Review: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Xbox Series X)

Editor’s Note: The non-console specific portions of this review originally appeared in our own Chris Shive’s review of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which can be read in full and unaltered here. Additional portions here were written by Adam Beck.

Having taken us through many locations and time periods over the last thirteen years, Assassin’s Creed’s weaving of historical figures and events into its fantasy world of assassins  and templars has made an everlasting impression on us. Previous entries had a focus on adventure with a major emphasis on stealth, whereas the more recent installments have gone in a more RPG approach, all starting with the engaging Assassin’s Creed Origins. In the latest entry, we go back into the Animus in order to uncover the memories of a Norwegian raider named Eivor in ninth century England, hopefully giving us a taste of that Viking bloodlust.

Eivor’s tale begins in the snow covered mountains Norway, which is a great environment to showcase gorgeous scenery. After some differing of opinions over how wars should be fought within their clan, Eivor, Sigurd and a crew other Vikings travel to England to start a new life. Life in England isn’t exactly peaceful, because if it was this would be a boring game, and in order to survive in this new land Eivor needs to seek out new alliances with both Danes and Saxons to build up their settlement. As these are Vikings, alliances will be formed through working together to conquer and pillage land. Like its predecessor Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, players are able to choose the gender of Eivor. Gender doesn’t really affect any aspect of the game, save for the voice actor and character model. Unlike Odyssey, there’s only the option to play as Eivor instead of the choice between brother and sister Alexios and Kassandra and players are able to switch Eivor’s gender in the options menu whenever they want. For people wondering which gender is canon there isn’t a definitive answer. Although Eivor is traditionally a girl’s name, one could speculate that Eivor’s father could have been a Viking Johnny Cash fan and wanted a boy named Eivor.

Building up the Viking settlement is a major portion of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. This is where Eivor calls home and watching the settlement build is part of the fun of progressing through the game. The settlement is filled with people who offer assorted goods and services, but need buildings in order to get to work. Eivor can collect resources by completing story of objectives, but a more efficient way to gather supplies and raw materials is by completing raids. As the settlement grows more quests and activities become available to Eivor, along with uncovering more of the lore through unlockable quests.

The settlement will also become a hub for various activities for the player. There are barracks where Eivor can assign a right-hand Viking that can go off in the world and earn silver. There’s an item shop and tattoo parlor where players can style Eivor’s hair and customize his appearance with some ink. Building a bakery and brewery can increase the player buffs that come from feasting and building the hunting lodge can open up legendary animals to hunt and make into trophies. Building stables can change the appearance of Eivor’s mount and raven and along with training the mount to swim. There’s a collector of ancient artifacts that opens up a museum to give the place some culture, and a secretive individual who has some errands of a hidden nature for Eivor to complete, and there’s a seer that can send Eivor on interesting quests. This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything that can be done in the settlement but it can become a rather involved portion of Valhalla. Customizable decoration for the landscape exists, but there isn’t a huge amount of customizing the appearance of Eivor’s living space or village.

To gather resources needed to build up the settlement Eivor needs to gather her Viking companions and raid monasteries. When sailing on a longship or wandering the countryside Eivor will occasionally encounter locations that are filled with wealth, and with the a single blow on the trusty Viking horn a horde of Vikings will appear to raid and pillage. Interestingly enough, during these raids where hamlets are burned, churches are robbed and soldiers are slaughtered with severed limbs and heads flying every which way, killing civilians can lead to desynchronization. I guess when burning and raiding a village killing civilians goes against Viking morality, which may not be historically accurate.

Combat in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla feels similar to Origins and Odyssey. A new mechanic is that Eivor can dual wield weapons in addition to fighting with a two-handed weapon or weapon and shield. The off-hand weapon naturally isn’t as powerful as the main hand, but can still be used to parry and provide additional attacks. Dual-wielding shields is a ridiculous possibility, but it can be done and was even used to effectively take down a boss during the review. Some of the new combat abilities enhance battle, such as throwing multiple axes at enemies or grabbing them and charging into a wall or other obstruction. Stealth kills are still a viable option to eliminating threats but there’s a greater emphasis on head-on battle. A complaint with the previous entries is powerful enemies couldn’t be successfully assassinated even when they’re sleeping and unarmed, which Valhalla addresses by adding a QTE timing mechanic for stealth kills when the player tries to take down bigger game.

