Assassins Creed Valhalla Review
When the news came out that the PS5 version for Cyberpunk 2077 would not be available at launch and my eagerness to play an expansive open world game grew, I set my eyes on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Being the 12th game in the franchise and adoring the previous installments in the series, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla provided me with exactly what I wanted as my first long RPG of the PlayStation 5 generation. Although not perfect, Ubisoft has made a substantial and important step in the new era of Assassin’s Creed that had me hooked until the end of the game’s epic story.
The first thing you’ll notice about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla running on next generation hardware, for this review specifically the PlayStation 5, is that the game is drop dead gorgeous. Running in 4K 60 for the majority of the experience Ubisoft has really stepped up the visual fidelity of the open world. 800 AD England has never looked better from the lush and dense green forests across the main region of the game to the frozen ice landscapes of Norway. Aside from mostly static bushes and trees the team did a fantastic job at creating visually stunning skyboxes that work with the games' lighting system in an impressive fashion. Fast travel is in the game but I found myself barely using the feature as just riding on horseback through these locations revealed more and more at how beautiful the game is. It never got old to see the sun’s God Rays pierce Eivor’s character model or leaves on a tree above, words do not do it justice.
While visually Valhalla nails it, from an audio standpoint it feels like a bit of a step down. Audio is certainly a subjective aspect to whether a person enjoys the music or not, but I feel like the music in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey worked better with me. The music in Valhalla kind of just blended into the background of a given scene and while some could argue that’s the sign of a good soundtrack, I prefer the music to work with the scene as opposed to being at the heels of it. Ultimately it could just be that I just didn’t enjoy the style they went with, but it did feel like it matched the time period and historical region effectively.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla looks great, sounds pretty good, but at times runs pretty poorly. For the substantial majority of the game, you’re likely traveling in wide open spaces across England and the game runs essentially perfectly on PS5. However, for certain main story quests or activities, you’re required to go into heavily populated cities with grand monasteries and settlements. The city I experienced the most issues with was in Lunden where I experienced pretty heavy screen tearing and frame rate drops. I’m not Digital Foundry but it seemed like the game was dipping into the mid to low 40s in terms of frame rate and it was extremely noticeable. I did also have an encounter with a side quest where the objective spawned below the word, a bug that even restarting the game could not alleviate thus rendering the quest still uncompleted on my game. Thankfully none of the critical path missions ever broke for me personally and it was the only quest in the game I had an unfixable problem with. Aside from minor visual glitches like characters clipping into environments, camera placement issues, and animations triggering in odd fashions, I really didn’t run into anything truly game breaking. It was for the overwhelming majority of the 80 hours I spent with the game, just minor bugs and glitches aside from the quest breaking issue I encountered. I’d still state any day that on PlayStation 5 Assassin’s Creed Valhalla ran very well for the majority of the game and is nowhere near what we’ve seen from the likes of other major open world games on the platform.
Looking at Assassin's Creed Valhalla from a raw game standpoint in terms of UI, menu systems, and level designs it’s pretty recognizable from recent games in the Ubisoft open world series. The main menu is quite literally the same along with the UI from logos to feel is essentially the same as well. Even the character armor screen, you guessed it, stays consistent with previous games in the franchise. However honestly it works, so why fix what’s not broken in the first place. I will say that in populated regions when you have a lot of clutter on the map and in the waypoint guide at the top of the screen, it becomes difficult to discern what exactly I’m headed towards. They at times would clot up at the top that just gave me a collage of symbols that made it hard to focus on what I actually want to head towards; something I hope will be addressed in future iterations of the franchise.
I’ve never been to England so maybe the level design is accurate to how the region actually looks, but the level design aside from aesthetics ended up being pretty flat for the majority of the game. The game does have cases where this description doesn’t apply including ice caves, waterfalls, and narrow canyons. But I’d say in totality a lot of the settlements felt the same in comparison to each other, the interior layout of the many monasteries in the game is quite honestly the same and the world didn’t feel as diverse as I’d expect. In contrast, I really felt like the Greek world in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey did a much better job at having diverse locations that truly felt different from a layout standpoint. From an aesthetic and visual perspective, as I said before, Valhalla looks breathtaking from the environment alone and it’s truly never looked better in the franchise.
