Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Review — Home is Where the People Are
Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a combination of everything that made the series great up to this point while cementing all that it needs moving forward.
I have said it once, and I will say it again: the Assassin’s Creed franchise is a lost memory of what it once was. Despite it not being the return to form that some Day One fans, like myself, wish it would be, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla feels like a love letter to the series. It does this by returning beloved features from previous entries while still evolving by establishing its own identity. From the snowy peaks of Norway to the grass fields of England and beyond, Valhalla is a mystical journey that engrossed me with its political drama, philosophical morality, and diversity. I was surprised several times, thanks to difficult narrative decisions, unexpected character choices, and so much more. Valhalla is the best Assassin’s Creed title in the past decade with a near-perfect blend of old and new.
Taking place in the ninth century, you are put into the shoes of Eivor (Ay-Vor), a Norse warrior who departs their home in Norway to begin anew in England alongside their best friend, Sigurd. Eivor is the first assassin in the series to choose whether you want to play as a male or female. There is also an option for the game to switch genders automatically once you hit specific points in the story. Originally, that is how I began the game, but I eventually switched solely to male Eivor simply because I preferred the voice acting performance.
As Eivor migrates to England, they build a settlement called Ravensthorpe, and to make sure their new home is safe, they must build alliances. The map of England is divided into different regions where Eivor must travel and earn the favor of different political figures.
During my time playing, I found myself doing a myriad of objectives which included dethroning a king, helping an inexperienced king-to-be learn his role, and of course, killing Templars. Yes, you heard that right; Templars are finally back in the franchise in a relatively big way. Known as the Order of the Ancients in Valhalla, the Templars have taken over England by taking hold of powerful political positions in an attempt to gain absolute control. Like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, you will find clues by killing members of the Order, including Zealots, which are ruthlessly intimidating knights scattered throughout the country. Even though they’re the bottom of the Templars’ food chain, I found them to be incredibly difficult to defeat even when I was above their suggested power level, but this was due to how good each boss fight is designed.
Combat in Valhalla is the best the series has yet to offer. With the ability to dual wield, it is loads of fun having a wide variety of weapons to use. And with the newly introduced stun system, Eivor can deliver several brutal executions, including decapitating heads and impaling enemies to the ground. By collecting Books of Knowledge, Eivor will learn new abilities to utilize in battle or stealth by using adrenaline bars, which have been in the series previously. Some of my favorites included commanding a wolf to pounce on a foe or using the moves of Scorpion from Mortal Kombat to pull an enemy towards me with a harpoon only to then finish them off with a slow-motion head cleaving.
Valhalla has also introduced a new health and stamina system. Health does not auto regenerate as it has in older entries in the franchise. Eivor must collect food to refill their health and build their rations. Stamina also plays a big factor in combat. Once your bar runs out, Eivor can still attack, but it is done much slower. This also affects Eivor’s dodging, making you think if dodging is always worth it.
While fighting against your average soldier, I felt deadly, but patience is key when it comes to boss battles. Whether it be from the story, Zealots, or Vikings of old, boss battles are incredibly engaging where one wrong move can put you on the verge of death. I was surprised to find so many throughout the game, all with their own unique design and fighting style. In almost every fight, I found myself dying multiple times, which made me learn and adapt. Still, this made for some of the best and most memorable encounters I’ve experienced in recent memory.
When speaking with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Producer Julien Laferriere earlier this year, I learned that the team at Ubisoft Montreal wanted to make this the most immersive experience in the series. For the most part, I think they succeeded. Throughout my time exploring, I would find scenarios where people needed help. Running into someone on the side of the road or saving a fox inside a burning building felt like the world I was in was real, even if what I was accomplishing wasn’t always compelling. With that being said, these world events do appear on your map once you find them, so it doesn’t fully remove the mentality of Assassin’s Creed not being a “checklist” open-world series no matter how much I may still enjoy it.
