Ubisoft’s third entry into the rebooted Assassins Creed trilogy takes place in the world of the Vikings. You gain control of Eivor, a Viking who’s quest is to find a new land for their clan to thrive. This takes you from the sprawling mountains of Norway to the lush green island of England as you attempt to conquer the lands and forge your own place in Valhalla.
Assassins Creed Valhalla has been out for a while now, and we’ve had plenty of time to get acquainted with the world and it’s various gameplay. It’s a pretty long entry into the series and can take well over 100 hours if you decide to do everything that’s available to you.
Naturally with the AC series there’s a lot to talk about, but a simple note to make is that it’s mechanically very similar to the last two games: Origins and Odyssey. So if you’ve enjoyed both previous titles then you are going to enjoy Valhalla as well.
You have the usual open world Assassin’s Creed RPG goodness: multiple different regions with various side content to tackle, an abundance of synchronization points to scale and climb, and a customizable combat that lets you choose from a variety of weapons, as well as skills and abilities, that will help you shape your own gameplay style.
There’s a good mix of stealth and combat as usual, and you can pick whatever tactic you want to use in most situations, apart from specific quests or events that ask you to use a specific tactic instead.
Yes it still switches occasionally to modern day, but in terms of the main modern day story they don't do it often, and that's lucky because I still couldn’t care less about it’s overarching story, (I say modern, but it’s actually a slightly futuristic setting). I know many hardcore players love it, and AC Valhalla does give some major story implications for the rest of the franchise moving forward, but for me it has always killed the pace and immersion rather than encourage it and I always just want to get back into the game as quickly as possible.
Back in Viking times, the main story of Valhalla is sometimes spot on but sometimes off the mark. The devs have obviously been pushing hard towards Witcher 3 style story depth and Red Dead 2 pop up world engagements, which is a great thing to aspire to but still not quite of that caliber. At times I found it to be quite a slog doing certain errand quests for various characters. Other times it really gripped me with some intriguing and genuinely engaging plot points. I will say that the story does pick up quite a bit after you land in England for the first time and do the first few main missions, but it could still be tough to get through.
Your main task is to unite or conquer several regions in order to gain more foothold in England. This is a place ruled by kings and lords, most of which despise barbarians of any kind, including you. But as the barbarians land and settle they are a part of the politics and so some of these leaders are willing to engage with you and your clan. So you either help the ones that could help you, or conquer the ones who wish you harm. It does allow for some diverse story content, but generally it always comes down to this.
Whilst the game can look incredibly stunning in terms of landscapes - like the snowy mountains of Norway or the mythical realm of Asgard - England seems to be a little lacking and much less interesting of the bunch, despite mostly taking place there. It does look beautiful for sure, but once you’ve seen one rolling hill and open pasture, you’ve seen them all really.
Questing and Mission Management
As for the side quests though, this is where Valhalla differs a lot from its predecessors. AC Valhalla now offers you both side quests and “world events” in order to diversify the content as well as tackle the issue of content bloat, that many gamers voiced particularly negative opinions about in the previous titles, especially in AC Odyssey.
Side quests are now much more infrequent, taking up less space in your quest journal. These are usually designated to quests that will require a lot of steps to complete, or are much more major stories than world events but not quite as significant as the main story.
World events on the other hand, are now short sequences that can be found whilst exploring the world. There’s no quest markers other than the initial location of said world event, and can often be completed in 5 to 30 minutes. They’re short, sweet, and helluva lot of fun.
I actually found that a lot of these world events were much more unique and entertaining than the main quest, for some bizarre reason. From helping a couple copulate by burning their house down to remind them of the good old days of raiding villages, to helping locate a missing brother that eventually leads into a drug-fueled trip involving a talking deer and mythical creatures. I even pulled the axe out of the head of a willing Viking, to help him continue on his journey; make of that, as you will.
Parkour Puzzles and Event Types
They are a lot of fun most of the time, but world events can also include side activities not directly linked to short quests. From things like parkour puzzles, drug-infused puzzles, rapping puzzles, and combat encounters... so mostly just different types of puzzles basically. These usually reward you with an extra skill point, XP, or even certain items.
I have to say the rapping puzzles - also known as Flyting in this game (which apparently was a real thing that Vikings did by the way) - were tremendous fun. They’re a mix of quick thinking and puzzle solving, tasking the player with coming up with a good rebuttal to an NPC’s line that must match the verse and rhyme.
Successful flyting will improve your charisma stat, which seemed to only be applicable in certain dialogue situations. I rarely found this to hinder my progress, then again I did try and complete one as soon as I found it. But it seems like these dialogue checks are only useful for getting a slightly different outcome. For instance, I was once asked to pay a fee by a guard to enter an area, but using my charisma managed to get in without paying anything.
These world events are first designated by a blurry blue orb on your main map, which will point you towards it without letting you know exactly what you will find. This was great as it rewarded exploration, and you can always walk away if it’s not the kind of event you were hoping to find.
Viking Loot, Pillaging & Map Clutter
Another area where Valhalla diverges from the previous games has to do with loot, as blurry blue orbs aren’t the only thing you’ll find on the map, since you can discover blurry golden orbs as well! These are linked to loot like new armor, weapons, or resources rather than actual quests or events.
All this leads to quite a bloated map. Despite addressing a lot of the criticisms from the last 2 games, Assassins Creed Valhalla ends up being overloaded with content. Granted, you can manage it a lot better, but if you were worried about this particular system then it’s best to let you know that there’s still an awful lot to do. And that can be a good and bad thing depending on how you like it.
Speaking of loot, again Valhalla seems to follow the hit-or-miss routine by overhauling the entire system. Instead of finding lots of weapons and armor on enemies, new equipment is wholly unique and can only be found in specific ways. To upgrade these you then need specific materials, which can be found in the world. It’s a good cycle, and potentially enables any type of weapon or armor to maintain validity until the end game.
This new system is great for allowing players to stick with a preferred weapon and keep upgrading it, so as to never worry about switching weapons. But also means you may want to thoroughly check every location for new equipment, to find something that better suits your combat style. The game encourages these sorts of swaps as you wield an axe in each hand to deliver a flurry of blows, but then later in the game you decide to explore changing your setup to deliver big damage with a massive double handed bastard sword. The latter forgoes speed and protection but delivers heavy hits.
All of these weapon styles can be explored at whatever stage of the game you are in, because you can pay resource, that you find around the map, to the Blacksmith so he may upgrade these newer weapons so they are effective at your current level.
With this style of modular play in mind Valhalla lets you respecify your character skill points entirely at a later stage. So if you feel like you want to become more stealthy from now on you could respec your character points with that in mind.
There’s a lot to unpack with Assassins Creed Valhalla and a dizzying amount of content available, some may say this is a bad thing but when you are paying for content and something to deliver hours of entertainment we have to say that this time around with Valhalla, they have done a good enough job at letting the player manage this content, while delivering a fun and many layered campaign to move through.
I am still not sure what the point of a lot of the village upgrades were for. Sadly it felt that, for fear of overpowering the player, the devs nerfed the benefits of upgrading your village. Whereas we are always of the mind that, if the player is enjoying the experience then let it happen. After all I am trying to make myself into a knight crushing all powerful Viking god that could rival Thor himself. When I turn up with a giant double headed axe over my shoulder and blood covering my naked torso I want the NPCs to tremble.
Assassins Creed Valhalla is a lot of fun and easy to sink dozens of hours into. It is the best entry in the more recent trilogy and genuinely elevates the gameplay mechanics. Content could be considered somewhat bloated still, but it is diverse enough and the setting and story is solid most of the way through.