Assassin's Creed Valhalla Review- Should you play ?

Assassin's Creed Valhalla has been on my “most excited” list of games to play in 2020 and no doubt for a lot of people, largely in part because of its setting in history and the fact that you get to play as an actual Viking that gets to assassinate people. Here you are going the read the review of Assassin's Creed Valhalla.

I was also interested in how its RPG side had progressed in the franchise, since I was barely able to play Origins and haven’t touched Odyssey at all, although I have seen quite a bit of the game, flaws and all. Today we’ll look at the bigger hitting points of the game, both the good and the bad, and see how the game has evolved through the eyes of someone who quite honestly hasn’t touched an Assassins Creed game in ages. 

 Ubisoft had some fairly big restrictions on the content I’m allowed to show off in this review, so I may speak on aspects of this game that are outside of the footage you see. This review will be as spoiler free as possible ,and any spoilers that are revealed will not ruin your experience of the game as it's an extremely obvious storyline progression. 

With that jumble out of the way, let’s dive into Assassins Creed: Valhalla. As mentioned in the introduction, the time period of Valhalla is one of the more exciting pieces that drew me into the game from the start. Taking place in 873 AD, the countries of Norway and England are both in a time of war and chaos. Rival clans in Norway are duking it out in blood feuds that have spanned multiple generations, although there is hope that all can unite under a single man. England is seeing one of its most historically iconic cultural clashes as the Danes are pushing their foothold on the island after the second Great Viking invasion by the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok, where Alfred, the Great seeks to push them out permanently. This backdrop is perfect for ANY genre of media that is looking for some constant tension, which means it’s a fantastic place for a game that’s focused on more RPG style combat and mechanics; more on that in a bit. What this clash of cultures and tension also favors is creating a LOT of easily sustainable content for the game.

 Sailing the thin fingers of the fjords in Norway against the sheer cliffs of stone and ice gives you a cold awe-inspiring scale of how small you are, while providing plenty of chances to scale them for those who are seeking to 100% the game by collecting all the things. England is much more green and full of life, with marshes hiding their own little secrets and hideouts that give way to the mountainous north, or the rolling hills of the south, where Roman ruins show the strength and reach of an old empire that these people - even hundreds of years later - cannot fully fill the shoes of.

 Having seen the scale of Assassins Creed: Odyssey, I’m not terribly sure that Assassin's Creed Valhalla has quite the map size of its predecessor. However, the range of landscapes, culture sand period of conflict make it a far more interesting map to explore than anything I’ve watched in the previous Assassins Creed games, and that goes a long ways for this one. The last big plus for this backdrop is the music. Music in general is a pretty huge factor in games that many may not realize. Yet especially in a game taking place during this time period, there is some amazing music that Ubisoft really dug into, and it does just a superb job of selling the parts of the world that you’re in. I’m a  big fan of this type of music anyways, so it never bugged me to just zoom around in my viking ship listening to the different songs like a 9th century Grand Theft Auto game. 

assassin's creed review

The backdrop lends itself greatly into the storyline of Assassin's Creed Valhalla which - like pretty much any of the Assassins Creed games - means the storyline isn’t as simple as things might first appear. Valhalla’s storyline throws you deep into the concepts of kinship, revenge, love, betrayal, friendship, loneliness, and an overall looming doom that you are personally responsible for figuring out and handling appropriately, and that’s just within the first few hours of the game. These will only get more convoluted as you play, where you’ll need to figure out who to trust, whose trust to gain, when certain types of actions will lend to helping you progress the story, or actions that might cause some set backs. 

