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Assassin’s Creed has become one of the most beloved franchises in gaming history! The series started life as a spin-off concept for the Prince of Persia series but grew into its own IP that launched to much acclaim way back in 2007 and has since produced eleven direct sequels as well as a large number of spin off’s and tie-in’s not to mention a series of books, graphic novels, animations and even a movie (but let’s not talk about that) and currently has a Netflix series in production.
Over the years the series has grown and changed in the bid to adapt to a range of player bases and trends and although not all the changes have been successful, each Assassin’s Creed entry has been memorable in its own right. Whether stalking through the grim streets of Victorian London or scaling the rooftops of Renaissance Italy to sailing the High Sea’s of the Caribbean, Assassin’s Creed has shown us some of the greatest moments in human history. The latest entry proves to be no exception as it takes us to the brutal world of Viking Britain with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but after thirteen years of slicing its way through historical events is the series still sharp as ever or has the edge begun to dull on this saga?
Well to help you decide, the Viking faced raiders of TBG are here with our early impressions of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. After spending a good twenty or so hours with Ubisoft’s latest behemoth, this is not a full review but just some impressions and thoughts from long term series fans to help those of you who are still on the fence about diving in. We will ensure not to put any major story spoilers into the details, let’s get started.
Assassin’s Creed has always been a series that intertwines a rich story surrounding the ongoing battle between the Assassin’s Creed and The Templars with real-world events. Though the playable characters and story are fictional, they take place within real history and feature a range of famous faces and Valhalla is no exception. Set in 873AD you play as a Viking named Eivor, after a series of events in your homeland of Norway force you to leave your home and head west with your brother Sigurd, you arrive in England with the idea to settle and build your own kingdom and legacy.
This is a fantastic time period in England’s history to explore, at the time the country was split into four kingdoms, Mercia, Northumbria, Wessex and East Anglia. Upon arriving, Eivor seeks to link up with the sons of Ragnar, a Viking family from the pages of history that have been settled in England for several years, but when he arrives he finds their settlement abandoned. Now Eivor must build a new home for his people while forging alliances with the warring kingdoms of England.
Eivor is not alone on his travels as his brother, Sigurd, has become friendly with two mysterious figures who are part of a secret order known at this time as the Hidden Ones. They have travelled to England with the Viking brothers to free the land from the grip of the Order of the Ancients, a mission that Eivor himself soon becomes a key part of which see’s a welcome return to the infamous hidden wrist blade and blending in with crowds to stalk enemies.
One thing that can be said about the series is the effort each game has put into its respective time period and setting. Although sometimes the series does stray from the source material the idea of exploring historical time periods and interacting with famous faces is hugely appealing. The caveat here is that not all time periods will appeal to every player but we at TBG absolutely love this era of English history and have found the setting and plot to be really engaging so far. As with the previous two entries in the series, Valhalla also serves as a prequel to the original game and for our money, it is the most “Assassin’s Creed” feeling entry of the three.
Don’t get us wrong, Origins and Odyssey are both great titles that moved the series into a more open-world action RPG formula but neither of them ever really felt like we were still in the Assassin’s Creed world. Valhalla is still a far cry from the earlier entries but for us, it feels closer to that world than the series has for a long time with a story that feels knitted closer to the underlying threat of the Assassin and Templar war that rages in the shadows.
The key to a successful story-driven game is the likeability of the characters, especially when you will be spending upwards of one hundred hours with them. The Witcher 3, for example, nailed the character of Geralt and invested players in his journey. Valhalla has thankfully struck gold with Eivor, once again you can choose whether you play as a male or female version of the character, we opted for male in this playthrough, but he is one of the most likeable characters we have experienced in the series, it is too early to say whether he will be up there with the likes of Ezio or Edward yet but so far so good.
His whole demeanour and character is someone you would warm to if you were a Viking and he is certainly someone you would stand in a shield wall with or chug down a gallon of ale while sharing stories of glory around a fire before heading to an Amon Amarth concert. His core story revolves around revenge, honour and loyalty, a classic tale we can all get behind but with the series being more RPG focused now, we get to develop Eivor by making choices and developing friendships that will have consequences all of which makes the journey that much more engaging.
He is surrounded by a cast of friends and enemies both fictional and historical. From his brother Sigurd who he shares a close bond with to members of his encampment and raiding party, some of which have great personalities and require a good level of interaction to really bond with them. Along the way, Eivor will encounter Alfred the Great (we should thank him for the English language) and the sons of Ragnar.
