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access_time November 20, 2020 at 6:00 AM in Reviews by David Poole

Review | Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

It’s been a long road for the Assassin’s Creed series, seemingly getting new entries every other year or so. The newest among them, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, continues the trend of the more recent games. Taking the series to Norway and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England, this entry becomes a Viking tale. While the series continues to utilize new regions, it tries to keep the gameplay fresh with new features and elements. Valhalla is no different, offering new combat mechanics and more, building a diverse open world for players to explore. Despite being a long running series, if Valhalla is any indication, it seems that Assassin’s Creed still has plenty of steam left.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla continues off the story that started with Assassin’s Creed Origins. With the newer modern day setting protagonist, Layla Hassan, she continues her research with Shaun and Rebecca from the Brotherhood of Assassins. After finding the remains of a Viking warrior named Eivor, they utilize the memories with their Animus to uncover more information about Earth’s magnetic field, attempting to prevent the extinction of mankind. While the modern day elements offer some light science fiction, the vast majority of the game takes place in the past. This is ultimately Eivor’s story, and players have plenty of ways to experience it the way they like.

Eivor can be either male or female, though for my playthrough, I chose to go with the female version. To simplify this review, I’ll refer to Eivor with female pronouns. Starting out as a child, we see the tragic past of Eivor, seeing her grow into a proud warrior. Eivor’s reckless behavior can often cause trouble, but usually, big risks offer big rewards. That remains evident throughout the entire game, both in story and in the gameplay. Those that do wrong by Eivor likely won’t have much longer to live, as her vengeance comes swiftly. While revenge is a key part of some of the plot, so too is building alliances. This all comes down to the new features of building an army of warriors for raids, as well as expanding your settlement in England.

Raids are full scale invasions of nearby towns, monasteries and encampments. You’ll typically take your crew by boat and storm these areas to pillage and plunder. Of course, you’ll encounter resistance, fighting off soldiers that attempt to defend their wealth. You’ll also gather supplies for which you can use to build and upgrade your settlement of Ravensthorpe. This settlement will house blacksmiths, hunting clubs, stables and more, all of which providing aid on Eivor’s adventure. Both of these newer features make the game feel a bit more fresh after the similar Origins and Odyssey experiences. While Assassin’s Creed Valhalla still shares some similarities, other elements have changed up to offer a unique entry.

With the gameplay, fans will still be able to explore the vast and open world like they’re used to. Eivor can scale most walls, parkour across rooftops, and dive into the watery depths. Eivor will have use of a raven to scout things out from above, much like the previous games’ eagle option, allowing you to strategize and plan your approach. You’ll also have the return of mounts, offering auto-ride atop a horse, or even an unlockable wolf. Of course, the synchronization points are a must as well, being a staple to the franchise at this point. Overall, the exploration mechanics haven’t really changed after Assassin’s Creed Origins. One nice thing is that you no longer get penalized for looting in public like in Odyssey. Perhaps that’s the benefit of being a Viking?

While exploration remains mostly the same, combat is actually quite different this time around. The controls will be pretty familiar, including the way attacks and special skills work. Despite the familiarity, the mechanics are vastly different from the previous two games. First off, there’s a stamina meter now. Dodge too often or do too many heavy attacks and Eivor will slow down for a bit. It helps to add some thought to the combat, making dodges or parrying much more valuable. You’ll also have rations for healing, which can be activated at the push of the D-pad. If you’re used to automatic recovery, you can kiss that goodbye. Finally, there’s the ability to dual-wield weapons, or even shields if you wish. All these combat changes make the game feel closer to something like Demon’s Souls rather than Assassin’s Creed.

The loot and leveling system has undergone some changes too, as each piece of gear falls into a different category. You’ll have Raven, Wolf or Bear categories, each one a part of the new skill tree. As you upgrade Eivor with skill points, you can improve her ability to use items in each category. Of course, you’ll also have stat upgrades and new abilities as well, gaining power with each upgrade. With the new category system, this helps to make even the early armor viable later in the game. All it takes are some upgrades and improvements to the category in the skill tree, and you can maintain your favorite look for Eivor. This also includes using runes to power up your gear. It’s nice to see them change up the system from time to time just to keep things interesting, and luckily it works out well here.

Being an open world, there are of course plenty of side missions and games to partake in. This includes Viking rap battles known as Flyting, allowing you to put together various phrases to make the best rhymes. You’ll also have a quick but fun drinking minigame, where besting your opponents can score some money or even quality gear. Romance options return here, offering several NPC’s to romance, including one very important one. Then there’s Orlog, the addictive dice game where players can control the powers of Norse Gods. Each player gets six die and three rolls, earning tokens to request God favors. As you battle it out with axes and bows, it will get to a point where only one remains supreme. At this point, I’m still undefeated in the game, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard to reach that status.

Getting to the presentation, the game has some pretty good background music to enjoy. Of course, this is nothing when it comes to the Viking songs that you’ll hear from time to time. This includes in the dining halls, on the boats, or just during various cutscenes. The voice acting is also pretty solid, using a variety of Danish actors. While Magnus Bruun sounds fine as the male version of Eivor, my preference leaned more towards Cecilie Stenspil’s excellent range with the female version. Her soft and somber tones made for a great contrast with her epic battle cries. One thing I feel is worth mentioning is the usefulness of the subtitles here, as there will be a lot of words that are given brief translations in them. It also helps just because these words do not sound like the way they’re spelled.

Graphically, this is where things get interesting. I started my experience with the game on the Xbox One version, and while I thought it was a decent looking game, it didn’t blow me away. When I upgraded to the Xbox Series X version, things changed immensely. Not only does it get a nice performance upgrade using dynamic 4K, but the visuals get a complete overhaul. In a night and day difference, the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions, as well as the PC version, truly look like next-generation experiences. The lighting is phenomenal, the environments are lush and detailed, and characters look significantly better. I was honestly caught by surprise by just how big the difference was; not that I’m complaining.

I admit, I’ve been less focused on the Assassin’s Creed series for a while, simply due to franchise fatigue. Jumping back in with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla though, I find myself eager to explore and raid. Something about the more strategic combat and the overall freedom simply called to me. It also helps that it arrives during the launch of the next generation consoles. While the modern era story seems as crazy as ever, I’m honestly looking forward to more Assassin’s Creed again. I’m excited to see where the series goes next, but for now, I’m going to continue to expand my Viking reign and take my time enjoying the gorgeous vistas in this monumental game.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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