Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla Review – From Rags to Jarls

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is the latest entry in the AC series and released alongside the new Xbox Series X/S, on 10/11/20. It has also had the best opening sales in the franchise too, beating Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War to the #1 sales.

I wrote my first impressions of AC Valhalla and was pretty positive about it. I think my score shows that at least some of that has held true. So read on to find out exactly what I thought of this new entry!

Gameplay? 8/10 – A very strong offering this time around. With good combat, siege battles, wide variety, and the world events

There’s a lot to go over for the gameplay so I have split it up into quite a few sections. Please bear with me!

Difficulties

This choice is made as you try to start the game and can be changed at any time. There are three difficulties to set up: combat, exploration, and stealth. You can really fine tune your experience with these and I love it.

ACV Battering ram

The exploration alters how much map visibility you can get and how much the compass helps you. If you set this difficulty higher you’ll get less indicators and it’ll be harder to find treasure.

Stealth affects things like how easy you are to be discovered by enemies. So, for example, an enemy will see you from further away and they’ll become aggressive quicker.

Then the combat changes how much damage you do and take and your aim-assist. So setting it higher makes you die quicker and the enemies slower. Pretty standard stuff really, I’m not sure if there are any AI changes here.

When I played, I had standard exploration and stealth but set the combat to the hardest difficulty. As you know I’m the likes hard games” guy so I had no choice really!

Alliance map

The alliance map is located in the longhouse of your settlement in England, Ravensthorpe. Here Randvi pools the information and aid requests from all over England for you. Giving you the choice on which places you wish to pledge your aid to, and in which order. 

Valhalla alliance map

I really like this as the narrative that sets you on each of your main quests. There are 2 main benefits, the first being that it gives you a clear progress indicator. Specifically a more visual representation of it,  with each finished pledge having a Raven piece on it.

The second is that it means you must venture back home regularly. Giving you a required reason to visit Ravensthorpe again and again. Meaning you see it develop, you see when new quests pop up, or new residents. It’s a pretty perfect way to handle a hub without it feeling overbearing.

Combat

I personally think the combat is really strong in Valhalla, it’s fast, brutal, and fluid. It has been pointed out that it starts off pretty simple and I think that’s on purpose. I mean as you carry on you’ll be getting different weapons and abilities, and it completely changes.

There are quite a few weapon types that you can use. Like hammers, axes, daggers, and swords. Some of these can also come in 1 handed and 2 handed versions. You can also dual wield or use a shield for defence. No matter your equipment you will also be able to parry your opponent, this is crucial.

Valhalla fire

I got a weapon early on and used it for almost the entire game, at least until I found Excalibur. It was a 2 handed Dane axe, it was golden and had an animal head at the top. She was glorious!! Later on I learned an ability that let me put a weapon in my left hand with the axe. So I got a golden spartan shield that accompanied my axe! It looked absolutely amazing, let me tell you!

The actual combat has you using light and heavy attacks to do damage to enemies. This will have 2 effects: reduce their health to zero or whittle down their posture. You can also use your bow to shoot their weak spots. If their posture drops, you get a stun attack on them, which is an execution usually with their own weapon. They are brutal and glorious!

Another way to get an execution is to attack them when they are low on health. This will also kill them but with your weapon not theirs. My fave used my axe to remove their legs, then as they dropped it took their heads off. It’s dark, gorey, disturbing, and perfect.

Abilities

Abilities are special attacks that require Adrenaline to use. Adrenaline is a resource that is shown by bars over your health, and they are gained through combat. Or eating certain mushrooms, of course. Abilities are mostly learned by finding books of knowledge around the map. Reading one of these books will teach you a new ability or upgrade one you already have. Each ability can be upgraded once to add a new effect to it.

ACV anomoly

Abilities like harpooning an enemy and throwing them into another. Calling in a white-wolf named Mouse to attack. Leaping into the air and slamming down, mowing down all enemies around you. There are many abilities available to you and you can equip 8 in total. This choice of 8 gives you a lot of variety when it comes to combat.

