History makes the best playgrounds. If that’s not already a saying then I’m coining it. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series has already proved that a romp through history is frequently entertaining and Valhalla’s Viking adventure continues the trend.
It may be a Nordic hero, Eivor, that you play as but this adventure mostly takes place in jolly old England. Only 9th Century England is not at all jolly and there seem to be quite a few different feuds going on outside of your cosy little settlement of Ravensthorpe. England is split into regions and to progress you’ll need to forge alliances with clans in these regions, fight off rivals and do all of the usual side quests in order to become the victorious Viking you set out to be. For me this is the best story to date in the series and it’s well told with even side quests feeling as if they add to the main story, silly though some of them are. You can choose to play as a male or female Eivor or let the game swap at will, the reasons for this becoming clear later in the story and it’s certainly the recommended option. Oh, and yes, there is a modern day story that pops up from time to time and makes itself as welcome as it always has, though it does feel like an important part of the story this time around and continues the narrative laid out by the previous games.
Valhalla feels like a more fluid progression of the series with many of the elements set up in Origins and Odyssey but with some of the tucked behind the scenes more. Your village acts as a hub, for instance, and progress allows you to grow it organically with new buildings and shops that, in turn, allow you to do more in the game. It’s still an RPG lite in terms of stats and upgrades and that’s not a bad thing considering that you won’t want to get bogged down in all the upgrading while there are battles to be fought and a decent storyline to play through. The upgrades make sense in a logical way, too; build a bakery and you’ll get increased stats from the sustenance, build a shop that caters for appearance, such as a tattooist, and you can change your appearance.
Building your village is very much a Viking thing, using materials gained from raids to help build it. As new areas open up, new pillaging areas also appear for you to raid. It’s about as close as we get to Ubisoft’s love of towers in previous generations and it works well because it feels as if you are doing something tangible to further your progress and something that also makes sense in this game world.
Most of your upgrades are done through skill trees, with three to upgrade over time. These are trickled down to you throughout the game in time-honoured tradition and range from stealth perks to strength and ranged agility. It feels very well thought out but then Ubisoft have had quite a while to perfect this over the last three games, so you’d expect it to be rock solid by now. That goes for the rest of the game. While new ideas and mini-games and a much neater way to tie the RPG elements to the story have certainly improved this entry in the series, a lot of the time Valhalla feels very much like Origins and Odyssey but just refined.
Another refinement is in the way the game looks, the benefits of the new systems are in evidence on the Xbox Series X version I played after initially starting this game on a standard Xbox One. Ray Tracing and enhanced graphics make old world England look stunning, certainly the best looking Assassin’s Creed game to date and a nice upgrade from the last generation, which itself still looks pretty good. My experience was let down slightly by some odd character glitches, mostly from NPCs, which took me out of the moment at times but there was nothing major to hinder my progress. Alongside the upgrade in graphics, the soundtrack for Valhalla really captures the mood of the game and is well worth mentioning as there are some standout musical moments.
With a huge amount to do on the map there are times when I felt unsure where to turn next, it’s pretty full of activities to help you progress but aside from the story, they’re not in any linear order once bunches of them open up to you. It’s not the worst situation to be in, though, and unless you try to progress through the story without really enhancing your stats (there’s much less emphasis here on locking progression behind levelling up than in Odyssey) it stretches the game time by some margin without feeling too much like a slog.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla feels like a refinement of the rebooted franchise with a much smoother interaction between the stats of the RPG side and the story/action elements. While it still contains some glitches (hopefully patched soon) the Series X version is a good advert for what is possible with the new generation of consoles in terms of graphic design that goes hand in hand with the refinement of the game franchise.