(Disclaimer: Review code for PlayStation 4 provided by Ubisoft. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla will launch on November 10.)
The next installment in the popular Ubisoft series repeats gameplay themes introduced in predecessors Origins and Odyssey, and uses that modernized Assassin’s Creed formula to present a beautiful new world with untapped potential.
It is ironic that as the AC series moves forward, going back in time has led to more expansive storytelling – one of Valhalla’s Odin-sized highlights.
You play as Eivor of the Raven Clan (a male or female at your choosing) who ventures from Norway to England with the desire for greener pastures and a new kingdom. That involves plenty of looting in the old Viking tradition, yielding wealth and in-game progression.
In my 20 hours of playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, I recall fondly its two personalities. It is one part Netflix anthology with a rewarding narrative that slowly builds momentum, and one part – as all AC games are – open-world journey back to the past, this time in Anglo-Saxon England.
In Eivor’s journey, his/her ideologies are frequently challenged, and this becomes a recurring theme. In their conquest, the hero’s belief’s and morality are at the forefront, right in there with the blades and the shields, the swords and axes. Making the progression more easily digestible are main quests being divided into smaller objectives.
The main story arc is closer in flavor to Netflix’s Vikings than God of War, which is to say that it favors realism more than the fantastical. But that’s not to say that there’s no Nordic mystique here. In the game, there is indeed this presence from Norse legends that should appeal to anyone who’s been fascinated with this branch of mythology.
Improved navigation, growing territories
Valhalla’s map is simpler and easier to navigate compared to Origins and Odyssey. Dots of 3 colors represent side tasks. Yellow ones are for wealth, which lead to essential supplies, armor, and abilities. Blue ones are for mysteries, which alter between exciting, good, and mundane. And white ones are for chasing artifacts like tattoos to personalize characters’ looks. You can also play around with Eivor’s hair.
Faithful to its goal, Valhalla aims to test one’s mettle, which is why even side tasks can prove challenging.
I’ve spent a handful of 20-minute stretches looking for hidden passageways to find a “Book of Knowledge” for a new ability, or chasing a piece of paper flying like a Valkyrie in the sky. While some mysteries can take a few minutes to solve – like reviving a man out of his psychedelic state – other might require few tries, especially when involving a deadly foe.
One of Valhalla’s big debuts is the Norsemen’s settlement, which Eivor names “Ravensthorpe,” the narrative’s central point. It is through raids (marked by red crossing axes) in which the Raven Clan can collect the necessary supplies to build establishments in their new colony – like a blacksmith’s shop to improve weapons, a stable for grooming horses, or a merchant’s shop to trade goods.
Through this community-building will the Raven Clan’s reputation grow among England’s 4 regions. Each one has designated power levels to give an idea of the territories’ strength. Eivor’s own power level and abilities increases with skill points, which are easier to come by when both main and side tasks are completed and as Englishmen are decapitated, heads claimed.
The fight sequences in Valhalla take Assassin’s Creed’s combat to a new, more violent level, one worthy of the Vikings’ battle-fueled history. Eivor even has the ability to wield weapons with both hands for a more barbarian approach, much to the dismay of screaming fallen foes whose arms have been chopped off.
The game moves on from regeneration as the player now relies on nearby rations for health, while the stamina bar’s inclusion adds a wrinkle to blocking and dodging attacks. Old-school fans will enjoy the return of stealth mode in crowded spaces and the hidden blade, especially for missions in distrust areas where cunning is the wiser choice over brute force.
Valhalla’s world also presents alternatives when looking for a break from the bloodshed. One in the mood for debauchery can participate in mead-drinking races. Those looking to test their luck can play a captivating dice game called Orlog. The player’s wits will be challenged when flyting, which is basically medieval rap battling. Each activity involves the wager of hard-looted silver.
Choices, which are dialogue decisions, play a determining role in story arcs. Whether you are charming or threatening could spell the difference of having a successful negotiation or having to swing axe to bone. From the icy mountains of Norway to the sun-kissed fields of England, it constantly feels like Eivor’s actions have resounding consequences.
Voyages with the new longship provide breathtaking sceneries of England and Norway. Both can be visited through the atlas at any time. The sound of rushing waves heading into battle made me feel like I was bound for adventure rather than sitting on my chair, while songs and stories of conquest, lust, and celebration further intrigued me into the boisterous lives of Danes.
There are a few bugs and lag issues that can hopefully be fixed in future updates. Pacing with non-playable characters can at times be infuriating. All the main quests are entertaining, although there are a few side tasks that made me feel, “meh, it was okay,” following completion.
Meanwhile, newcomers to the franchise might be a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of the world, and all that comes with it.
Overall, however, Ubisoft hits a home run.
The altering camera angles during cut scenes are superb. I found myself turning the subtitles off a few hours in for a more cinematic approach to the compelling dialogue. Storylines don’t ever feel empty – especially not when it comes to verbal tussles of differing cultures between the Saxons and their invaders.
The creative designs – thanks in part to Ubisoft’s Philippines studio – are quick to catch the eye.
Thanks to extensive on-the-ground research, Ubisoft has made Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla feel like a game where there’s always something new about the lore to discover.
I’m eager to see what else it has to offer. It’s an 8.5/10 for me.
Naveen Ganglani is a podcast host and writer for Rappler. He loves sports, video games, film, television, and pizza. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram. You can reach him at email@example.com.