Assassin’s Creed Valhalla review: Epic introduction to new console era

. 2 years ago
Assassin's Creed Valhalla review image

With few huge blockbusters available at either console’s launch, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will be the first game that many people will choose to play on their new PS5 or Xbox Series X|S. It’s a wise choice.

Ubisoft’s own horrible histories have have swept us away on a globetrotting adventure, taking us everywhere from the Holy Land in the Crusades to the battlefields of the American Revolution and even pirate warfare in the Caribbean. Valhalla isn’t the first time we’ve visited Britain, with Syndicate taking us back to Victorian times, but even with Odyssey letting us experience the brutality of the Spartan Wars, it’s hard to think of a time better suited to the visceral, bloody battles than that of the Vikings.

The developers have had a lot of fun with this era, creating characters that are arguably meaner, tougher, and more ruthless than ever before. Although the return of Instant Assassinations create hushed, almost intimate moments before you execute a victim, this is an action packed romp in which you won’t spend a lot of your time sneaking around.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla – Key Details

  • Copy: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
  • Price: £51.99 / $50.00
  • Developer: Ubisoft
  • Release date: November 10, 2020
  • Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC
Assassin's Creed Valhalla xbox one
We reviewed Assassin’s Creed Valhalla for Xbox One.

Story is beautiful and gripping

The most notable feature of Valhalla is the ability to choose whether your main character will be a man or a woman. That said, whichever gender you choose for Eivor, it won’t make a difference to their strength or ferocity. They’ll still be in command of a warship with a group of huge, dirty, muscular men by your side as the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Templar Order go head to head.

Just like in Odyssey, Layla Hassan is in the present day, controlling Eivor using the power of the Animus. However, this time she has a new team of assassins, including Shaun Hastings and Rebecca Crane, and together they use DNA to lead a second life in the past. Their mission is to conquer different areas of the map and build alliances as they look for a new place to live in a world in which resources have been drained by King Alfred of Wessex.

Very early, allies and foes are established – there’s Sigurd Styrbjornson who stands side by side with you as a fierce warrior, but also the evil Kjotve The Cruel who will do anything to take you down. He’s not the only one, either.

As those who have put over 100 hours into Origins and Odyssey will know, Layla is stubborn and not to be messed with. Through ordering the deaths of enemies, she immediately gains the respect of the brutes around her.

A visual masterpiece

Assassin's Creed Valhalla review image of night
Running around in the darkness never looked better.

Whether it’s Origins or Rogue remastered, Assassin’s Creed games have always been celebrated for their stunning landscapes and textures, but Ubisoft have really excelled with Valhalla. Though ninth century Britain and Norway are dangerous places to be, they are beautiful. Just little things like the mist descending or the sun glistening over the hilltops may make you pause for a moment to take a few shots on photo mode. This is a step up, which is what you’d expect from a new generation of consoles.

While it’s nice to stand high on mountains and take in the breathtaking wild landscapes below, much of your time will be spent on the high seas. Crashing into the waves in a warship will be welcome to fans of the pirate warfare of Black Flag, but what’s really exciting is the new River Raids, which take axe battles to new levels of brutality.

You’ll sail to a location, dive off the ship and quickly attack an enemy base. As the battle commences, both your opponents and allies will be hunted in packs – nobody is safe on the battlefield as blood is spilled with every swing of a weapon. It seems chaotic, but to overcome your enemy you need to have a method behind the madness, and that’s where Valhalla’s new progression system shines.

Some features are a challenge

The progression system forces you to go in blind, which might initially prove frustrating for players, but it really works in the long run. Essentially, you have to pick a direction in which to invest your skill points and the further you go, the more abilities and upgrades will appear in the mist.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla skill tree
Here’s how the skill tree looks in-game.

It’s clear to see why this is frustrating as you could spend 30-40 points and end up with one of the less powerful sets of abilities. If these weren’t hidden from the start, your route would be clearer.

You may choose to upgrade your initial fighting style and add moves to your skillset – for example, Stomp or Stealth Recon. These make you more nimble or deadly in battle, and along the way to earning them, multiple attributes will be unlocked as well. Increased range resistance, range, headshots, and more. It encourages you to be more brutal, as well as take on more fights. The more skill points you rack up, the more deadly Eivor will become.

