With a relative lack of big first party launches for the new consoles, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is one of this season’s biggest launches. It’s coming to next gen as well (with a free upgrade), but is also available for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Our playtest was done with a PS4 Pro.
In recent years, the Assassin’s Creed franchise’s main mechanic (as a franchise) has been to leap-frog through time and offer us grand adventures in different time zones. It’s a departure from the earlier games in the franchise that felt similar and features a single protagonist, and we’ve enjoyed having these backdrops serve as a character of its own. The last two games (Origins and Odyssey) in particular had fascinating pieces of history for players to uncover, so we were hoping for something similar with Valhalla.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla zooms in on life during the Viking age, with young Eivor serving as our main protagonist. His family was murdered, and after your leave your adoptive family you set out for England. This sets Valhalla up for numerous clashes – not just in terms of combat but also between different backgrounds, value systems and beliefs. Eivor clearly comes from an upbringing where conquering your foes by spilling blood is a common way of life, which at the same time there are notions of mysticism and magic in the game that are more prominent here than they were in previous games.
Zooming in on gameplay, a lot of the combat and movement feels very much like it did in Odyssey, with some noticeable nuances. There’s less emphasis on stealth, but it feels like a natural transition when you look at the Viking way of life – which appears to not lean towards lurking in the shadows. Combat, on the other hands, feels more visceral this time around, and Eivor can be pretty unrelenting towards his enemies. There’s more freedom in the weapons you equip and this translates to combat styles. You can dual wield weapons, but you’ll also be more agile with lighter weapons than you will be with heavier ones.
The loot system has been overhauled, and feels less like a grind with more emphasis on rare gear that actually makes a difference instead of having to find a whole bunch of stuff. A lot of your upgrades feel more powerful and many of them feel magic-imbued, which fits with the themes of magic and mysticism as well as Assassin’s Creed’s shift towards more traditional RPG gameplay. You’ll also see this in how character progression is implemented, which is more narrative-driven when it comes to how you unlock your abilities. They’re dished out as rewards for completing quests, and you can’t have all of them equipped at once, so you have plenty of choices in how you want to approach combat. Some abilities are more geared towards melee, while others see you summoning animals to come to your aid.
Valhalla, much like Origins and Odyssey before it, is another massive title in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, even to the point where I ended up skipping optional side quests before I felt like it was taking too long to complete the main storyline missions. This was partly for the sake of a review that needed to be written, but a certain kind of fatigue had also set in at that point. There is so much content here that it feels unfortunate to have to rush it, so I’m interested to play through the experience again once the season pass DLC comes out so I can go about my business at a more relaxed pace and get the full picture. In terms of value for money, this one is filled to the brim with gameplay content – even my ‘rushed’ playthrough lasted for over 40 hours.
Another thing I’m curious to try out later is how well the game runs on a PlayStation 5. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla looks gorgeous, but struggles to keep up with all the visual splendor on a PlayStation 4 Pro. Three crashes in forty hours doesn’t sound like a lot, but it really shouldn’t happen at all – and that’s on top of the occasional slowdown and gameplay glitch that required me to leave and revisit a location or load a saved game in order to keep progressing. Some of these issues will certainly be patched post-release, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Valhalla’s current-gen versions feel like they didn’t get the development time and love they deserved.
If you enjoyed Origins and Odyssey then Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, despite a few changes, is familiar enough and you’ll certainly enjoy it. Another way of saying that is that the core mechanics haven’t changed much, and the star attraction is the new Viking sitting, which comes with gorgeous scenery, interesting and well-rounded characters and a good selection of abilities that are unique to Eivor. At the end of the day that makes Valhalla a worthy successor, that we no doubt would have scored higher had we played it on a next gen console.