Exploration

The exploration around England, mostly, is kind of a standard open world RPG. Where I think Valhalla excels, is how it makes everything you do seem worthwhile. Worthwhile but not necessary. You could happily go the whole game without ever stopping at a burned down house, or a ruin, or explore a cave. This wouldn’t ruin your time but if you did you won’t regret it.

On the map and your compass you get different coloured circles, gold, blue, and white. Each represents something different but each has their own worth.

Gold is for loot. This can be weapons and armour, or ingots for upgrades, or raw materials for Ravensthorpe. These are the more important map markers to follow for sure. Getting new armour or being able to upgrade your current gear is pretty crucial for survival.

ACV darkness

Blue are sidequest type activities called mysteries, like challenge caves, world events, and flyte contests. These can be very good examples of extra content and side activities. This might be my favorite implementation of side quests in any game. It’s so perfectly done but I’ll talk about that below a bit more.

Then the white ones are the smallest things, normally like an artefact or a curse. You can stop to collect a mask or to shoot down a cursed object. These matter less than any of the others I think. Nicely though, they don’t take long to get/do so you still don’t feel like you wasted your time.

Side quests

The first kind are the world events. Some of these are genuinely funny as well. My personal favourite deals with erectile dysfunction. Early on you meet a lady viking who is having marital problems with her husband. It seems that they used to plough each other during raids but the other vikings found it too distracting. Now he can’t get excited anymore. 

So the pair ask you to burn down their home to make it feel like a raid. This works wonders and he gets as hard as Ygddrassil, where they offer you to join them. You just leave them to their weird sex inside their burned down hut to rut it out.

Valhalla axehead

There are other things to do in the world too, like taking mushrooms for example. There’s also a series of challenge chambers that you can take on, which are very important. Completing all of them and then going to the correct cave will let you unlock a great weapon.

None other than the legendary sword Excalibur! You get to be Arthur, pulling the sword from a stone. This has featured in many games, and it never gets tiring. I will always pull all the swords from all the stones.

Visuals? 8/10 – Other than the visual bugs that were somewhat rampant, Valhalla and England are unbelievably gorgeous

So overall the visuals in Valhalla are breathtaking, they really are something special. I mentioned in my article about starting next gen with Valhalla. My hope was for Ubisoft to make the land that I call home look a vision. I can very happily report that they achieved this and then some!!

There are a couple of issues with the visuals as a whole, those being bugs and textures. I’ll go into more examples of the visuals bugs down in the Performance section below. Suffice it to say that there are some serious visual bugs.

Valhalla vista

This section would be rated lower if some of the vistas weren’t drop dead gorgeous. These are the main things saving it from being much lower. The different scenery and locations just shine so brightly, so the score had to be raised.

The 2 key areas that I want to highlight are some of the combat gore and differences between locations.

So the executions, my god. There’s some brutal stuff going on here man! For a game series that focuses solely on killing people, Valhalla took it to a new level. There’s a lot of blood pouring, leg removal, decapitation, and skull bashing. So there’s plenty to keep you excited! There are multiple animations for each of your own weapon types and plenty that use the enemies weapons too. 

Then there’s the set pieces, you start in a snowy Norway. With snowbound mountainsides and the like. Everything feels cold, it radiates the chill as you trek through crunchy, fresh snow. Then you travel to, slightly less cold, England. Where Everything feels warmer, until you go up north, the light chief among them. 

Valhalla rose bush

The sun shining brightly through the brush, or through the treetops, gives off an entirely different feeling. All of it though looks incredible! 

Worth noting…

Worth noting here that I was playing on my Xbox Series X, and Valhalla runs at a buttery smooth 4K 60fps pretty much all the time. This step up in frames in an open world title is something to behold, and really aids the general immersion when everything feels so clean. 