Many abilities are actually hidden in Books of Knowledge around the map, too. While it’s exciting when you come across a new hidden ability, it can be annoying as there’s a feeling that you’re not really being rewarded for your skill – rather the patience to actually search for this stuff.

Another new feature is the ability to build your own fortress and upgrade settlements to strengthen against potential attacks. It’s all very tactical, because you’re having to think one step ahead all of the time.

If there is another annoyance to highlight, it is the healing system. While it’s a welcome challenge to have limited berries to replenish your health bar, at times during River Raids, it’s often like playing with your hand tied behind your back. Defensive play doesn’t quite fit with the period this game is set in either, although it does bring a tactical element to the fight. The more you boost your gear, though, the less of a problem this becomes. Give it time.

Fate and flashbacks

Past Assassin’s Creed games have put a big focus on quests and their effect on the narrative. The decisions you make in any RPG have consequences, but Eivor’s quest to get more allies has an end goal that we can’t really influence – finding a better place to live in Britain, after seeing Norway’s resources depleted at the hands of King Alfred of Wessex.

There’s a definite structure to the tale that doesn’t vary between male and female selections, which is also a bonus.

The narrative is nicely played out in the cutscenes, too. Whether it’s a flashback or a short sequence that drives the story forward, they are spectacular at times.

You may have a plan for Eivor’s journey, though these visions almost feel like fate or moments of déjà vu that keep you on your toes. You’ll see some chilling sights such as severed hands and ravens flying out from corpses, giving the tale a sense of dread.

You may have a plan for Eivor’s journey, but these visions almost feel like fate or moments of déjà vu that keep you on your toes. You’ll see some chilling sights such as severed hands and ravens flying out from corpses, giving the tale a sense of dread.

As fate gains an ever-stronger presence in the main story, so too does power – which you accrue on your travels from Scandinavia to the United Kingdom. There’s a series of short narrative side quests which briefly cross over at times.

They are all location-based as well, meaning almost every character you meet has a tale to tell, and a journey for you to undertake in each civilization – early examples being Nottfall and Mannskapsangrep. These last a short period of time encouraging you to move to the next challenge. That is the way of these Vikings, though, so while it may feel fragmented, the main story carries us through nicely. They’re all building blocks.

While fate and foreshadowing play a big role in building Valhalla’s compelling story, it’s important to follow the arcs of each main group to connect the dots. Knowing how Vikings can save the world outside of the Animus is the hook, and the stories between Order of Ancients, Hidden Ones, and others Randvi puts you into contact with will keep you engaged. The main tale has positives and negatives, but certainly lays the groundwork for an Odyssey-style expansion DLC to continue this special turn for the series.

Orlog is the icing on the cake

Quests and side quests are also tracked really easily in the menus, and the next checkpoints are signaled simply on the map’s compass system. Bringing a small mini-game like Orlog is a refreshing change, similar to how The Witcher 3 has Gwent, but it’s not quite as exciting as that.

orlog in assassin's creed valhalla review
Orlog is a new mini-game in Valhalla.

To play Orlog, you simply roll a few dice. The main objective is to take your opponent’s 15 stones before they snatch yours. You will pick up to three God favors, and each player will have six dice to roll each time. These bordered symbols on each cube, if landed on, grant you different God favor tokens.

For example, the hand face will allow the player to steal a God favor token from the opponent. Different pairs cancel each other out in your mission to grab all 30 stones, mixing chance with strategy to break up some of the long-running quests in-game. Each dice has a different effect as well, seen below:

  • Axe: Deal 1 melee damage
  • Arrow: Deal 1 ranged damage
  • Helmet:  Block 1 melee damage
  • Shield: Block 1 ranged damage
  • Hand: Steal 1 God Token from your opponent

The more you play, the more chance you have of unlocking the champion trophy/achievement, and you don’t have to keep playing against the same people either. The more of Norway and England you discover, the more opponents will appear – so it’s something you can enjoy right the way through the Valhalla experience. A nice touch.

Rating: 8.5/10

If Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is your first PS5 or Xbox Series X/S game, you won’t be disappointed. Not only does it show off the graphical potential of this new generation of consoles with its stunning landscape and bloody action sequences, but the quality of the storytelling will keep you hooked long after you’ve been blown away by how great it looks.

Reviewed on Xbox Series X

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