With the latest installment to the venerable Assassin’s Creed franchise, Ubisoft turns to the icy fjords and rough climate of the Norselands in order to give players a taste of the Viking civilization. Valhalla leads the players through a narrative punctuated with tales of fealty, brotherhood, honor, courage, cowardice, trust, and betrayal. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla builds upon the successful but very controversial formula of Odyssey and Origins but tries to polish the experience further, aiming to give players the best that Ubisoft has ever produced in the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
In Valhalla, the player controls Eivor, a vicious Viking warrior of the Raven Clan, through his/her adventures in Norway and the newly settled England. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla puts the player in control of a highly customizable protagonist and provides a main story which can be greatly affected by the player’s choices throughout the campaign. The game builds upon the same RPG-esque feel of Odyssey but amplifies the instances and effects of the choices that Eivor will make. Valhalla tries to bring forward a complete RPG experience by providing an effective skill tree system, combat personalization, optional side quests, and a lively open world in which other characters seem to have their own complete lives instead of depending on the protagonist as seen in many weaker open-world implementations.
Let’s dive right into the review and dissect the game’s elements individually to see what Ubisoft did right and where they fell short.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a beautiful game, let’s get that right out of the way. The game uses basically the same engine as its predecessor, Odyssey, while also taking inspiration from Origins and some other notable open-world games. Valhalla pushes the limits of what can be possible in modern gaming, delivering absolutely stunning visuals, a gorgeous environment, an expertly-designed world, and detailed character modeling. Walking around the tough snowy environment of Norway, or the lush green fields of England, you’ll come across many assets that have been re-used from Odyssey. This is not a bad thing necessarily, as the saying goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The game does bring subtle improvements in lighting, shadows, and general global illumination to give it a different feel.
The open-world of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is among the very best and most polished open worlds in modern gaming. Graphically, the world is as impressive as they come, spanning across two distinct regions of England and Norway. Ubisoft has done a pretty impressive job of contrasting the two regions, while still maintaining some continuity between them so that it doesn’t break the player’s immersion when traveling between the two. The game world encompasses areas with huge mountain ranges, icy fjords, frozen tundras to the absolutely stunning warm sunlight-kissed fields of England. While the world design isn’t as dramatic as Origins, the game still does not feel bland or repetitive in any way while exploring. The verticality is impressive, giving the players ample room to hone their parkour skills while looking out for their next hunt. Splendid stuff from Ubisoft.
A big complaint with Odyssey and especially Origins was the lack of detailing on certain NPCs and even some story characters. This has been improved slightly but not to the point of our contention. Don’t get us wrong, the main characters of the story look incredible, but it’s the fringe players that lack that extra bit of detail. While talking to an NPC or even an accessory side character, you can still see that the face and hair of that character lack crispness and detail. Faces of these NPCs especially look terribly dull and bland, without emotion and with weak expressions. Lip-sync can also feel off while in these engagements, and that combined with the plain faces can be quite immersion-breaking.
In addition to the models of the characters, the animations of their faces during dialogue have been a point of debate in recent installments too. Characters can often betray the wrong expression, or even over-do or under-do the reaction to certain dialogue. These instances are few and far between, but still warrant a mention because this is an unforgiving market segment, and every little detail counts.
We’d like Ubisoft to improve significantly in this area since this is a Triple-A title with massive budgets, and recent competitive open-world offerings from other companies have really raised the bar for character modeling and facial animations, *cough* Red Dead Redemption 2 *cough*. However, this is not completely game-breaking, and shouldn’t deter you from buying this game, it is just an area where there is room to improve.
An area where Assassin’s Creed Valhalla absolutely shines though is the cinematography. The studio really outdid themselves with the cinematography of this game. Valhalla’s cinematics is truly a thing of art. Unlike Odyssey, Valhalla takes a rich and dramatic approach to the cinematics, often resembling a movie more so than a game. These shots are involved where necessary and give that extra bit of soul to the game. Especially the cinematics in which Eivor is interacting with Odin, as well as the death sequences of the Order’s faithful, were extremely entertaining and interesting. Kudos to the team that handled these sequences.