We have enjoyed Eivor and his companions so far and look forward to spending more time with them. The only thing we wish Ubisoft would stop doing is being too eager to get things moving. In the early stage of the game, we see Eivor as a young child as he witnesses an event that sets him on his course, we then flash forward to him as a grown man, capable and already enjoying a reputation as a fierce warrior and raider. We would have liked to have spent more time with him as a younger lad as he learned his skills and forged his reputation.
One of the reasons Ezio is revered as one of, if not the best protagonist in the series is we got to spend so much time with him, from a hotheaded teenager to sage old man we journeyed with him as he grew into a master assassin, learning and mastering skills and finding his purpose throughout a trilogy of titles. Now we are not saying Ubisoft need to do a trilogy for each title, but given how large each game is now it wouldn’t hurt to put more time into growing the character and letting the players shape them. Let us see this character grow, make choices that affect how we are going to be perceived in the wider scope of the title. Considering how rich Norse history and mythology is and Ubisoft’s efforts to explore these elements this could have been a great section to flesh out the world for gamers who may be fresh to the history and also serve as a great addition to fans of the era.
As with Origins and Odyssey, Valhalla takes place in a sprawling open world that represents, in this case, both Norway, England and beyond! An ambitious feat for any game! This open-world RPG formula feels much more realised in Valhalla than it did in Odyssey, as fun as Odyssey was it was a massive bloat fish of a game, the map was massive and littered head to toe with quests, side quests, side quests with side quests and in case you got bored there were more quests!
This isn’t a terrible thing of course, you certainly got your money’s worth, but it was a massive overload on the gaming senses, coupled with a gameplay loop that was fun but became all too repetitive. It was also loot central, we are not sure who Ubisoft were trying to compete with more, Diablo or Borderlands, but it blew both out of the water. Most of the time spent in Odyssey seemed to be diving in and out of menus to equip new weapons and gear that were looted at a speedy rate, every time we cleared an encampment we were trying on more new outfits than an Instagram addict on Friday night! Constantly equipping whatever had the highest stats to stay on par with the enemies in that area just made everything seem disposable.
Valhalla attempts to address both of these issues, firstly by keeping core missions focused on a specific story which revolves around a dedicated goal while adding to the lore and the wider picture. These stories tend to involve forming new alliances by pledging yourself to a territory and assisting allies in taking or defending the area while bolstering your own settlement. You can travel the rivers of England and launch raids on settlements to gain new resources with which to enhance your settlement with Barracks and Stables among other structures.
Launching raids is great fun, storming the monasteries of the pious with your hairy friends and leaving a burning ruin in your wake is a great alternative to terrorizing the high seas, something that has been missed since Black Flag, the odd thing here is the penalisation for killing civilians. Now we know Vikings were keen to take prisoners as slaves but they were also not shy about cleaving framer Giles in two just because he looked at them funny. We don’t condone slaughter but considering the game is based around Vikings it feels strange to tone down these elements. Luckily there are plenty of Anglo-Saxon warriors to fight, all of which never hesitate to charge into battle against you though their constant threat of “I will split you” makes us worry about what the showers are like in a medieval prison!
Loot is also more meaningful in Valhalla. Though a range of armour and weapon types are available each with their own stats, from single hand Axes, Swords and Hammers to a range of larger double-handed weapons like Great Swords and Spears to a selection of Bows. These weapons do not come thick and fast, in fact, it takes quite a bit of time to get your hands on certain weapon types and once you have them you can then spend resources to upgrade them. As they upgrade they take on better appearances and increase stats, this makes each weapon feel more meaningful and useful especially given the range of enemies you encounter. Duel wielding a pair of Axes or going classic with a Sword and Shield will be great for most fodder enemies but coming up against shielded foes or larger boss enemies clad in full plate will require a different tactic. Using a heavy Flail to smash through wooden shields or a two-handed Axe to break the defence of armoured enemies will all be a trial and error affair to find what works for your playstyle but ultimately makes the investment in certain weapons pay off.
Combat as a whole is less button mashing and bit more precise which takes a bit of practice to get used to but also makes each encounter more engaging as you navigate the battlefield whether in small skirmishes or larger scale battles. Special abilities return but are not unlocked by grinding XP, instead, you must seek out books of knowledge that are hidden throughout the land, these books will grant you access to some powerful abilities such as more precise Bow techniques to brutal melee combat that sees you throwing a series of Axe’s at your enemies or harpooning them with a Spear and yanking them into other foes, into burning buildings or just off a high ledge. Add to that mix a range of brutal finishers than can be delivered to stunned enemies from crushing their skull under your boot to hacking them into fish bait, this formula makes combat not only more challenging but much more satisfying and suitably brutal.
