This review in progress will be updated in the coming days alongside a video. Joseph Pugh is currently reviewing the game on a standard Xbox One on the hardest difficult settings. The screenshots in this article were provided by Ubisoft, the full review will feature custom screenshots as usual.
EDIT: The Full Review can now be found here!
Change is scary. As someone who really enjoyed Odyssey, I was a little nervous going into Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I knew Ubisoft had made some significant changes to the formula ahead of time, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t agree with them.
Once I took my first timid steps into my Viking adventure, Valhalla reminded me that while change is scary. Sometimes it’s necessary and for the best. By the time I was ready to write this review in progress, I began to doubt I’d enjoy Odyssey ever again after playing Valhalla, because it’s so much better.
At its core, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is still an open-world sandbox, that much thankfully, hasn’t changed. But much of its inner workings have been re-forged, while the pieces that remained the same, have been refined.
Where I used to find Odysseys combat clunky and rough, Valhalla’s is fluid and smooth. Where Odyssey’s world could feel like a checklist, Valhalla’s exploration is top notch, and feels rewarding while still granting you so much to do. Wherever I felt Odyssey had failed, I feel Valhalla has succeeded.
The combat feels weighty, yet responsive. I don’t fumble around, and the characters move and react in a way that feels like they should. It still plays much like Odyssey and Origins, but smoother. You can still dodge, parry, and perform all sorts of attacks and executions, but the animations are cleaner and look great. It’s also incredibly brutal, even by Assassin’s Creed standards, but fitting for its Viking theme.
Shields are a thing, and you can dual wield pretty much any weapon, including shields! With a specific skill, you can even fight with a big two-handed weapon in each hand, and it’s totally badass! Bows have also been improved as different enemies have weak spots that you can target for massive stun damage. Stunned enemies can be subjected to a high damaging stun attack, so it’s quite useful.
By that same token. The enemy variety is excellent and can fall into all sorts of archetypes, from sneaky rogues, spearmen, brutes, and a lot more. That’s not even including the various wildlife you need to contend with. Enemy variety has always been one of the series weakest points and I am happy to say that’s no longer the case.
The next large change is the entire leveling system has been reworked. Enemy Levels are less strict than previous titles. For example, a region with a power level of 20 had enemies painted as an even match for me when I was power level 10 through 50. On the flip side, I wasn’t considered under-leveled even if a region was 20 or so power levels above me.
On top of that. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla gives you the agency to choose your difficulty in a way that puts most games to shame. Combat, stealth, and exploration are all governed under different difficulty settings, and you can choose an extra option to be able to assassinate anyone, regardless of level. I’m playing on the hardest settings because that’s what I enjoy, but it’s up to you to mix and match it however you would like.
The level system itself is also fluid. You place skill points in a vast spider web of nodes within a star constellation map. Much of these nodes are simple stat increases, but they can also lead to skills, such as the ability to assassinate multiple enemies at once. The vast number of pathways allows you to tailor Eivor, the game’s protagonist, to your liking. You can refund those points at anytime and redistribute them. So you aren’t locked into anything.
Yet that’s not even the biggest change to the progression system. Loot isn’t leveled. You no longer need to cycle through ten different swords every hour due to variations in rarity. Every piece of gear is yours forever and you can upgrade them at your own leisure.
It makes finding treasure much more meaningful. I was so excited when I first found a spear because I could upgrade that spear to last me all game if I wished, wherein previous Creed’s I’d just toss it for a slightly better mace five minutes later.
There are multiple types of individual weapons, like axes. They can have differing stats or passive abilities, but it’s much more involved than randomized loot and I care about those differences. You aren’t dog piled with weapons upon weapons. Each one you find is significant.
You also no longer acquire abilities by leveling up, you find them out in the world and it’s incredibly exciting. The moment I figured it out, I was on board with the idea and the abilities themselves are really fun. They can be anything from marking multiple targets for an arrow volley, tackling someone to the ground and punching the snot out of them, or my personal favorite, a harpoon you can use to fling foes into objects and each other.
Finding abilities in the world is at the heart of what makes Valhalla feel so much better than previous titles. Exploration is not only fun, it matters. Almost everything you find or do rewards you in some way. Be it meaningful gear, abilities, tattoos, or decorations for your settlement.
The world is full of mysteries, and even if they are technically markers on your map, you’re never really sure what you will find. It could anything from an animus glitch with a platforming challenge, a mini-game where you need to stack cairn stones, a drug induced spiritual encounter, legendary beast, or one of the many interesting and weird mini-quests.
Mini quests are always short, but memorable and full of interesting characters. I’ve led children on a mock raid, assisted a guy with an axe stuck in his head, drank an Elixer of wealth from a traveling alchemist and so much more. They never overstay their welcome and for that reason, they don’t become tedious.
The world itself feels grounded and alive. Most puzzles or hidden entrances have felt logical to me, and not every secret is marked on your map. I haven’t enjoyed exploring this much in a very long time.
You’re never short on things to do in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and the fact that you’re rewarded with something meaningful for doing them makes the game so much more fun than I could have imagined. More importantly, the activities themselves are entertaining.
I’m always ready to raid with my crew for supplies to build up my settlement. Building up your settlement provides even more possibilities, including an entire subsystem of assassination missions that make Valhalla feel more like an Assassin’s game than any other in recent memory.
I’m dangerously close to becoming Gwent levels of addicted to a dice game called Orlog and I’m always eager to have a rap battle called Flyting the moment I find someone willing. (Which actually enhances your charisma for more dialogue options).
It’s hard to say how the story will shake out yet, but nearly every character in the game has been compelling so far and I enjoy having them on the screen rather than being tempted to hit the skip button. I’m much less intrigued by the thankfully short real-life sequences. I haven’t cared about those since Assassin’s Creed 3 and Valhalla hasn’t changed that. But the meat of the story has been enjoyable so far.
There’s a ton of stuff left for me to do, so while I’m not comfortable settling on a score just yet. I can say with incredible confidence that Valhalla is the most refined and well-designed Assassin’s Creed game to date. As I move toward converting this piece from a review in progress to a full review. I expect I’ll double down on that stance.
A copy of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was provided for Gideon’s Gaming for the purpose of review.