One of the best things about the Assassin’s Creed series is its portrayal of history; not only with its imaginative take on real-life historical events and how the ongoing battle between the Assassins and Templars have tied into them, but also with its stunning vision of real-life cities and countries. Whether you’re trawling across Italy in the 15th century, sailing across the Caribbean in the 18th century, or uncovering the wonders of Greece as far back as 431 BCE, the series always brings with it a breath-taking world that feels amazing to explore.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla goes a little closer to home for me, with its journey across the picturesque countryside of England making for a more familiar tale than before. Sure, it takes place in 873 and sure, I’m from Wales so maybe it isn’t THAT close to home… at least I can say that I’ve actually been to a ton of the regions that you venture across in the game though.
Either way, it makes for yet another fascinating world for players to explore which, when paired with the satisfying RPG-driven mechanics of the adventure, makes for yet another memorable Assassin’s Creed experience as a whole. Much like Assassins’ Creed: Black Flag before it, it also marks another fantastic next-gen debut for the series that truly harnesses the capabilities of gamers’ shiny new consoles.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla puts players into the worn shoes of the Viking protagonist Eivor (who can be male or female) as they venture from their Nordic home to sail to England in order to find a new land to settle within. You’re a Viking… you’d expect this sort of journey to see you ransacking villages and doing plenty of killing, right?
Well, you do, but there’s also a need to forge alliances with other settlements and build relationships with the other big players found across England. There are plenty of elements of strategy to be found in Eivor’s building of a new home and it can lead down some genuinely intriguing story arcs as you progress through the game’s lengthy narrative. Add to that some family turmoil, real-life historical figures, and that little bit of Assassin’s Creed ‘magic’ and you’ll quickly find yourself completely absorbed into the tale.
Of course, whilst you’ll spend the majority of your time adventuring as Eivor across England, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla also flicks back to the modern day setting as you continue the journey of Layla Hassan. Whilst the main narrative will be easy to understand for newcomers to the franchise, Layla’s story continues on directly from Assassin’s Creed Origins and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. If you want to appreciate it fully, you’d have either needed to play through those games (and their DLC) or at least get a recap on YouTube. Don’t worry – there’ll be no spoilers here.
The core gameplay experience of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla feels similar to the last few entries in the series, with players exploring a vast open world, completing an array of main story and side missions, levelling their character up and improving their gear, and then discovering the many secrets littered across the world. You can also expect to sail through the waters on your long ship (though not necessarily to engage in combat), synchronise with countless high points to gauge your surroundings, and do a whole LOT of killing – both in a brutal heads-on fashion (with extra gruesome Viking-like violence) and also by taking a slightly sneakier approach. Basically, it has all the hallmarks of the Assassin’s Creed series so you can expect the same sort of thrilling RPG-like experience that we’ve seen over the last few entries. It’s all really well done and ensures that everything from exploration to combat manages to feel satisfying throughout the entirety of the game.
One thing I particularly appreciated was the return of blending in within your surroundings, making yourself unknown to your enemies by hooding up. It’s something that’s been missing in the last couple of releases, so it feels like a much-appreciated return to its roots…. it’s just something I felt was worth pointing out as a fan of the series from day-one.
There are mainline quests to follow in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla that’ll see you progress the story, though with an emphasis placed on building up your Power Level you’ll have to venture off the beaten path a little and complete some of the game’s side missions or gather additional loot in order to become strong enough to proceed. This may sound like it could see the game become a bit of a grind-fest (something which predecessor Assassin’s Creed Odyssey could be guilty of), but everything is much more streamlined here to make for a more enjoyable and refined experience.
You’ll find plenty of different gear by defeating the many enemies you encounter in the game or by uncovering them in chests to help boost your power level, whilst you can also purchase or upgrade additional pieces at the Blacksmith. Each piece of gear brings with it different advantages and stat boosts, so finding those that suit your style of play can definitely make the experience easier – of course, with your Power Level playing a big role in the game, sometimes it’s easier to equip the gear that is just the highest ranked. It’s something you can tinker around with in-game, with plenty of flexibility in place for the player to cater Eivor’s skillset in any way they please.
Eivor will also level up as you progress through the game, allowing you to grant them new abilities through the in-game skill tree which, again, allows you to cater their skillset to your own preferences. These skills are split between Melee, Ranged, and Stealth, with each offering different abilities that apply to different play styles. Find that you prefer sneaking around? Go for the Stealth skills, where things such as the ‘Guided Arrow’ and ‘Chain Assassination’ go a long way in taking out enemies unseen. Would you rather embrace the Viking brutality? Melee skills allow you to perform the likes of ‘Stomps’ or ‘Heavy Dual Wield’, making you a formidable force on the battlefield. Or would you rather pick off enemies from afar? Ranged skills improve your capabilities from distance, with one of my favourite skills (‘Battleground Bolt’ which allows you to launch discarded weapons at enemies) found here.
