How do you follow up on a game as enormous, as all-encompassing and expansive as Assassin's Creed Odyssey? Do you aim for an even bigger slice of open world in which to set your next Animus adventure? Add evermore RPG elements, fetch quests, side missions and collectibles for players to spend hundreds of hours hoovering up? With Assassin's Creed Valhalla it turns out Ubisoft's answer is to neatly side-step into a richer, more narrative-focused space, resisting the urge to expand further outwards in favour of drilling downwards, striking a rich vein of well-written characters and captivating stories, replacing much of the series’ dull and repetitive open world busywork with genuine fun and intrigue and, in the process, delivering what is undoubtedly the best entry to date in this long-running franchise.
It doesn't take long to feel the change in the air in Ubisoft's twenty-third assassin adventure. In a prologue that's every bit as glacially-paced and snowbound as that of Red Dead Redemption 2, a game whose influence can be keenly felt throughout here, we're introduced to a world as large and intricately detailed as that found in the Egyptian and Ancient Greek romps of the previous two Creeds but one that feels so much more alive, so much more full of purpose and direction. This is Assassin's Creed filtered through Rockstar's cowboy epic, coloured by the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, and it's all the better for it.
After an admittedly slow start that sets the political scene and introduces central protagonist Eivor, a character you can once again choose to play as in male or female form here, Assassin's Creed Valhalla gets down to business proper, whisking our Viking hero and their raucous Raven Clan to 9th Century England where they quickly establish a base and begin to form necessary alliances across the regions that make up the game's world map. It's in these alliances that this latest entry finds a truly satisfying rhythm, each one involving a strongly written narrative arc split into multiple missions which must be completed in order to strengthen your ties with the Danes, Saxons, Britons and others who surround you. After each story arc is completed you return to your basecamp of Ravenscroft, building and expanding, adding blacksmiths, stables, breweries and tattoo parlours, which in turn increase your population - a population with whom you'll trade goods found on your travels, upgrade your weapons and armour, customise your horse and longboat and take on missions of a more personal nature.
It's a gameplay loop that keeps you tied into the game's narrative much more so than in previous Assassin's Creed efforts with Ravenscroft acting as a central nexus, a place you'll return to and develop between sorties. It's that Red Dead rhythm of heading out on the trail then returning to camp, to your friends and acquaintances, to divvy up and reset before getting back out there again, and it's one that helps refine this latest Ubisoft effort beyond anything yet seen in the franchise. The aimless wandering that made up a fair portion of the Odyssey and Origins experience, blasting around a huge open world from story point to story point, running fetch quests disguised as side missions and gathering endless trinkets is replaced here by a much more focused experience. It still gives you plenty of opportunity to roam, but it's roaming that feels like it's got purpose and direction, enriched by fun diversions, intriguing challenges, atmospheric treasure hunts and side excursions that help enhance the world and tie into the central narrative rather than wasting your time with fool's errands.
England as a setting too, in the mind's eye perhaps not particularly the most exciting or exotic of choices, is revealed here to be an enchanting place full of vividly detailed districts, autumnal forests, foreboding castles, murky swamps, ancient ruins and muddy, bloody battlefields, all of which hide secrets and treasures to be sought out. Beyond forming alliances and building bases of course, Vikings will be Vikings and, in order to increase the reputation and influence of Ravenscroft, you'll set out in your longboat or on horseback to raid and pillage monasteries and enemy fortresses. Combat here may not be quite as refined as that found in the likes of Ghost of Tsushima but it has a brutal, almost messy quality to it that suits the setting and subject well. Jumping from your longboat into the sea in order to charge ashore and attack a camp or castle feels suitably frenetic for a bunch of sweary Viking marauders, launching into bloody close-quarters action wielding axes, daggers and swords, explicitly chopping off heads, spearing foes and setting fire to bodies and buildings alike as you decimate everything that stands in your way.
You'll start your Viking adventure with a modest moveset allowing for light and heavy attacks, a dodge and a parry, everything you do now tied to a stamina bar system that requires you time your advances and retreats. As you level up through synchronising map points and completing missions you'll gain skill points which can be used to unlock a huge selection of new moves from the game's Skyrim-esque starry skill chart. You'll learn to stomp on a downed opponent's head, perform violent warrior takedowns, backstab, booby-trap corpses and much, much more. Alongside this you'll also gain special attack abilities by hunting down well-hidden Books of Knowledge that enable you to poison the tips of your arrows, fire venomous volleys into foes, perform powerful charges and leap into the air before coming crashing down with your weapon into the head of an unfortunate enemy. It's visceral stuff with just enough thought required through that stamina bar to keep it engaging.