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I’ll leave it at this: your actions hold some pretty definite weight to the characters around you, a few hasty assumptions or quick reward actions could burn you further down the line, and it’s this idea of weighted options that drives you to push some issues and quests further than you would in other games in this genre. It is however a really great experience being able to have your story intertwined with so many historical greats, and Ubisoft has really put some effort into crafting unique characters, both known and unknown. The Sons of Ragnar, Lothbrok are by far my favorites as they have such completely different personalities that show some very...interesting perspectives on the push of the Danes into Saxon territory. I will admit that I have not pushed super far into the main storyline. In fact, in my 20+ hours playing I had just finally got into the the storyline with the Sons of Ragnar

Yes, there is that much to do in between main quests, like raiding and sacking Christian Monestaries or raiding and pillaging enemy forts...or raiding for the sake of just raiding. I definitely could have spent more time pushing that main quest solely for the purpose of this review, but I believe that would have produced a skewed and incomplete view on the game for reviewing purposes. With this limited story arc completion in mind, I do feel that there are two areas where the story is extremely weak so far, and that’s first in the area of the Hidden Ones. We’ll get into more detail later in this review, but what I have seen so far and the “whoopsies” moments I’ve had in relation to the Hidden Ones and their objectives, it just feels very lacking and without an overall purpose. 

We’ll get there in just a bit but it is something to keep in mind for this first chunk of main storyline. Second is Layla’s story arc. Again, it appears that I am still very early into the overall storyline of the entire game. But there’s only been one instance in which I exit the animus to take her role, in which it was extremely brief and lacked any real reasoning behind pulling her out of the Animus other than perhaps to show that yes in fact, she is still in this storyline. I very much hope she becomes more involved as we go along. 

There’s a pretty huge aspect of the last few Assassin's Creed games that I wasn’t really on board with while watching playthroughs, and that’s the steady dive into the RPG side of the game. Having played several of the franchise before this RPG style design was implemented, I was pretty turned off by it and it really didn’t seem like it belonged in an Assassins Creed game. Well, I still very strongly believe this side of the game doesn’t belong, but damn if it isn’t a heck of a lot of fun. There is an incredible amount of things to do in this game, it plays to a depth of RPG, I wasn’t expecting, and it fits extremely well into Viking style gameplay.

 Character customization in this game is a fun little puzzle to play with and has a lot of features. Your armor and weapons fall under three primary categories: The Way of the Raven, the Way of the Wolf and the Way of the Bear. Each of the three ways comes with their own benefits across all armor and weapons, be it buffs to attack, speed, health regen even buffing armor as you lose health, among others like unique combo attacks as you dual wield axes or yes, even dual wielding shields...as weird of an experience that might be.

 You can easily mix and match to suit your playstyle or just to give off a certain look. As you upgrade your weapons and armor, certain pieces open slots for runes, which further buff certain stats of your character. The materials to upgrade are pretty simple and easy to acquire throughout your time playing, and I had very little issues boosting all of my armor and weapons early into the game. At first it bugged me, but then I just had fun with it and realized this isn’t some hardcore RPG type of game. That being said, for those that love to minmax every game and in-game situation, the skills tree is an expansive interconnected web of upgrades that is on par with Path of Exile. You progress through patches of upgrades that follow each of the ways I’ve just talked about, with crossovers being inevitable. Along the way those skills will unlock armor buffs of each Way type along with special combat moves like stomping an enemy’s skull into the ground, advanced assassination moves, or even guiding your arrows like a daggum guided missile. 

The best part about this skill tree? At any point in the game, at no cost to you at all, you can reset the entire skill tree. This ability allows you to completely switch combat styles mid game based on pieces of legendary armor or weapons that you’ve acquired, or simply to re-roll if you get bored of a certain way of playing. Of course we go deeper into customization with the addition of tattoos. You can unlock tattoos via a fun little game of chase the paper thru the village, or later in the game thru trading. All you got to do then is find a tattoo parlor and go to town on your own body. If you’re concerned that you won’t be able to show off said tattoos in the game, no worries there at all. Nearly every piece of your armor and weapon scan be visibly toggled off or on while still keeping the armor stats. 