Audio? 9/10 – Fantastic mixing and jolly tunes fill the English countryside! Also death throes and wolf howling

The audio is pretty darn good in Valhalla, with good mixing and some nice period acoustics. It wasn’t without it’s issues but for the most part it was absolutely on point.

My absolute favourite part of any of the audio were the songs. There is a lot of poetry, singing, and revel-making. Especially when you are on your longship, much like you had in previous titles. Some of the songs are very catchy and make traveling the length of England a joy. It’s hard to get bored of a long journey when your crew are singing a merry tune for you.

Valhalla guy in the back

A close second is the sound of the warhorns. These deep bellows cut through bone I swear, even when it’s just in a game. Some of them, like the call to raid, are so damn loud but in a raw, visceral way. Then hearing the civilians scream and run away when they hear that horn is incredible.

I did run into some serious audio bugs in my time though which luckily weren’t too regular. Mostly repeating dialogue and sounds, it’s obviously not what you want. It was a bit of a snap when it happened, taking away some immersion. If it had happened more often it would have caused a much larger issue, so I’m glad at least.

Story? 9/10 – A great and engaging story, all wrapped in beautiful locations. Plenty of variety and intrigued to keep you captured

I’ll talk about it below but the sum of the story is slightly better than the writing that made it. That is to say that there are writing issues and these are reflected in the story obviously. However, the overall narrative is still very strong and isn’t held back too much. 

I think that’s worth a clarification, there are problems with the writing. There’s just no way to get around this, it just has some holes. I do not think however that this makes the actual story worse though. Instead, each story addition that is made or that has a writing issue is still fantastic.

Valhalla Ivarr

There, as always, is a “modern day” section in Valhalla. This is much less present than in previous entries, thankfully. If I’m just being honest, I don’t care one whit about the modern day storyline. I didn’t mind Desmond and Lucy in the older ones. Now I just don’t care, Layla has had zero effect on me.

This is one of those, “please just experience it” kinds of games. So I won’t really talk about any of the actual story beats here.

The gist is that you and your Raven clan have followed your new leader Sigurd Jarl to England. Here you have set up a new settlement called Ravensthorpe and you wish it to grow. To do so and to make sure your people are safe you must form alliances.

This leads you to fight alongside and against all sorts of people across England. From fighting against Kings to fighting with the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok.

Valhalla ravensthorpe

You are accompanied by a couple of members of the Hidden Ones, the precursors to the Assassin’s Brotherhood. The Templar precursors have been allowed to run rampant across England for too long.

Some of the things I liked?

So other than the modern day sections, few though they may be, I really liked the story. It’s a good mix of war, friendships, and trick or treating. The exact parts that make up the perfect heroes story, I’m sure I read that somewhere…

I think the best part about the Valhalla story is the variety that is on offer. Ignoring the side activities, the raiding, and assassinations the main story is varied. I mentioned that you pledge yourself to each area, when you get there you’ll be given a task. This task should ultimately lead you to becoming allies with the leader(s) of that region.

The tasks that are placed on you can be wildly different, some not even completely combat related. There’s an incredibly satisfying mix of mayhem and diplomacy that I wasn’t expecting. It still falls perfectly into place however.

Valhalla bonfire

This mixed in with all of the character interactions, like friendships with the Ragnarsson. Or your deep bond with your brother Sigurd, the loyalty to the rest of your clan. All of these build a deep and connected world that makes you feel part of it.

I think the key point is that so many threads of this tapestry are engaging. You want to learn more, follow it to then end, and you’ll never get bored. 

Acting? 10/10 – For me, absolutely flawless performances. Male Eivor is complete gold, propelled to my second favourite AC protagonist

I have absolutely zero complaints about the voice acting throughout AC Valhalla. I don’t think there’s a single character that irked me or seemed off. My absolute favourites were Eivor, Gunnar, and Ivarr. 

Gunnar and Ivarr are both met pretty early on, and they feature pretty prominently too. This means you hear their voices pretty often so it’s convenient that the acting is good. Gunnar is a jolly old blacksmith, and he has a few quipps and a friendly demeanor.

