Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was played on the PS4 Pro
Since Assassin’s Creed Origin, Ubisoft has set out to create a sprawling RPG adventure expanding the series into new and exciting heights; Origin reinvigorates the lore behind the founders of the creed while Odyssey expands on its greatness as they focused more on the Isu beings – all the while revamping the AC formula to what I find is the best it’ll ever be. With Valhalla, Ubisoft aims to take everything they have learned and give us an impeccable journey of wonder, conquer, betrayal and triumph – you will be exploring 9th century England where the country is divided by multiple kingdoms; as a clan, you will fight to build allies in an effort to craft your own destiny.
An Impeccable Quest
Assassin’s Creed takes place in a sci-fi alternate universe where Templars and Assassin’s are waging a secret war against one another. Returning protagonist, Layla, is an Assassin trying to figure out a way to stop the Second Desaster, a catastrophic event that would destroy the world. Technology built by the Isu – first civilization thousands of years before humanity – seems to be the key to saving the world as Layla uses a machine called the Animus to simulates a person’s life who has Isu DNA encoded into them – people that are simulated are usually ones that lived through pinnacle moments in history. Valhalla takes place after Ragnar Lodbrok’s conquest over England – a Viking hero who’s name still lingers in Norway; Jarls are fighting in an attrition of power. During a feast celebrating the king of Norway, Eivor’s clan were ambushed resulting in the death of his parents. In an effort to avenge his family, Eivor vows to seek it after he has grown strong enough. Several events happens that ultimately leads Eivor and the Raven-clan to seek a new kingdom of their own in England.
Ubisoft has managed to to weave together a compelling story of conquest while still making effort into building interpersonal story within the clan; Valhalla gives a choice to play as either a female or a male….or both if you’d desire to swap between the two during your quest. I played as Eivor and I can’t fathom enough how his personality is beaming with excellence; captivating voice and mannerism that, for me, was more than enough invest further into this story.
You’ll quickly realize that the game offers a different approach to quest guiding; main quest are replaced in favor of Story Arcs where each story has multiple chapters that tells a saga – you will find yourself cascading in multiple quest and thankfully the Quest tab won’t be cluttered with side quest, as that has been entirely replaced for World Events; They’re essentially side quest, but the catch is they are not tracked and you are not given any objectives to follow – you are left with your wit and observation and trust me, it is amazing. This decision is to enact the sense of immersion to the world, as you organically find something within it intriguing enough to explore further. If doing so, you’d be reward for it. This kind of story element and gameplay immersion is something I’ve been yearning for since The Witcher 3 – I love the idea of just wondering the world and hearing an argument that captivates you enough to lead you into something you’d regret or admire. I have found myself remembering these organic sub quest far more than ones that are saved in my Quest tab and forced to follow. I hope we get more of these kinds of quest in future games.
In addition to the World Events, you’ll find NPC’s walking about with question marks above them – which could lead to any number of things.
Valhalla is about building a new empire – a formidable one, and that means building allies within Mercia. You will be introducing yourself to impossible situations each region are facing and decide whether to help them or not. This game expands on dialogue options too, as each decision you make weighs far heavier than any previous AC game to date. There are romance options as you’d expect and one really welcoming feature is Charisma; the higher the charisma, the more you can sway on important decisions. These RPG elements are touched lightly, but also dense enough to make Valhalla feel exceptional in the genre.
Gameplay from the Halls of Heroes
Valhalla uses the same formula that Origin introduced, but with a far denser approach. Welcoming elements like manual healing and a stamina bar brings that challenging factor I’ve been wanting since Origin; with the introduction of the Dark Souls-like controls, things felt too easy when my health replenished mid battle and I didn’t have a stamina bar to worry about. The attacks feel visceral and heavy – you can really feel the impact when wearing a headset. This time, Ubisoft decided to respect the Viking culture by adding dismemberment, and although it’s still light, seeing heads roll and limbs flinging across the screen is something exciting….I realize that sounds wrong, but I can’t help but respect the Viking fantasy.
Alongside the impressive improvements to the base controls, the RPG elements has expanded and been altered in ways that matters. There are no loot drops, but new weapons and armor are acquired from specific chests. There are sets involved and work as you’d expect; wearing the same set unlocks new perks. You can upgrade your gear via materials you find in the world – and enhance them beyond their capabilities, altering their overall look and adding additional rune slots in the process. Runes are slotted into gear and helps improve your desired build as they can buff your overall stats meaningfully.
Additionally, you’d find that skills has been revamped in ways that should appeal greatly to meticulous player – a skill tree. Here, you are given 3 directions to build on, each are distinct to playstyles and you will earn enough points to expand on multiple lanes. Eventually, you’ll be in an impasse to explore further so the ability to respec your ability comes at no cost to the player. This is excellent as I found myself just going into enemy camps swinging my cleaver, and then hours later, wanting to stealth aggressively. So the Raven and Wolf tree became more favorable to me. This kind of freedom should ease players that find it daunting to be stuck with something that, at the end, didn’t work out for you. Also, Abilities are special attacks you can assign to your face buttons; they’re an extension to your playstyle and can only be found in the world – they are not learned. Each ability has an upgrade to enhance its effectiveness. In order to activate the ability, you’d have to hold R2/RT and press any of the face buttons and for ranged abilities, hold L2/LT then pressing any of the face buttons to activate. I found myself using the rope to lunge enemies to one another causing immense damage.