Another big change in Valhalla is the replacement of leveling and implementing a new power system. Instead of leveling up, you get skill points that let you unlock new passive abilities along with raising your stats. Naturally, this will make you stronger, but it technically doesn’t gatekeep any content from you. Certain areas will have more powerful foes, but nothing is stopping you from exploring.
One of the biggest criticisms recent Assassin’s Creed titles have gotten is the lack of being able to, well, assassinate. Valhalla has more or less fixed that. Normal enemies can be assassinated on the fly, but named enemies that aren’t bosses require a simple little quick-time event to succeed. For those that still aren’t satisfied, you can turn on auto-assassination across the board even though it isn’t the intentional way to play. As someone who has been a stickler about this in the past, I actually like the QTE for killing bigger targets, and it makes sense based on how the game is designed. It is still nice though that the option is there for those who want a more traditional experience.
Arguably the biggest feature introduced in Valhalla is the raids. By moving far away from home, Eivor and their crew need to gain supplies to help their home flourish. By making a storm front at monasteries, you can steal everything needed to make your settlement grow. Raids can begin via longship or by using your horn to send in your crew. There are other forms of wealth around the world as well, such as finding new weapons and armor or rare metals to upgrade what you already own. Gear is much more minimal than previous entries as they can only be found through chests or specific missions. This may be a turn off for some, but there was still a solid variety of weapons as I progressed, and I didn’t have to rummage through the menus after almost every encounter.
What really makes Assassin’s Creed Valhalla stand out from the pack is how well they implement Norse culture and mythology into not only the story but the world itself. At points, there will be feuds with other clans, or even inside your own. Side content where you have to create rock stacks called cairns that give you more detail to Eivor’s background and poetic duels, known as flyting, that increase Eivor’s charisma allowing you to potentially persuade others in conversations if your level is high enough. The fact that Norse mythology was going to play a part in Valhalla was expected, but to the level that it goes to is nothing less than shocking and somehow even builds from there.
Your settlement also provides you with numerous rewards and customizations from your time exploring. Using the materials obtained from raids, you can establish different buildings, whether they be shops, a stable, or houses, which provide more buffs when you start a feast. The tattoo parlor allows you to customize Eivor with different hairstyles and tattoo designs found throughout England. There’s a museum to deliver artifacts, a hunting hut for legendary animal skins, and even a place for the creed of assassins.
Not only are there great resources in your settlement, but there are also mini-games that capture the essence of Norse culture. You can challenge people to drinking contests in towns throughout the map which are fun in their own right. Then there’s Orlog, an addictive dice game that I can’t help but wish was its own complete game. By earning tokens, attacking, defending, or using one of the many Norse god’s special abilities to help deplete your opponent’s health pool, I found it simple yet engaging in every instance I sat down to play. As your settlement begins to grow, so does your relationship with the inhabitants. Some will ask for your help, and by doing so, you will learn their backstory of what led them to the settlement and, in extension, Eivor’s care for the clan.
Simply put, Eivor is the best protagonist in the series since Ezio Auditore. They have one goal: to protect their clan, but that doesn’t mean they have no heart for others. With Eivor willing to do whatever it takes for their people shows that family is more than just blood. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla implements this idea from the moment you press play. Eivor has many layers to their character, and when trying to gain the favor of those they’re working with, they genuinely care about them and want to see each reach their own goal.
But there are costs to Eivors’ involvement. I had to make difficult decisions in the story, which sometimes led to death or unknowingly gave the enemy power. Thanks to a well-written, colorful cast, I found myself attached to each major character I interacted with after having deep conversations on their beliefs and views on life. The narrative also took many unexpected twists and turns that all struck a chord with me, whether it made me happy or sad.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is not the Assassin’s Creed game that I wanted, but it is the new gold standard for the franchise’s games. Each piece of content feels meaningful, whether it’s to build out the characters, stories, world, or culture. Going in, I wasn’t particularly excited about the historical period and Norse culture with it being common in today’s media. Still, I’ve come away enthralled, wanting to learn more than ever before. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will be a gaming experience that will stick with me for years to come.