Valhalla horsey

Ivarr is ever so slightly different. He’s more of a wild cutthroat, caring very little for consequence. Despite always causing everyone nothing but problems, he really connects with Eivor. Becoming something of a close and reliable friend. The interactions with Ivarr and Eivor are genuinely fantastic. They seem believable conversations between two battle hardened warriors having fun.

I must admit I played the whole game as male Eivor, so I cannot comment on the female voice. The female VA could be as good or even better, I do not know. All I can say for certain is the male actor is absolutely fantastic.

Eivor’s performance was utterly enthralling from start to finish. I think everything was so perfect about Eivor that he has jumped up to my second fave AC protagonist. He’s strong, honor-bound, and cares deeply for his friends and clan. Yet behind all that is such a fierce fire when any of that is in danger.

There is one exchange later, that I will not spoil, but Eivor has a moment of seething anger and fear. His voice changes so drastically and you feel the desperation in his more shrill cries. It sent literal shivers down my spine when I heard it. In this one moment, his cocky, cool composure is tattered and he’s left vulnerable.

Writing? 8/10 – The writing has its issues, with a couple of messed up scenarios and forgetfulness. Nonetheless a great narrative and a well flushed out world

The writing is fantastic for the most part, other than a couple of missteps and forgetfulness. So let’s quickly discuss the issues first.

Valhalla hidden one

The first, a big feu par in my book, is the game not recognising your efforts. I won’t spoil the story beats but effectively something comes up later into the story. You are accused of doing nothing for the Raven clan or the settlement. This is despite you being the only one forging these alliances and the only one bringing back resources. You are also the only one that’s funding and developing all the buildings and the like in Ravensthorpe. 

This is completely ignored and you’re made out to be useless and I hate this. It’s just a failure on all the teams part, your efforts MUST be recognised. Otherwise what’s the point in upgrading the settlement?

The second issue is that a lot of the characters and story beats that you are involved with can be largely forgotten in the latter parts of the game. The beginning is fantastic at weaving a coherent story with many threads. This is sadly left a little to the wayside towards the end of the game. It’s not game breaking but it is a right old shame.

Other than that though, it’s a pretty great narrative that has been put together. With almost all side characters being well written individuals. With different beliefs, origins, and motivations that are penned perfectly. Other than what I have mentioned, there isn’t anything that I would think to complain about.

Performance? 5/10 – The performance of Valhalla was at time abysmal. More bugs and crashes than I’ve had in almost any modern game. Such a shame too

This might be the lowest score I’ve given any one category, in any one review I’ve done. This is done with a heavy heart and not at all easily. It is however completely justified and necessary. This is one of the buggiest games I’ve played ever. Sat perfectly alongside Psychonauts 2 on the PS2 which was also a mess.

Valhalla what

There were so many issues, it’s best to just actually list them here, so I had:

  • A few game crashes (not the Xbox itself);
  • Some audio issues, with lines just repeating every so often;
  • Conversations where the brightness was turned down super low so you couldn’t see anybody;
  • Whole character models disappearing during dialogue (one time it happened when “kissing” so Randvi was just making out with a floating shield, That was funny)
  • I had my spare axe floating around my arm for ages, doing nothing but chilling;
  • Some of the Zealots would become immortal and regen their health and posture instantly. This made them invincible.
  • After a cutscene, was teleported inside of a column and couldn’t escape.

There were a couple of saving graces in all of this. For one it wasn’t constant and another is that fast traveling solved a lot of it. So my gameplay wasn’t super interrupted by the bugs happening.

Despite all of these I still played Valhalla solidly for nearly 60 hours and loved it. So it wasn’t the end of the world which I’m very grateful for. This just needs to be fixed urgently.

Fun Factor? 9/10 – Despite all of the performance issues and bugs it was an absolute blast playing Valhalla.

