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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Posted by GG Goblin On November - 18 - 2020

When hiding in a bush doesn’t come across as quite so creepy.

 
Vikings are a fun bunch. Well, other than their predisposition towards violence of course. Still, violence aside, they seem to enjoy nothing more than getting drunk and falling over, all while their religion leads them to more of the same in the afterlife. I may be simplifying the life of a Viking somewhat, but after having gorged my way through shows such as Vikings, The Last Kingdom and Norsemen, I think I have a handle on what it means to be a Viking. It goes without saying then that the idea of an Assassin’s Creed game with a Viking flavour is more than a little exciting, especially given how great the last two games in the series have been. Alongside the launch of the Xbox Series X, while still available on other platforms, Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and proved that Vikings can be assassins too.

 


 
Let’s face it, the cunning and stealth of an assassin is as far removed from the brutality of a Viking as it can be, but that doesn’t stop Valhalla from making it work. Before I get into the story and motivations, the main character Eivor in Valhalla is as brutal a Viking as any, but for one reason or another ends up being tutored in the ways of the assassin and can take the stealthy approach when required. As a result, despite the involvement of the Hidden Ones (who later become the Brotherhood of Assassins), the game offers outright assault and sneaky back stabs in equal quantity. It’s a very well done balancing act that allows the entire game to feel like an Assassin’s Creed game without belittling the Viking way of life.

 
So, starting out in ninth century Norway, a young child is enjoying the celebrations at their clan’s long house when there is an attack and both of the child’s parents are slain. It is in this early section that the game offers the player a choice to play as a male or female character, or let the Animus mix it up as the game progresses. It is also here that the game jumps forward some seventeen years to find that the child, Eivor, is driven by their need for revenge over the murder of their parents. It’s as good a motivation as any. In the passing years, Eivor was taken in by a friendly Viking king and has proved to be a powerful warrior. This early section in Norway acts as an extended tutorial of sorts before the clan head out to England, where they establish a new settlement.

 


 
Assassin’s Creed fans will find a certain amount of familiarity in Valhalla, and a few things that seem strangely different. As always, Valhalla is an open-world game where the player is free, to a degree, to explore the world and do as they wish. I say to a degree as certain areas in the game are aimed at certain levels, but otherwise freedom abounds. As the majority of the game is set in England, the world map is perhaps smaller than that in Odyssey. However, it is jam packed with things to do, represented less by a barrage of icons and more by little coloured lights giving the player a rough idea of what to expect. The main quest lines are there, but can be put off as the player enjoys other activities.

 
Side quests are sort of gone, replaced instead with world events. There are plenty of these for players to uncover and while they occur outside of the main story, that add more flavour to this world. Often these short missions offer a level of humour seemingly designed to counter the games’ otherwise stern atmosphere.

 
The combat in Valhalla feels like it has become much more brutal. Eivor gains access to the hidden blade and the chance to assassinate enemies early on, but nothing can beat the classic axe and shield combo. As fights often lead to multiple enemies having to be dealt with at once, parries and dodges are all the more important and the combat overall feels much more thoughtful. Not that Eivor will always be alone in these battles. Raids are a new mission type that prove to be slightly essential and involve Eivor and their crew simply running up and attacking settlements to gather loot. There is no stealth needed for raids, just lots of shouting and swinging of weapons.

 


 
This need for loot is part of Valhalla’s most interesting new addition. Once a settlement has been established in England, the player will be expected to build upon that settlement by gathering the supplies needed and adding new buildings, each of which bring some form of benefit. This could be by adding buffs to the whole crew ahead of a raid, opening up new quests, or even some mini games. This whole part of the game turns out to be quite involving and a really welcome addition, giving Eivor a central base of operations that they can return to and upgrade as they see fit.

 
In keeping with tradition, Eivor will improve as the story progresses. Each time they level up, they will be rewarded with points that can be spent in the new skill tree. This time around, the tree starts with three simple branches, heading in melee, ranged and stealth, and spending a point on a node will mostly give small stat boosts to start with. However, the player can only see a few nodes from their unlocked positions on the skill tree, with further bonuses being hidden until the player reaches them. The more the player progresses, the more is unlocked. Adding further for the player to do, abilities need to be found to be unlocked in the form of books, and they are often quite well hidden and may require a little thought to actually access.

 


 
The Assassin’s Creed games are well known for throwing masses of time-wasting activities at the player, and Valhalla is no different in that respect. From the main story beats and assassination missions for members of The Order of the Ancients (Templars), to raiding, building relationships with allies, and world events, there is always something to do. Then there is the settlement management, hunting for treasure, and a whole bunch of fun little distractions, from a dice game to rap battles of sorts. The best thing about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the way that all of these varied activities seem to tie in together. There is still plenty of time wasting, but it still feels significant in the grand scheme of things. Valhalla is a massive game that will likely run up to triple figures of gameplay, and all of it fits.

 
From a visual point of view, I must admit that I miss the sun of the Mediterranean. But that is not to say that Valhalla doesn’t look great. It is stunning, with all of that snow and mud. It’s not all cold and grim, and once the player reaches England they will be treated to some beautiful views that don’t really represent the England I know. Playing on the Series X, 60fps and 4K go a long way to making this the best looking Assassin’s Creed game so far. It also doesn’t hurt that the loading times are mercifully short on Microsoft’s new machine, although I have to mention the strangely long pause on first starting the game up that left me thinking the game had crashed. Whether this is the console or the game, I couldn’t say, but patience seems to be the solution. Vikings aren’t known for patience, so there you go.

 


 
Ubisoft seem to have mastered the formula for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Odyssey was already a great game, but Valhalla manages to outdo the game in almost every aspect. From visuals and combat, to mission structure and settlement management, there is very little not to like about the game. Those who have never really gelled with Ubisoft’s open-world titles probably won’t find anything here to change their mind, unless they really like Vikings. But for those looking to lose themselves in Viking tales and Assassin’s Creed lore, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is amazing, and possibly the best entry in the series so far.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★½ 



 

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