Assassin's Creed Valhalla review: Dining with the Gods

Valhalla improves on Odyssey with more focused design, but not all battles are won.

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There was a time when open-world games often went with the bigger is better mentality. The size of the map was a pre-release selling point. Ubisoft embraced this mentality on several occasions, but quality will always win over quantity and, with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Ubisoft dialed back the former and poured more focus into the world and gameplay systems. It was a move that paid off repeatedly in their latest installment of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, but not all Viking warriors go to Valhalla.

Small beginnings

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla kicks off with players meeting a young version of the main playable character, Eivor, whom they'll get to know better as they experience the game. Eivor is celebrating a Viking alliance with family and friends of the Raven Clan, but after things go south and Eivor’s family is betrayed, the young Viking is attacked by a wolf. This is where players can choose between a male and female Eivor, or if they want Valhalla to decide based on current circumstances at any given time. The decision of whether to play as a female or male Eivor can be changed throughout the experience, which is a nice move by Ubisoft.

Fast forward several years and players are in control of Eivor as an adult and must play through a prologue with some tutorial moments scattered in. The first hour showcases Eivor’s Raven Clan life, plus systems like sailing, raiding, gear management and acquisition, the skill tree, and more. The story pushes forward during this time, with Eivor and her adopted brother, Sigurd, seeking revenge on the Viking that betrayed her family years ago. When this business is handled, Eivor, Sigurd, and the Raven Clan set sail for England to build a new settlement for their people.

Viking adventure

Valhalla really gets going once Eivor arrives in England and the game’s systems start to open up. The clan’s settlement is started, and players must secure resources to build additions and upgrade the living situation for everyone. Just about every part of Valhalla runs through the settlement, which gives it a real sense of home and helps keep all systems connected through this hub. Building Gunnar’s Forge gives Eivor a place to enhance weapons and armor. The Trading Post is a spot to buy or sell items. The Barracks allows for the creation of a Jomsviking and crew management. Customizing the longship can be done in the Shipyard. There’s even a Hunter’s Hut for managing all the Legendary Animals, and a Hidden Ones Bureau to track the Order of the Ancients, a similar system to the cults from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. There are more buildings, several of which enhance the Feast buff. A Raven Clan Feast will give Eivor some boosted stats when out in the world.

The settlement isn’t just about function, though. As new buildings are added the aesthetic changes, giving the vibe of an established community that’s thriving. There’s a sense of accomplishment in building up the settlement, and because it’s connected to so many other aspects of the game, it made me want to get out into the world and swing my axe. Ravensthorpe – my settlement – was a great launching point for my adventures, and it was never far from my mind.

Pillaging loot

Once the settlement was established it was time to head out and gather supplies to build it up further. I hopped in my longboat, asked my crew to sing a song, and enjoyed the peacefulness as we sailed along England’s narrow rivers looking for trouble. In this case, trouble meant a raid, an event in Valhalla where Eivor and her crew can attack a monastery, or several other types of settlements.

It’s a lot of fun to raid with a full Viking crew. It provides a unique gameplay experience to attack with a hoard of warriors. If a member of Eivor’s crew falls, they can be revived, and they are needed to help force open doors and chests. Opening chests during a raid is how supplies are acquired to build the settlement. It’s a frantic experience that serves as a reminder that Vikings aren’t often friendly to strangers, although it stops short of encouraging players to kill unarmed priests.

Quest for conquest

Raiding isn’t the only activity, obviously. Most of my time was spent at least toying with the idea of pushing the story forward in Valhalla. I would go where the quests led, but the pull to explore was greater here than it was in Odyssey for me. While the overall narrative in Valhalla was fine, it was never the primary force pushing my decisions on what to do next. The exception to this was a series of quests centered around Eivor's destiny, which I won’t detail in the interest of avoiding spoilers. Generally, though, I was more focused on tracking down collectibles and exploring hidden areas.

