Any game that can convince you to spend 100 hours playing it is worth spending money on, and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla does just that. But whether that is 100 hours of riveting, can’t-let-go-of-the-controller fun is another question altogether.
Valhalla is the closest video-game company Ubisoft has come to finding a balance between the Assassin’s Creed franchise’s stealth-adventure roots and the open-world role playing game (RPG) genre, but it is still not without its faults.
Like Odyssey and Origins before it, Valhalla doesn’t really emphasise stealth either. That said, the emphasis on stealth in this game is greater than it was in the two RPGs Ubisoft made before this. The company has brought back some of the Assassin’s Creed’s earlier aesthetics, of blending in with a group of monks to escape notice, or sitting down amidst a crowd to avoid attention.
In essence, while there’s just enough for stealth lovers to enjoy, the game keeps nudging you to not be stealthy. Early in the game, your character informs you via dialogue that he (or she, you get to choose) will not be hiding the “hidden blade”, the trademark Assassin weapon. There’s even a quest in the game where you are allowed to choose a stealthy approach, only to have non-playable characters mitigate any chance of that.
Stealth aside, however, Valhalla’s overall fighting mechanics are excellent. The game doesn’t have as many weapons or armour as Odyssey, but it still has plenty of options. There are abilities to unlock, to further help you determine what kind of warrior you will be and exactly how you will chop off your enemies’ heads.
This, coupled with perhaps the largest and most beautiful map on any Assassin’s Creed game so far, is what makes Valhalla balls-to-the-wall fun. You start off in icy Norway in the Dark Ages, moving to England. It gets even prettier. It’s not just how things look up close; the draw distance (the maximum distance to which graphics are rendered) has also improved. In Valhalla, you sit perched on a building and can literally see miles into the distance. We played the game for almost 103 hours and stopped 139 times to use its “photo mode” to freeze a moment for memory.
Throw in some historical relevance, like the Dark Ages version of America, London or monuments like Stonehenge, and you have ample reason to explore this seemingly unending map.
What the game lacks, though, is a story to keep the tempo going. Valhalla’s story is like a selection of short stories, all of which ultimately combine into one. And this final piece itself fits into the larger Assassin’s Creed lore. There’s merit to this approach, especially because it fits with the way the Vikings invaded England in the Dark Ages, taking one region at a time. However, it’s not as fast as the story in Odyssey and can even be tedious at times.
There are high points, moments where you feel for a character, but it just doesn’t match older games. The central character, Eivor, pales in comparison to older assassins like Bayek, Alexios/Kassandra or Ezio Auditore. The best parts of the story lie in the way Valhalla explains the story of King Alfred burning the cakes, or why Stonehenge exists, and, as always, how the gods aren’t really “gods”.
A slow story would still have been fine, if there were engaging side quests. Valhalla’s side quests, or “world events” as they are called, seem to have been given the least amount of thought. Where Odyssey often took you on a short half-hour ride with a side quest you really wanted to see through to the end, in Valhalla you do them at best because you want to achieve a certain power level.
To be clear, the game isn’t designed for grinders. You can easily keep completing story missions and ignore side quests, but engaging side quests was one of our favourite things about Odyssey.
Another letdown of sorts is the new “raid” mechanic in Valhalla. The game wants you to build your own base (settlement), taking a page out of the The Ezio Collection, and you need to raid monasteries to earn supplies. This is an interesting addition that gives you a chance to feel more like a real Viking raider. But you would expect these to be more difficult.
A few raids in, you realise that there is really no chance of a raid actually failing, and you don’t really need to kill all enemies either, just a select few. From there on, each raid is just another thing you can do, but can also ignore. The game has a spin on this too, with “assaults” on castles, but that too becomes repetitive. Raids are meant to mimic the war aspect of the Viking assault on England, but at no point do you feel that you might lose. It’s fun the first few times, but becomes tedious really fast.
Despite the disappointments, Valhalla is still one of the best games of the year. As we noted earlier, any game that convinces you to spend 100-plus hours playing it, is worth spending money on. Valhalla isn’t perfect, but you won’t regret playing it, even at the game’s lowest point. There were many bugs in the game, many which needed a full restart to overcome, but the game’s sheer size and the time spent on it dwarfed it all.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is available on PC and console. Starting at Rs3,999 for the latter.