Assassin’s Creed Valhalla builds upon what made Odyssey and Origins great, and it removes a good amount of terrible side quests.
Rumblings of a Viking-based Assassin’s Creed title started a few years ago, but it wasn’t until 2020 that things came to fruition. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the latest title in Ubisoft’s long-running stealth-based franchise. It shakes things up pretty significantly with gameplay focus and world design.
Ubisoft’s commitment to continuing to improve the Assassin’s Creed formula is commendable. The more recent departure of the series’ signature gameplay with Origins and Odyssey makes a return here. Valhalla builds upon what has come in the last two entries, and the design changes are for the better.
King (or Queen) of the North
Things kick off in Norway with beautiful snow-covered mountains peppering vistas and the aurora borealis highlighting the night sky. This is just where things begin though, and pretty quickly our main protagonist Eivor (players can choose between a male or female Viking) decides to venture to England with his brother Sigurd to settle and discover new lands. Much like Eivor, this sense of discovery translates very well to the redesigned gameplay systems.
Gone are the fetch quests and question marks riddling the map that plagued the last two entries and drove my OCD insane. Valhalla opts to pepper the math with colorful little yellow, white, or light blue dots. Yellow dots indicate wealth and can provide crafting materials, money, rare equipment, or new abilities. White dots indicate an artifact, which is ultimately a collectible and of which are a few different types to uncover.
The light blue dots are indicative of a mystery point. These were my favorites as they could ultimately end up being a handful of different types of world events, environmental puzzles, or challenging fights. However, players won’t know what they are until they are within about fifty meters of the point, instilling that sense of discovery. You won’t know what is out there until you go look for it.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla‘s side quests are known as world events. Don’t expect to go searching for a certain item or always getting engaged in a battle. These are often very funny events that Valhalla puts together very well in its world.
My favorite of these was a random guy I found sitting on a log with an ax stuck through his head. At first, he didn’t know there was an ax in his head, but he appreciated my honesty once I told him, and he was ready to go to Valhalla.
Another really entertaining one was finding viper eggs for a lady who had locked herself away in the sewer. After tracking down a number of eggs and bringing them back to her, she farted a huge noxious cloud of gas to fill her chamber with the stench. After returning outside I found peasants above ground vomiting from the smell that was floating up through the sewer grates.
Combined with how long and driven the narrative is here, it’s nice to not generally have to invest a serious amount of time into these side quests. Not only are they entertaining, but they generally give good XP for completion. The experience system in Odyssey was incredibly grindy, so it’s nice to be able to enjoy the world and its inhabitants without feeling like it’s a chore.
There isn’t really a standard level in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla though. Filling up the level bar or completing world tasks rewards players with skill points they can sink into a huge skill tree. The skill tree has three branching paths that ultimately all connect to each other, but you can spec out Eivor however you want as you play through the game.
The skill tree in Valhalla is actually one of the few things I dislike about the game. It kind of looks like the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, but most of the tree is covered by a fog that gets revealed as you hit certain points in the branch. It isn’t ideal for figuring out a build for Eivor tailored to your playstyle, but the main theme of Valhalla seems to be discovery, so maybe that was part of the decision process here. As you sink points into the tree, Eivor’s power level goes up, replacing a traditional leveling system with one based on unlocking stat boosts and skills.
After spending a few hours in England, players can start creating their settlement. This is a living area that evolves as you earn more resources and create new buildings. Since Eivor and his crew are settling in a new area, it makes sense that there is a main hub where these Vikings can live and sleep. Often characters that you recruit to your side will be found wandering around your town.
All of the buildings here relate in some way to certain activities that you do in-game. The museum can house the artifacts you uncover on your travels. The barracks lets you create a Jomsviking to come with you on raids or get hired out to friends. The tattoo shop lets you customize Eivor with the flying page designs you catch in different cities and towns. The settlement is a very inclusive place that gives you even more of a reason to track down everything the game has to offer, bringing a tangible sense of accomplishment.
There’s a ton of content
It’s a good thing too because there is a lot to do in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Not having such a tremendous amount of grind in Valhalla really works in its favor. It makes discovery that much more enjoyable.
I am currently sitting at around thirty hours of playtime and I haven’t seen the credits roll, and I feel like I’m always uncovering a wealth of content to discover. Anomalies make a return with large platforming sequences and legendary animal hunts are hidden across England. Plus, the Order of the Ancients makes a return with a huge number of Order members and Zealots to hunt down.
My other main issue with Valhalla isn’t too big of a deal, but that sense of discovery that makes it so great can often put Eivor into fights well above his power level. Sometimes these engagements are easy to get out of. Other times, it can be frustrating as enemies try to chase you and can defeat you in one hit. An icon before starting a fight or an encounter showing that you are significantly outmatched might be beneficial here. Otherwise, these can be escaped from relatively easily.
Discovery is the name of the game
It’s great that England is full of things to discover because it is just as much of a joy to actually traverse the beautiful landscape. I played on Xbox Series X. The game ran at a super smooth 60 frames per second in-game. It seemed like the cutscenes might have been a little lower than that, but I am not 100 percent sure.
Playing the next-gen version of the game just reminds me of how hard it will be to ever go back and play a game at 30 FPS. The open fields, all the way to the dirty and dank streets of towns and cities are a sight to behold in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The opening area of Norway was stunning. I do wish some of the NPCs looked a little better, but this is something I’m used to from these open-world console games where all the focus goes into building the main characters and companions. It isn’t surprising, but it’s always jarring going from Eivor to a poorly rendered NPC.
Combat has been redesigned with a bit more intricacy than the previous two outings. Players can equip a number of different types of weapons like spears, hammers, swords, or axes to take into battle. There is more nuance within these when you dig into the combat systems. You can wield a weapon in each hand, or a shield and a one-handed weapon before you enter the fray. You can even swap weapon hands mid-fight. Combat almost felt a little closer to something like Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning than previous outings. It can be really fast-paced. Not paying attention to a battle can quickly lead to your death.
A few final thoughts
Circling back a little bit to the settlements, settlement buildings require two specific crafting materials. The best way to earn these is in raids. Raids begin with Eivor announcing his crew’s arrival at a large fort, massacring everyone inside, and collecting their wealth. These large scale battles are pretty intense, and the opening horn bellow announcing the coming slaughter is indicative of the brutality of the Vikings. There isn’t a lot to these raids, but it is great fun to pillage and plunder.
I want to make a quick note that I’ve been seeing a lot of people having a number of bugs. Maybe I’m just lucky, but other than two separate game crashes, I have experienced no issues other than occasional screen tearing on Xbox Series X. That’s not to suggest that others have not experienced bugs, but I haven’t seen many personally.
I really liked Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but Valhalla just shows me how dated some of the game design decisions were. Gone is the world where you run around a map checking off completion boxes before moving on to the next area. You can think of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as the next step of the Assassin’s Creed evolution as Ubisoft fine-tunes all of the gameplay systems to make them harmonious.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.