Valhalla is full of unique places to explore and fun things to do. There are random world events that can be hit or miss. A mini game called Dice or a sort of Viking rap battle known as Flyting are solid distractions. Legendary Animals are there to hunt, Zealots roam the land looking for a fight, and Flying Paper with cosmetic designs floating through the air can be snatched up using Eivor's parkour skills. Many more activities riddle the land and offer meaningful rewards, ensuring players won't get bored in Valhalla. 

While the main story never really pulled me in, I quite enjoyed some of the characters and nods to Viking lore and Norse mythology. Some quests had me genuinely invested in spending time with the NPCs featured in them, and I think anyone with even a bit of interest in Norse mythology or current Viking pop culture will enjoy Valhalla.

Brave new world

The real strength of Valhalla, however, is in the focus that has gone into the world and the systems within it. Valhalla feels much smaller than Odyssey, but there’s less dead space. There’s a good pace to moving around and finding places to explore. It’s a breathtaking game on the highest PC settings – as is expected after Odyssey – and the entire world is enhanced by a beautiful soundtrack that never feels overpowering but always manages to complement the moment perfectly. While I wouldn’t say Valhalla is on the same level as some open-world superstars, it’s a massive upgrade over the hollowness that was felt in Odyssey.

As I explored the world, I began to find gear and collectibles, unlocking abilities and skill points to craft my perfect Viking build. Every one of these systems works better in Valhalla than the last few Assassin’s Creed games.

There is much less gear in Valhalla than Odyssey, but that gear is far more meaningful. For starters, it all drops near the same base level, but the ability to enhance it and upgrade it is improved. Enhancing gear at a forge can improve its appearance, add slots for runes, and expand its potential to be upgraded. Upgrading gear or adding runes is done from the inventory. What this means is that gear found early in the game can be upgraded and maintained throughout the entire journey, instead of having to replace a weapon every five minutes when picking up a new one.

Valhalla has also re-worked how skills and abilities are handled. Abilities, which are generally devastating moves used in battle, are now found by locating a Book of Knowledge in the world, which are often hidden away in caves and behind small puzzles. The skill tree now features both stat nodes and passive fighting moves, but not abilities. Players will now earn skill points in the world and, when spent in the skill tree, will improve their overall power, and allow them to take on more difficult challenges. The skill tree itself is presented as an astronomy map, and never once did I find it tedious to explore or build out my skills. The skill tree's fluidity in use is driven home by that fact that it's free to re-spec Evior’s skills at any time, or even take back single nodes without penalty to spend those points on different upgrades.

The gameplay core concerning the skill tree, weapons and armor, abilities, and power feels great. It pushes the player to get into the world and discover what’s on offer, while at the same time allowing for wild build experimentation without punishment. The focus, not unlike in God of War, is on the world and the things to do in it, not on the grind.

Wounded in battle

Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has it issues, and some are more prominent than others. The big one for me was the game’s performance on PC. According to Ubisoft’s own specs guide, I could easily run the game on Enthusiast, but my experience was riddled with massive frame drops that at times rendered it unplayable. Ubisoft deployed a patch that seemed to have cleared up most – if not all – of the issues, but PC buyers should do their homework before diving in.

I wouldn’t call it a weak point, but the combat in Valhalla didn’t do much for me. Dual wielding weapons is cool, as are some fighting moves and abilities, but combat was always just something I had to endure to push the story forward or allow me to explore the area for collectibles and loot. It’s not bad, and even has a few shining moments, but I also wouldn’t say it’s a step forward from Odyssey. The stealth gameplay remains strong and fun, but the nature of Viking warriors means there’s less sneaking and more yelling than previous games.

Rounding out my concerns are the instances where I was annoyed by the writing and voice acting. Early in the game I found a world event that was supposed to be funny in a sexual way, but played out as crude and poorly executed. I was also referred to as if I was male on several occasions, even though my Eivor was female. I enjoyed the performance by Cecilie Stenspil as the female Eivor, but some characters from the supporting cast were poorly portrayed. There’s an art to putting humor into games that fit a darker tone, and I don’t think Valhalla pulled it off with consistency here. Most of these issues were scattered about, but when they pop up it can pull a player from their immersion.

Odin's great hall?