You’ll get plenty of chances to admire the game’s looks due to the game's very long main story. Of course avoiding spoilers, the game’s premise lies with Eivor of the Raven Clan establishing their new settlement in England after leaving Norway. The established settlement is named Ravensthrope that acts as the games hub area where you reconvene to plot your next main mission questline, rank up the settlement to get access to more vendors and opportunities to level up and explore the vast Norse mythology in terms of lore and the mythos. The main point of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is to go into different regions and assist them in that region’s problems or dilemmas using Eivor’s strength and skills. These actions manifest in a string of mainline quests that all take place within the region in question and upon completion the region will pledge allegiance to Ravensthrope thus rendering them your ally. You then return home to the Alliance Map to confirm the allegiance was successful, pick a new territory to assist, and do it all over again. While first and foremost I adored the rigid structure and pace of each region’s questline, not all of the region’s quest-line stories were created equal. Some were action packed and had interesting twists and turns with interesting commentary on how the clashing of Viking culture blended with the blossoming Christian faith. While some region’s story quest line felt rushed, short and anti-climatic. When I was playing through these mundane quest lines it really felt that some sort of B team within Ubisoft did these or that they were purely put in the game to act as filler. This is probably my biggest problem with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla that is heightened by the fact that as I said before, not all of the region’s story quest lines are the same. When you get to a truly great region questline, it shines brighter amongst the quote frankly boring ones throughout the game. I found Eivor uncovering a King’s murder that was orchestrated by a secret society or supporting a young prince set to take the title of King of a given region that has not yet won the respect of the people far more intriguing premises than simply helping a region win a battle. I feel like the game is over bloated with quest lines that should’ve been side endeavors like Raids and that if they had trimmed the main story to just the truly great regions with quest lines it would have been better for the game overall. I estimate that we could’ve comfortably cut 20-30 hours from Eivor’s journey and still arrived at the same destination; likely a more impactful one.
The game also has a more personal questline dealing with Eivor’s brother Sigurd and his journey throughout the plot. This storyline really does a fantastic job at not only being extremely interesting and leaving you wanting to know what happens next, it helped push me through the not so interesting quest lines throughout the main story. While the game drops and picks up Sigurd’s storyline pretty frequently, I feel like it properly embeds itself in the grand plot of the Assassin’s Creed franchise that fans ought to see through if they care about all the other games. Its ties stretch far into the history of the games including name drops and references to events that happened in games that are nearly a decade old; it’s really cool stuff that laid down the bedrock for the future of the series. It’s just a tough pill to swallow to ask a longtime fan to go through hours and hours of quest lines that vary vastly from region to region to get the lore carrot on the stick.
I’ve never really been into Norse mythology and Viking culture historically so the prospect of an open world RPG Assassin’s Creed going into these aspects with Valhalla left me intrigued and wondering if this will get me into those aspects. Upon completing the game I have to say, it worked on me. The extent of my knowledge literally came from God of War 2018 and some of the aspects of the mythos within the MCU. I can confidently say that I feel like I really learned a lot about the culture in terms of rituals, verbiage, terms and concepts. Without spoiling the game, the way Assassin’s Creed Valhalla conveys aspects of Norse mythology like the roster of Gods, Asgard, Jotunheim, Ragnarok, and Valhalla itself is one of the most memorable and unique aspects of the game. Odyssey did a great job at dipping its toes into the Greek mythos, but Valhalla is quite literally a plunge into the deep end of the Norse mythos and it truly left me in awe at how undeniably cool those things in the game were. It rises amongst the best the game has to offer full stop.
Overall I felt the voice acting throughout the game was effective. Given that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a massive open world RPG, it’s understandable that the NPC’s had recurring lines and voice actors from region to region. However, as the game went on I felt like some of the more prominent story characters had similar sounding voices which took me out of the experience in some cases. This is not reflective of the game’s main cast as Eivor, Sigurd, Randvi, Basim, Fulke and more have exceptionally well voice acting which at the end of the day I can understand. The game is a remarkably huge undertaking in terms of software and it really isn’t going to completely destroy your enjoyment if a citizen of Lunden sounds the same as a citizen in East Anglia.
