Assassin’s Creed games are at their best when they give you the chance to take out an entire enemy camp without being seen — you never forget your first time sneaking past all of the guards in a heavily fortified outpost. But Ubisoft succeeds with Valhalla where it struggled with previous games, providing deeper and more meaningful combat even when stealth doesn’t work. Battles feel endlessly better, with a vast amount of customization available in your playstyle and weapons.
The improved combat is only the tip of the spear in what makes Valhalla a fantastic entry in the revamped Assassin’s Creed series, the third in a trio of games that moved away from the single-player story to a more open-world, RPG genre. This time, you’ll find yourself getting lost in exploring various points of interest littered throughout the map, searching for dozens of collectibles, or riding through a side quest in a wonderfully written Viking adventure.
The Norse take center stage
Valhalla’s story focuses on a new main character, Eivor, who you can choose to play as a male or female. This is explained in-universe by a mismatched DNA from the bones the modern-day Assassins team is using to access Eivor’s memories. Whichever version you choose, you play as one of the Raven clan leaders, a Viking group who traveled from Norway to England in the hopes of making a new life in a more fertile world. There’s plenty of competition here, including the English people themselves and other Vikings who have been here for some time.
Eivor must travel across England to various provinces and work with their respective leaders to gain alliances in order to boost the Raven clan’s prestige and gain more of a foothold in this foreign land. There are many historical cameo appearances from notable figures who come and go throughout the story, similar to how it wasn’t unusual to have a conversation with Cleopatra or Sokrates in Ubisoft’s previous two revamped Creed games.
The traditional Assassin’s Creed story takes a backseat to Eivor’s primary narrative, and that’s a good choice. When Eivor decides to take on more tasks for the Assassins, the transition is a natural pivot point. Previous Assassins Creed stories seemed to force the lifestyle on the character. Valhalla sits closer alongside Black Flag than the franchise’s other titles.
Breath of the Viking
When you’re not busy with Valhalla’s story, there are dozens of things for you to do in your adventure. You can choose to unravel the mysteries of numerous locations, uncovering forgotten treasures that can turn out to be useful pieces of equipment, collectibles, or neat lore-filled locations to explore. And, of course, there’s raiding.
You’ll be able to sail throughout England’s many rivers with your longship and raiding crew, singing songs or hearing tales initially spun in Norway. Raiding is one of the primary side activities in the game, where you attack specific monasteries and settlements to acquire raw materials and supplies for your own settlement, a new mechanic in this entry. You’ll spend time picking and choosing what houses to add to provide passives and unlock additional activities that are not immediately available Some locations typically have useful gear and materials for Eivor to improve their equipment.
You’ll spend a lot of time attacking these locations, but they’re tied to the region’s power level. If you’re not strong enough, you’ll have to level up through the main story or complete other side activities. Nearly everything you do grants you experience, encouraging you to go out of your way for side activities to gain the highest level. This also includes the shaman rituals Eivor can choose to undergo to explore what the Norse gods are going through as they prepare for Ragnarok, the Norse end of days. Eivor takes a psychedelic drink given by their shaman and becomes Odin to view what Thor, Loki, and Freya are doing as the end of everything quickly approaches.
There are dozens of gems all over Valhalla, too, and many of them are built around a delicate puzzle you have to carefully unravel to gain a new piece of armor or resource for your gear. The puzzles are never too complex, but they make you think twice about how to find an underground lair or how to reach the chest on the other side.
The landscape on and off the water is gorgeous. Initially, I played it on the Xbox One, and then transitioned to the Xbox Series X. The next-gen graphics and lightning-fast load times make it a standout title and provide a glimpse of what to look forward to in future releases.
Sharpen your axes
Through each side activity, main story, and wild adventure you set yourself on, Valhalla’s combat settles above the best in the series. You’ll be able to customize Eivor to your playstyle, capable of wielding a sword and shield as much as they can wield a pair of heavy two-handed broadswords. You can rush straight at enemies and cleave them in two using brutal executions or bide your time against a tougher opponent, rolling, dodging, and parrying their attacks as you whittle their health away. The combat design is smooth, it feels crisp, and it will likely lead many players to choose straight combat rather than spending five minutes huddled in a bush evading guards through stealth.
There’s a massive skill tree that breaks up several abilities and passive points that improve Eivor’s ranged, stealth, and melee combat. Eventually, you’ll be able to fill it out if you earn enough skill points playing the game. The skill trees sooner or later turn Eivor into the ultimate combatant, but there’s a bit of a build-up to it, and the foundation is more important than later in the game when it all blends together.
Valhalla is a huge game. It’s pretty overwhelming with how big the landscapes are and how much went into filling the game, but there’s always something to do. The story focuses more on Eivor on their Viking clan than the overarching Assassin’s Creed story, and it benefits from keeping it involved but never making it the sole focal point. The missions are well written, the world is full of life, and the combat is satisfying. All in all, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the definitive version of the previous refreshes Ubisoft put into the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and if you were a fan of those games, there’s just more to love here.
9 / 10
|+||Rewarding stealth mechanics that feel refined, alongside…|
|+||…excellent combat mechanics that don’t punish players who don’t use stealth.|
|+||A gorgeous environment with an endless amount of side activities|
|+||Eivor shines as a protagonist and makes us all wish we could be Vikings.|
|–||Minor dialogue and AI movement pattern bugs detract from immersion.|