 The culmination of all of these factors really lends fun and ever evolving encounters in Valhalla’s combat and general RPG style world exploration. As you progress in the story, you’ll meet new types of warriors with their unique approaches to take them down. The weaknesses system with the bow, allowing you to hit weak spots and open up death blows sets you up for some serious damage dealing, and I can’t help but see a possible easter egg to the Elder Scrolls as most guards have their weak points at the knees, giving you ample to put an arrow thru them to take them down. While it took me a decent while to nail down the keyboard in regards to combat, fighting amongst the chaos of Viking raids or fort attacks, picking off soldiers sniping with my bow, even the epic and disgusting final blows, all create an extremely Hollywood -style Viking battle system that brought about an almost excitement to some tense situations in the thick of battle that wasn’t just parrying and counter striking all the time. Assassin's Creed Valhalla’s gameplay very much appeals to the offensive tank style of combat, and I love it so far. 

Assassins Creed Valhalla’s great implementation of deep RPG style mechanics do leave a pretty big question for the game that has bugged me since the very beginning of my playthrough: Is this really an Assassins Creed game? First, I will say there ARE things going for it in this area. The implementation of the settlement is a perfect step up from Assassins Creed 2 that I absolutely love in this game. The ability to level up your settlement, adding traders, an armory, stables and various village life is sorely missed and honestly helps the RPG side of the game as well as you can upgrade and customize your own raiding crew that can be leased out to other players. The implementation of the classic assassins blade is back, if used a bit differently with Eivor. The blade is a quintessential aspect of the entire franchise, and with this start date being so close to the very first game, it’s made a fitting comeback.

 But I can’t help but see that the Hidden Ones are more of a secondary aspect to this game, and while I see them becoming more prominent as the story goes forward, being an assassin is not the primary objective of Eivor’s storyline. In fact, his initiation into the order is a five minute introduction before they just hand over their most precious piece of tech to a complete stranger and let you go assassinating in the Hidden One’s name. Eivor doesn’t feel like an assassin. Sure he can go around all sneaky sneaky in the bushes, or jump from a three story roof and harmlessly land on top of a dude and stick a blade into his neck, yet I’ve never felt like Eivor was part of the order. 

He’s a dude who got gifted a blade, who will be used by the order to accomplish killing people so they don’t have to. And perhaps that’s another part that really bugged me. The Order of the Ancients are the baddies right, and in past games, targets required precision, investigation and a good bit of stalking to understand their moment of weakness to strike. 

In my time playing, quite literally the only way I’ve known that I took down a target is a hotkey hovering over some random body, I thought I had killed that says “confirm kill.” Had I not randomly approached that body, I would have never known that was a baddy that needed sent to the afterlife. In Assassin's Creed Valhalla - at least in my time playing- there isn’t a real specific quest pointing you to find out everything about a target.

There’s very little setup to set up a kill. There’s no really cool cut scene animation when you pull it off. Valhalla truly feels like an RPG first, an Assassins Creed game second. So what are my final thoughts on Assassins Creed: Valhalla? Valhalla has given me 20+ hours of an immense amount of fun. The storyline so far is great and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it progresses, and how the Hidden Ones become more involved...if they do. I’m a huge history nerd so the time period of the game is fanatic. The RPG side of everything - while I initially was hesitant - could not work any better in this Viking setting. If you’re wanting to 100% this game, I feel like there’s easily well over 100 hours worth of content in the main game alone, with plans already for DLC. If you’re looking for a game where you can play as a Viking and do Vikingly things all day long, this is hands down a game for you and I highly recommend it for that reason alone. 

But, if you’re looking for an Assassins Creed game, where it’s all about taking your time to find the perfect open slot for the kill, to blend into every scene like you’re a shadow, or to have an extremely tight bond to those in your own order...this one just isn’t it. Eivor’s role in the Hidden ones will no doubt be immense, he or she is the protagonist after all. But I cannot shake the feeling that this is more of a brand association for Ubisoft to sell another game in the franchise than it is truly an Assassins Creed game. Which really just kind a sucks. 

That’s all for my review on Assassin's Creed Valhalla. I have no doubts I’ve missed some parts of this game in my review that you would have liked to hear about, but I hope that this article does a solid enough overview to give you a good enough idea on the game as a whole.

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