Graphics Settings and Performance Tools
In Valhalla, Ubisoft has actually scaled back the amount of graphics settings that are available to the user (on PC). There are still a lot of parent settings in the options menu just like Odyssey and Origins, but Ubisoft has adopted a 3-tier approach to the settings themselves. Instead of the 5-tiered settings of Odyssey, now there are just 3 options for most settings i.e. Low, Medium, and High. This can reduce the complexity of the settings but may also have a limiting impact on those gamers who strive to optimize each setting individually in order to squeeze every last frame out of their GPUs.
The handy built-in benchmark tool still persists, and so do the performance graphs in the options menu. The benchmark is still relatively short, but this time it is significantly less demanding than Odyssey’s built-in benchmark. We would still advise gamers to test the game using the actual gameplay rather than the built-in benchmark because that can prove misleading under certain circumstances. Still, we can’t complain about the freedom that Ubisoft has provided to the end-user here.
Assassin’s Creed games have always had some controversy surrounding their gameplay. During the old-style Assassin’s Creed era, fans always argued that the gameplay was too simple and repetitive, and demanded change. Ubisoft finally overhauled their entire gameplay scheme and went with an RPG-style open-world action-adventure system where choices were given to the player for the first time with Assassin’s Creed Origins. Then, Odyssey improved and polished that formula further, and now Valhalla builds upon that same base as its predecessors.
This may anger a lot of the older fans who absolutely cannot stand the new gameplay direction, and want Ubisoft to return to the old days, but this is what we are getting for Valhalla so there’s no going back anytime soon. This may be controversial, but the older-style Assassin’s Creeds would not be competitive with top AAA games from the likes of Rockstar and CD Projekt Red in today’s market, so it was a wise and necessary decision from Ubisoft to go overhaul their gameplay system.
The game still uses most of the RPG elements that were introduced in Odyssey, but it also differs in one key element. The leveling system that was rampant in Odyssey has now been abolished. Players no longer have to rank up through a particular leveling system rather they have to evolve using the skill tree. This has made it easier for most players looking to play through the story without having to grind their way up the leveling system in order to play the next quest.
One of the areas that have seen a major improvement is combat. Valhalla has introduced a lot of new features into the combat system, including the ability to dual-wield any combination of weapons. Striking systems have also changed somewhat, with Valhalla opting for combinations of dual weapon strikes or the attack-and-defend policy of a shield and axe. The fun Spartan Kick type perks are nowhere to be seen, though that was to be expected. You can still find and unlock special skills like that through “Books of Wisdom” that are scattered all over the game world. Overall, the combat in Valhalla is very similar to Odyssey, but it does require some getting used to.
Combat has also seen a huge bump up in the amount of gore and devastating killing blows. In Valhalla, Ubisoft has adopted the barbarian Viking culture so it was an understandable decision to allow such brutal murder sequences in the game. They are very fun and interesting to watch though if you have the stomach for it.
A large amount of interesting and fun weapons have also been introduced in the game. The variety and collection of weapons have been expanded to include categories such as flails and greatswords. Each piece of gear is customizable and the player can hide any piece of gear they desire. Dual wielding is possible with any combination of weapons so the player can really customize their own way of combat.
We’d rank the overall combat system to be better than average, however, it could still use some improvements because it does tend to get clunky and tedious after the first couple of battles.
The defining feature of the Assassin’s Creed series has taken a backseat in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Parkour is almost the same as Odyssey but there is the addition of a few parkour combinations that seem cool. Overall, it’s the idea of a big muscular Viking barbarian hanging off a ledge that makes the whole notion seem kinda silly. The system isn’t bad by any means, it is just not the priority of the game.
An area that clearly was the priority for the development team is the idea of incorporating stealth elements into a game about Viking warriors. Ubisoft has actually done a pretty good job in this implementation. There are a number of key additions to the game which really bring forward the stealth elements of the new Assassin’s Creed. Firstly, the idea of social stealth is back. The player can now access a cloak, which can mask their identity anywhere and in any situation. Walking slowly with the cloak and blending in with the crowd is key when infiltrating certain areas without attracting unwanted attention. Eagle Vision is also back but this time it combines both implementations. Using “Odin Sight”, Eivor can spot areas and objects of interest around him, while calling his Raven companion Synin, Eivor can survey the land from above and plan his moves accordingly.
