Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5. Joseph Pugh conducted this review on a standard Xbox One and an Xbox Series X. This game was reviewed on the hardest difficulty.
As popular and beloved as Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey were, they received a fair amount of criticism. Whether or not such criticisms were justified or not is in the eye of the beholder, but there is no denying that Ubisoft took them to heart.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla addressed nearly all of them. They improved and refined everything that they didn’t outright change. Let me get this out of the way early. If you don’t enjoy open-world games you won’t magically enjoy Valhalla.
If you only want to play story mission after story mission until the credits roll, there’s nothing for you here because that’s missing the point of the genre in the first place.
However, if you do enjoy open-world games but had qualms with previous titles, I think you will find that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an entirely different beast altogether, without sacrificing its soul in the process.
Combat and Stealth
While the combat in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has not truly changed, it has been refined and upgraded. It’s no longer clunky or cumbersome. It’s fluid and smooth and, for me, that made a huge difference.
The animations are fantastic, and the combat is exceptionally brutal, even for an Assassin’s Creed game. Both heads and limbs come off, and even the crunching of skulls under a hammer can be flinch-worthy.
The combat feels weighty, especially compared to Odyssey, and the abilities you acquire have a real feeling of impact. From tackling someone to the ground to punch them in the face to slamming two soldiers into each other with a harpoon. It all feels solid and visceral.
Every weapon feels different in Eivor’s hands. You can choose to wield a shield in your offhand, go with a big honking two-handed weapon or dual-wield any two weapons together, even the heaviest ones with the right skill.
Putting a dagger in each hand feels different from using a shield to block or poking away with a long spear. Bows too are varied and you can forge an entirely ranged playstyle if you wish by targeting weak points that stun an enemy, allowing you to execute them from afar.
The hidden blade makes a return which goes a long way toward making the game feel more like Assassin’s Creed again and softening up an area before you go into direct combat is a very good strategy.
Difficulty settings in Valhalla go above and beyond what you would normally find. They are split up between combat, stealth, and exploration and you can enable a setting that allows you to stealth kill any enemy in the game regardless of power level. Even if you don’t, there is a skill that you can unlock that allows you to take down tough enemies with a quick time event.
The enemy variety is fantastic. You have a bunch of run of the mill goons that use a variety of weapons. I’ve even noted some of them grabbing different weapons off of their fallen brethren. But there is also a large variety of named archetypes and each one requires a different approach depending on the type of weapon you’re wielding.
Pikemen have some reach and will often parry your attacks. Berserkers throw themselves at you in a flurry, some will even use a torch like a flame thrower. The enemy variety, split between the different factions in Valhalla, combines with the fluid weighty combat for some of the best core gameplay ever in an Assassin’s Creed game.
One of the biggest changes in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla compared to its predecessor is the overhauled RPG mechanics. Levels still exist, but they are much broader and less restrictive. An area is considered an even match for you, even if you’re 20 or so levels above or below it.
Your level is dictated by your skill points, you use can place these points on a sprawling constellation grid and remove them or reset them at any time. Your power level is directly linked to how many points you have slotted into it.
The skill map itself is massive with tons of branching paths, most of the nodes make up simple stat boosts but often lead to important skills, such as dual-wielding heavy weapons or double assassinations.
Abilities are independent of skills and can’t be acquired from leveling up at all. You must find them within the world itself and you gain a few from doing quests. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has a massive focus on exploration and abilities are arguably one of the defining gameplay factors. Linking them to exploration is a brilliant change that I absolutely love.
The abilities themselves are a ton of fun. They can be as aggressive as charging into a soldier and slamming them into a wall, or as sneaky as playing dead. Each one is meaningful.
Weapons and armor are also no longer random and must be obtained through exploration just like abilities. They do have stats and passive bonuses, but each one is its own special piece of gear that you can upgrade. There are no throw away weapons in Valhalla. It’s entirely up to you what pieces to upgrade.
Finding a new weapon is a giddy experience because you know it’s not something you’re just going to throw away in a couple of levels. Yet they still retain the same RPG quirks that make two hand axes different. It’s a hybrid kind of system, and for Valhalla, it works exceptionally well.
World and Story
Aside from the real-life sequences that I haven’t cared about since Assassin’s Creed 3, the story is a solid one. But simply saying that isn’t really doing Valhalla justice. The story is much more than just the main plot. It’s also the people within your settlement and out in the world.
Side quests are almost exclusively to do with the people in your settlement and there are often more than one per person. Each one grants you additional insight into these people, and to Eivor. Eivor is the most likable Assassin’s Creed protagonist since Ezio with a deep personality. Even if the player does make some decisions for them. Each of the choices tends to be reasonable from Eivor’s perspective.
Beyond that, the world is full of little stories. None of which take very long, but they often leave a lasting impact on you. I’ve aided children on a mock raid, only to learn that they were idolizing the barbaric leader of a rival clan. Eivor reflects on his fear that he may one day face those children in battle.
