Assassins Creed Valhalla is finally here, taking us on a journey to Norway, and then onto the greener pastures of England with Eivor. ACV which is not to be mistaken as 5, as Valhalla is the 11th game in the main series, not counting the spin off’s like Assassins Creed Rogue. So after taking us to ancient Egypt with Belek in Assassins Creed Origins, we then headed to ancient Greece with Kassandra/Alexios in Assassins Creed Odyssey. We are all set to join Eivor and his Viking crew for another huge adventure.
You can tell this one is about Vikings, given the name. Choosing a character, this time, is a bit different to Odyssey in that you can play Eivor as either a male or a female. If you choose either gender, you will play as that character throughout the entirety of the game. However, choose the third option where the animus decides, and you’ll be female for the vast majority of the time, yet becoming male Eivor in certain predetermined scenes. Yes, it’s a bit strange but the game does explain itself and the change when it happens.
Much like starting out at Kefalonia on AC Odyssey, Norway will serve as a tutorial area. Historically, Viking is a general term for raiders from the continent, so any of the countries which are next to the sea, resulted in Vikings raiding the UK. Looking at history books, they are split into groups, though, like the Normans from France and the Saxons originating in Germany. The Romans gave the continental raiders the generic term ‘Vikings’. You begin as a child with your village being raided by another clan. Yourself and Sigurd (Son of the Jarl) manage to escape the raiders on horseback, but you become grounded and on the ice, surrounded by wolves. After passing out, you wake as an adult, captured by the raider who attacked your village and are about to be taken to the slave trade. After escaping, you need to rescue your men from the Longboat and get back to your camp. This opening section acts as a smallish tutorial for controls, combat and movement.
After freeing your men and getting to the longboat you head to your village you can start doing a bit of exploration under the amazing looking Northern Lights. On the map you will notice familiar sync points and various coloured glowing dots which represent different things. Gold sees a hidden treasure, turquoise is for small individual missions that only take a few minutes and usually involve a local and white represents a collectible much like the pages from Assassins Creed III – Yeah the annoying chase the pages across the rooftops is back but this time it is for tattoo designs instead of sea shanties! There are also icons that look like runes but they are the location for a shrine with a skill book. Unlike Odyssey where you pick and choose skills you find skill books. To upgrade said skills you have to find the next book rather than assigning skill points.
After the Norwegian events, it’s like BBC1’s Escape To The Country, to England, to start a fresh life and build up a community. It’s a place as you’d expect with rolling hills and plenty of greenery, much like the old movies depicted that featured Knights and King Arthur etc. Once your basic camp is set up, you are tasked with raiding a few local churches to get supplies so you can then expand your village. Upgrading the settlement is simple enough, as once you have the required items from raiding, you just select the sign beside a building, and then purchase it. Each building unlocks different items so you can purchase upgrade materials or the Blacksmith, for weapons and so on.
Once you have built the barracks in your camp, you can get started on your second, as the Quartermaster states. Here, you’ll create your own Jomsviking. This is your only connection to other players, and works in a similar way to the pawns in Dragons Dogma, but your Viking will be found in the world, rather than a hub. Another player can hire him/her like a mercenary, and you will get 100 pieces of silver for the service. Of course, you can hire other players’ Jomsvikings if you wish, when you find them, for the aforementioned amount of silver.
Outside of upgrading of the camp, you’ll be sneaking round outposts doing what you do in Assassins Creed, and that is taking out enemies, raiding and capturing areas. Raids, themselves, are fun as they usually have a few stages pushing into an area and then taking out a heavier enemy to finish. It can be quite chaotic as you have the men from your longboat attacking, whilst possibly also finding other captured warriors in cages who are more than happy to join in the carnage! AC Valhalla, I feel, though is set up so that you’ll fail stealth, given the way the enemy tagging works (more on that soon). Once you get spotted while trying to be stealthy, it becomes a full on Viking rampage, much like the raids where it turns into a free-for-all, obliterating enemies with your trusty axe till no one is left standing.