When we aren’t sacrificing monks and shedding the blood of Saxon men, we are exploring the world in search of loot to upgrade gear and books of knowledge to increase our combat abilities. While exploring we often come across World Events, these are the replacements for side quests, and although they are pretty much the same thing, having them as random discoverable’s instead of a series of question marks plastering the map makes them feel more important and drives a lot of fun in exploring Jolly Old. Some of these World Events are short and sweet and often quite humorous while others have a bit more substance. Coupled with a large range of side activities to complete within your encampment and great locations to visit, there is once again plenty to do in Valhalla yet so far it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
Graphics & Performance
It is safe to say we gamers have been spoilt rotten this generation with some of the most beautifully realised open worlds. The likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn, Death Stranding and Red Dead Redemption 2, to name a few, have set massive standards. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla certainly doesn’t shy away in this department, playing on the PlayStation 4 Pro (The Flamey hasn’t bought us a PS5 yet, but he has promised each of us one in our stockings this Christmas) the world and landscapes of both Norway and England look stunning. The way the terrain detail shines as far as the eye can see with wildlife, lighting and water effects bringing everything to life really is something to behold. Character models look decent enough and remain on par with the past two entries in the series with particular detail going into the extravagant facial hair. Obviously, this is the first entry in the series to be available on the brand new Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 so players on those consoles or high-end PC rigs will likely see a showcase of finer details and lighting to enhance the experience even more, but for those playing on current-gen systems, you won’t be getting a raw deal by playing on these consoles.
As with most open-world games, there is always that issue of bugs and glitches, sadly the gods have seen fit to continue this curse in Valhalla though thankfully the ones we have encountered are minor and by no means game-breaking. Ubisoft hasn’t gone full Bethesda and butchered its coding to the point where NPC’s faces appear out of their arse and float through a building while offering a quest that will crash your system, but here are some issues we need to point out. The voice acting is solid, in fact, it is some of the best the series has ever seen even if every character doesn’t quite know what county they are from, we met a Viking in Norway who sounded like a real Brummie, for a moment we thought we were playing Peaky Vikings!
At times the dialogue can overlap itself or stutter, one example comes from early in the game as Eivor was talking to an NPC who was explaining a mini-game and before the sentence could finish Eivor was waffling away over the top of the NPC answering a question that he hadn’t even heard yet. Other times a character just seems to forget what they are going to say and pauses mid-sentence like a wrestler who forgets their lines on live TV and just pulls a blank face before catching up with themselves (we’re looking at you Psycho Sid)
Gameplay bugs are pretty much what we have come to expect and to be honest, are getting a bit fed up with, with all the time, money and resources that go into these games they must be able to release one that runs smoothly by now. Tree’s growing through stone castles, goats floating ten feet above the ground, longships clipping a rock and launching into the air and NPC’s running on the spot like some kind of medieval mime are all present and accounted for. Loading can be an issue at times also, the initial load from the main menu to the game can take upwards of four minutes and while charging around the landscapes on horseback the game pauses to load for a few seconds at times. This is all stuff you could probably predict before playing and we are curious to see how well the newer consoles handle running these huge worlds as we don’t always have a huge amount of time to play and watching load screens isn’t what we spend £50 to do.
Since Ubisoft began its soft reboot of the Assassin’s Creed series with Origins, the series has felt more like a brand than and series. The open-world gameplay and shift to a more action RPG formula never quite seemed to gel with what the franchise is known and loved for. Valhalla still falls into this category but also managed to feel like a closer relation to the franchise and for our money is the best of the three newer entries so far. Yes it still has a gameplay loop that inevitably will show signs of repetition and there is bound to be bloat content but we can’t help but enjoy what Ubisoft has delivered this time around. From setting to characters and a more focused story this feels like what the reboot was supposed to be like from the start.
As mentioned, we particularly like the more meaningful item management and a more focused quest set up, there is still plenty of Origin and Odyssey DNA running through Valhallas veins but if you have been on the fence or away from the franchise for a while then we highly recommend taking a stab at this one. Whether you grab for current-gen or next-gen, there are hours of content full of fun characters, history and brutal combat to enjoy. Raise your horns up to the sky! Skal!
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