Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the pinnacle of the series. I opened my review of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in a nearly identical way and while Odyssey remains a high point, it’s eclipsed by Valhalla. There was very little to complain about in Odyssey but in this game, there’s even less. Years of iterating, evolving and experimenting with the formula have led Ubisoft to Valhalla.
Who would have thought, playing Assassin’s Creed 13-years ago, the series would become one of the best RPGs you could get your hands-on. It’s come a long, long, way since the flag collecting days and thank goodness they didn’t make it past the first game.
Set in 9th century England, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla centres on Eivor and her/his Raven-clan. Forced to leave Norway, the Raven-clan head to the greener pastures of England to make a life for themselves and bring the Saxons under pagan rule.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Unlike Kassandra and Alexios, Eivor is one character. Players are able to choose whether Eivor is male or female or they can let the Animus decide. I opted for the female Eivor but I believe if you let the Animus decide, the character’s gender will be based on your decisions and will change as you play. This is part of the plot but don’t worry, no spoilers.
Having not seen the male Eivor in action I can’t comment on him, but female Eivor is the best. She is tough, determined, no-nonsense and self-assured to the point of a fault. She is driven by her mission(s) and will stop at nothing to do what’s needed for both the Raven-clan and her brother Sigurd.
On arriving in England, the Raven-clan must seek out allies in order to survive and build a life. The various kingdoms of England have different, often competing ideals and so the Raven-clan must weave a delicate thread. Being Vikings, they’re not the most delicate of people, though Eivor can show a deft hand at diplomacy, depending on your dialogue choices. As you pledge allegiances to various regions (one at a time) you begin a quest line to forge your alliance. Once complete, you select a new region.
Being a region in flux, the characters you meet and their place in the world vary wildly. One region sees you working with two Norse brothers to install a new king and usurp the old one while another, tasks you with retaking a town from a corrupt Saxon lord. Each alliance you forge is wholly different and these stories play out in interesting and often unexpected ways. That goes for plot and gameplay.
There’s a lot of traversal, exploration and combat but there are also plenty of unique mechanics and moments which break up the ‘standard’ moment-to-moment gameplay. For instance, one chapter involves rooting out a traitor and to do so Eivor goes full-on detective. You’ll interview suspects, collect clues, reconstruct crime scenes (in the Animus) and eventually accuse the (hopefully) guilty party.
Throughout Assassin’s Creed Valhalla there are sections like this which involve a wholly new way to play the game. The series has always had an ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ style to it but these dalliances are always cleverly integrated and entertaining.
While the main focus of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is on setting up in England, making a new home and protecting one’s clan, the Assassin’s…or should I say The Hidden Ones, have enlisted Eivor to help them hunt down the Order of the Ancients who have become pervasive in England. Rather than being the focal point, the Assassin’s and the Templars take a back seat for much of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Of course, they’re still very much looming large but function as additional, side-content; at least initially.
I’d rather not get into any real details of the plot as it’s hefty and goes rather deep but rest assured it’s a story worth hearing. And it’s one that’ll take you all over the enormous map of England and beyond…
Across the map, aside from the main missions and chapters, you’re going to find an insane number of things to do. There are World Events, Flyting (Viking rap battles), Legendary Animals, Zealots, Artifacts, Cursed Symbols, Treasure, Weapons, High Points, Tattoo Shops and more and more and more. Honestly, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is packed full of so many things and so much to do it borders on ridiculous. In a good way. Ridiculous that there is so much game to play.
Seriously, if you thought Odyssey was big, get ready to redefine what big means.
As I mentioned in my preview, there are lots of map markers, as you’d expect. But instead of following the marker and collecting an object, Valhalla makes you work for it. Most things require some traversal or puzzle-solving or combat to be earned. In this way, rather than checking off a long list of pointless trinkets from the map, you’re actively wringing every last drop of gameplay potential and having a great time while doing it.
Ravensthorpe, Eivor’s settlement, is a callback to past settlements like Monteriggioni in Assassin’s Creed II and the homestead in Assassin’s Creed III. However, it has a far greater impact on gameplay than previous titles. As you acquire materials, new characters and progress the story, you’re able to construct new buildings and these create new possibilities both in terms of gameplay and story. There are entire, massive storylines that can be entirely missed should you ignore the settlement. Some of the game’s best, most unique content only unlocks if you put the time and effort into your settlement. It’s not really a chore though. It’s natural to return to the settlement fairly regularly and just by playing you’ll unlock building materials. If it sounds like too much effort, take my word for it, build your settlement up and reap the rewards.
Combat is a huge part of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and being about Vikings, it’s brutal. In the best possible way. Duel-wielding axes are my go-to, but you can equip plenty of combinations of weapons, shields, single and double-handed, bows and more. Like Odyssey, Eivor has a light attack, heavy attack and block/parry. Enemies have a health bar and a stun bar and parrying at the right time will deplete their stun bar opening them up for a massive deathblow. These are always satisfying and always gruesome. It’s not quite Dark Souls, but combat in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla feels more measured, deliberate and skilful than ever. Especially when fighting more powerful enemies.
Power levels are back, obviously, and every time Eivor levels up you’ll be rewarded with two skill points. Spending skill points raises your level so every time you level up, your power level increases by two. You spend these in the ever-expanding constellation map of skills, choosing your abilities, perks and bonuses as you go. Like Odyssey, you’re able to respec whenever you like, meaning you can change how your Eivor plays anytime.
Eivor also wears five different pieces of armour and wearing a set grants you a special perk. Weapons and armour can also be slotted with runes which grant additional bonuses like extra damage, more health and the like.
It’s incredibly difficult to distill Assassin’s Creed Valhalla into a few hundred words. It’s simply enormous but it’s easy to call it a blood-soaked masterpiece. Few games have been so consistently enjoyable, so diverse and so well-put together. Playing on Xbox Series X the framerate is locked at 60 and it’s butter smooth and gorgeous. However, as a cross-gen game, the visuals aren’t what you’d expect from next-gen. They’re not bad but they’re not going to blow your socks off.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the best Assassin’s Creed ever. Fully embracing its new genre and giving players so much choice and freedom has paid off handsomely. There’s not really much more to say. You simply have to experience it for yourself.
And when you do, be prepared to lose hundreds of hours to its myriad activities and not regret a single second of it.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was reviewed on Xbox Series X using digital code provided by Ubisoft Australia.