Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Let’s Go A Viking

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Welcome back to Mulehorn Gaming, your one-stop-shop for everything gaming, cinema, comics, and so much more. I’m following up on the first impressions article of Valhalla from last week. I have to say that I am continuing to enjoy my time running amok in the latest addition to the Assassins’ Creed franchise. I am very appreciative that I was sponsored to write on this game. It has been a blast and this game is by far one of the best games to be released with next-generation gaming in mind. 

Story Telling 

In the latest installment of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, you play as the Viking Eivor. The game gives you some control over whether or not you play as a male or a female. You can also allow for the game to choose for you, which is actually an option that I encourage you to try. In an interview with Variety, Darby McDevitt, Narrative Director, explains why the choice exists and how the full story can be experienced by choosing the third option. Darby explains, “That unique third option has (the) protagonist switching between male and female at various points throughout the story. Those switches aren’t random, McDevitt insists; in fact, they are very intentional, and the further the player gets into the game, the more those switches will make sense.” 

I have been using the latter option and there are some nice surprises in store for you if you do this. Valhalla actually does a really good job of building story elements around this customization. I have been exploring the Animus mostly as a female version of Eivor, so I will use those pronouns when referencing our protagonist. Plus, I want to show my support for this function and highlight the fact that Eivor is a fully playable strong female lead.

Assassin’s Creed has always excelled at world-building. That is to say, the way in which the developers utilize a reasonably accurate historical context to push a fictional narrative is very compelling and Valhalla may be the best example of this. The game occurs around AD 873, during a time where overcrowding has necessitated that Eivor and her brother Sigurd embark on a quest to leave Norway and sail for England where Ragnar Lodbrok and the Ragnarssons have been met with great success in their raiding of the Saxons. The Ragnarssons have established settlements and alliances in England, but it largely remains divided and wild. Eivor and Sigurd will need to contend with other Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and ferocious wildlife whether through battle or by alliances in order to tame this land. England is divided into 13 counties. Then there are three general regions; Northumbria, Mercia, and Wessex. There are also three walled cities; Jorvik (York), Lunden (London), and Wincestre (Winchester). Yet, there are many more settlements that can be raided. You will begin your conquest of England at your settlement, Ravensthorpe.

The game does a great job of fostering a sense of community. Even while your early settlement of Raventhorpe mostly consists of tents and a hall; the people that have voyaged to this new home from Norway are very eager to build a community. These are your clansmen and they look to you to lead them. I love how the game makes this feel natural. For example, after acquiring new building materials from running several raids, I returned to Ravensthorpe to build a tattoo parlor, hunters hut, and fishers hut. I was then lead on a quest by the owner of the hunter’s hut that served as an intro to hunting. 

Later, I returned to offload some materials and further the settlement and I was once again met by other clansmen that needed my help in tracking down her lost brother who had not returned from the night before. This quest turned into an overnight trek through the wilderness chasing mythical creatures and wild visions to only find out that we had all accidentally ate the wrong kind of mushroom soup. Oops.

Many of the Raven Clan quests and stories can seem to break up the darker stories and conflict that Eivor experiences with Sigurd with lighter and more comedic adventures.  Eivor is a strong female character. The voice actor, Cecilie Stenspil, does a fine job performing her and conveying the range of emotions that she goes through. That is, there is a dark and unwavering side to her and there is also an almost child-like and jovial side as well. I am thinking about Eivor on shrooms, ok? Seriously, the performance lends to these emotional and deep experiences that are rare in video games and difficult to pull off. I think Ubisoft Montreal is probably the first to do so in presenting two characters conveniently wrapped into one. 

The male version of Eivor is highly popular and widely accepted. Likewise, actor, Magnus Bruun, who is known for playing a Viking warlord on the Netflix series “The Last Kingdom” has been highly celebrated and is equally talented. He recently tweeted out that he was excited to announce that the voice-overs for the first DLC ‘Wrath of the Druids’ have been completed. The male version of Eivor is a totally unique experience. He brings a sort of cunning and slyness to Eivor, whereas his female counterpart was always known to be experienced and skillful.

