It was in 2006 when Jade Raymond and Patrice Desilets dropped what was to become one of my favourite franchises into my world, I loved the concept and the trailer we were treated to. Ever since then, I have been hooked, soaking up everything that I could in the worlds that were created! The Assassin’s Creed games have come a long way since the first title was released in 2007, and while they have had their ups and downs, I have enjoyed them immensely! Thirteen years later, and still playing these great games, we finally get to be a Viking with Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.
In Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla we get to play as a male or female Viking named Eivor. The game starts with you as a young child and as you rummage through your chest, you collect something for your father, a ring. Upon opening the doors, you are greeted to a party, a celebration of clans. From here you walk through the people that are in full celebration mode, with dancing and singing, until you meet your father and mother. After chatting with both your parents, you present your gift to the king, when suddenly, the village is under attack from a rivalling clan. During the attack on the village, your mother and father have been killed and you are saved and rushed away by Sigurd, who later becomes your adopted brother.
Fast forward many Winters later and we now see Eivor fully grown and helped captive by the very clan that killed your parents. This is our first time controlling Eivor and from here we get to experience all that Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla has to offer us. In your first quest, you must rescue your crew that are being held captive in a nearby camp not too far from where you start. It is here where the game goes into tutorial mode and tells you some of the game’s mechanics of the game, from looting, running to climbing and even using Odin’s Sight. Odin’s Sight is an under evolved version of Eagle Sight/Sense and when activated sends out a bluish pulse that can show enemies locations, your current objective and even some hidden loot.
Once you have freed your crew, you will then fight back and head to the shore and jump onto your longship. Your longship is probably your most used mode of transport as you move about Norway and England. Upon sailing away from the camp, you will reach home, a settlement where you will begin most of your quests during the first few hours of the game.
Later, Sigurd arrives home with some new friends, Basim and Hytham. These new friends came from across the waters and belong to a group called The Hidden Ones. We know them as Assassins, and it is from here where we are given our introduction into their lives and customs. Sigurd gifts you a hidden blade and then Basim shows you how to wield it. Hytham at the start does show some disgust as to how you wear the hidden blade, as he babbles on about custom and commitment etc… However, Darius a legendary assassin, wore his blade in much the same way and used it as his main weapon, preferring stealth over direct combat.
The story within Valhalla is the same as every other Assassin’s Creed game, with the Hidden Ones struggling against the Order of Ancients. Unlike in previous games, you are free to eliminate the Order as you see fit and while you are undertaking your many quests, you can drop in to the Assassin’s Bureau to see if any new information as arisen. You are also free to look in the Order of Ancients menu and see which targets need to be eliminated, with some of them needing clues to locate them. I won’t say much more in regard to the story as there is quite a bit for you to witness and what will unfold within the story arc.
What I will say is that Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla offers many different choices so that players can write their own Viking tale. There are many narrative choices that will impact on the game’s events throughout and the ending. The choices that impact the story frequently happen through different dialogue options when you are interacting with the characters within the world. I made some mistakes in the story and eager to play the game again to see what other outcomes there will be.
Once you completed your quests in Norway, you travel with Sigurd to England, and it is here where the game kicks off and you set up a base camp or settlement from which you will call home. Your Settlement is where you and your clan will leave and prosper in England, or Ravenshrope as you call it, after your clan. You will be able to develop your settlement and build and upgrade the structures within, such as the Farm, Bakery and Brewery, to the Trading Post and the Assassin’s Bureau. The first structure you will build, and upgrade will be the Blacksmith, which is a vital building that will help you in upgrading your gears quality. I would also add that as soon as you can, upgrade the Fishing Hut, as this can be a great way to earn some much-needed silver. The Barracks is also a handy one to have, as you can recruit new members and train your army for raids or other missions. You can also create your own Jomsviking (mercenary), which can be used by other players and can even collect silver for it too.
You will also notice a bell at the entrance of your settlement’s longhouse. This is used to launch a Feast to get buffed. This is a good way to face difficulty challenges. Remember though, you will need to build feast buildings such as the farm, the bakery, brewery etc… Building the Assassin’s Bureau unlocks a Quest to learn the leap of faith but also opens the Order of Ancients menu. In this menu, if you see an eye icon on a target, open its page and follow the clues to find and eliminate them. This is how you will begin to tackle the Order. Valka the Seer will join you from Norway and she will give you access to Vision quests that will let you reach realms such as Asgard and Jotunheim. Also, a strange merchant may drop by named Reda. If you trade with Reda, they will give you some great gear as a trade, but you will need to find Opals which are spread around the world and are valuable commodity.
When you upgrade your settlement and start to add more buildings, you will increase your renown, which in turn increases your settlements level and be able to add new buildings to your ever-expanding home. Also, be weary that other neighbouring Clans may try to attack you and must fend off these attackers otherwise your home will be laid in ruins.