Earning your glory through battle isn’t the only method, you can earn it through calm waters too – side activities like playing a dice game called Orlog, besting other vikingr’s through a chugging contest or even a rap battle called Flyting. Yes….they would whither their opponents through clever words of rhythm and bantering. It is truly amazing.
Your time in Valhalla means to conquer and expand. You are settled in the center of Merci with your newfound camp. Here you will need materials to improve and prevail – this is where Raiding comes to play. This gameplay mechanic serves as a means to gather valuable raw materials to then be implemented in a variety of ways; I found myself deciding in elements that would help the people in the camp – so I improved farming methods, agriculture, ect. Eventually, my raiding party kept falling in battle, and I noticed I paid no mind to the Barracks within my camp. This was that “ooooh” moment as I then realized being mindful in your decisions also applies to your camp. Whether this is a true mechanic or not, building that barrack to improve my raiders helped my gameplay experience.
As you level up your camp, you are able to benefit from it in a variety of ways, one particular perk that stood out with me is the ability to have a feast with your clan, this would cost you a bit of silver but would also help give you a buff to Eivor. It is a very Monster Hunter’esque mechanic, but one that fits so well into Valhalla and I couldn’t help but smile upon the option to do so.
Exploring the Wilderness of Wonder
The world of Mercia is wonderfully crafted, probably much more focused than any of the previous AC installments. It is gorgeous in design as it is breathtaking in scope. This game is huge, and I can not fathom it enough. Each region is vastly different from one another with distinct personality – for some reason I found myself entirely involved in my surroundings as vista felt large and with meaning. It’s hard to explain but whatever Ubisoft did to make the world feel like an actual world, keep it up. Another thing that compliments the beauty of the world is the different kind of world event that populates it; I know I touched on this but World Events aren’t tied to just people needing your assistance – you’ll encounter monolithic structures begging you to explore and it can lead to either a mysterious artifacts or a source of energy that needs to be solved. Another source of energy that sometimes plagues the land are curses; they need to be lifted. Walking through these lands would have you witness strange occurrences, and in turn debuff your character slowing their overall movement. These are optional, and serves more to clear your path during your journey. Another thing that’s available for you to try are these mushrooms called Fly Agaric – consuming it would give you a Far Cry-esque scenarios that either would have you solve a puzzle or fight a group of beast. My favorite kind of World Event is these glitches that you’ll witness in the environment; you won’t be prompted to explore it but when you do, your Animus user Layla would glitch into the world and be task to fix the anomaly. These events are heavily platform based and I really do appreciate the effort into making the modern world feel implemented. These events serves as an organic distraction during your playthrough and honestly, I want more of it.
On normal, the difficulty seem to spike tremendously depending on how soon you visit certain regions – each part of the map is level-gated and if you happen to stray too deeply into the world, you may find yourself regretfully loading into a new game. This plays well to my overall preference as I do love a challenge and I never felt the game was unfair in any given moment. In addition to this, a returning gameplay element of hiding in plain site plays a huge role this time around. You can cloak yourself to hide amongst a crowd to stealth your way through undetected, interreact with the environment to blend in and truly, I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed it until playing it. This mechanic triggers automatically when you visit cities that are hostile in nature, as by default – Vikings are frowned upon.
Within each region are interesting points to explore – icons has been replaced by glistening dots, color coordinated to either tell you if it’s a treasure, world event or an item of interest. This helps negate the need to constantly open up your world map as I found myself looking around the actual world far more often that previous games, only occasionally looking at the compass to find that there’s something about 120m away. Accessibility can give you the option to go HUD-less too, which is always a welcome.
Truly, I can’t stress enough how wonderfully crafted this world is – I found myself constantly taking screenshots of vistas that seems impossible, and this is through the PS4 Pro; I can not wait to see how gorgeous it’ll run on the PS5 with 4K 60fps.
The Woes of Greatness
Truthfully, there are far little things I find wrong with this Valhalla; a game this ambitious comes at a cost of minor and hilarious glitches; during my playthrough, I found Eivor clipping through movable objects from time to time, sometimes an enemy would stand still in a midst of combat and only once my health did not deplete during an epic battle. These were so far and very few in between of what I think is a stellar game off the gate. Truly am impressed with Ubisoft’s Quality Assurance team.
Truly, Ubisoft has crafted what I find to be the pinnacle Assassin’s Creed experience taking all the great elements of what makes an RPG and then staying fresh enough to tell itself apart. With the excellent Eivor carving an engrossing quest of conquer and betrayal, this is a game one can not miss.
You can find Assassin’s Creed Valhalla here starting at $49.99