Nordic Mythology

I absolutely love it when the story is impacted by the Norse pantheon of gods. The game sets itself apart well from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in giving us some of the darker elements of the All-Father, Thor, and Loki. I must say that some of these experiences are very surreal and they are more closely associated with the History Channel’s show Vikings. However, I would not say that they are all as unnerving as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. I just wish that there were more of these encounters because these stories are really inflections of Eivor’s struggles in the present and her becoming who she is. These are really entertaining and informative of how the Norse gods were actually perceived by people in the 800’s and 900’s. The Danes were vastly different in their beliefs than the English and exploration of these beliefs is a study of their way of life. Ubisoft Montreal has taken great effort in meticulously crafting a story around these otherworldly beings and they have done such a fascinating job in doing so that it can seem that there are such long stretches where the player goes without experiencing them.

Questing & World Events

Part of the reason that some of these interactions feel so natural is because of the way that the game blends main quests and side quests into these adventures that seem to happen naturally. Even within the quest tab, you will find no side quest in the traditional sense. There are multiple sub-quests that may roll into the main quest. For example, I have several different quests that will further benefit my settlement, and those all roll up to the Ravensthorpe questline. This may not seem like a major improvement, and I was doubtful of this change before I played the game. For example, what if I just want to play the main quest and rush through the storyline forgoing the sidequests? Now I feel that would have been a mistake because I would not be experiencing the game as it was meant to be played. 

The new system is called “World Events”. These events are either stumbled upon when Eivor hears NPC’s dialogue indicating an event is unfolding or the NPC may initiate in dialogue with Eivor. Each event can be ignored and a dot or indicator will remain on the map but no quest log will be created. There is usually some sort of book or indicator of what the narrative is for the quest nearby, should you ever decide to come back to the area. 

This definitely changes the way a player will approach the new system. Instead of a running list of to-do’s, the narration seems to flow and occur around Eivor in a way that is much more dynamic. For instance, while traveling through a shire, I stumbled upon a friar that had overturned a cart of apples that were perfect for bobbing. The friar gave me a long story about a sect that praises the Lord by bobbing for apples. How could I not help this guy with his problem and figure out exactly what these monks were up to? So I did and it turned out to be quite hilarious. 

In an interview with Gamasutra, narrative director Darby McDevitt and game director Eric Baptizat describe that this new system is utilized in part because Eivor is not interested in promoting the well being of the English and the Saxons around her. She is not their hero. Eivor’s primary concern is her clansmen and furthering the reach of Raventhorpe. Eivor and her people are the invaders in England so it would be out of place to have Eivor appear as a savior. It would be distracting for her and compromising her main goal of promoting the Raven clan. “Eivor has no intrinsic need to take on so-called ‘side quests’ – such chores are meaningless in the grand scene of their main goal” they describe. 

Visually Stunning

It is so easy to become lost in this game. That is in part because it looks absolutely gorgeous. You have no doubt seen countless pictures on social media where players are capturing moments and panoramas to share with the world. Some of our favorite MHG moments are featured throughout the article. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has always pushed the map synchronization feature to capture some breathtaking panoramas. Valhalla does this to the 10th power. It is really cool to see sunbeams shine through trees and fog or to see how the sunlight glitters off the snow. The character animations and modeling are superb. Eivor’s features are very detailed down to her scarring and complexion. That is not to mention the depth in the eyes. Why does everyone have such nice eyeballs in this game? 

If you are one of the lucky few who have nabbed a next-gen gaming console or a brand new graphics card and you want a game that will showcase the power of your investment; then look no further. I do not usually pick my video games based on merely graphics or visual fidelity but this game is just so pretty. It is easy to become lost in exploring the countryside. It is so easy to be sidetracked from the main narrative, by world events and taking pictures of the world that surrounds you. That is not a bad thing. It makes it feel real. We actually get to explore the wilds of England as Eivor and search out its riches. Because each region has a certain look to its landscape, the panoramas never seem dull.

Become the Drengir

The combat system is easy to learn but it takes time to master it. Each weapon combination comes with slightly different fighting styles. For example, using two one-handed axes behaves differently than using the bearded ax and a shield combination.  A two-handed battle ax is slow and cumbersome but deals massive amounts of damage. A flail is slightly slower than an ax and behaves much differently but it is very rewarding in power and the level of brutality it brings is extremely entertaining. Finishing moves with each weapon are different. Each time I think that I have seen them all, I am pleasantly surprised by a new counter finisher or combination that takes me by surprise. 

