While many fans would have had ancient Rome pegged as the next setting for Assassin’s Creed to follow Egypt and Greece, we can’t really complain with Ubisoft’s decision to jump us further ahead in history, planting their flag within the Viking era. In many ways Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla feels like the culmination of this rebooted trilogy; a sprawling epic that embraces both its newfound western RPG influences and the series’ core DNA in one huge, rib-busting bear hug.
We’ve been raiding our way through Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla but, as you can guess, this is yet another huge entry in the series and one we’re not quite finished playing. Therefore, this is very much a review in progress and while we’ve explored much of what Valhalla has to offer – both in terms of its settings and gameplay systems – we’re not ready to give a final verdict but we still wanted to share our impressions of the game in time for launch day.
Pacing has always been an issue for the Assassin’s Creed series, at least in those opening hours. It was easy to overlook when first exploring the Holy Lands through the eyes of Altair or watching Ezio grow up sauntering the streets of Venice, but since then we’ve seen the franchise settle into a familiar pattern. As Ubisoft attempt to create new protagonists with each new game, we’re forced to sit through their origin story, waiting for the training wheels to come off. Valhalla is more forgiving in this respect, plunging players into a Viking saga of treachery from the off.
We’ll not go into the particulars here, but it doesn’t take long for Eivor and their companions to embark on a journey to England. This is where the game really gets going, some two to three hours in, though you’re free to explore Norway as much as you want before setting sail. Eivor (who can played as either male or female, allowing you to switch whenever you like) has a fiery temper, yet is honour bound to her brother and clan. Firm but fair and loyal to the gods, yet with enough leeway for player’s to inject their own personality.
When the series was effectively rebooted in 2017 with Assassin’s Creed: Origins, we saw Ubisoft tear down those gameplay pillars that had been standing for more than a decade. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla pushes even further into the realm of games like Skyrim and The Witcher, thanks to a more recognisable Middle Ages setting and a deeper web of roleplaying mechanics.
With that said, Ubisoft have tried to loop back on themselves a bit, reintroducing the ability to blend with crowds and assassinate boss characters with a single, well-timed lunge using Eivor’s hidden blade.
If you’ve played Origins or its much-loved sequel, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, then you’ll feel right at home weaving together stealth, ranged, and melee attacks as your raid monasteries and haul loot back to your settlement, watching it steadily grow and gain influence over time.
The weakest link in this triangle is Valhalla’s close combat. While there are plenty of weapon choices on offer (with bizarre combinations, such as using dual shields possible) attacks feel slow and lack finesse. Ubisoft were clearly aiming for a more skill-based battle system, but dodges, parries, and blocks are all too sluggish. That’s on top of the number of characters fighting at one time – it’s more chaotic than cinematic. As a result, we had the most fun when dialling down the difficulty and hacking away wildly, popping off Eivor’s flashier combat abilities.
Both Norway and England have been stunningly recreated. These are vast yet busy landscapes that are resplendent in primordial, natural beauty as you gallop and sail through them.
We’ve been primarily reviewing the game on PlayStation 4, twiddling and tapping with our thumbs while patiently waiting for the ability to upgrade to the PlayStation 5 version of the game, but have also had access on Xbox Series X. While it looks as good as you’d expect from the recent series on PS4 Pro and performs nicely, there’s a healthy step forward for resolution and frame rate with the next-gen console. Load times are shorter, shrinking down to around 10 seconds of Eivor standing in a watery void, while the world is crisp and sharp at 4K and runs with a 60fps target. The only real blemishes are some light, but noticeable environmental pop-in, and ripples of screentearing down the screen that seem to occur more commonly during cutscenes, but can also happen during regular gameplay at times.