In a very interesting way, just as the main assassin in Assassin’s Creed Origins was one of my favorite parts of the game, Eivor eventually filled in that role for me as well. Bayek of Siwa was kind-hearted amongst the innocent and loved ones while being stern and ferocious in company with the enemy. Given that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was mostly developed by the Origins team within Ubisoft, it seems like they enabled the player to have Eivor respond and reflect a similar set of traits as Bayek. In one side quest, Eivor is aiding a group of kids find a wolf that is stuck in the bottom of a well. In spite of informing the kids that wolves generally are dangerous and can cause you to harm if you’re not careful, she sees that they don’t see the wolf in that manner. Kids will be kids and they will see the purity in the most frightening of things; it’s something that Eivor sees and still helps them not only rescue the wolf but name it along with permanently adding it to Ravensthorpe. From that point on for the rest of the game whatever name you chose for the wolf, Eivor will greet the wolf every single time. It’s a small thing but it’s a great example at how kindhearted and sweet Eivor can truly be. It worked on me and appreciated the contrast after completing a quest line by utilizing Eivor’s more Viking-esque side of her. The game presents opportunities to let you play out either side of Eivor and they’re both valid and great to explore.
I know that I’ve painted a lot of aspects of the game in a negative way because a lot of them are truly not great for the game as a whole, but I really enjoyed my time with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on PlayStation 5. As stated before, it’s exactly what I wanted out of my first big RPG on the PS5, and a lot of that I have to credit on the game’s combat loop. I ended up really enjoying the approach they took to this game the more I played Valhalla and ended up being a change I admire even when I compare the combat to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The combat in Odyssey had a bit of depth to it but for the most part, it became kind of formulaic and not interesting from moment to moment. Valhalla tweaks it just enough where it’s depth grows not only deeper but in ways that brush aside the at times mindless combat of Odyssey and trades it for a really neat moment to moment aspects in Valhalla. Parrying seems more important than ever, the addition of weak points on enemies being shown that you can hit with your bow and arrow to immediately stun them, and the overall pace of combat is a bit slowed down that lends a more methodical playstyle overall. From assigning special moves you learn to chain them together with elements and armor properties, I really grew to love the combat more than the previous games in the franchise. On top of it, all the way Ubisoft chose to highlight the brutality of the game in true Viking style worked super well for the game. When you eventually do a stun attack, you can do pretty overkill moves to them that is so over the top sometimes it left me laughing. Eivor can literally swing her ax at an enemy's neck with such force that it creates a distorted sound via her arm and ax cutting through the air and clean taking off the enemy's head, it’s fantastic.
Another aspect that I feel must be said is that the game has a leveling system but it’s not as punishing as previous titles. Before Valhalla there were times where the game would throw the next main mission a few levels ahead of you thus requiring you to go and do side activities to reach that level. In Valhalla though they grant you a 30 level range from what the required level is versus the level you are and I very much welcome this change as I never felt like the game was forcing me to do side content like in the past. I even bought an XP booster in the past because the grind became too much at a certain point and although you can by XP boosters in Valhalla I really don’t see the point. The game offers a great balance with the leveling system that is the furthest thing from punishing.
Replayability is pretty much built into Assassin’s Creed nowadays with my playthrough consisting mostly of the critical path, synchronizing at fast travel points, and raids taking 78 hours to complete. It’s a big game and like I mentioned before really feels unnecessary mostly, but in case you want more than the nearly 80 hours of the game, there's plenty I didn’t do. If you looked at my map you’d think I barely scratched the surface from the game being sprinkled with small side encounters, new gear, or special items. Each is color-coded using three different types: gold for things like new gear, blue for small side missions, and white for special items to sell or trade. However, that’s not even the full extent as a bunch of things fall into one of the three colors making it kind of a confusing process to locate a specific objective without paying a traveler nearby to reveal it for you on the map. In essence, if you’re worried about there not being enough content, rest assured there is on top of more DLC on the way as well.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is not perfect and I didn’t expect it to be. It’s a giant western RPG that has a compelling story of the dynamics between what it means to be a leader, how you support the ones you love, and historical commentary about the blending of Vikings and Christians. Interwoven in the experience is a satisfying combat loop that introduces more and more as you play along with propelling the Assassin’s Creed franchise from a lore perspective to new heights by utilizing old callbacks. It’s a beautiful game on PS5, problems and all. Although I really feel a lot of the game could’ve been cut to make the main plot more compelling, I’ll never feel regret for eventually reaching Valhalla.
And that’s the Borderline Bottomline for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Review Written by Kevin Diaz