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Lifewire / Andy Zahn
Huge and detailed open world
Exciting and varied gameplay
Interesting historical setting
Poorly optimized on PC at launch
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is unequaled as a game about Vikings, and offers a deep dive into the gritty world of medieval Europe. Action-packed battles combined with a truly massive open world to explore make it easy to recommend.
The Assassin’s Creed franchise has taken gamers all over the world, and now fans of this historical fiction series may venture forth into the gritty medieval landscapes of England and Norway in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. This promises to be one of the most expansive and unique games in a long line of genre-defining titles with an enormous open world map and a wealth of engaging stories and activities to participate in. Valhalla builds on many of the mechanics players first saw in Assassins’s Creed: Origins and Odyssey, containing more RPG elements, a variety of combat styles, and plenty of upgrades.
I played the game on PC for several days, but it’s also available on all other major platforms including the upcoming Xbox Series X, Xbox One, upcoming PlayStation 5, and PlayStation 4.
There’s a lot to say here, but not much that can be said without spoilers. Given how engaging I found the plot, it would be a shame to spoil it in any way. Suffice it to say that, though it begins as a typical revenge story, it soon becomes more complex and interesting. You play as Eivor, a male or female warrior who raids England during the reign of Alfred the Great.
Aside from the basis in history, there are fascinating mythological elements to the storyline, and obviously, much attention was paid to crafting an authentic recreation of the cultures being represented here. The game does a good job of focusing on telling a story about Vikings, while also working the series namesake “Assassins” into the mix in a plausible manner.
Perhaps more interesting than the main plot are the side quests sprinkled liberally about the world. These are typically informal, chance encounters and, though they do grant experience towards skill points, their primary point is to tell an intriguing story, which they accomplish with aplomb. The characters are almost invariably well-acted, and while short, these quests are remarkably well written and worth seeking out.
The prologue map alone in Norway covers 15 square kilometers, and has between 10 and 15 hours worth of gameplay. It honestly is worth the cost of admission in its own right. I could easily have spent 20 hours there just climbing mountains. However, the core of the game is set in England, and the map is absolutely gigantic.
In total, the game’s various open world areas cover a staggering 140 square kilometers, nearly ten times the size of the prologue area. By this rough estimate, there should be at least 120 hours worth of content in this game, including a roughly 60-hour main campaign. Missions, mysteries, and treasure in abundance ensure that the wilderness never grows stale.
Valhalla’s gameplay will be familiar to fans of the Assassin's Creed franchise, particularly the more recent entries in the series. As usual, there are tweaks and innovations, but it was easy enough for me to pick up, with my most recent experience being with AC Unity. Players who’ve played Origins and Odyssey will find much to be familiar. The fluid movement and iconic parkour makes navigating around the expansive open world fun and engaging, though novices may accidentally fling themselves off a cliff or two by accident as they learn the ropes.
Fall damage is back, but don’t worry though, most falls won’t kill you, and you can just scarf a few berries and be right as rain. It’s worth the risk, as climbing mountains is in itself an activity that offers hours of freeform fun. As is traditional for Assassin's Creed games, you can safely leap from any high place so long as there is a pile of hay, leaves, or a shallow pond to break your fall.
Ubisoft has truly mastered the mechanics of boats, and sailing is just pure joy with your loyal crew singing their way down the fjords as the wind whistles in the rigging, your ship riding the realistic swells.
There are traditional observation points to unlock, but there are also plenty of interesting peaks, spires, and mountain tops with unique views to discover. Most aren’t marked, so there’s a sense of discovery in seeking them out, and thanks to a robust photo mode, it’s fun to document your hiking and climbing adventures.
Traveling long distances around the map can be done via unlockable fast travel locations, but the vast, beautiful world crafted for Valhalla encouraged me to explore it on foot, even for paths I had trodden more than once. This is aided by your ability to summon a horse or a longboat to your position, either of which is an exciting way to travel.
Ubisoft has truly mastered the mechanics of boats, and sailing is just pure joy with your loyal crew singing their way down the fjords as the wind whistles in the rigging, your ship riding the realistic swells. Alternatively, your bard may accompany your seafaring with diverting tales. If there’s one downside is that unlike Odyssey, there’s no ship-to-ship naval combat, but perhaps that makes sense because the Vikings were more land raiders despite their extensive use of longboats to travel.
Combat is fast, brutal, and varied with deep customization and different potential approaches. There are many ways to approach each situation, and none of them are wrong. You can sneak in and pick the enemy off one by one, dumping their carcasses in bushes so as not to tip off their friends, or you can nail them from a distance with arrows. Alternatively, you can stride in, axes twirling, and cut a bloody swath through your foes.
Skill points are given to you as you level up and can be used to upgrade your character and hone their skill in ranged, stealth, or melee fields. Abilities can also be discovered by reading books hidden throughout the world. This is the main way you can specialize your character build. If you want a more traditional assassin experience, put all your points into stealth or ranged, but if you want to live your life as a brutal Viking warlord, go all-in on melee. My favorite move is one in which you hurl throwing axes all around you in slow motion.
A particularly thrilling experience in Valhalla is summoning your berserker crew to come and fight at your side.