In addition to the social stealth and the Eagle Vision features, Valhalla also marks the return of the fan-favorite Hidden Blade. Eivor can access the blade any time for a quick one-hit assassination. We believe this implementation is better than the leveling system of the blade since that defeats the whole purpose of an assassination. The key bosses of the game can all be defeated (using certain combinations, tactics, and approaches) by only one blow, making for a much better assassination experience. Eivor can also feign his own death which can be a nifty little trick up your sleeve while playing Valhalla.
Overall, we are really impressed with the improvements to the stealth area of the game. Odyssey gained a negative reputation within the fanbase because it almost completely neglected this aspect, but Valhalla marks a return to the roots of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
The navel side of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a really…. watered down… version of Odyssey’s. Ok bad pun aside, Eivor’s longship will be used more as a transport tool rather than a warship. There is no naval combat with other ships, rather the longship is a vessel for transport to and from the raids and other locations where there might be warfare. Players who were fans of the prime naval combat days of Assassin’s Creed might not like this new approach, and understandably so. Still, this is the decision Ubisoft had to make, and most players would be indifferent to it.
Additions to Valhalla
Some notable additions to Valhalla include the settlement system, Raids and Assaults, and the fun quirky side activities that Ubisoft sprinkled into the game. Settlements act as your base throughout the game, and also the points for launching and ending the quests. Here, you can upgrade and build many different buildings with different tasks, which can help your clan in various ways. An interesting one is the Barracks, which allows the player to train a Jomsviking who is a mercenary for hire. Fisherman’s Hut and the Assassin Bureau are also notable sites in the settlement.
A big part of the overall gameplay of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the new system of Raids and Assaults. These are essential for progressing through the game and can be some of the most fun activities to perform. Raids are smaller-scale attacks on places like churches and monasteries and their main goal is pillaging and looting to get resources. Assaults are larger-scale attacks (much like Conquest Battles in Odyssey) on keeps and fortifications, and they have a much bigger reward system as well. The satisfaction of breaking down the outer walls to get to the inner keep was one of the highlights of the game for us. This system was really well implemented by Ubisoft.
Ubisoft has also sprinkled a generous helping of side activities which help to give the player some extra engagement between main quests. Activities like Dice Mini Game ‘Orlog’, Flyting (the art of Viking Rap Battles), Lost Drengr, Animus Anomalies, Legendary Animals, Daughters of Lerion (East Anglia), Cairns, Standing Stones, Wild Mushrooms (Fly Agaric). It is recommended to dip your toes into them at least once, however they are not essential to the core experience of Valhalla.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s main theme is actually quite somber and dark. This came as quite a surprise for us but we have to say that Ubisoft has done really well to integrate that with the core design of the game. A huge part in that success is played by the game’s sound design. The background music, the cinematic music, even the music at the menu integrates well with the overall vibe of the game and gives the player some much-needed immersion.
Overall, a well-thought-out and well-composed implementation in this regard by Ubisoft, who managed to amplify the theme of the game with excellent sound design without it being too overpowering.
The main story of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla follows the same basic scheme as Odyssey and Origins. We found the main quest of Valhalla to be quite long in fact, so be ready for a long play session if you want to finish this game as early as possible. The story generally follows Eivor and their brother Sigurd in their attempts to find a foothold in Anglo-Saxon England, after they’re forced out of their homeland in Norway due to war and overcrowding. Their clan comes into a series of conflicts against the kingdoms of Wessex, East Anglia, Northumbria, and Mercia over the next several years. They face the forces of the leaders of these states, as well as the warring sons of the great Ragnar of Lothbrok, a legendary Viking who settled into these lands long before Eivor and his clan set foot on them.
We cannot reveal too much for obvious reasons (spoilers), but it is then that Eivor finds himself entangled in the conflict between the Order of Ancients (Templar Order) and the Hidden Ones (Assassins Brotherhood). Eivor works with the Assassins to put an end to the tyranny of the Templars in those lands, while also twisting and turning through moral dilemmas and instances of bravery, cowardice, loyalty, prejudice, and betrayal.
Valhalla’s story relies heavily on the choices made by the player throughout the game. It is important that Eivor remain loyal to his clan and to his brother in order to get the best outcome for both of them, regardless of how attractive external rewards might seem. The story, as with all Assassin’s Creed games, also involves a modern-day element that follows Layla Hassan in her own quest for the truth, though that part is a lot less interesting than the story involving Eivor of the Raven Clan.