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla took a lot of great steps with its gameplay systems and fresh focus on a more robust open world. It hooked me on building my perfect Eivor through meaningful gear and by connecting the gameplay loop to character evolution in a fluid manner. The smaller world feels fuller thanks to better pacing and spacing. The plethora of unique and fun things to do while on the path generally tie into the Raven Clan’s settlement, which helps to keep the experience fluid and connected most of the time.

It’s a shame that more care wasn’t taken to remove some of the silliness in the writing or to improve on the hit or miss voice acting. The combat doesn't feel like it's taken a step forward and, in fact, combat in Odyssey felt tighter. I'm still worried that the PC performance issues aren't entirely behind me, but I suspect those will get addressed in future updates. Ubisoft is known for their fun open worlds, but it appears that experience and previous stumbles have seen them take big steps forward, making Valhalla one of their best Assassin's Creed games in recent memory.


This review is based on a PC digital download code provided by Ubisoft. Assassin's Creed Valhalla will be available on November 10, 2020.

Managing Editor

Bill, who is also known as Rumpo, is a lifelong gamer and Toronto Maple Leafs fan. He is known for his guide writing and, unsettlingly enough, enjoys grinding out in-depth collectible articles. Tweet him @RumpoPlays if you have a question or comment about one of his guides.

Pros
  • Better use of space in the open world
  • Cool moments with characters from Norse mythology
  • Improved gear acquisition and upgrades
  • The settlement feature is top notch
  • Vastly improved skill tree and character progression
  • Lots of places to explore and puzzles to solve
  • Beautiful soundtrack complements breathtaking visuals
  • Viking raids are a lot of fun
Cons
  • Performance issues are a small, lingering concern
  • Some voice acting performances are silly or weak
  • There are moments where the writing misses the mark
  • The combat is fine, but I expected better
From The Chatty
  • reply
    November 9, 2020 3:01 AM

    Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Assassin's Creed Valhalla review: Dining with the Gods

    • reply
      November 9, 2020 3:18 AM

      Good to hear that it's improved but sounds like as always with Assassins Creed games its not perfect.

      Still looking forward to playing it on Series X hopefully the performance on consoles is a better story.

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        November 9, 2020 3:35 AM

        Yea , I’m sure I will still enjoy it. Hopefully my series x ships soon so I can check it out.

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 8:18 AM

        I went from having to play the game on Medium settings for a full week to being able to get smooth performance on the settings I should. They patched out most, if not all, of the issues. I only had one major performance issue after the patch. I think it'll be perfectly fine on console.

    • reply
      November 9, 2020 3:42 AM

      Interesting. So the world is better but combat is off a bit. Kinda the reverse of the evolution in Origins and Odyssey...?

      Will be picking it up for PC and not worried about the hiccups you had.

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 8:20 AM

        The combat is okay, but I found parrying and dodging more satisfying in Odyssey. There are also a lot of battles in Valhalla, so you are sort of forced into combat often. It was fine, but not great for me.

    • reply
      November 9, 2020 3:47 AM

      I know you picked female actor but did you try the male one, are they both good?

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 4:26 AM

        I think it doesn't matter since the game swaps your gender at various points (from one review I read anyway).

        • reply
          November 9, 2020 6:58 AM

          That is only if you choose that option

          • reply
            November 9, 2020 8:31 AM

            I think (and I could be wrong) if you choose the split gender option at the beginning it will change gender at various parts of the game automatically. But if you choose 1 gender at the start of the game, you can switch at any time during the game when you choose.

            • reply
              November 9, 2020 8:33 AM

              Yeah that's my understanding of how it works as well

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 8:21 AM

        Briefly, and the actor did a fine job, but I took to the female actor's work quickly and stuck with her.

        • reply
          November 9, 2020 2:49 PM

          I liked the actress for Kassandra from Odyssey so I was leaning for the female actress again, plus I believe I have some unfulfilled fantasies of being a Viking warrioress from my youth :).

    • reply
      November 9, 2020 4:35 AM

      Hmmm, so if I was just meh on Odyssey, chances of me liking this are slim

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 8:22 AM

        If you aren't into Assassin's Creed games, or at least big into Vikings, there's not much here to change your mind on the series. It's similar to Odyssey in many ways.