To grow and improve on your settlements, you will need resources and the best place to get resources would be do raid camps and fortresses. Raids can be done on any camp that is close to the water while you are on your longship. It is just a matter of press Y to start the Raid and Eivor will blast the horn and you and your crew will advance towards the camp and try to overtake it. You can also use the D-pad, which will open a Radial wheel and let you start a Raid too. This option can even be used during a fight and your crew will come to your aid, if close to a body of water.
Not only do you have your faithful crew with you on your journey, but you will also have Sýnin. She is a raven who accompanies you throughout the game, much like Kassandra’s eagle Ikaros and Bayek’s eagle Senu. Sýnin acts as your scout and she can survey the land for potential treasures or find your quest or target location. If you focus her view, she will also find collectibles for you like leather and minerals that you can use to improve your weapons and gear. Sýnin can also spot secret entrances that will lead to a reward. You will find that unlike the previous companions in the last two games, she will not be able to mark enemies for you or use Odin’s Sight.
Your quests in the game are split up into the regions that surround your settlement. At your settlement inside your longship house, you will have an Alliance table and map. From here you will need to make a Pledge, which sees Eivor plant a dagger into the table until the quest is complete. In each of these regions you must first form an alliance within and from there you are give quests or ‘Chapters’ that make up the quests, which are normally 3 to 5 in each quest. Once an alliance has been formed you will go back to the Alliance table and replace your dagger with a Raven statue, which shows that your alliance has been completed within that region.
Throughout the world of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, you will find a lot of activities to do, like, Raids, Mysteries, Hunting and Fishing and games like Drinking, Flyting and Dice. Flyting is like a rap battle as you try to turn a phrase and insult one another to see who can outwit who, but they are done more in a poetic way. While it may seem a bit unusual or even tedious, competing in Flyting will help increase your Charisma. This is turn will help you in certain dialogue moments and give you more options when interacting with others in the world. The Drinking games are more of a boast to see who can out drink who. The game sees you and your opponent drink mead from a massive barrel, with each of you filling your horn and downing it as quickly as possible. You are treated to a mini game where you need to press the A button at the right moment to gulp it as quickly as possible. The more you drink, the drunker you get, and you will need to use the Left thumbstick to balance while you keep drinking. You can even place a wager to earn some extra silver.
One of my favourite activities to do is the Mysteries. These Mysteries are puzzles in which you need to solve to reap a reward and they are quite varied too, there are about 11 variations in total. These range from Cairns and Standing Stones to Legendary animals and Treasures of Britain. In one mystery you will need to consume some mushrooms and go into a trance, then you must read from a parchment on an alter to find the key. Once you solve the puzzle you must enter the gates in the right order to complete the mystery. While another will see you using your Odin’s Sight to line up stones to create an etching, which in turn gives you a reward. These are just one of the many you can solve throughout the game and makes it worthwhile searching them out. The Mysteries can be visible upon reaching and synchronising a viewpoint and will also show up on your map.
Exploring through Norway and England you will have handy tools like your Cloak, which will hide you from your enemy’s detection in certain areas. It will not completely remove you from their gaze, but they will not detect you as quickly, leaving you to wander about with a certain amount of freedom. If you try walking slower while wearing your cloak, you will attract less attention and will be able to move about more freely. It also aids you when you want to blend in with certain backgrounds like a bench or a market stall, or even the town drunk. You will also have a torch that you can use as a weapon or when you are in a raid, you can burn down some buildings. Then you will have an option to use your Viking horn and this allows you to call for your longship, which is handy as you don’t need to keep tracking back to where you last left it. If you need to pass time between day and night, you can meditate, which at times is needed when a certain quest is to be done at night-time.
When it comes to Eivor and how to grow as a Viking, the progression system works well, and it is quite open. You are free to choose what kind of Viking you want Eivor to be. Like in the previous two games (again), you can upgrade your rations pouch for health and quiver for more arrows, and you will be able to upgrade your weapons and gear too. This can be done by holding the X button when you have your selected weapon/gear open in the inventory menu. If you head to your blacksmith, you will be able to enhance any gear or weapons to further improve them. You will start off with them as common pieces, but by enhancing them, you will increase their overall rarity, which in turn improves their overall stats.
Each weapon and gear you find will have an associated trait (Raven, Wolf or Bear) that can be enhanced from your Skill Tree. When it comes to the Skill Tree, this may seem a bit over whelming at the start, but the further you progress into the game, you will see how open and versatile these skills are. All depending on your playstyle will determine how you want to improve Eivor and the skills you want.
