Reviews

Review: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

I want to start this review with a few housekeeping notes.

First of all, when I wrote my Watch Dogs: Legion review, I should have started with a disclaimer saying that Ubisoft has had a specifically problematic development cycle in a number of their IPs and seemingly in the company as a whole. I do not condone these actions and have considered how I review Ubisoft properties. Those who know me well know how highly I regard Ubisoft — especially as a Canadian industry leader. I am hopeful that the mistakes Ubisoft has made in the past do not continue. 

Finally, my time spent in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on PC has unfortunately been shipwrecked by a bug that leads to indefinite crashes each time I try to enter the Animus. I have attempted several fixes — including ones provided by Ubisoft and have had no luck, and so this review will cover the roughly six hours I’ve spent exploring the game’s prologue.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

From what I’ve explored of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla so far, Ubisoft Montreal’s third entry since the series’ reboot in 2017 does much of the same as it’s predecessors. The company has struggled in the past with uniformity sneaking into their titles, and it’s much the same here. Players are going to have to decide if changes to equipment load-outs, including raids and a return to the base building so enjoyed in early Assassin’s Creed games, is enough to keep things fresh. 

While standard combat maintains the brute strength, cunning archery or silent stealth mechanics of both Assassin’s Creed Origins and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, it adds upon the challenge with arena boss battles in the styling of Dark Souls. They are similar to boss battles we saw in the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Legacy of the First Blade DLC, but I experienced two of these in my time with the game’s prologue. And completing them on hard, I can tell you that they ramp up the difficulty quite enjoyable. I foresee these battles becoming even more enjoyable as they begin to weave into Assassin’s Creed Valhalla‘s more mystical realms — much in the way that Assassin’s Creed Origin’s DLC The Curse of the Pharaohs strongly introduced mystical battles.

Ubisoft Montreal also improves combat by allowing players to equip themselves in multiple ways to complement their combat style. Dual wielding is now allowed, with the protagonist Eivor having a dominant hand and juggling weapons from one hand to the other. I’ve opted to build a double axe-carrying berserker who does massive damage. But if you wish to build a quick rouge or a for whatever reason, a tank carrying two shields at once, the game allows it.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla

As I mentioned, raiding is a new addition to the rebooted Assassin’s Creed franchise. During my time in-game so far, I’ve been able to complete a small treasure raid as well as a larger story raid. I know that I have only just started the game’s raids, but I haven’t really been enjoying them so far. The smaller raid that I endured consisted of facing down a couple of waves of enemies together with my crew before burning their fort and leaving it a husk. The larger raid saw me making my way through a larger walled town in order to reach the church atop the hill. I am a little upset that the raid boiled down to me having to climb a couple of the town walls and unlocking the door for my troops in waiting. I really wish that I could have had experience with raiding one of the kingdoms of England, but the game’s crashing kept me out.

I’m also not enjoying that the process of exploration and reconnaissance stays identical. During your adventure, aerial reconnaissance is done through a raven companion named Sýnin, who functions identically to the way previous companions have. While I have done very little sailing in the game’s opening the longship feels too similar to past experiences to me. With sailing being such an important part of Viking life, I was really hoping to enjoy sailing more than just as a means to get around, but I don’t foresee it being anything more than conveyance.

I wish to sail for distant lands

Another positive change comes in the game’s side mission and exploration system. While I have only experienced how exploration works in the game’s opening country of Norway, spending most of my time in the county of  Rygjafylke [modern day Rogland], I have been pleasantly enjoying how Assassin’s Creed Valhalla‘s exploration works. Instead of playing out like fetch quests or missions randomly doled out by NPCs expecting you to do something for you across the island or on another island, they unfold in a more active nature similar to Red Dead Redemption 2 or Ghost of Tsushima.

Highlights of mine are luring a bear to an inept young soldier who lusted to prove his greatness, only to become a corpse quickly. And secondly, feeling quite hopelessly stuck in the middle of a physical altercation between a brother mourning the loss of his ill sister and a warlock who said he was trying to help keep her alive and was not able to because the brother covered her in pig blood, which probably wasn’t good for her health!

A tale entirely your own

The greatest disappointment I associate with this constant crashing I am having is that it has pillaged my ability to progress Eivor’s story. Ubisoft Montreal has once again done what they are best at, allowing players to craft their narrative and explore to their heart’s content. Syndicate and Odyssey toyed with players casting themselves as a male or female assassin limits making things canon. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla throws this concept to the winds behind your sails and allows you to decide if Eivor was male or female truly.

I chose female, and I have set out on a quest to support an older brother figure as he wrestles with being thrown into a choice between supporting a new Norwegian king who wants peace and an end to raiding. Or if he wants adventures in England and remaining true to the things that have brought him glory and freedom — raiding in this case.

Right from the get-go, I felt an intense need to explore every inch of Norway that I could to try and help manage the difficulty, but also so that I wouldn’t miss anything. Another point where I feel Ubisoft Montreal excels: they make sandboxes intensely large, but they always give you ample reason to explore as much of it as you can.

Listening to the series’s long-time fans, Ubisoft Montreal acknowledges that exploring all of the maps and completing many of the same tasks over and over becomes a drag. So they are freshening things up by altering how things appear on the map in hopes it will inspire people to explore without burnout.