A particularly thrilling experience in Valhalla is summoning your berserker crew to come and fight at your side. Even better are raids, where you leap from your ship among a horde of screaming Vikings to slay your enemies and loot their towns.
Raiding becomes a vital component of the game, as raids are the only way to build your settlement. It’s not a particularly complex base building mechanic, as it only involves raiding the requisite supplies and returning them to your settlement, whereupon a new building magically appears. It’s fun to watch your settlement grow, and you gradually unlock a variety of different functions and quests.
Valhalla gives you plenty of ways to customize your experience. You can adjust the difficulty of stealth, combat, and exploration separately, so you can choose which gameplay elements are difficult and which you’d rather not get in the way. Additionally, mature elements in the game such as blood and gore can be toggled on and off, which will be a relief to parents and a boon to anyone who doesn’t fancy seeing severed heads flying through the air.
There’s more to do than fighting and exploring; in Valhalla there are a number of intriguing minigames to divert you from quests. I particularly enjoyed Flyting, which is a battle of words These are timed, competitive poetry contests where you must quickly select the most appropriate verse from a list of options. It’s both amusing and character building.
Orlog is an interesting dice game that I would honestly like to own in real life, and the drinking minigame is a highly enjoyable reflex-based challenge. A nice touch is that the results of imbibing huge amounts of mead persist for a period of time after the minigame is complete. After all, are you really a Viking warrior if you’re not completely drunk all the time?
As in Odyssey, the game allows you to play as either male or female, and offers a range of cosmetic options, mainly by way of tattoos and hairstyles. New tattoo patterns are acquired through parkour challenges. What’s more interesting is the gameplay affecting clothing and weapons that alter your appearance—I particularly appreciated that upgrading those items affects their looks. You can choose from different ravens and horses, and change the appearance of your longship. Eventually, you will also be able to customize the appearance of your settlement.
I was particularly struck by the amber rays of the setting sun that slanted through the rigging of my longboat as I returned from a mountain climbing excursion.
Valhalla is an absolutely gorgeous game. Everything from the detailed character models to the vibrant open world is beautiful to look upon. Changing weather alters the mood of landscapes, and can create breathtaking moments. I was particularly struck by the amber rays of the setting sun that slanted through the rigging of my longboat as I returned from a mountain climbing excursion.
Towns and cities are richly detailed, with people going about their daily business in this muddy and gritty medieval setting. The wilderness is also magnificent, with wild natural beauty and towering ruins in equal measure. Wildlife and farm animals are both present in this world, adding vibrancy to the countryside.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is typical of modern AAA titles in that it requires a big download and a considerable amount of storage space to house on your PC or console. With the day one update to consider, you’re looking at around 50GB.
Now, keep in mind that these are my pre-launch experiences with the game not fully patched. I initially installed it on my Asus Zephyrus G14 gaming laptop, which I reviewed recently and found to be capable of running modern titles at high or max settings. However, Valhalla appears to be a whole different kind of beast and played havoc on my machine.
When I first jumped into the game after the intro cutscene, I was greeted with the most horrendous graphics glitching I’ve ever experienced. Thinking this was because I had foolishly maxed the settings I restarted after tweaking down graphics, but upon restart, the glitches were appearing in the menu itself. I exited the game and the glitches persisted for about 10 seconds after Valhalla had closed. The built-in benchmarking tool in the game refused to run entirely. In the end, I decided not to push my luck with the laptop.
On a gaming PC with a more powerful processor, more RAM, and an RTX 2070 GPU, I didn’t encounter any glitches. However, the game is extremely power-hungry, and I was only able to run it at max settings with 60fps at 1080p. Ubisoft titles are known for being poorly optimized at launch, so this game should perform better after a few patches. Still, it’s clearly designed for next-gen consoles and the latest PC hardware. If you are playing on PC, be sure to utilize the benchmarking tool to find the ideal settings for your system.
Of course, if you’re playing on console you don’t have to worry about performance issues since the game is better optimized. It’s currently available for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and will be available for the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 at launch. You can also get it on Google Stadia.
The base game will set you back the typical $60, while the gold edition bundles in the season pass and costs a full $100. That will include the planned expansions which will add Ireland and France to the map. Expensive though $100 is, it does promise a potentially huge amount of content. The game also has microtransactions, which is a bit of a bummer, though these weren’t integrated into the game at the time of writing.
It’s interesting that Ubisoft decided to launch two third-person action games set in England within a span of a few weeks. Where Valhalla is set in the Middle Ages, Watch Dogs: Legion is set in a near-future sci-fi dystopia, though in both games you are battling against tyrannical rulers in England. Choose Watch Dogs if you want sci-fi focused on hackers and non-violent solutions, and Valhalla if you love bloody medieval fighting and exploration.
It’s also worth mentioning the resemblance between Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla to The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. The comparison is inescapable due to the fact that both are based on Norse culture. While Valhalla is certainly a more historically grounded game as opposed to Skyrim's totally fictional fantasy realm, Valhalla will nonetheless be familiar and exciting for fans of Skyrim.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla exceeds, as Assassin’s Creed games so often do, in creating the most painstakingly detailed virtual recreation of a place and period possible. It’s got exploration, intense combat, and enthralling stories by the bucket full, and it’s easy to get lost in its sheer scope and scale. Just beware if you’re playing on a PC that will test the limits of your gaming rig.