Assassin’s Creed is one series which has managed to pivot and shift considerably in the last couple of years, with more recent releases like Origins and Odyssey taking on more of an RPG/looter form compared to the series’ traditional sneak-‘n-stab set-up. Valhalla doubles down on many of those RPG elements, but tries to icnorperate the spirit of accessibility that made the original Assassin’s Creed games so beloved; but the question remains: is this a good game or a good Assassin’s Creed game?
Well, yes and kind of. Valhalla is undoubtedly the biggest, most ambitious, and elaborate Assassin’s Creed game ever made. With a colossal world, deep narrative branches, and tons of weapons, mechanics and characters, it really is a milestone for the series in its current format. But, with that said, it also does a good job at paying tribute to the AC franchise of past, stripping away some of the convoluted RPG mumbo-jumbo, and peppering some more ‘assassin-y’ stuff in there.
While it is essentially a viking game, you are introduced to the Brotherhood of Assassins, retreive the iconic hidden blade, and given some assassins vs. Templars exposition here and there. But while Valhalla does try to remind you that it is an Assassin’s Creed game, it puts that idea in a neat box, and places it on the side of your primary adventure. You can open it, sneak through some grass, and perform a stealth kill if you really want to, but to be blunt, you won’t exactly be slinking across rooftops and pouncing on enemies ala Assassin’s Creed 2 or 3. This very much a nod to what AC games once were, but happily carves out a new identity for itself with its bigger, more bombastic combat, quests, and overarching narrative about the viking tribes settling in England.
And while we can go on about what Assassin’s Creed-esque stuff isn’t in there, there’s so much that is in there to enjoy.
Valhalla really does craft its own ‘feel’ and identity within the Assassin’s Creed universe. The game embraces Norse lore to its fullest, but also pulls the curtain away by exploring how some of these Norse myths and legends created more division than unity, which is a surprising layer of complexity to the story that no one expected. Some scenes and missions are quite powerful in their delivery, and we see Valhalla‘s hero (or heroine) Eivor start to question the brutality and mysticism of it all, while still trying to understand what it means to be a viking. Story-wise, the game does some incredibly interesting things that sends the narrative on its own trajectory, while still making scenic passes by the overarching modern-day AC world with the Animus and whole ‘end of the world’ prophecy.
As the story unpacks itself, so does the gameplay. The more weapons and skills you gain access to, the more gameplay mechanics become available. Admittedly, the combat in the opening few hours was somewhat underwhelming, but as more and more weapons and brutal takedowns were thrown into the mix, battles and one-on-one encounters became far more engaging. Persisting with Valhalla‘s slow-burn gameplay progression really does pay its dividends.
On top of the primary kill-and-conquer loop, there are tons of side activities and world events to indulge in too, and completing them often results in worthwhile rewards as opposed to pointless loot, which does make pursuing them an exciting prospect. Furthermore, the goal of upgrading your settlement is almost a whole game unto itself, and can give you some perks out on the battlefield; so basically, there’s a lot to keep you busy with Valhalla.
While Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla doesn’t move, fight, and look like a traditional Assassin’s Creed game, it’s hard not to praise it for what it sets out to do. It weaves arguably the most dense and multi-layered story in the series, removes some of superfluous trimmings from previous games, and adds some new interesting mechanics to further flesh out the experience. Whether you’re an AC fan or not, it’s hard not to get swept up in what Ubisoft has delivered with Valhalla.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox Series X, PS5, and PC.