“Wealth” as it’s now called appears on the map as gold dots. These are pieces of gear, resources or tomes that teach useful battle skills. In order to keep things fresh, Ubisoft Montreal has hidden these behind puzzles. Blue dots denote world events or situations where you will come up against story elements in order to solve things.

I thirst for the opportunity to complete more of both the way Viking thursts for mead after a long voyage. That is to say that in my roughly six hours with the game’s prologue, I find myself incredibly satiated with Eivor’s story or remaining true to what makes you tick — even if that’s going to be pillaging villages and setting fire to English castles.

This generation has set sail for greener pastures

In the case of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla‘s PC optimization, it would appear that there are major problems on the horizon. It’s already being reported that the game isn’t performing perfectly on even the beefiest of rigs.

So I’m wondering if what I am experiencing is indicative of a struggle for PC gamers with lower quality rigs. I’ve been playing on a 2019 Dell G5 gaming laptop with a 9th generation Intel Core i7 with an Nvidia GForce 2060, so naturally, I’m not expecting to be able to play anywhere above high-quality settings. But I shouldn’t be experiencing this crash in the same spot even when on low settings.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Because Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a cross-generation title and not a true next-generation title, I’m worried about what this means for the future of my PC gaming abilities. Now, it could just be that the troubles I’ve been experiencing are due to what is rather affectionately “Ubijank.” It’s no secret that Ubisoft’s focus traditionally falls upon console gaming as opposed to PC — which I am hoping will change with the company putting more focus on the “Ubisoft Connect” app being cross-platform.

On high settings, I’ve had a significant amount of framerate drops and screen tearing during cutscenes. I’ve also experienced the game coming to a total halt and even crashing outright during more populated instances. I turned down my graphics to medium to remedy these crashes and stutters and while it worked to improve the visual issues I am experiencing, it has done nothing to get me back into the Animus.

Unfortunately, I am not able to go as far as I hoped I could with this review due to the game not working right now. I’ve spent the weekend troubleshooting the game with Ubisoft’s support team but haven’t had much luck getting things resolved. However, I promise to update this review with more in the coming days if the crashes are solved.

Verdict

Ubisoft Montreal has done their very best to continue to build upon Assassin’s Creed’s revamp with a Norse entry that parallels the very idea of Valhalla. Vikings spent their afterlife in the grand hall of Odin until called upon to fight alongside him during Ragnarok or the end of the gods. Likewise, over the last several years, we’ve seen the Assassin’s Creed franchise reinvent itself and adopt a holding pattern. My hope for the future is that next-gen represents a Ragnarok of sorts. The improvements brought on by a new generation of technical ability and new leadership over the franchise keep the boat sailing ever forward, and the franchise fighting for a future. Ubisoft has a long road to recovery and the best way to do that is to let their creatives the freedom to craft and ship exciting video games that challenge fans to be better and to be engaged.

Bobby:

With Assassin’s Creed Valhalla effectively locking Luke on progressing any further, I’ve been steadily making my way through the boisterous campaign, chugging ale, flyting savagely, and raiding and pillaging villages throughout England. I’ve been hit with a dozen bugs from the moments I began my journey in Norway and right off the longboat into a new land. And somehow, the more I play, the more I do enjoy this game, which is likely because of a well-written cast of characters and a gorgeous setting that’s ripe for the taking.

Even as I’ve had the game crash multiple times, not register my R2 button when attempting heavy strikes, the loss of sound effects, character models going into panic mode, seeing through the map when a finisher on an enemy begins; Ubisoft’s somehow got a good game beneath all the gunk. It’s a shame that their quality assurance is lacking because if this was a polished title from launch, I’d be feeling even better about the series.

I’m from the old school, I loved (and love) the series right up until Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. There’s only so much change I can take though, and while I feel this year’s entry is finally finding its roots again, there’s still a lot to be desire. Implementing social stealth again is a nice touch but it’s still unnecessary because enemies are so dim-witted across the board. Building a settlement again feels welcoming to the veteran in me but what I want is true stealth sections and gameplay that resonates with me like the old games once did.

We’ve lost a lot of the magic that made this series special by focusing on making massive open worlds that feel like they have so much content in them but the reality is, everything is empty. However, Valhalla is the first game in ages to offer a palpable treat with World Events that are short and often weird occurrences spread across England. If Ubisoft can correct course and keep the better elements of the new series, while incorporating the elements that made this series so beloved (and I’m talking parkour up and parkour down) then I can see myself continuing to enjoy these titles.

And for the first time in nearly eight years, the modern sections feel like they belong to an over-arching story instead of a misplaced add-on. We’re finally getting some answers because from what I know they finally found a way to wrap the convoluted storyline into an idea that can be used in-game.

Right now, as it is, yes, I am having fun playing this game but as a longtime fan, I need to be heard.

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]

Recommended
Recommended
The Good
  • New exploration and encounters, that encourage you to head out into the world
  • Fighting is versatile, visceral, and brutal
  • Dials back on loot, offers sets of armour that are worth upgrading
  • Eivor is a good protagonist
The Bad
  • Feels a little too much the same
  • PC performance is questionable
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