Valhalla presents one of the best Assassin's Creed titles in a long while, blending myth and realty into something fun and jaw-dropping for the new console generation. It's such a shame that glitches and computer bugs have ruined some of the fun.
It’s safe to say that in the two years since the previous game was released, I have been dying for another Assassin’s Creed. And I think we all know how excited I was back at the end of April when the game was announced – over half a year later I am still buzzing from that initial adrenaline rush. And now it’s here!
They come from the land of ice and snow, but England is where they try to make their home. Eivor, along with their adopted brother Sigurd, his wife Randvi, and these two mysterious figures called Hytham and Basim (who has been loving dubbed “baesim” by fans) try to make a life in England. To do that means meeting with local lords of the four English kingdoms, building up their home settlement and figuring out why just Eivor is able to see Odin unlike everyone else. Eivor is not justa furious, glory-seeking Viking as you might think from some of the advertising, but a complex character trying to balance the ideals of two different worlds and their own mysteries.
Unlike another AC games, Valhalla takes place over more than one country; Norway is where we start, but the main body of the adventure is England with trips to Vinland (North America), and even the mythical home of the Norse Gods in Asgard is open for visitation! Each area’s map is littered with three distinct types of items: Wealth (which can be gear or crafting materials), Mysteries (anything from side quests to cairn stacking or stone circles) and Artefacts (usually a cursed symbol or a piece of paper to chase that contains a reward). And gone is the levelling system – now it’s a power rating; earning certain amounts of XP will gift you 2 power points to place onto a frankly gorgeous skill tree that looks like constellations, while finding Books of Knowledge around the map may reward you with new abilities to go about your quest.
Admittedly, from the modern-day storyline I felt like I was reliving parts of both Revelations and III, a sentiment only growing stronger the more I progressed throughout. And with the ability to travel to Vinland (i.e North America) some hours into the game, the comparisons did not stop. In fact, there’s an implication that some of the elements of III were laid out here, and the First Civilisation temple can be found in the world (though still unopened). Missions in Eivor’s home settlement of Ravensthorpe also bring to mind the Homestead missions from III where you go on small adventures with some of those now living there. It’s a nice touch, adding in some humanisation of these otherwise forgettable NPCs, and their tales can be equally as moving as some of the larger developments in the main story.
And as with the previous two installments, this game increases the level of importance that the mythology has upon the story and wider world. It’s all explained, don’t worry, but if you visit the seer Valka at the Ravensthorpe settlement you can enter Asgard and Jotenheim, and the confession rooms, which make their reappearance after being absent since Origins.
Valhalla also makes some fundamental changes to its RPG-style system from Odyssey. For one, while we are once again given the ‘bird’s-eye view’ style of Eagle Vision, you cannot tag enemies with your raven Synin this time – it is purely for observation. This can make infiltration difficult, were it not for the return of social stealth. Unfriendly cities may have “distrust areas” where blending in with priests or distracting guards with a drunk may be your best mode of infiltration if stealth is out of the question. There’s even an achievement titled “Not the Norse You’re Looking For” for essentially walking right past a group of guards undetected in this fashion.
Romance options don’t feel as fickle as they did before; Eivor may not enter a relationship with individuals that hold more meaning, and entering more than one can damage the relationship with the other. And like with Odyssey, you can romance anyone regardless of their gender, or if you’re playing the male or female incarnation of Eivor. Side quests also feel a lot more natural than with the previous two attempts. No more are the endless fetch quests, but instead little meaningful tales of love and loss. There’s even, surprisingly, one framed around the Fenton internet sensation from 2011… My only gripe with these is that only main missions and contracts can be tracked this time, perhaps to clear up the quest log a little, but it means that you could accidentally walk away and exit one if you’re not paying attention, or get stuck in how to proceed altogether.
New minigames also make their introduction here. From fishing to drinking challenges and more, there are small challenges around the world. Even little puzzles around the stone circles – up to and including Stonehenge – litter the map. And if you’re looking for a challenge then why not try to defeat the Daughters of Lerion or a Fallen Drengr? Or go head to head with one of the many Zealots littering the map (thankfully unlike Odyssey’s mercenary system they do not refresh when one falls)? The most popular pair are easily Flyting and Orlog. Flyting’s is perhaps best described as “Viking rap battles” as you go around with lyrical prowess trying to boast about your achievements or undermine your opponents with rhyming conventions and a flowing rhythm. This was an actual historical thing Vikings used to do – which makes it perhaps even more awesome!