If you read the Performance section above you might then be surprised by the 9 I’ve given to Fun Factor. I assure you though, this score is also completely justified. This is one of the most fun Assassin’s Creed games in a long while. It harks back to Black Flag, my actual favourite AC game.

Valhalla excalibur

There are very similar beats between the two games. Just switch out the Jackdaw for your Longship and your Pirate crew with your Jomsviking. Then obviously the sunny shores of the Carribean with the dreary greens of England.

Raiding a monastery to get at the saucy loots. Slicing guys in half with a giant golden axe. Breaking down the gates to a castle with a battering ram. Running through said castle to kill whoever controls it. All of it feels so unbelievably satisfying. Just about everything in Valhalla is immensely satisfying. It’s taken Ubisoft and AC a fair few tries to get to this point but I think they’ve nailed it.

This leads into the side activities and map objects, these are some of the best in the series. Especially the World Events, which are super small sidequests. Often taking place in one spot, without you having to traipse around the whole map. They just add to the feeling of ye olde England.

My favourite of the world events is the one I mentioned above about the ED problems. It was just really funny and totally ridiculous. At the same time it set me up to want to do these events and experience other’s lives. It was just perfectly framed right off the bat.

Value? 8/10 – It’s a great game, with story, gameplay, side activities, and replayability. Might have to wait a little while for a patch to fix the bugs

The short answer is that this game is totally worth it. The long answer is the same but with a caveat.

ACV long house

This game has incredible value to my mind. It looks great, plays well, the characters and story are fantastic, it’s long, and there’s replayability. Then there’s the performance caveat.

I don’t think it’s hopeless however, it seems like most of the issues are stability problems. If Ubisoft are aware of these problems it should be possible to patch them out. If the patch does get implemented then the value is a 10, easily.

As the game is, whilst I would still absolutely recommend it as a good investment, you might have to wait. Just wait long enough for a patch or 2 to be released, that’s your choice however. 

For me, the game itself is still absolutely fantastic and offers a lot of value for the buck. With a lot of choices during the story that can lead to different outcomes and endings. With many different weapons and types offering replayability and build choices. An incredibly strong lead character and compelling story. 

ACV ahhh bed

It’s hard to not just outright recommend this game for its value. For me the bugs didn’t ruin the experience, nor did it make me want to stop playing. So if you can live with them, it’s so, so worth it.

How Much Did The Reviewer Enjoy It? 9/10 – Despite the issues, Valhalla is an incredible game. It has made its way to the 3rd place of AC games.

I’ve played every mainline Assassin’s Creed game since the original with Altair. I have enjoyed most of them, and those that I have enjoyed I’ve really enjoyed. Alatir, Ezio, and Edward being some of my favourite video game protagonists. I liked their stories so much that I even read all of the novels, by Oliver Bowden, which are also fantastic.

So when I say that I’m an Assassin’s Creed fan, you know it’s legitimate. So when I also say that Valhalla and Eivor are some of the best offerings in the series, you know that I’m saying that as a super fan that just loves these games.

That’s exactly my sentiment with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The game, it’s world, it’s story, it’s characters, and especially Eivor are spot on! This game tops most of the other mainline titles, and easily smashes the couple of recent entries. 

Valhalla Big doggo!

For me Eivor is also the biggest star here, I played as male Eivor for the whole game. I chose him in the beginning because I’m also a dude. I didn’t change however because the male performance was just so enthralling. Eivor now sits firmly in second play for my favourite AC protagonist, just behind Edward Kenway.

I wonder if it says anything about me that my favourite protagonists are a pirate and a vikingr? Who knows but apparently I’m all for pillaging.

It is then just such a shame that there are so many bugs at launch. This is pretty much the only thing holding the game back. I’d place it in third for my favourite AC games, behind Black Flag at first and AC 2 in second. The only reason it ranks below AC2 is the bugs. If I play this again after a massive patch then it could easily topple AC2. 

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla – Review.
Written by Kyle Munn.

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