First Impressions: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Games Reviews

Fear not death for the hour of your doom is set and none may escape it.
~Volunga Saga, c.5

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla launched this week on Tuesday, November 10, 2020, to much fanfare. Early reviews have praised the game for its breathtaking panoramas and satisfying gameplay. I have been eager to play this game ever since it was revealed by the trailer below which literally gave me chills. I was happy to be chosen by Mulehorn Gaming to receive and cover this groundbreaking entry to the Assassin’s Creed franchise. While I’m only a bit over ten hours into the game, I believe that the game is holding back many exciting moments that I cannot wait to experience.

World-Building

To say that this game is stunning is an understatement. My feed on Twitter is full of friends posting their photos from within the game. It’s an absolutely stunning game. For those of you who were lucky enough to snag one of the brand new consoles that launched this week; this game is well worth your time and money if you are searching for one that will show off your new machine. I have thoroughly enjoyed releasing my raven to take in these aerial scenes. By the way, one of my bucket list items is to one day have a hawk or raven companion. This game allows me that fantasy, at least. That is not to mention that the synchronization towers are once again astounding. It seems with each new AC game this simple event becomes more and more captivating.

Not only are the graphics breathtaking, but the contextual settings are built in a true Assassin’s Creed style. The game draws on a strong narrative built into a historical context that makes the narrative believable. The latest entry, Valhalla, leans heavily into Viking history, lore, and mythology. I am a fan of the History Channel’s series Vikings so I am happy to say that the game pairs well with the show in the terms of the historical setting and mythology. Ragnar Lothbrok’s incursion and raiding into England has preceded the events of this game, but only slightly. As Eivor, you will encounter some of his old companions and clansmen. Of course, if you haven’t seen the show the in-game Codex will layout for you the historical context of each character and their role. 

Sunset view from a mountain top in Assassin's Creed Valhalla

The game does an excellent job illustrating Viking culture and politics. From the very start of the game, we are presented with a smorgasbord of personalities and characters in the Viking camp in which young Eivor resides. There are some who are pacifists who want to rule through alliances and trade, avoiding more war and bloodshed. Then there are others who are hungry for conquest and liberty and will fight with no hesitation. The game also shows the love and loyalty between Eivor’s parents and brother Sigurd. There is a strong sense of community among the people of the Raven clan. In short, there is a complex social structure to the game that goes far beyond a mass of Viking men going to war for little to no cause. The game has a story to tell and it tells it well because it first and foremost builds a very complex world around Eivor from the very beginning. I should also mention that this time around you can play as either male or female Eivor.

Ubisoft was especially cunning in regard to how you choose your sex in this game. The plot describes that there are two DNA streams or interference that is taking place with Eivor causing a duality in the Animus. You are then asked to choose between the two so that the interference can be filtered out. You can also let the Animus choose for you. I did not do this, but I am learning that there are some surprising outcomes if you do. Therefore, because the choice is not static, I will be allowing the Animus to choose for me in my future play sessions. For now, I have chosen the female Eivor so I will be using female pronouns later on. While I thought that this was a mere story mechanic to allow us some character customization; I believe that this is actually at least a minor plot point since it has come up in the game multiple times. I am finding this really quite interesting and I hope that you will too.

Mythos

A view of Britain in Assassin's Creed Valhalla

One of my favorite elements of the show Vikings is Norse mythology. My favorite episodes are those that are influenced by the pantheon of gods that are neither benevolent nor evil but rather selfish at times. I can already tell you that I am going to love these elements in Valhalla. I have already experienced a few of Eivor’s visions and they are quite wild and unnerving. That is especially true of the vision you experience after the first boss kill. These visions are quite enjoyable and suspenseful. I never really know what to expect. These are on par with the cinematics of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. I have also ran across some heroes of the Ragnar Lothbrok legend. One of which wanted to fight a worthy adversary before entering Valhalla where he could be reunited with his friend, Ragnar. This was one of the toughest fights I have come across so far but it was immensely fun and provided a good opportunity to learn the melee mechanics. I am looking forward to learning more and experiencing the mythos in Valhalla. It has been so intriguing thus far. 

