I’ve been invested in the Assassin’s Creed franchise from the beginning, with full investment coming about mere moments after I jumped from the top of the tallest structure in 11th century Jerusalem, hearing the now infamous sound of the eagle cry. From that moment on, there has been something about the historical framework within a modern sci-fi setting that hooked me. Of course, it’s helped along by huge open worlds, hundreds of hours of gameplay, and some of the most epic adventures known to gamers. Assassin’s Creed has taken us across the globe, spanned centuries, and seen us kill thousands of templars with a nifty dagger attached to the wrist. But here and now, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the best yet – let me try to convince you why you must purchase this game.
A quick side note, I am writing this review after playing the Valhalla on the Xbox Series X. In that context it loads quickly, quick resume works perfectly, and all gameplay moments control beautifully, with super smooth movement and framerate. It looks stunning too – but I’ll talk about the visuals in a moment.
Story-wise, and as you would expect Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is pretty damn strong. Part of the reason behind this is that it combines the present and the past in a brilliant way – something that the series has been lacking at times over the last few years. You start the game by choosing either to play as a male or female character, or by having the option of letting the game change your sex at points in the game according to the story. You play the role of Viking Eivor regardless of what sex you choose, and the game is set in 10th century Norway, just as the Vikings are preparing to invade England and settle there. Your initial moments with Valhalla see you work through an action-packed prologue that delves into Eivor’s sad family history and his/her need for vengeance, all before setting out on a journey to reap revenge on a tribe leader in a huge battle. After the skirmish you decide – with your brother – to leave Norway for the fair lands of England, as Valhalla opens up. Just for context, this initial opening took me four hours of gameplay and exploration, all before seeing the opening titles begin to roll.
In England you find that your clan of Vikings settles in a place called Ravensthorpe – a name which ironically the developers made up, not knowing it is actually a real place near Northampton. Here in this settlement you can upgrade and add things like stables, barracks, or a blacksmiths. It is also here where Assassin’s Creed Valhalla borrows ideas and aspects from the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, especially in regards to how you learn to love and grow with your settlement and colleagues. Stories and relationships emerge that are nuanced and interesting throughout.
For me, the way Red Dead Redemption has influenced the way stories are told and developed is a positive step forward for the franchise. You see, there were times in the previous Assassin’s Creed titles which would see you awash with little icons above the heads of numerous NPCs, dictating you the need to talk to and deal with moments, all in order to get main story quests or side missions. As good as that was, it became quite a stressful to-do list. In Valhalla though you have the main story mission, but you also have world encounters that are signified by blue markers. These are events you might just happen upon, like a group of nuns looking for revenge on an army camp, a little girl asking you whether her father is coming back to their house after months away, or an altar that needs a strange offering. This way of allowing short stories to come to the fore, away from the main narrative thrust, is excellent – I have found myself hungrily seeking them out. That does in turn add many hours to your walkthrough, but it is all completely worth it.
The main story found throughout Valhalla is an excellent one; interesting and unique. The writing has charm and wit, yet can be deadly earnest when it wants and needs to. What is also interesting is that the modern storyline has been beefed up at last, coming with real substance and significance like its use back in the early days of the Assassin’s franchise. It also deals with the past and previous characters you have seen in the franchise, interestingly and satisfyingly.
Regarding the gameplay, Valhalla is still making the most of the templates originally set up in both Assassin’s Creed Origins and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. But it also brings back a couple of things from its past games – blending into crowds and environments for one. Veterans of the series will find the staples in place though – slick movement, intense climbing, jumping from high buildings at will. The combat is just as good as before too, with it catering for the instant hack and slack, to the more Dark Souls-like counter, block, and dodge patience needed for bigger and tougher enemies. The game has a skill tree that dishes out abilities slowly, so by mid-game you feel powered up like you would expect to be in a game like this. Instead of a level number, you have a power from the skills unlocked, and this is used as a guide to certain areas and a recommendation as to how likely you will find success; whether you have enough power to be comfortable in a region. That doesn’t stop you from going where the hell you like though, as everything is open from the start.
Raiding is a new gameplay addition that you will be doing a lot of. This sees you jumping into a longship with a crew that you can choose from a bunch of misfits, heading up the river, finding a settlement and getting about the raid in hand. Here you see your crew storm an enemy camp or Abbey, pillaging the buildings, fighting the soldiers, burning the place to the ground, and more importantly gathering resources and wealth. It’s a great piece of gameplay that provides a frantic amount of combat and, at times, a clever piece of battle management – if you die you have to start the whole raid again.
Find success and you will be able to utilise the resources and wealth gained to build up your settlement in Ravensthorpe. Here you work a basic management sim angle, building the likes of a barracks, bakery, or even a tattoo artist; using the fruits of these establishments to buy and sell items, or to gather up cosmetic items for your longboat or buy a nice design for a new tattoo. You may also end up taking in some missions for the owners of the businesses, and can even call for a huge Viking feast in the Long Hall in the center of Ravensthorpe. It’s a good system that works well, reminding very much of elements from Assassin’s Creed 2.
But that’s not all and there are some other new features in the shape of mini-games on offer throughout the world of Valhalla. There is a drinking game where you drink against a thirsty opponent, keeping a cursor in the middle as you sway left and right from the effects of the booze. There is also a brilliant little game called Flyting, whereby you’re going into a duel of words with an opponent: they say a rhyme at you and you have several choices as a retort, whereby your wit and sense of rhythm is key. There is a cairn balancing mini-game too, another puzzle game involving standing stones, and a dice affair that could be a whole game on its own. It goes without saying that there are tons of things to do in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and if you’re after a long-haul game then this is it.
Visually, and it looks frankly outstanding on Xbox Series X. The movement is at 60fps and you can tell as everything is utterly fluid and perfectly responsive. The vistas and the outside world are stunning, from the beautiful sunlit reflective snow on the mountain peaks of Norway to the gloriously golden trees and countryside of England. The first time I climbed a high point for the famous synchronisation that Assassin’s Creed is known for I stayed up there for ten minutes, just taking in the incredible draw distance and gorgeous vision around me.
The audio is superbly designed as well, from the crunch of snow under your feet to the clank of weapons striking each other on a raid. There is an outstanding soundtrack full of orchestral elegance and haunting vocals, and when you’re on your longship you can switch between songs and stories from your oarsmen and oarswomen to keep you entertained on the journeys down the river. As is par for the course with Assassin’s Creed, the voice-over work is excellent throughout with some very good performances, from the lead actors to the minor characters you meet along the way.
I’m a massive fan of the Assassin’s Creed series and have blown hundreds of hours of my life on the franchise as a whole. Now though, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on Xbox is possibly my favourite entry in the series – stunningly glorious, fluid as you like, and full of mammoth amounts of content. If I had to be negative, then at times it can feel a little bit buggy, but I don’t think I’ve played an open-world game that hasn’t had this problem and at no point has it affected my enjoyment of the game. If you want something that shows the new Xbox Series X off and bestows the possibilities of what games will be like as we move forward, then you can’t go wrong by embracing your inner Viking and heading into the world of Valhalla.