The level up system in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is similar but different to what was seen in the previous two games. Eivor has a skill tree that unlocks a lot of passive bonuses. After reaching so many experience points, Eivor is granted two skill points and the total number of skill points spent equals his power level. Abilities are not unlocked by gaining levels but through finding skill books throughout the world that teach specific abilities. The level gate that greatly hindered exploration that was in the previous two games has been scaled back in Valhalla. Venturing into territory where the recommended power level is higher than the player’s is still dangerous and challenging, but not the same slaughterhouse it was in the last entry. The world of Valhalla is huge and not being so restricted by level encourages exploration of the open world.

Conquering kingdoms and raiding monasteries can be wear on a person so finding some ways to blow off steam are important for the self care of a Viking raider. Throughout the villages Eivor finds in her travels she can engage in a few social challenges, and if he’s good at it she can earn some good coin doing so. Flyting is basically a bardcore rap battle, where whoever can talk the most smack in the most smooth flowing rhyme wins. Orlog is a game of dice, where players battle through arrows and god favors, where strategically choosing which dice to keep and reroll can make the difference between life and death. Orlog is one of the more fun minigames available and it’s easy to whittle away hours on it. A game couldn’t be about Vikings if there wasn’t a mead drinking contest, and by skillfully pressing buttons in the rhythm game, Eivor can prove she can outdrink any challenger.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla 
is the next evolution of the newer action RPG approach to the series. For this style of Assassin’s Creed this is actually an engaging game. It does fall into the category of “open world Ubisoft game” and if that phrase means anything to you then you know exactly what it refers to. If you enjoy this format and still find it interesting and personally relevant, there’s a lot to enjoy about Valhalla, but if you’re burnt out on the template this won’t do anything to change that. It does have the commonality with Odyssey where perhaps the world is too big and there may be too much to do but thankfully they did tone down the amount of level grinding that is required of the player in order to progress. There’s a split among Assassin’s Creed fans over the old style of gameplay and the Origins and newer approach, and Valhalla fits into the latter category. The changes to things like the leveling system help differentiate from the recent Assassin’s Creed entries, but overall it has the same feel to it as Origins and Odyssey. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does help to temper expectations. Decisions made during conversations do have an impact on the outcome of Valhalla, and certain quests were saved and reloaded to verify that choices do matter and can have a significant impact on how the story progresses, so chose wisely when presented with important decisions.

As far as technical aspects go Assassin’s Creed Valhalla reaches the bar that was set by recent Assassin’s Creed entries. The graphics both during cutscenes and gameplay are top tier and for its next-generation version, it goes a step beyond. For Xbox Series X, we see the game running at a native 4K resolution, with framerates upwards of 60fps. It’s not a steady 60fps as the framerate will take a hit when things get hectic on screen, but otherwise it never drops too much below the targeted value, ensuring your time with the game is nothing short of magical. This is on top of added visuals such as draw distance and texture quality which only help create a more believable setting. The world of Assassin’s Creed has never looked better, with the next generation counterpart stepping up their game to showcasing the power of the Xbox Series X

The soundtrack is one of the better Assassin’s Creed scores and perfectly fits the game. Load times on current generation consoles are on the longer side, about on par with what we had to sit through in Odyssey, but hopefully the next-gen upgrade shortens that. Microtransactions are present but don’t seem overly intrusive. There’s a shop but the player is never prompted to go there and most items are either cosmetic or time saving resources. Not all portions of the shop were available during the review so we can’t say definitively there’s no experience boosting buff, but since level grinding isn’t much of a concern in Valhalla, if such thing were to become available it would be more of a matter of wanting to speed up character growth than coping with forced level grinding.

Closing Comments:

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla brings quality of life improvements to the new Assassin’s Creed model but doesn’t stray too far from familiar territory. If you enjoyed the last two games and want more of that, Valhalla is exactly what the doctor ordered, but there may be some who after spending 200+ hours completing Origins and Odyssey are burnt out on the format. This version does put less emphasis on the modern day lore and is more action combat oriented than stealth which may be off putting to people who prefer the classic Assassin’s Creed titles. But those caveats aside, this is the title that was the personal favorite when compared against Origins and Odyssey. The Xbox Series X version of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla takes advantage of the extra horsepower, showcasing a native 4K resolution while running at a targeted 60fps. It will sometimes dip below that, and there aren’t too many other next generation features present, like Raytracing, but otherwise it’s the best way to play the open-world title. Taken on its own and judged on its own merits, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an enjoyable opportunity to vicariously raid and pillage the English countryside.

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