Sigurd brings both Hytham and Basim with him to England. You get introduced to these two NPCs in Norway, where they teach you the stealth and assassination basics. They are from The Hidden Ones – the precursor to the Assassins – and as soon as you see them and their attire, you instantly know who they represent. They have come to England tracking the Order of the Ancients, who are the early Templars. Much like the previous game, you have a screen which has all of these Order of Ancients characters. As the hours unfold, playing and exploring, you may come across these enemy characters randomly if you are lucky out in the wilds, or you’ll find out who they are and their location through collectibles and quest progression up to the leader, as in AC Odyssey.
The gameplay itself is very similar to AC Odyssey, but Ubisoft have made a few weird gameplay tweaks that are okay, but feel like a bit of a regression after the previous game. The combat, itself, plays in the same way as the prior two games, but blocking is back, given Vikings like to use shields (there are two handed weapons and you can dual-wield if you want). Stealth is decent, where you hide in long grass and can pick off enemies, but as I mentioned, it feels like the game is set up to make you fail, especially until you have added a few points into the skill. You can no longer mark enemies in an area with your raven, as you did in both Origins and Odyssey. You have to sneak into the area and then hold R3 for a few seconds to use Odin’s sight, which highlights enemies and collectibles. You then can track enemy movement as they become highlighted red, but this effect does wear off, so you have to redo Odin’s sight quite often to keep enemies marked. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of this, but it is what it is and makes your raven a bit pointless. Thankfully, you can unlock a skill in the blue tree where, if you are crouched and hidden, it highlights the enemies nearby.
The gear is another thing which has substantially changed. You can upgrade the separate pieces, but there are only a few different armour sets throughout the entire game, and you just keep those upgraded and change when you are doing a different play-style. Some sets are better-suited towards raiding/combat, while others are better for stealth. In the previous game, where you could enhance armour with stats that you wanted to use, worked a lot better giving the player choice. Another huge glaring omission is not being able to set how the character gear looks, as you could on Odyssey. In the prior game, you can set any piece of armour to look like something else, and so I took Alexios through the entire game looking like a Spartan commander. This is something they should have done with Valhalla, I feel, as a character’s appearance in a game is down to the player’s personal preference with the way he/she looks.
Another weird decision is you have to manually heal now. You’ll achieve this by collecting items in the world, and stock up after each use. Even when combat ends, your health doesn’t automatically restore itself. It feels like the old first-person-shooters from the late ’90s where you had to collect first aid kits or food to get that health back. A few nights ago after doing a raid, I had little health left and spent a good 15 minutes searching around the area trying to find healing items in order to fill my bar and get one extra use. Thankfully, you can upgrade your ration bag, but the requirements from the off are steep. You start with being able to use it once, but to get a second use, you need 50 leather and 100 ore. It makes you wonder just how big this bag actually is?!
All in all, this is another excellent Assassins Creed game and I am pleased that Ubisoft aren’t releasing yearly with this franchise any more. These games have been getting so big, requiring countless hours if you love searching about and taking everything in. I spent 90 hours playing through Odyssey again earlier this year, when the first pandemic lockdown happened, and that covered mostly everything the base game has to offer including all the cultists. Eivor’s story is as interesting as both the previous games in the series, and with it being Vikings, the combat is visceral to say the least!
Fans of the series are going to feel right at home, but newcomers could struggle to notice links between the characters and the modern day stuff. As an example, you see the Staff of Hermes in an early modern day cutscene which links back to Odyssey. I haven’t experienced any game-breaking bugs, as such, but I am seeing a fair bit of screen tearing-and, upon looking this up online, this seems to be common issue, and affecting all versions of Xbox, so I imagine there will be a patch soon.
Simply put if you love open-world games and this series, Assassins Creed Valhalla is not to be missed!
- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Players: Single-player
Retro at heart and lover of all things ’80s, especially the computers, the music and the awesome movies and TV shows! Crazy huge retro gaming collection spanning the ’80s and ’90s with hundreds of tapes, discs and carts for various machines on top of a 600+ strong Steam library that is ever-growing. No I am not a serial hoarder, just a dedicated retro gamer!