There's a stripped back weapons and armour system in operation here that makes discovering a brand new axe, sword, shield, helmet or spear feel genuinely exciting. These things no longer litter every corner of the world and you'll need to search through ruins and solve puzzles in order to get your hands on them before strengthening them at your blacksmiths and affixing a variety of stat-boosting runes that you'll find on your blood-soaked travels. It's a much neater system that, alongside levelling up which is much less time-consuming and cloying than that found in Origins and Odyssey, leaves you free to just enjoy your adventure, to get involved in this world and its intriguing stories without constantly running item stats in your head.
Of course, ever since Assassin's Creed struck out in a new RPG-lite direction with Origins, some long-term fans have bemoaned the series abandoning its assassin roots in favour of bombastic brawls. In Valhalla this aspect of things is remedied by the return of the hidden blade early in the game, and plenty of opportunity is given to players to get down to some good old-fashioned parkouring around rooftops, hiding in bushes, blending into crowds and taking out entire enemy garrisons without being seen or heard.
There's an entire branching network of Order targets to discover and assassinate, high-ranking enemy units to be avoided or taken down and, overall, Valhalla somehow manages to simultaneously take a step back towards a more traditional feeling Assassin's Creed adventure while providing a world equal in size and scope to Odyssey that proves narratively richer and much less full of bloat and busywork. The almost forensic level of attention to detail and history that has become this series' trademark also continues here with a superbly realised recreation of a dark and bloody time and place, and a cast of intricately written characters and clans that help give the story so much of its drama and impact. There are plenty of surprises too, with this game going to some far flung and fantastical places far removed from the brutal realities of 9th century Norway and England, but we wouldn’t dream of ruining a second of the twists and turns for you here. We should also note that present day sequences are, happily, kept to an absolute minimum, the weakest part of the Assassin's Creed experience afforded the respect it deserves.
In terms of performance, although there are some minor bugs and glitches here and there and screen-tearing is an issue from time to time, this really is an impressive showcase for the Series X. Assassin's Creed Valhalla's world is an enormously detailed and busy one and it runs at an almost flawless 60FPS/4K here - although we did have one instance during a huge battle where that framerate wobbled for a few minutes. The constantly changing weather combined with quickly shifting time-of-day in this game creates some stunning scenes, volumetric effects provide a ton of atmosphere and drama and we genuinely found ourselves unable to stop hammering the screenshot button as we played.
With a best-in-series campaign clocking in at just short of seventy hours, a wealth of truly well-written, memorable characters and a captivating open world setting that manages to fill its map with much more in the way of meaningful activity, Assassin's Creed Valhalla sees this long-running series in the best shape its ever been. This is a fantastic showpiece for the power of next-gen consoles and a truly superb game in its own right.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla sees the long-running franchise at an absolute high point. A much tighter, more refined and narrative-focused experience, it learns lessons from other recent open world efforts, removing much of the series' tedious open-world busywork and channelling its players through a genuinely excellent and intriguing adventure. There's still plenty of exploring, looting and collecting to be done here but it's so much more engaging, full of fun puzzles and atmospheric treasure hunts that make the downtime between story arcs all the more rewarding. This is Assassin's Creed looking and feeling better than ever.
It hasn’t blown me away like Odyssey did, but i’m still enjoying it and i’m only 3-ish hours in. Torn between too many games at the moment. Looking forward to playing more!
Just downloading to series x now
Can’t wait to play.
I read some reviews complaining that it's more of the same, and I don't understand them. What is this industry obsession with game series completely reinventing themselves on every entry?
If I'm a fan of a game, I would always prefer minor iteration over complete reinvention. Keep the reinvention for new IPs.
@Tharsman yea to be fair; AC already had it’s reinvention with Origins.
The only issue I have had is corrupt saves but of you exit and restart that seems to fix it @FraserG have you seen anything like this?
@K1LLEGAL True, but that's something that does not happen that often. Even that reinvention kept many core elements, ironically, the elements reviewers keep complaining about (like map-revealing viewpoints.)
Btw, I would make an argument UBisoft should make more old-style AC games like Rogue focised on platforms like the Nintendo Switch.
@Tharsman To be fair this is the 20 something edition. With criticism aimed at Spiderman MM being 'more of the same' on its second outing, its the world we live in.
I agree that I don't mind revisiting gameplay that I love every now and again (I doubt I'd ever tire of the Zelda BOTW gameplay mechanics for example) but this game comes out every year so may be easier to get tiresome (had AC fatigue on my third purchase which was Syndicate).
I am extremely tempted to give this one a chance though as it sounds a lot more appealing that previous editions and the tighter focus on story as mentioned in the review makes me want to try. I struggle with open world games that lose direction so you end up forgetting what the purpose of the game is, which in my mind is bad game design. This sounds like its a big improvement there.
Awsome, Love Assassin's Creed..
