STAFF REVIEW of Assassin's Creed Valhalla (Xbox One)

Monday, November 23, 2020.
by Peggy Doyle

Assassin's Creed Valhalla Box art Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the 12th entry into the Assassin’s Creed franchise since its inception in 2007. It is not without its bugs, which not only offer frustration at times, but often result in a laugh. It is also undoubtedly one of the most brutal and gritty games in the franchise. It even has a slider in the settings labeled ‘dismemberment on/off’. Valhalla is a AAA game that shows just how serious Ubisoft Montreal takes when creating beautiful environments, compelling characters, and giving fans of the franchise the Viking story that has been requested for years. Let’s take our ‘leap of faith’ together.

For this entry into the franchise you play as Eivor, a fearsome Viking in 873 AD. You can choose to play Eivor as either a female or male as you could in Odyssey, or you can ‘let the animus decide’. This is the default option for the game, letting the game choose which version of Eivor you play depending on the strength of the memories. Despite choosing to let the animus decide, I remained female for the majority of my playthrough. I am incredibly happy with my decision and seeing the changes in the story as I swapped between both versions of Eivor was interesting. There was a vastly different feeling in the playthrough when I swapped between the male and female character, like a dramatic change when watching a movie. I paid attention because something was different. It is important to note that you can swap between the male and femals version at any point during the game, so you are not stuck with the decision you make at the beginning.

Seeing that the Viking period is synonymous with looting and pillaging, it is no surprise that Valhalla brings more aggressive and chaotic combat with this title. You will raid and pillage villages and monasteries across the map to increase supplies to build and upgrade your settlement. Each level you go up will introduce new NPC residents and new opportunities for buildings such as a shipyard, tattoo shop, merchant, stables, and barracks. The barracks let create your own Jomsviking, a soldier-at-arms who can be summoned by other players. You can also hire Jomsvikings from other players to join your crew.

At times, Valhalla's gameplay leans toward the more classic combat of the older Assassin's Creed games, a style that the newer RPG driven Assassin’s Creed titles of Origins and Odyssey have moved away from. I was pleased to see the return of the hidden blade, complete with its own story, as well as social stealth making a return. This title has also rediscovered the sense of humour and rugged silliness missing since Black Flag. You will find familiar, returning components like chasing down pages in the wind, and of course chasing down the new order of baddies, all while evading mercenaries looking for you across the map.

The combat is generally excellent. Fights are fast-paced and satisfyingly violent. It is straight forward combat, and it continues the trend of previous games in the series by giving Eivor a set of abilities that rely on a stamina meter. As you progress through the game you will earn skill points that unlock nodes on what may be the largest skill tree I have ever experienced in a game. It is beautifully laid out, based on constellations, but it is also difficult to determine where you want to be until you unlock all of it. It is particularly useful that you can choose to change your point allocation at any time if you are looking to change your build during the game. Each node will increase an attribute such as Health, Stealth Damage or Bow Range, while every few increases will unlock a new finisher or special move such as the ability to quickly switch dual-wielded weapons from hand to hand in order to vary your attacks, poison arrows and many other things.

Along with the main story, there is a multitude of other activities like hunting or fishing. The traditional side quests have been replaced by ‘mysteries’. These are self contained stories sometimes featuring bizarre situations and characters. I won’t spoil anything, but I ran into a nudist, a crazy cat lady, and a man with an axe in his head, just to name a few. You also have optional activities in any of the cities you visit. You can partake in drinking contests, a game of Orlog (strategy-based dice game), or my personal favourite – flyting. You can think of flyting as a Viking rap battle that is a short battle of wits and insults.

The environment is beautiful. This is especially noticeable on the Xbox Series X on which I played much of my game. I spent a lot of time taking pictures in photo mode. Excellent voice performances from both versions of Eivor are featured as well as beautiful music and sound effects that sell the mayhem of battle. Most of the dialogue is well written, and the personalities are distinct while the conversations seem natural. Viking songs and story telling on your longboat are a welcome return for those who loved the shanties in Black Flag. The soundtrack is beautiful, powerful, and haunting at times. I find myself listening to it even when not playing.

There are more sliders to customise this game than in any previous entries. There are options to add/remove subtitles, adjust text size, assist with colour blindness and more, something which makes this game more accessible to more people. One thing missing was the ability to have dialogue repeated for Mysteries. If you missed what an NPC asked you to do, you could not get them to repeat themselves, nor was it available to read in your quest log. This simple adjustment would go a long was in assisting many players. If you do miss something, you can leave the area and the Mystery will eventually reset, allowing you to start over.

A few of the more common bugs I experienced were catching and holding invisible fish, riding invisible horses, and NPCs beard designs changing as they were walking towards me. There were moments where characters would be talking but their mouths were not moving, and once I got stuck in a rock wall. The biggest issue was the game freezing after talking to one of the main characters that you have frequent interactions with. Multiple times after I interacted with this character the game would freeze, and I would have to quit the game and reload. Even though this was frustrating, none of these bugs ruined the experience of the game for me and I recently found the frequency of such bugs reduced to virtually zero.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla is well executed on several levels, sans the bugs that I ran into. It is a true AAA title that is a worthy playthrough for fans of the game old and new. It is a tale of fate, loyalty, glory, and morality. Eivor must make tough decisions as to how to grow their settlement and how they navigate relationships in the world. The decisions you make will change components of the story, so you are in charge of your own destiny. One quote from Eivor stood out to me, and a paraphrase here as to not potentially spoil anything… ‘“The toughest battle you’ll ever fight in your life is the battle within yourself.” Skal!!

**This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.3 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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