There are also fighting abilities that can be used to turn the tide in battle. These use adrenaline which are indicated by a gold bar. When the bar is full then you can use one of these abilities. This bar can be refilled by landing successful combos, doing a counter strike, or parry. Eivor can also gain adrenaline by eating certain plants, such as mushrooms. Many abilities are scattered throughout the world and can be learned from Books of Knowledge. These are found as riches or gold dots on the map. As you come closer to the gold world events, it will show an ability book on the map for you. Not all riches quests are Books of Knowledge. Some are armor or, well, riches like gold or materials for building up Ravensthorpe. Some of these Books of Knowledge are behind locked doors, jumping puzzles, or a minor boss that you must fight. Overall, most of them are rather easy to obtain. You can obtain three additional adrenaline capsules for Eivor from the skill tree. There is one in each tree. 

Armor Up

The equipment system in this game is quite refreshing, really. It leans into the RPG aspect of the game but not as heavily as a looter shooter might. The game does not heap weapons and gear on you as its predecessors did, and I find that is a good aspect. The armor that you will find will come in one of three types. It will either come in the form of the Bear (melee), Wolf (stealth), or Raven (ranged). You will be able to take advantage of stat bonuses that reside on that gear based on whether or not you have spent your skill points in those specific skill trees. You may also improve your gear stats by using resources in the wild. Or you can return to your clan’s blacksmith and have him upgrade the armors rarity. If your armor has a rune slot, then you can also equip various runes to further enable your gear with stat bonuses. The armor set will tell you where you can search for the armor types that you are missing by listing the region or areas that they can be found.

Skilled In The Ways Of War

You will also need to level up your player and invest skill points into the skill tree to increase your power level and learn new abilities. The skill tree is split into many nodes but there are three constellations or paths that are based on the way players may choose to confront their enemies. When you start off you will be able to see the first cluster into each path. However, you will not be able to look into the end of the skill trees and see the end. You can only ever see the next node ahead of where you are. Some may find this aggravating, but you can easily find the full tree online. 

Let us go over the various trees. There is the path of the Bear, which focuses on the melee battle. This tree is more of a tank build. It gives Eivor the edge she needs for the up close and personal fighting techniques. There are still stat multiples in the Bear tree that improve stealth, ability damage, and ranged attacks. However, most of the nodes will primarily focus on melee. 

Some of the essential Bear skills are:

  • Stomp – The stomp is a brutal move that does a massive amount of damage. It can be used on any prone enemy, whether they are stunned or sleeping. Try using heavy attacks and different weapons to reliably knock down opponents and then quickly finish them off.
  • Berserker’s Mettle – Berserker’s Mettle protects your adrenaline from the first strike an enemy lands. It is essential to keep your adrenaline stores ready for that moment when you need to use an ability. This skill greatly helps protect your adrenaline from being drained unnecessarily. 
  • Heavy Dual Wield – This skill is very fun, and it enables Eivor to be more versatile with her attacks. This skill unlocks the ability to dual wield heavy weapons, or pair heavy weapons with light weapons. Shields can also be paired with what were once two-handed weapons. This allows you more armor while keeping the range that a heavy weapon provides. 

The way of the Raven mainly focuses on ranged attacks and the bow. Once again, there are stat improvements for each area of expertise, but if one is going down this skill tree then they should plan to lean heavily into ranged attacks. I am really enjoying the bow in this game. I like to thin out the throngs of soldiers as I am conducting a raid for my men and then move into the melee battle. The bow is incredibly powerful in this game and it is very accurate. I have most of my skill points in the Bear tree. However, I still find ranged attacks useful.

Some of the essential Raven skills are: 

  • Brush With Death – This skill enables Eivor to time a perfect dodge. Upon doing so, time will slow allowing for a strike or time to plan the next attack or escape.
  • Chain Assassination – This one’s a bit self-explanatory. It is so rewarding to chain multiple assassinations together.
  • Missile Reversal – This skill enables Eivor to send all kinds of projectiles back to the sender, from arrows, bombs, and knives. They all go home. 

The way of the Wolf is essential for those who want to play Assassin’s Creed in the classical sense. Many critics of Odyssey and Origins longed for the stealth attacks of the original games. Valhalla developers have responded to that feedback by designing a world that allows for stealth kills and sabotage. There always seems to be tall grass, hideaways, and now the crowd can be used to assist you as well. For example, you can ask a drunkard to accompany you to remain hidden or pay them to cause a distraction. You can also pull up your hood and cloak to conceal yourself from watchful eyes. If any of this intrigues you, then the Wolf skill tree is meant for you.