Combat, Stealth, and Archery

Skill tree in Assassin's Creed Valhalla

First and foremost, the combat system is very polished. Yet I am over 10 hours in and I am still learning to fight with various weapons, different combinations, and incorporating new abilities. I mean it when I say that at eleven hours, I am just a bit beyond the prologue. No kidding. With that being said, I can really feel the game leading me and teasing me with some really cool combat sequences but withholding some of those intensely desired combos. I am hungry for those executions and counters that at this point in the game are rather rare. It seems that you can stun most combatants by shooting them with your bow in a critical area and do a finishing move. These can be quite exciting and graphic. Still, they are not common experiences early in the game.

The stealth system has been greatly improved. It feels odd saying this being that the franchise was built with a heavy stealth component in mind. Odyssey and Origins pushed more of an action game approach in lieu of stealth. Valhalla has returned the franchise to its roots in regards to stealth. The notoriety system is back. Therefore, it is good to know when it is time to conceal your weapons and blend in the crowd and when it is time to wield a massive battle axe. When you need to make a quick escape, be sure to use the environmental hideaways, blending into crowds, and causing distractions. Once again, the hidden blade returns but Eivor is not about to conceal something so powerful and ornate. She chooses to wear it on the outside of her wrappings and on the top of her arm. However, Eivor does have access to a cloak that readily conceals her and the blade.

The archery in this game feels so good. I am still using the basic bow and hunting arrows and it feels so powerful against common combatants and animals. It is very accurate and has a great range. In combat, the bow is almost so good that I feel guilty using it. I can headshot most soldiers and drop them quickly. I have put very few points into this tree. I am seriously considering resetting my character skills for ranged attacks so that I can take full advantage of the bow. I recently came across an ability that allows you to fire multiple arrows at multiple targets. I am having a similar problem that I had in Red Dead Redemption. It is so hard to not hunt. I really enjoyed stalking prey with the bow in that game and that feeling is back in Valhalla, maybe even more so. 

Armor System Overview

Character screen in Assassin's Creed Valhalla

The game follows a Destiny like equipment system that is easily understandable at first glance. As compared to the most recent Odyessy and Origins games the loot is much more streamlined. The predecessors offered so much loot that it could be overwhelming. This game has opted for the less is more approach. There are various armor pieces for your standard armor set. Each piece can be upgraded with resources in the field, but it can also be upgraded in rarity using carbon ingots at a forge or blacksmith. Each weapon and piece of armor will have bonuses based on the type: Wolf, Bear, or Raven. These stats are utilized based on how you spend your skill points on the skill tree. 

As you gain experience with Eivor you will follow a skill tree that will allow you to specialize in the way of the Bear (melee), Wolf (ranged), and the Raven (stealth) I am still exploring the skill tree and will be for some time. Each path on the skill tree is broken up into nodes. You can only see the next node, while the rest of the skill tree is hidden. Fortunately, there is a respec option that can be used if you find that you do not like the build later on. So I am not as upset as some are that I cannot immediately plot out how I want to build my character. I am sure I could find a complete skill tree online if I really wanted to. Each branch on the skill tree contains various abilities. However, know that many of the game’s abilities are not earned through the skill tree but through tomes or Books of Knowledge. So do not neglect the wealth icons on the map.

Let Us Go A Viking

Riding a horse in Norway in Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Being that I am just a tab bit past the prologue, I have established my camp in Mercia. While I have not built much other than a hall and a blacksmith for my clan; I definitely feel the intrigue to do more. I have spent the last hour or so scouring the surrounding land for wealth and mysteries that will help me gain a better hold on this new world in England. I am looking forward to gathering more loot from monasteries, finding new abilities, and crafting new gear that will equip me to further the Raven clan’s cause in England. I participated in a few raids and this activity is by far the most rewarding so far in the game. There is something just so gratifying about sounding that war horn and burning and sacking a settlement. 

Final Thoughts

While there have been some minor bugs and glitches; I have enjoyed the game immensely. There is just so much going on and so much to do. I highly expect that I will continue to enjoy this game for many hours to come. It feels like I am just scratching the surface at this point. The storylines are becoming more complex and I am learning how to wage war as a Viking. I am looking forward to experiencing this Viking saga and approaching the Norse gods. This game is definitely up there as one of the best for 2020. It is a must-have for PS5 and Xbox Series X owners. The sheer size of the world, its beauty, and a rich and compelling storyline make Valhalla a 9/10 thus far. This game is not perfect but I am having difficulty coming up with ways in which to critique it.

Stay tuned to Mulehorn Gaming and keep an eye out for my full review that will be coming soon. Blow it up!

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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