Whilst it’d be easy to focus on a particular set of skills, a good balance of both is the best way to approach the skill tree. The different skills all tie into each other nicely, and honesty, it always feels so empowering when you have an extra trick up your sleeve which you can use to catch enemies off -guard.
One of my favourite things about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the way that it approaches side-quests, with players uncovering a wide assortment of ‘Mysteries’ to unravel. Rather than offering formulaic ‘fetch’ or ‘kill’ quests though, these creative encounters see Eivor engage in all sorts of wild (and sometimes zany) tasks. They really help build up the world to feel like a more meaningful place than in previous Assassin’s Creed titles, with the quests never forcing you to complete menial tasks but instead eliminating any unnecessary padding and giving you genuinely fun things to do. Add to that some really charming stories to go with them along with some great rewards and you’ll quickly find that it’s very, VERY, easy to get distracted from completing your main goals in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
Besides those, there are plenty of other tasks to find yourself losing hours with in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The are a ton of collectibles to be found across the world, with some taking you to some of the game’s most intriguing locales to discover. The main story itself doesn’t cover all corners of England, so those who want to see EVERYTHING will definitely want to seek them out – some are tied to some platforming and puzzling segments too, which are an enjoyable staple of the series that make for plenty of enjoyable moments in-game.
Prefer to do something closer to home? Well, your settlement of Ravensthorpe will need to be built up over the game, whilst it also acts as an in-between hub for interacting with different characters, finding new missions to undertake, or enjoying the simpler things in life such as fishing or hunting. You can expand upon Ravensthorpe by spending the resources you earn across the game too, with the settlement turning into a truly bustling locale in the later hours of the game. It just feels like a nice home to have in the game, with it easily standing tall with the likes of the Normandy in Mass Effect as one of the most homely hubs to spend your time in-between all of the killing.
Be warned though: there’ll be plenty of decision-making in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and the choices you make will shape how the community within Ravensthorpe view you. There’s no right or wrong choice by any means, but you won’t be able to please everyone. You’ll need your fellow Vikings in Ravensthorpe when you head out on Raids and you’re better off having a happy bunch of them with you, right? The Raids themselves play out as you’d expect, with the brutality of a Viking attack shining through mercilessly as you and your allies unleash hell. It’s as satisfying as it sounds, even if there isn’t a whole lot of variety to be found between the different instances of it across the game.
As expected, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla certainly looks the part on the PlayStation 5 with its stunning landscapes brought to life with outstanding lighting effects, sublime animations, and a 60fps frame rate that manages to remain pretty consistent throughout. Honestly, some of the sights you’ll see in the game are simply gorgeous and manage to capture the beauty of England and Norway perfectly, whilst the level of detail found in the world is remarkable. I thought Assassin Creed: Odyssey’s Greece would remain the pinnacle of the series for a long time, but everything here is just so much more spectacular.
The SSD brings with it almost instantaneous load times too, so you’re never left twiddling your thumbs whether you’re booting into the game for the first time, loading a save, or fast-travelling across the world. It’ll never fail to impress me how much of an improvement that the fast load times manage to bring to open-world adventures, with little time wasted during your journey here.
I’ve got a lot of love for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, with it not only getting all of the basics right but also fine-tuning the Assassin’s Creed formula to make for a more refined game overall. It was still a little bit TOO long though – I thought the last game was beefy with it taking me over sixty-hours to beat completely, but I’ve broken the hundred-hour mark with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Sure, you don’t necessarily have to spend that long with the game if you want to plough through it fast, but those who want to see everything that it has to offer can expect to spend a long, long time with the game. It feels like a stupid complaint to make since you are getting more bang for your buck but maybe shaving ten or twenty hours off would’ve made it a little bit more easy-going to get through, especially with so many nice and shiny new games to play with the release of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is another fantastic release in the series, with the refined game mechanics, stunning world, and next-gen enhancements helping make this Ubisoft’s best open-world adventure yet. It’s just so satisfying to venture through England and uncover all of its hidden (and beautiful) secrets, whilst entering battle as a Viking? It NEVER stops being satisfying.
It is guilty of being a little bit longer than it needs to be, but at least you’re getting plenty of bang for your buck – especially if you’re looking for an excitingly stunning title to sink your teeth into to really see what the new consoles are capable of. Whatever way you look at it, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla marks a mighty impressive debut for the series on the next-gen hardware and I’m excited to see what direction Ubisoft take it in next.
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC