word “balance”. The balance of the old and new. The balance of fierce axe-swinging and calculated assassinations.
Right Hand Axe, Left Hand Hidden Blade (Gameplay)
The new dual-wielding system allows you to equip any two weapons in your hands, even shields. That’s not all I was referring to with the heading though. You see, Valhalla also witnessed a comeback in essential stealth mechanics, social stealth and one-hit assassinations being the most welcome.
Let’s say you want to pillage a monastery for resources. You can very well take your horde of vikingr, axes out, and tear your way through to the treasury. Else, you can cloak up and sneak in, carefully dropping bodies one-by-one, and then sound the horn to signal your vikingr for loot. Go the axe route or the hidden blade route, the playstyles are enjoyable either way.
Coming from Origins and Odyssey, Valhalla now includes a stamina meter that restricts unlimited dodges and general combat maneuvers. Dodging, heavy & special attacks, or missing your light attacks costs stamina and once depleted, will make Eivor really slow and vulnerable to damage. However, you can still parry and hopefully land sick finishers. This works best in boss fights since they have better attack patterns and aggression.
The Lost Drengr fights are the highlights of boss battles, especially because they utilize dual wielding as much as you would. Sadly, the same doesn’t apply to normal enemies. They are so stupid and slow that even using heavy attacks on them feels like overkill. There are far too few moments when enemies actually combine their so-called artificial intelligence to defeat you. These enemies do somewhat work during Assaults. Oh, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has a ton of really cool abilities.
Assaults are usually the final acts of a story arc where you completely take over the region’s defenses to establish your influence over it. These huge castles manage to provide enough space for enemies to work together. There are battering rams, flammable oil jars, hails of arrows and fire to make Assaults a combat heaven.
We Need An Epic Tale! (Story)
This Eivor demands from her vikingr group when cruising through the lonely riverbeds on the longboat, looking for monasteries, riches, and opportunities. This is also what we demand from every new AC and ‘what’ they delivered is simply phenomenal. It’s not just about ‘what’ though, ‘how’ they managed to deliver the story matters equally.
Without going into specifics, let me just say that AC Valhalla has managed to be a “settlement” to almost every other AC, a centerpiece. It connects the threads to weave a coherent, unified web, like a spider. The story of Valhalla deals with Eivor’s personal journey, mythology, the Creed, and the Isu primarily.
Valhalla is a prime example of writing that speaks on multiple levels and it all hits you the hardest at the ending revelations. It also results in the revival of the Modern Day arc, the science-fiction of this historical series.
The characters are an integral part of any story. As expected from an AC game, you will interact with many historical figures. However, the stars of the show are still Eivor and Sigurd, as they are naturally the most fleshed-out characters out of all. As you forge alliances in England, you meet many memorable characters such as the Ragnarssons, Soma, Hunwald, etc.
As Eivor fights for them, counsels them, teaches them the art of flyting (Viking version of rap battles!), we experience different facets of Eivor as well as the other characters. This is important, as their personality leads to their destiny, and Eivor often plays a direct part in it. Needless to say, AC Valhalla is a library of rich stories and its comedy section belongs almost entirely to Dag.
There are funny stories, tales of sorrow, and poems of glory but most importantly, the intriguing pull of the AC lore that makes you go, “what’s gonna happen next!?”. This is one of the great AC stories through and through. Darby McDevitt, the narrative director, and other writers deserve all the credit.
The Wonderful World (Exploration)
AC Valhalla is more compact than AC Odyssey for sure but that in no way speaks of the amount of content. Valhalla has a denser map with an overhaul on the idea of exploration. Every weapon you find is unique, so is every piece of armor. Quest log exists but it will never have those pesky side quests. Each region consists of Wealth, Mysteries, and Artifacts. Wealth is hidden behind engaging puzzles. Mysteries are only revealed when you reach near it. These mysteries are fun to explore because they are true to their name, you never know what you will encounter.
A man of faith once claimed that he overcame the emotion of anger itself. He apparently managed that by accepting Christianity and urged us, a “dumb and angry heathen”, to do the same. To prove it, he invited me to burn down his house and I did. Then, I snatched a key from his chair and went to his storage. He followed me with calm steps but hesitant words. The door unlocked with a bunch of skeletons and dead bodies, revealing the man’s true emotions. This is but one out of many, many interesting and varied mysteries I have come across in Valhalla.
The world of AC Valhalla has cold rocky landscapes to bright sunny hills. Regions like Jorvik and Lunden are the perfect platforms to perform parkour on. Some stealth missions are so appropriately located that they just ooze nostalgia of the old games. The parkour itself is not as sophisticated as in Unity but the game makes active use of it through environmental puzzle solving.
The exploration in Valhalla is simply top-tier stuff that only a few other games have achieved so far.
The New Assassin’s Creed (RPG)
RPGs are more than just choices and dialogue options. AC Valhalla offers much less of those compared to Odyssey but takes huge strides in other RPG aspects such as gear systems, customization, progression, etc. As said earlier, each weapon and armor piece found in Valhalla is unique. That means no longer dealing with the monotonous waste of time sorting out items in the inventory. Also, you can upgrade your weapon all the way through to the end game. Almost all weapons and armor receive a new look upon upgrade. This whole system is such a step up from the usual crap in RPGs. I never once had to waste time in my inventory and instead used it only for upgrading gear. Add dual-wielding to this and the whole system becomes doubly amazing.
There is no level gating either and especially if you activate one-hit assassinations, either by unlocking it or from the menu, you can sneak around anywhere. The Power number system is there, sure, but it’s not a hindrance. You can also customize Eivor, your raven, settlement, longboat, your special vikingr, etc. I am not into customization myself but there is good enough variety of options present in this game.
Flyting, or Viking rap battles, are a part of Mysteries. Winning these increases your Charisma which then unlocks new dialogue options. They are often used for negotiations and such, helping Eivor maneuver through sticky situations.
However, Valhalla has a much-focused narrative this time around, so while there are still multiple endings, they don’t affect the grand scheme in the way you expect. The choices are still meaningful though, it’s just that they are much more moralistic in nature. Some choices will surely have you wondering. Overall though, the new Assassin’s Creed shines most in the gear system and outdoes other RPGs easily.
The opening scene of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is nothing short of cinema. It has the production quality, the heartfelt interactions between the main character’s loved ones, and the awesome Animus sorcery. It is a bit of a bummer that the presentation quality of the opening scene is not fully maintained. Not to get it twisted, there are scenes ahead that are just as cinematic but there surely could have been more.
However, the part of the presentation is music and holy shit, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla continues to deliver the absolute best of music here too. This is the best soundtrack you will hear from any media this year. There are just too many stunning tracks to pick a favourite out of but the must-listen ones are Asgard Hall of the Aesir, Out of the North, Kingdom of Wessex, Son of Fjord, and the Main Theme.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has blended its gameplay, RPG, and story concepts with a near-flawless synchronization with each other. It has its minor issues with presentation and enemy AI but everything else it does well, and does it with Odin’s might!