We believe that the story of Valhalla is well-written and well thought out. It does have some deficiencies in some areas, but generally, the story does justice to the name of the franchise. It is very easy to get hooked into the story early on, and there were no notable moments where we felt that the story was dragging on aimlessly or getting monotonous. The ending depends a lot on your choices so your emotions may vary, but we were satisfied and content with a good ending to an excellent narrative.
The overall experience of playing through the game can vary heavily from one player to the next, due to the large number of customization options that are offered by Valhalla. The skill tree allows players to pursue different approaches to their character, while the different choices in the game may determine your personality. The game does have a lot of replay value according to our initial impressions.
Character development was solid throughout the game. One can really experience the highs and lows that their character goes through as the game progresses. The protagonist as well as the supporting characters have very interesting personality development arcs, and it warrants a complete playthrough of the game in order to justify their characters.
One little thing here though, Ubisoft still needs to work on their voice acting. Both the male and female Eivor versions were a bit bland and uninspiring for us. The last great voice acting performance was done by Abubaker Salim as Bayek of Siwa. Odyssey couldn’t reach the bar and Valhalla doesn’t either. This is one of the areas that can really break immersion if you start paying attention to it.
The story of Valhalla tends to take a dark and somber approach, and while there are some areas of the story that could have been written better, the overall experience was not bad at all. This is the most subjective rating of any game, but for us we consider a rating of 7.5/10 to be fair for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
In a big surprise to no one, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla performs more or less the same as its predecessor Odyssey. Let’s be honest, this game was not going to be easy to run, and it is not. It requires quite good hardware if you want to play at 60FPS on any of the High or Ultra quality settings at even 1080p (on PC).
Our review copy was played on a PC with a Ryzen 5 3600XT and a GeForce RTX 3070. Built-in benchmark results show that on 1440p Ultra High settings, our rig was capable of playing Valhalla at anywhere between 70-90FPS on average. That’s not bad performance at all, but this configuration is also quite strong and most people probably will not be running setups like this for Valhalla.
Just like its predecessor, Valhalla is also very CPU intensive. This means that performance can be affected tremendously if you have a CPU with an older architecture or less than at least 6 cores. Valhalla can also suffer from massive framedrops and severe framepacing issues. We experienced quite a lot of stutters and framedrops during intensive situations such as raids, where the average framerate was quite high but the experience wasn’t great. This was solved every time after a quick restart of the game. We are hopeful that this can be solved in the Day 1 patch by Ubisoft which promises performance improvements for PC.
Users are also reporting quite a lot of bugs in the game. Our first-hand experience also revealed a large number of bugs that range from comical to downright frustrating. These seem to be more frequent than in Odyssey, and we hope Ubisoft fixes them in future patches and updates. Optimization work should be Ubisoft’s priority as the game needs some performance improvements to become perfectly playable in one go.
Thankfully, Ubisoft has indicated that performance improvement and bug fixes will be coming in the Day 1 patch, so fingers crossed.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla takes the very solid foundation that was laid by Origins and Odyssey, and builds upon it further, this time taking essential risks while not necessarily getting the rewards. While the game has some very strong points in world design and cinematography, some die-hard Assassin’s Creed fans might not like the new direction that Ubisoft is taking with the series. Ubisoft has tried to go back to its roots somewhat by bringing back the social stealth features and hidden blade, but the story implementation of the Assassins vs Templar Order angle leaves a lot to be desired.
Overall, we think that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is one of the finest open-world games to come out recently, but it does not top the charts in terms of the best Assassin’s Creed game that Ubisoft has ever made. Still, a recommended playthrough for all new and old fans of the franchise.
Combining all the individual elements of our review, we think it is fair to give Assassin’s Creed Valhalla an overall rating of 8/10.
Ubisoft tries to return to the basics with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla by bringing back some of the most beloved elements of its older games but still falls short on the overall story and experience of playing the game. While not bad by any stretch of the word, the newest installment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise would not be topping the charts of any Best AC Games any time soon. The formula that was implemented with Origins and improved with Odyssey may be getting a bit stale now, and Ubisoft might need to look for pastures anew if they want their future games to retain their older fanbase.