Building your own settlement, breathtaking scenery from England to Scotland, drinking games, brutal fights with decapitation, raiding and burning Christian monasteries, hilarious and sometimes odd (if not creepy) side quests, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla truly offers an experience unlike any other in Ubisoft’s latest installment in the Assassin’s Creed series.
Valhalla drops you into the heart of England’s Dark Age. Filled with beauty across a wide variety of environments, the game somehow one-ups the scenery in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Although I’ve been playing on PC, reviews from players who own an Xbox Series X and/or the PlayStation 5 have been overwhelmingly positive thanks to 4K quality and a near-constant 60 frames per second. From the wild tundras and mountainous ranges of Norway where at night the sky is illuminated by the Aurora Borealis, to the rolling green hills of England where crumbling castles shine as sunlight pierces through the muggy cloud cover. It feels almost impossible to overstate how gorgeous this game can be when the various lighting and weather effects systems shift and adapt depending on your environment.
The new progression system and combat differs notably from Odyssey which takes some getting used to and there’s an abundance of bugs and glitches as well. But with an almost overwhelming number of things to do, explore, and discover in and around England, the profound scenery and immersive storytelling allows Valhalla to outshine these issues.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla‘s modern-day storyline continues after the troubling events which occurred at the end of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey‘s second DLC, The Fate of Atlantis. If you haven’t played the second DLC or Odyssey itself, don’t worry. The game will bring you up to speed thanks to the interactions with your fellow Assassins Shaun Hastings and Rebecca Crane who you might recognize from previous Assassin’s Creed games when Desmond was the main character. Layla and her team have followed a series of mysterious coordinates which brings them to Eivor’s grave in modern North America as another massive solar flare has hit the planet setting off technical and natural disasters all across the globe. Compared to Odyssey, Valhalla gives you much more information about the modern world and the game even mentions the coronavirus which has made all of our lives f*cking miserable.
Layla, who shares a genetic sequence with different Assassins who’ve lived in ancient Egypt, Greece, and now Norway/Great Britain, uses the Animus once again to relive the memories of her latest ancestor Eivor. Eivor is the main character in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and her/his story begins in 873 AD Norway before transitioning to the Viking invasion of England alongside your adoptive brother Sigurd. Although Ubisoft has stated female Eivor is canon you’re given the option to choose your gender or let the Animus decide for itself. However, if you change your mind and want to switch genders the game gives you the option and you can switch genders as many times as you’d like.
Valhalla places you in the center of England’s four kingdoms: Mercia, Northumbria (modern-day Scotland), East Anglia, and Wessex. While Sigurd sets off to forge an alliance with each of the four kingdoms mentioned above you’re left behind with Sigurd’s wife Randvi to oversee the expansion of your growing settlement, Ravensthorpe (which is a real settlement in modern-day England by the way. Ubisoft continues to try and keep each installment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise a reflection of the setting it takes place in). As you explore each kingdom and participate in side quests you accumulate supplies that can be used to upgrade your settlement. It takes time and as you progress through the story each building requires an increasing number of supplies. However, your hard work pays off and each upgrade rewards you with a satisfying number of new items and abilities.
Items and Experience System
Whereas Odyssey had an almost overwhelming amount of items that could be upgraded infinitely because of the item drop system, Valhalla replaces this with a mostly well-balanced item system although at times it can feel like you don’t receive enough items. This forces you to explore new regions and find new weapons and armor. A trade-off to this is the new leveling system which feels much more rewarding. It takes less time to level up and each time you do you’re given two skill points which can be applied to a massive skill tree. The skill tree allows you to choose how you’d like to play the game whether it be the usual assassinations similar to previous games, ranged attacks, or brutal melee combat using an assortment of one and two-handed weapons. Upgrades to armor and damage can be selected as well as satisfying abilities.
Valhalla‘s combat system does differ greatly from Origins and Odyssey. The demigod-like abilities and smooth flow of combat have been replaced with a much more grounded, but almost crude way of fighting. Stamina has been introduced which is consumed when you dodge, block or use a heavy attack and this gives Valhalla a much more realistic feel in terms of not only combat but how a true Viking would fight. To balance this out stamina is built up using either light attacks, ranged attacks or abilities which give a huge boost. This new system forces players who may typically play defensively to be aggressive as you overwhelm your enemy with brute force shattering their shields and severing limbs and heads alike.
A new addition to Valhalla are raids. Raids are a satisfying and important mechanism that allows you to grow your settlement as you ransack monasteries and castles. But each raid is increasingly difficult as your progress further in the game. Monasteries offer the highest rewards with things like silver, copper ingot, opal, supplies, leather, iron ore, fabric, nickel ingot, and raw materials which all can be used to upgrade your kit and your settlement. Just be sure you’re prepared as you gather your forces in your longship as each raid has a variety of enemies who differ in difficulty.