Some of the essential Wolf skills are: 

  • Bow Stun Finisher – This skill is great. It allows for Eivor to stun an enemy and then finish them off with a homing shot.
  • Battleground Bolt – One ability that I miss playing as Ezio in the Brotherhood and Revelations games is his ability to pick up hurl the enemies’ weapons back at them. This ability enables you to do that!
  • Grit – This skill is useful for making your health replenish a bit during the course of battle without using a ration. If a hit is landed on you, merely land your hit on the enemy next to recoup some of that HP that you just lost.

Music

I am ashamed that I did not lead with this point. Video game soundtracks are the only way to get through some of those long days at work. They also drive the narrative in a way that graphics and voice-acting cannot. A great composition sets the pace and the tone of the story as it is unfolding around you. Great composers know when to pull the music away during a game and when to really push it to a crescendo. The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been one that is known for it’s excellent soundtracks. Black Flag was one of my favorites. That goes to say for the main soundtrack and the many, many shanties. 

The Valhalla score really brings an ominous motif to some of the more mythological encounters but it also is known for its lofty chimes during its synchronization panoramas. There are times where the music is barely playing in the background as you ride your stead through the countryside, leading to a pleasant experience as a light string motif plays. Then there are other times when the game’s music goes into full Viking mode with war drums and vocals that really get the adrenaline pumping. It is a great dichotomy to experience in the game, but it is pleasant to listen to apart from it as well.

How’s My Connection To The Animus

There is no way around it. At launch, the game has plenty of bugs and glitches. Some of them are quite hilarious, such as combatants locking arms and dancing in circles in the middle of battle. Others are infuriating when a quest giver becomes stuck and immovable. I have not experienced the latter but others at MHG have. I have had the game crash a few times and I have seen the skybox go crazy in the way it was drawing clouds. Overall, my experience in this game has been a pleasant one, but I do hope to see the stability of the game improve.

My experience playing the game has been on a PC running an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super GPU. I have played the game on ultra settings in 2K while streaming and I’ve had no issues. Then I will have issues later even after I have backed the graphics settings down to high. I have read other reviews of those running the game on Ultra with the new RTX 3080 card that experienced similar crashing and lost frames. It seems the game struggles to run 60FPS at times. On my rig, I have seen these issues cleared up with a simple restart of the game. Therefore, I am not too worried at this moment since the game is new. I am sure this will improve with a future update. Once again, most of my time playing this game has been while I am streaming to Facebook Gaming and in Ultra settings with minimal issues.

The Verdict

I have enjoyed my time in the game thus far and I cannot wait to plug back into the animus and continue to explore this world. Whether that means traveling back to Norway or continuing to conduct raids and build alliances in England; all areas of gameplay are intriguing. I want to scour the countryside looking for treasures and mysteries. I want to embark on additional playthroughs as the male version of Eivor and make different choices to see if I can impact and experience the game in a different way. I enjoy my time hunting wildlife and taking in the scenery. There is nothing more rewarding than sounding the war horn and raiding a village. Why does setting a village on fire feel so good?! (insert opening of a Mel Brooks movie). The game’s story is very compelling and I love the interactions that Eivor experiences in England. Lastly, I would say that you should definitely recommend this game this holiday season, but especially if you are fortunate enough to have the new PS5 or the Xbox Series X. You will not be disappointed in the gameplay and the storylines. Plus, you will have a game that showcases the power of next-gen technology.

Score: 9/10

Pros: 

  • The amazing storyline successfully delivers two protagonists in the form of Eivor.
  • Beautiful graphics, visually stunning
  • The well developed combat system
  • Easy to understand equipment system and power leveling
  • Plenty of gameplay at 60-80hrs worth of content with DLC arriving Q1 2021
  • World Events system provides a condensed version of questing that is compelling.

Cons

  • Plenty of bugs and glitches at launch
  • Lack of skill tree visibility may aggravate some who like to plan their character build

Josh is a husband and a father to a family that loves to game together. He first experienced video games on the SNES. He is a strong believer that video games are best enjoyed with good company and a strong brew of coffee.

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