While it did very well with critics and a lot of gamers, I’m one of those people who just didn’t really like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey that much. Which was a shame, as the ancient Greek setting was right up my alley. Set during the Pelloponean War, which was a military conflict between Athens and Sparta, this game should have been ripe for wonders, especially after the marvellous entry before it, Origins, which was set in Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy XIII. So, I went into Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla with some reservations. I was worried it would be the same thing as Odyssey only with a Viking skin. So, after around 20 hours in so far, what are my impressions of the game?
Valhalla is largely set in England in the year 873 AD and you play as the Viking Eivor, who thanks to a glitch in the animus, can be played as male, female or both, with the animus switching between the two genders randomly throughout the story. As a fan of The Last Kingdom, I chose a male Eivor, as he is voiced by Magnus Bruun Nielsen, best known for playing Cnut on that show. (For the record, I played as Kassandra in Odyssey.) After a lengthy introduction set in Norway, Eivor and his clan set sails for the four kingdoms of England in hopes of establishing a new home for themselves. At the same time, the Hidden Ones, the precursors to the Assassins Order, return to the narrative with the objective of ridding England its infestation courtesy of the Order of the Ancients, the precursor to the Templars.
Thankfully, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla sees the return of the Hidden Ones and the hidden blade after sitting out the last game. It’s a little weird, to be honest, to have a burly, axe-wielding (or in my case, hammer-wielding) Viking be given a stealthy weapon, but somehow it works. And stealth is something that makes a welcome return all around. There are no more enemy levels, so the hidden blade can insta-kill most enemies, depending on your power level, with a mini-game triggering for stronger foes. Power is dictated by skills and gear. If you want a more classical approach, there’s a setting where the hidden blade insta kills anyone regardless of their power compared to yours, something I’ve opted for in order to get a more old school approach to gameplay. Social stealth also returns. It isn’t as well integrated as I would’ve hoped, but it’s still there. I do like how major cities would see Eivor as a threat and as such, he has to throw his hood and clock on in order to hide from the guards and citizens when infiltrating a town like Ledecestre.
I’m also enjoying the main narrative much more this time around in Valhalla, but things are still early and I can potentially see bloat coming down the line. Instead of a linear tale bringing you from place to place, each region on the world map acts as it’s own mini-story of sorts, almost like an episode of serialized TV, each with its own cast and arc and once you complete it, you go on to a different region and undertake a different story. It’s not a bad way of storytelling, but I do hope characters like Ivarr and Ubba show up again. Combat is also fun and varied. You can equip anything in your primary and offhand slots (even two shields, should you desire) and fight enemies head-on. There are a wide variety of enemy variants, but enemy AI can sometimes be janky. I’m playing on hard more, the exploration mode and the hardest stealth difficulty and I find this is a fair and engaging balance. I like that there’s this level of fluidity in making the game as easy or as difficult as you’d like in various categories as opposed to one flat difficulty curve.
What I’m not a fan of is the sidequests, called Word Events in Valhalla. Instead of being logged in the quest tab, the side quests happen organically when you stumble upon them. But sometimes, without an indicator, what you have to do ends up being confusing. There was a fellow in Norway who wanted some animals so he could kill honourably in order to boost his legend, but there’s no indication as to what animals are deemed okay. I decided to fight some nearby bears and ended up having to flee and shoot arrows from afar, right next to this guy’s camp, but apparently, bears weren’t good enough cause he didn’t’ intervene, nor did he want the pelts. Likewise, a person from the settlement in Norway wants three reindeer antlers but now that I’m in England, I have no idea where this person went. Likewise, the World Events are…weird. Whether you’re gathering viper eggs for a farting prisoner to helping some idiots burn down their own house, filled with their own valuables, these goofy quests feel at odds with the serious main story and feel rather forced and hammy. I find myself less interested in finding and completing these quests. Also, I’ve yet to fight a Zealot, as I’m just too underpowered to take on their might, but one roams not too far away from home. Speaking of.
What is working for me is the settlement management. When you land in England, you and your clan take charge of an abandoned Viking settlement and dub it Ravensthorpe. From here, you dump resources into the settlement, obtained on Viking raids, to establish new buildings, such as a blacksmith, trader, etc. Coming “back home” is a central theme to the game, you spend hours away pillaging and questing and when the chapter is done, you head back home and upgrade your settlement. You can then have a feast for buffs, upgrade your gear and weapons and head out again. It reminds me a lot of the camp settlement in Red Dead Redemption II (but missing the mark ever so slightly in terms of feeling like a tangible place).
The settlement was the setting of the Yule Festivities, a limited update that dressed the surrounding area with snow and garland. However, this update highlighted just how buggy this game is. I’ve seen NPCs walking in the air, enemies deciding to orbit me in combat like a turntable, my raven companion being constantly unavailable and loading a save file often results in Eivor appearing drunk. The ship also feels a little weird as well, as if it’s just a bit too floaty. This game definitely needs some patches to bring it up to par. And while it isn’t a glitch, the upgrade tree is simply a chore to navigate.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has a great world and an interesting lead with a welcome return of stealth and the Hidden Ones. It feels more like an Assassin’s Creed game than the previous entry and fans of the series will likely enjoy the return of the core mythology of Assassins v Templars. Combat feels like an improvement over the last two entries and loot is handled much better. I’d say if you were a fan of Black Flag and Origins’ narrative and world design, Valhalla will then scratch that itch you were missing on the last game. But side quests are weird and don’t inspire me to do more of them and the game could definitely use more polish. I do fear bloat due to the size of the map and how many regions there are, but if I avoid the side stuff going forward, perhaps this will be negated. But in terms of raw story in the main quest, fun gameplay and a great world map, Valhalla is already way more fun for me as an old-school AC fan than Odyssey ever was.