Your Skill Tree is separated into three categories or Nodes, Bear (Melee/Red), Raven (Stealth/Yellow) and Wolf (Range/Blue). Within these you will have your Nodes Types, Stat nodes and Main Skills. Your Stat nodes are for your base stats like damage for your Melee, Stealth and Range attacks and your stats like increased Health, Evasion, Stun and Damage Resistance. Your Main Skills are more based around your Skills set like Chain Assassination, Stomp, Auto Loot and Auto Recon. It really comes down to what kind of Viking you want Eivor to be. If you ever feel that you didn’t make the right choice when it comes down to what Skills you have chosen, you are able to repec them and pick a different path or even wipe them all out and start again. It is this feature in the game that makes you feel that you are not hinder by your choices as you grow Eivor throughout the game.
Then there are Abilities, and these are more like powerful moves that can increase your prowess as a warrior. To access these abilities, you will need to find books which are called Books of Knowledge and these can be found throughout the world. These abilities are both melee and ranged attacks, that you can equip to your move set. Once equipped you can use these abilities by holding either the LT (Ranged) or RT (Melee) and the button you assigned them to. They are activated in the same manner as they were in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, with each attack draining your adrenaline bar, which can be filled by parry attacks or by assassinating enemies.
The combat in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is a more brutal one when you compare them to the previous games in the series. Every attack seems more visceral and more aggressive, and with each attack you can get the feel of weight behind them. You can land light (RB) and heavy (RT) attacks with your weapon of choice, with the light attacks being the most agile and fastest attacks. Your heavy attacks are great for breaking your enemies defense and for breaking their shields. Some enemy attacks can be parried and open them up to a “stun attack” which in turn can leave him open for you to finish him by clicking in the RS and be treated to a satisfying end!
There are those attacks that cannot be parried, or block and you must move and dodge them, which can be simply done by hitting the X button. These perilous attacks will be noticeable by a red rune above the enemy’s head and you will need to be ready or face the full force of their attack. If you have a shield equipped you can use it to block incoming attacks and arrows, or if you choose, you can be an all out badass Viking and have two weapons at once and dual wield them into battle. If you have two weapons equipped you can really do some devastating damage with them, and by holding down the LB button, Eivor will unleash a barrage of attacks on an enemy, but you will drain your stamina bar more quickly. You can even choose to equip two shields and beat the holy hell out of everyone while feeling fully protected with your shields.
Range attacks are also a great way to attack from afar and it’s also a great way to show off an enemy’s weak point. While you aim your bow (LT) at an enemy, you see an inner flame or fire that shows you were best to strike (RT) them and to weaken them, which makes it easier for you to then run at them to finish them off.
The world of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla that Ubisoft Montréal has created for us, is truly a thing of beauty. From the high snowy peaks and frozen waters of Norway to the lush green hills, farmlands, and the misty marshes of England. As you climb the mountains in Norway and you get a sense of how cold it is, with Eivor’s breath showing as you breathe while running and the crunching snow under your feet as you try to push forward in the deep snow. When sailing down the river at dawn, and to be greeted by the first rays of the morning sun is a thing of beauty as you can see it struggle through the trees as it refracts off the waters. You can especially appreciate the visuals when you are overlooking the horizon from atop a hillside or a crumbling derelict tower and see the landscape around you. It truly is a remarkable site and one I feel will only be enhanced on the next generation of consoles.
When it comes to the soundtrack in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, everything added in with the visuals really gives you a world that feels alive. When you are travelling through the countryside you can hear animals foraging and running about the forest and predator animals hunting their prey and you. You can hear the wind pass by as you sail down the rivers and ruffle the sails of your longship. Upon entering villages and the bigger towns, you hear people whistling while they work, soldiers talking about drinking some fine mead as they sit near a crackling fire. Out in the hillsides, marshes, and farmlands, you will hear birds and crickets chirping, cows and sheep running around mooing and fleeting. During battles you can hear the clash of metal and wood coming together as you fight and the cries and roars of fallen soldiers as they leave for Valhalla. It really does add to the overall experience of the game.
My only gripe that I may have with the game in regards to sound, is some of the voice acting is not always spot on, but you could say this about any open world game really, especially one of this size. Yet, it didn’t detach me from my overall experience.
The overall feel of the Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is a mixture between The Witcher 3 and Fable or Zelda. There are some short stories in the game have their own tale to tell, like seeing wild children living in the forests. You will find yourself often stopping your journey through the story and taking a moment to see what this world has to offer you, and it’s quite a lot! Even after you completed the story, you will be coming back for more to see what treasures you can unearth.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla really has solidified my love of the franchise. It has everything I want in a game. It gives you open world exploration, a story that keeps you enthralled right to the end and visceral limb cleaving combat that is the meat of this epic adventure sandwich! Need I say more? I could, but YOU should experience this for yourself to fully appreciate what Ubisoft Montréal have achieved.
GoG Rating: 9/10
**A copy of the game was provided by Ubisoft for the purpose of this review**