The Assassin’s Creed series has given us some of the richest deep dives into historical eras ever in gameplay. Civilizations, people, buildings, cultures whitewashed with time have been revitalized by Ubisoft’s bewildering attention to detail and research to resurrect these eras. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, the newest entry into the series, is a true Viking tale, filled with honor and family bathed in blood and battle. We
Valhalla continues the Assassin’s Creed series origin story that began in AC: Origins back in Ancient Egypt and continued with the epic Roman tale in AC: Odyssey. AC: Valhalla brings us into a new era, the land of the Vikings, and the story of Eivor, a Dane who saw their family murdered by betrayal and now looks to make those responsible pay while searching for a new direction in life. Like Odyssey, we are tasked to choose if we wish to play as a male or a female right from the gate and if we can’t decide, there is an option that lets the narrative switch back and forth based on how impactful the story is to the specific character. Unlike Odyssey, where you chose between two different characters of which Kassandra was clearly the better one, there is one character in Valhalla, and you choose Eivor’s sex. And the story plays out the same despite this choice.
Speaking of choice, another holdover is Odyssey’s choose your own adventure style system where certain decisions will affect gameplay, actions by characters, as well as the outcome in the finale. I have to say this was one of the aspects of the game I really enjoyed as it curtails the impulse to skip through dialogues and plowing into battles as you are not always sure what chain of events your decisions will lead to. I faced a number of times with decisions; I found myself pausing to think carefully and, even after making a choice, questioning if it indeed was the right one. And for a game that has some great character building and dialogue, it is a great way to make you slow down and appreciate just how much work has gone into it. Not only from the writing but some pretty great voice acting.
As for the gameplay, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla doesn’t disappoint in adapting the fighting style to the era. Having captured the flair of Enzo chronicles, or the swashbuckling of Kenway, Valhalla encapsulates the swift savagery of the Viking. Bloody, brutal, and boisterous, the Viking raider’s Blitzkreig is an antithesis of the Assassin’s need for silence and stealth. But the game developers have found a way to merge the two that make it believable, including, our protagonist’s decision to wear it the wrong way because hiding a blade isn’t honorable. The controls and fighting options for Eivor are varied and dynamic. It gives you the ability to go more stealth if you want and the versatility to focus on ranged or be a true raider and hack your way through your enemies. This gives you a number of ways to achieve goals, including when going vikining—a side activity where you can take your crew and pillage a town. You have the option to go in quietly and soften things up before calling your crew in or go in as a wave of fury and cut down everything in front of you.
The aforementioned choices of playing style are tied to their new system of upgrading. Resembling more the node system that games like the Final Fantasy franchise adopted after Final Fantasy X in lieu of the traditional RPG Point leveling system, the AC: Valhalla’s upgrade system is a web of nodes. As you grow in experience, you earn points, and these points can then be used to move across nodes spread out across a vast web that branches out in specializations. These specializations Raven, Wolf, and Bear represent playstyles, stealth, ranged, and aggressive, giving the player the choice of how to specialize their style. Each node gives increases to stats, abilities, or other benefits to the character. And while some abilities are on the web, many of the best abilities are found in-game from books of knowledge, usually heavily guarded.
A welcome change from Odyssey to Valhalla are the weapons and armor. Where in Odyssey and in Origins, you would find an overwhelming amount of weapons and armors and constantly find yourself slapping on new items for the requisite boost making the game almost feel like a Looter/RPG, Valhalla gives a more realistic approach. There are a variety of weapons and armor, but the list is more manageable, and with the new upgrade system, you can find your favorite build and upgrade it so that it can stick with you through the entire game. A boon for those who, like I, had to find yourself tossing away the perfect bonus skilled weapon in exchange for another weapon just because it was keeping my level down. This also makes more sense to the era as Vikings had more of an attachment to their weapons and armor, often naming them and passing them down through their family or being buried with them. You find an array of Axes, daggers, flails, hammers, and shields throughout your journey. Like real Vikings, swords are few and far between, but they are there if you have the time or the coin. Most weapons are found through exploration, but a few are available through the vendors as well as a familiar face from AC whose shop continues to satisfy with specialty items. And there are those otherworldly items that you can find through some effort.
Valhalla’s main drawback is one that I hate to say, but when it comes to an Assassin’s Creed game, it almost comes with the territory and is part of the experience. Valhalla is buggy. Not so much that it impedes gameplay, but Loki has definitely had his hand in the coding. There’s the typical NPC’s appearing, gaining super speed, phasing through walls. But there were ones that drove me crazy, like members of my raiding party refusing to go through an open door so I couldn’t finish a raid. Or an NPC that I clearly killed, all of a sudden getting back up. Or dialogue that turned out to be rather important, disappearing and then coming back after I had moved away from the area. The copy I received before the game released and the day one update was worse. But I enjoyed the game so much I wanted to give it a fair chance, and I know advance copies are sometimes rushed out the door. And it was worth the wait.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of Vikings, new to the genre because of the Netflix shows, or just a fan of the AC series, you are going to be pleased with Valhalla. It has the AC spirit but told in a new and refreshing way, a noteworthy feat for a game that has lasted 23 iterations over 13 years and at least 3 generations of consoles. Setting and storyline is trademark AC; a tweaked game system adapted to the era of the game and just a dazzling canvas to play on, the AC team has outdone itself. Again, it is still a little buggy, but that can be attributed to bugs in the Animus, don’t let that stop you from getting which could be one of the games of the year.