Valhalla also offers several fun and engaging mini-games which I’ve spent more time playing than I’m willing to admit. There’s Orlog which is a dice game where players roll six dice and then choose which ones to keep and which ones to re-roll all while trying to collect “god favors” which can turn the tide of battle. I often found myself Hel-bent (HA, pun intended) on beating a particular old lady who trash-talked me the whole time. The game requires a surprising amount of strategy and luck but is very addictive. The game is so popular that Ubisoft has even tapped PureArts to create a physical version of the game which will be sold sometime in 2021.
Another mini-game in Valhalla is a drinking game. Each major town you pass through has an NPC who you can challenge to a drinking game with the goal of drinking more than your opponent. All you need to do is press the prompt button at the right time for Eivor to drink her/his horn faster than your opponent. If you don’t press the button in time you’ll choke and your opponent may drink more than you. After about one or two horns Eivor will start to wobble which requires you to push the directional stick or mouse in the opposite direction to regain your balance. It’s a fun game requiring concentration, reflexes, and timing.
The last mini-game in Valhalla is called Flyting. Instead of using a sword or an ax to fight your opponent, you engage in a battle of words. Similar to a rap battle you spar your opponent by choosing a series of dialogue choices. If you select the perfect rhythm, rhyme, and insult/compliment several times in a row you’ll win. Flyting is a great way to gain charisma, a useful stat that opens up more dialogue options as you progress throughout the game.
Wine, dine, and…well, you get the idea.
Long-term relationships are another new addition to the Assassin’s Creed series. While Odyssey did give you the option to flirt and sleep with a variety of people of all genders, it was always a one-night stand sort of thing. In Valhalla, you can continue your relationship with whomever you choose although it doesn’t have a direct outcome at the end of the game, but it can make for some awkward situations.
Of course, a bunch of pathetic, misogynistic snowflakes online have lost their shit over male Eivor kissing another dude (but ironically they have no issue with female Eivor kissing another woman) while claiming it shouldn’t be in the game. Thankfully, Ubisoft has stood by its decision and has told those who can’t handle it to piss off. Furthermore, in Viking culture one’s sexual partners mattered little so long as one married, had children, and conformed at least on the surface to societal norms so as not to disturb the community. One’s sexual partner mattered little in Viking society. The idea of being exclusively homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual didn’t exist until Christianity showed up and made a mess of it all. So perhaps raiding and burning those monasteries isn’t such a bad thing.
Of course, the game does have its technical issues which have sadly become a cornerstone of Ubisoft games. There are issues with the graphics and audio at times, children who should be the size of, well, a child are somehow the size of an adult if not larger. Sometimes Eivor will repeat the same line over and over again until you leave the area where the dialogue took place. Other times the game will crash and if you haven’t manually saved the game or completed a quest that causes the game to auto-save you can lose up to a half hour of gameplay. Thankfully, Ubisoft has been quick to address these issues by rolling out massive patches and what hasn’t been fixed doesn’t ruin your experience.
But what truly makes Assassin’s Creed Valhalla such a great game are the side quests and the main storyline, as well as the themes injected within it. Unlike previous games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise which glorified the history you were witnessing while turning a blind eye to how fragile life was centuries ago, Valhalla forces you to not only be a spectator but to participate in this dark time. The sudden influx of different cultures and religions made England’s Dark Age in the 9th century a brutal place to be with no guarantee of a long and happy life, and Valhalla certainly doesn’t pull it’s punches. One moment you may partake in a hilarious side quest where you help a couple reignite (pun intended) their sex life only to find another side quest where you force a little girl to accept the death of her father. Each Dane, Norse, Saxon, Briton, Pict, and more has a side quest that will have you laughing one moment and hitting you smack dab in the honey nut feelios the next.
Beyond the simple side-quests are more complex ones. Against the backdrop of four warring kingdoms is an underlying war raging in the shadows. The Hidden Ones (precursors to the Assassin Brotherhood) and the Order of Ancients (precursors to the Templar Order) have both set up campaigns to influence the diverse cultures and political landscape within England to fit their respective agendas. As you progress further into the game there are many twists and turns which are expertly woven into the main story and they force you to make difficult decisions that you’ll be pondering over days later wondering if you did the right thing.
Furthermore, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla does a wonderful job diving into the Norse religion. Ubisoft’s interpretation isn’t completely accurate but tackling such a mystical and complex world is certainly no easy feat. One moment you’ll find yourself in Asgard and in Helheim the next. Valhalla is a refreshing change from Odyssey‘s simple take on Greek mythology by immersing you in a religion that is extraordinary, complex, and insane all at once. And when I say insane I mean REALLY insane when you get into it the details of it all.
Valhalla‘s main story isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however. Aside from your quest for honor, wealth and power are dark, somber, and heart-wrenching moments. There are times when there is no easy choice and all that remains are solutions that leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth and feelings of grief much like The Witcher 3 or the Mass Effect series. Unlike Odyssey, where Kassandra’s story follows Greek mythology with her fate ultimately decided in its theme of tragedy, Valhalla and Eivor’s story is a direct reflection of Norse mythology. Eivor can change the outcome, his fate isn’t decided from the beginning. But with moments of happiness come moments of agony and while your choices may change fate, that doesn’t mean Odin can’t step in with influences of his own.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is now available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One S, Xbox One, and PC.