Orlog is perhaps the most fun I’ve had in a minigame since Gwent from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Versus an opponent you must make challenges and godly favours with what the dice give you. It looks simple at first, but with increasingly difficult foes to defeat, and with favours from different gods to collect, the strategy had to mould and adapt. An offensive initiative may not work on everyone as you try to whittle down their 15 health to zero.
However, adding back those paper chases from Black Flag has irritated me to no end. I have probably spent a total of 5 hours trying all manner of pathways and tricks and have yet to catch a single one. And for a completionist run and that coveted platinum, you need to make like a Pokémon trainer and catch them all. 3 particular collectables I raced to find were the 2 legendary Weapons of Eden hiding around the map; Excalibur, which had already been confirmed in a launch trailer, another (which, if you’re even remotely familiar with Norse Mythology you could likely figure out for yourself), and a certain tattoo.
In light of the allegations against certain members of Ubisoft staff earlier in 2020, several members of the community’s “Mentors Guild”, including Kulpreet Virdi and Sebastian Dell’aria, set up the AC Sisterhood movement which has the main aims of supporting women in the gaming industry and highlighting their achievements, as well as promoting the need for greater representation of women both in Assassin’s Creed games and their development processes. The movement had proven so significant that the developer team approached it’s founders and added their symbol into the game as a tattoo to collect, as well as letters and notes.
Parkour is perhaps the staple mechanic for the series beyond its use of the hidden blade, but Valhalla‘s feels different. Whereas previous titles felt lively and practised, Valhalla is clunky and a bit unsure of itself. Perhaps it’s intentional as Eivor does not start out as an Assassin; hell, you don’t even have access to the leap of faith until Hytham teaches it to you, which, if you’re like me and try to get the sync points before doing anything else, will lead to countless deaths from miscalculated plummets with just a bit too much faith in what we already know.
And how could I not mention the soundtrack? Jesper Kyd and Sarah Schachner both make their returns to composing for this installment, and oh boy I fell in love right from the start. From the light ambient music as you explore or stealth around to the battle tracks or main theme, it’s all beautiful and perfect for the setting. There’s a light melancholic feel to some tracks which meld in with the wistful and adventurous pieces of the others – it’s a nice subtle way of showing the many layers of Eivor there are to discover. ‘The First Departure’, composed by Schachner, always chokes me up, and ‘Asgard – Hall of the Aesir’ takes my breath away with awe. And with Jesper Kyd’s return also comes the main “theme” of the franchise – how could you not have ‘Ezio’s Family’ as a track within the game being composed by the man who originally brought it to us?! And in such a powerful moment too. ‘Kingdom of Wessex’ is equally as proud and mysterious as Aelfred’s leadership.
However, this is perhaps the buggiest launch of an Assassin’s Creed title since Unity in 2014. Save data corrupts (there’s nothing worse than getting 40+ hours into the game and losing everything) and some missions and objectives are impossible to complete. It’s a beautiful game, don’t get me wrong, but a game marketed with the next-generation Xbox console and topping charts for its release week shouldn’t be this broken. Patches and fixes have attempted to rectify this, but some of the problems are just to big to brush aside and it has taken some of the amusement away.
Voice Actor and star Magnus Bruun revealed on Twitter that recording for the first DLC Wrath of the Druids has finished and is expected to be released in the Spring of 2021, as well as a post-release Yule festival in the winter holiday period. With four worlds to explore here, and two more coming with DLCs, it’s safe to say that fans are not going to be starved of content for a long while. There’s also something mildly amusing about being able to visit all of these locations throughout England – from Jorvik (York) to Lunden (London) and even a trip up to Mercia to visit my home town. I have barely even begun to scratch the surface of what you can do to travel through Eivor’s Saga.
There is so much to explore within Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, and even in a month with the game I have not even come close to finding everything. Whether your style of gameplay is to power through the main storyline, become a virtual photographer in Photo Mode, or unleash some kleptomaniac tendencies and find all of the collectables, this is easily one of the best Assassin’s Creed titles in recent years.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is available everywhere now. You can watch the trailer below.