“Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla” has cemented itself as the best game in the franchise to date.
“Valhalla,” released on Nov. 10, 2020 by Ubisoft, is the third installment in the new “age” of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, focusing more on RPG elements and placing more emphasis on open-world exploration than any of the previous games. “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” was the start of this new chapter in the franchise, later succeeded by “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.” However, both of these games often stumbled and struggled to find the right balance between new RPG elements and open-world exploration, and aspects of gameplay that are classic to the franchise, such as combat and stealth tactics.
Two years after the release of “Odyssey,” “Valhalla” has settled itself into a sweet spot that balances quality and quantity.
Players will loot, pillage and raid the settlements of ninth-century England as Eivor, a Viking of the Raven Clan, who seeks a new start for their people in a land of vast riches and endless opportunities.
The opportunities, indeed, are endless. England’s sprawling lands span the four kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and East Anglia. Once players reach England, they’ll notice just how rich and beautiful the environment is. The various settings of “Valhalla” are reminiscent of those in “The Witcher 3” or “Skyrim.” “Valhalla” excels in its atmospheric qualities, immersing the player in its world through the colorful lives of its vast array of heroes, villains and oddities alike. As you venture through lush hills and dark forests, you’ll come across various “Mysteries,” or seemingly-random world events and side quests. Perhaps you’ll discover an underground fight club, or maybe you’ll help a devout man deliver a crate of apples to a nearby farm or help a man leap to his death. Many of these side quests aren’t meant to be taken seriously, since most of them feel like little jokes or easter eggs, but they’re a nice addition that brings the world to life.
Both the lands of Norway and England are massive, and you can get lost for hours in them. Since the beginning of the game takes place in Norway, I found myself trying to find all the treasures and mysteries before moving on. I got so lost in the amount of content that it took me eight hours before I reached the game’s title card and traveled to England.
Aside from the exploration being near-endless, “Valhalla” also comes with many minigames and activities if you ever need a break from the main storyline. If you’re ever in a large city, you can relax with a game of orlog, a dice minigame that is just as much about luck as it is about strategy. In true Viking fashion, you can place bets and play a drinking game in which you try to outdrink your opponent as quickly as possible. There’s also a fishing minigame in which you can exchange the fish you catch for rewards. The flyting minigame is especially fun since players can increase their charisma through it, which can unlock new dialogue options. Flyting is basically the Viking-equivalent of rap battles, so players have to pay close attention to their opponent’s rhythm and rhyme and then pick the retort that makes the most sense.
There are a vast amount of customization options, many of which have never been seen before. At the beginning of the game, players can choose whether they want Eivor to be female or male and can change this setting at any time during the game. Not only can you customize hair color and hairstyles, but you can also unlock many different kinds of tattoos to adorn the protagonist. You can also unlock customization options for your pet raven, your horse and the longboat you use to sail through rivers and oceans.
You can lead epic Viking raids, accompanied by an amazing soundtrack that immerses players into the world of “Valhalla” and makes their actions feel larger than life. As a Viking, you’ll loot and pillage other settlements and monasteries for supplies and raw materials that can be used to upgrade your home settlement, unlocking new activities and quests.
The combat in “Valhalla” is perhaps at its peak for the franchise. The hidden blade has returned, after not existing in “Odyssey,” and you’re granted a lot more stealth options: There’s more foliage and hay bales to conceal yourself in than in the last two games. Despite stealth having a larger presence than in “Origins” and “Odyssey,” the brutal open combat that is signature to the Viking people is where “Valhalla” really hits its stride. Developers lessened the amount of weapons and armor available to players, but improved upon the quality of the upgrade system. Thus, you can rely on a specific set of weapons that suit your playstyle for most of the game, rather than constantly swapping them out for whichever one has better stats. One of the biggest highlights of the combat system is the new introduction of brutal finishers and abilities. Some abilities will allow you to throw a flurry of axes at your enemies, while others allow you to lock on to multiple enemies with your bow and fire a hail of arrows, eliminating a large group quickly.
It takes a while for the game to really kick it into high gear with its main storyline, and I’ve heard of plenty of goofy bugs that can either break the game or ruin the immersion. Nonetheless, “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla” is a massive open-world RPG experience. Players will have more freedom than ever before, and they’ll easily get lost in the beautiful world for hours on end while engaging in some of the most refreshing combat the series has seen.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @assassinscreed on Twitter.