I’ve found a little girl begging the last leaf of a tree not to fall because her father had promised he would return before it did. I discovered a man with an axe stuck in his head and had to choose how to help him. At one point I’m almost entirely sure I met a parody of one punch man. A character able to fell anyone with a single wallop and I learned the hard way that it was true.
These stories can range from silly to serious but are always a joy to find and they are just one of many activities you can take part in aside from missions and looting. You can go on raids with your longship crew, engage in poetic rap battles, drinking contests, go fishing, or become hopelessly addicted to a dice game called Orlog. Seriously, it’s the new Gwent and it’s so much fun.
Out in the old world of England and Norway, I’ve had spiritual experiences after eating a mushroom, solved animus glitches, and stacked cairn stones. I have searched for roman artifacts, solved puzzles, and hunted massive beasts.
Nearly every activity in the game rewards you in some way, sometimes with tangible weapons or abilities. Other times it might be a cosmetic such as a tattoo or something for your settlement.
I said it at the beginning and I’ll say it again. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla isn’t a game you rush through and drop within a couple of days. It’s a long-haul game for you to get lost in. A sandbox for your own Viking epic. It’s huge but the content doesn’t feel bloated. It feels meaningful from both a gameplay perspective and an immersive one.
Building up your settlement opens up all sorts of opportunities, from fishing to an entire subsystem dedicated to hunting down and assassinating people. And even one spectacular quest line that I won’t spoil, but let me tell you, it’s out of this world.
You can obtain feast buffs from building different food-related buildings. Customize your own Jomsviking AND take other players Jomsvikings with you on your longship. Building up your settlement, watching it grow, and getting to know the people in it is satisfying, but there is a flaw.
Some buildings are much more important than others and you need materials to build them. The only real way to obtain materials is by raiding monasteries and there is a limited number of these in each region. It’s very easy to gate yourself off from certain buildings if you run out of materials and aren’t a high enough power level to take on more difficult raids.
The Jomsviking is a neat idea, but very underutilized, in fact, the Longship as a whole can be underwhelming. You can customize a Viking that’s meant to be your second in command, but they only ever come with you on raids near water so they are rarely used and it’s hard to care about them.
The music in Valhalla is fantastic and this extends to the songs your crew sings, but I rarely get to hear them because I so seldom needed to use my longship. Most of the areas are connected by rivers, but I found it faster to run or ride a horse most of the time. I only ever used the longship to raid monasteries.
Despite playing on the hardest difficulty, I often vastly over-leveled the region I was in, simply by playing. Two of the earliest regions are power level 20 and I was 60 by the time I was done with one of them which greatly reduces the challenge. Not something that should happen on the hardest setting.
You can actually reduce your power level by removing skill points. You can remove and respec your skills at any time, and it’s the solution I went with. But that can be time-consuming and bothersome. Odyssey had an option to make enemies always at least match your level, and I sorely missed that in Valhalla.
I rarely give a shout-out to a game’s music, but the score in Valhalla is spot on. The music is catchy, feels period-appropriate, and enhances the atmosphere. The standard Xbox One started to show its age with Valhalla. Some of the cut scenes were choppy, and there were some framerate drops but nothing awful.
The jump from a standard Xbox One to a Series X however was a night and day difference. On the Series X Valhalla looks incredible and runs smooth as butter. It’s not really a surprise, as I write this, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S are now current-gen, but it’s worth mentioning just how much of an upgrade it is, from the standard Xbox One at least.
Both versions had a few frustrating bugs. I’ve got a couple of small quests I can’t complete. Which is a total bummer since one of them was a Drengr, a super tough Viking warrior and I’d really like to have the reward for beating him. I would guess these issues will be patched shortly though.
If you don’t normally enjoy open-world titles, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey isn’t going to change your mind, and frankly, it doesn’t need to. It’s a genre and it’s not going to be for everyone. But what Ubisoft did was take their own open-world formula, refined it, and expanded upon it.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has it all. Smooth and fluid combat, great progression, and meaningful exploration in a massive Viking themed sandbox ready to be pillaged.
Where Odyssey was rough, Valhalla is crystalline. It may have a couple of cracks as even the most beautiful diamond can be flawed, but this is the magnum opus of the series. The absolute best Assassin’s Creed to date and a great way to kick off the next generation.
A copy of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was provided for Gideon’s Gaming for the purpose of review.
- Fluid, smooth weighty combat.
- Varied playstyles between weapons, skills, and abilities
- Fun minigames, Orlog will consume you
- Great musical score
- Awesome progression system with meaningful loot and a skill tree you can reset at anytime
- Varied Difficulty settings split between combat, stealth, and exploration.
- Interesting story with compelling characters
- The open-world content is detailed, fun, and rewarding. It doesn’t feel like open-world bloat
- Great enemy variety keeps combat spicy
- Longship and, Viking crew are underused
- You can outpace the power level of regions just by playing which requires you to remove some skill points to maintain a challenge, even on the hardest difficulty
- Some bugs prevented a few side quests from being completed
- You can accidentally gate yourself from important settlement buildings for hours at a time