GameStop Assassin's Creed Vahalla Ultimate Edition Steelbook physical copy is back in stock. I just brought mine after canceling a bid on eBay from a scalper where it's up to $200 plus $8 for shipping.
Anyone seen the comparisons yet? Looking bad for series X. PS5 keeps an average higher frame rate, xbox has tearing, both platforms dynamic 4k but PS5 keeps a higher average resolution.
No screen tearing for me but I do have a Samsung q90r with VRR enabled.
I also have 4K 120fps enabled as well
So far everything running like a dream.
I have had no screen tearing it runs like a dream just the corrupt save files that when turned off and back on seem to go away.
Gah, don’t tempt me. Not a huge AC fan but I fancy it as a technical showcase. Thing is, it’s a UBI Soft game. It’ll be £20 by Summer.
My copy finally arrived today. Can’t wait to dive in - especially as I’m also off work next week! I loved Odyssey, but I think that’s also cos I had a secret crush on Kassandra 😉 shame about the screen tearing though - this really shouldn’t be an issue on “the most powerful Xbox ever” - hope Ubisoft patch this ASAP. Good review btw.
Only 30fps on series S. It uses dynamic resolution (1620-2160p, just as series x) instead of locking it to 1080p or 1440p. If locked it could easily reach 60fps 😤😒
@Tharsman Yeah, I don't get it either. It's always nice when long running game franchises mix it up and try something new, but "more of the same" seems like one of those complaints that people parrot without really knowing what they're asking for. What would these constant reinventions they're apparently asking for even look like? Like, you could release an Assassin's Creed game that's entirely a match 3 puzzler and it would be different, but it wouldn't necessarily be good.
@Tharsman Same here. I like to think of Assassin’s Creed - the last few entries, anyway - as comfort food. I know what I’m going to get. I don’t expect a masterpiece, but video games are meant to be fun and I know I always have one hell of a time playing the game(s).
Liking this game so far, but I'm playing the One S version. Performance could be a lot better, though. Playing with HDR, but some scenes (especially dark ones) look super washed out. Any tips for getting the settings right or is it just the One S version?
I like this game way more than Odyssey. That game I was bored after 20 hours and in Valhalla I am over 30 hours and still want keep on playing, even when it is around midnight.
I'm definitely looking forward to the DF face off, and if what you say is true, it just doesn't make sense.
The XSX is the more powerful console, it's a fact, and very likely that Microsoft once again are behind with the SDK environment compared to Sony, similar to the beginning of the current gen. Just my opinion 😊.
Screen-tearing is severe on all consoles unless you have a TV with VRR. I've stopped playing until UBI hopefully resolve this issue.
@Menchi I'm hearing mixed things so far with more saying both are stable 60 and both have drops at the same places with the occasional tearing due to lack of dynamic sync and the ps5 faster ssd loads.
I've had two very brief moments of screen tearing on Series X but other than that it has been running perfectly.
Not surprised at the score, these Assassins Creed games always seem to have a fan following that holds them to high regard. That said I am totally tired of this series and I have not been impressed by anything about this game, so it's far from being a next gen seller for me.
Never liked AC. The combat was too narrow or strict. It has changed a lot now. Keep hearing it is a chores side quest game and looking that some of the new ones are stupidly 80 hours to beat, I will skip them. Ghost is the new AC for me.
@NEStalgia I've just seen various clips but can never find the actual source video. But they do have fps counters and graphs. The problem seems to be both have drops, but xbox drops harder and lower in both fps and res. And tears more. Some places where xbox drops, PS5 stays at 60 doing a higher average res too.
@Menchi I wouldn't doubt snowdrop and Anvil are very single threaded... They're dinosaurs. That makes some sense. But it conflicts with other reports that holds it running more or less the same on both other than the load speeds and tearing on xs.
Well have to wait for df or better benchmarks.
@NEStalgia I'll stick to VGTech or Candyland. They do the same quality work when it comes to resolution and framerate as DF, and you don't get saddled with their trash tier opinions.
I imagine you won't see the screen tearing or frame drops if you have freesync or VRR display but they definitely need to get the screen tearing cleaned up for people that have standard displays.
Assassin's Creed 1 will always be my favourite
"...In Valhalla this aspect of things is remedied by the return of the hidden blade early in the game, and plenty of opportunity is given to players to get down to some good old-fashioned parkouring around rooftops, hiding in bushes, blending into crowds and taking out entire enemy garrisons without being seen or heard."
This paragraph has me sold! I saw a few early trailers and it looked like the 'mass' battles were taking over. Love a bit of old school sneak/stab style AC. Added to my Xmas list, although I will be playing on my One X...no Series X for me (yet).
It took a long time to get going but once in England you can go pretty much anywhere but you best levelling up a bit first
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