    • reply
      November 9, 2020 4:56 AM

      I wonder, is performance eon XSX better than what I'd see on an 8700k w/ 1080ti?

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 4:59 AM

        Yes

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 5:20 AM

        Not great, not bad. It'd be fine if it didn't hitch constantly.

        • reply
          November 9, 2020 5:47 AM

          Are you guys already playing on XSX??

          • reply
            November 9, 2020 5:48 AM

            Ubisoft+ on PC in Aus.

          • reply
            November 9, 2020 5:49 AM

            I... Answered in regards to the 1080ti. Sorry.

            • reply
              November 9, 2020 5:53 AM

              No worries, I know people have been getting shipment confirmations for their XSX's, I was wondering how jelly I should be. Mine is sitting in my costco order history, neither shipped nor charged, in some sort of limbo from which I hope it soon escapes.

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 5:46 AM

        The IGN reviewer said its running at 4k and 60 Fps (or almost always) on the XSX.

        https://www.ign.com/articles/assassins-creed-valhalla-review

        • reply
          November 9, 2020 6:15 AM

          I'm so looking forward to playing an Assassins Creed in 60fps this should make it the best Assassins Creed ever just on that.

        • reply
          November 9, 2020 9:25 AM

          hell yeah gimme

    • reply
      November 9, 2020 6:53 AM

      I really wasn't feeling this game, and then I saw this bit from the GB QL about mounts... I gotta have this game. https://youtu.be/TWkAmjzj93s?t=4583

    • reply
      November 9, 2020 8:43 AM

      Reviews seem to indicate that it plays great on console and like shit on PC. Ugh... I'm so glad I spent $700 on a piece of hardware that is about as good as half an XBsX. Great.

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 8:50 AM

        With there now being five Xboxes (OG, S, X, Series S, Series X) with very different speeds, and three Playstation (4, 4 Pro, 5) targets, and an almost infinite number of PC targets, it's going to bog down a system that's already been overtaxed, and add COVID to the whole process. The game systems all have to ship with a disc that kind of works, where the PC is all digital and they figure their users are used to this bullshit.

        That's basically why I buy the consoles. They're less than just a video card, and they seem to have a better out-of-the-box experience. :P

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 9:25 AM

        Welp, XSX it is then...

        • reply
          November 9, 2020 9:57 AM

          Also, proper HDR (not through Windows)!

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 9:39 AM

        Not to rub it in, but the series S is capable of running watch dogs legion at upscale 4k, 30 fps with Ray tracing. Not bad for $300.

        https://www.theverge.com/2020/11/9/21556197/xbox-series-s-ray-tracing-watch-dogs-legion

        • reply
          November 9, 2020 10:35 AM

          Yeah I kinda think on console launches you get the best value and best optimization with games from consoles. Don't get PC graphics cards on console launch years, give it a couple years and the PC graphics cards will be twice as quick as the consoles for cheaper anyway.

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 2:48 PM

        Ugh, "Assassin's Creed Valhalla PC performance thread | ResetEra" https://www.resetera.com/threads/assassins-creed-valhalla-pc-performance-thread.322018/

        Definitly going XSX

    • reply
      November 9, 2020 9:11 AM

      Is the Ubi store the only place to buy the game? Usually GMG might have a pre-order bonus or sale price but they only sell Odyssey apparently... weird. So... that's the only other place I can think of that sells new digital games.

      I should save my money and spend it on more parts for my computer to make it almost as good as a console half the price...

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 9:24 AM

        Yeah, looks that way. Even the gray market sites are at full price.

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 9:35 AM

        The Epic store has it as well, but I don't see much point buying there.

        • reply
          November 9, 2020 10:03 AM

          Yeah no. It'll still requite Ubisoft Connect to play it anyway. Also Ubisoft Connect unlocks the game tonight at midnight eastern time (9pm pst) while EGS doesn't unlock till 11am tomorrow. That might not matter to some, but I plan on staying up late tonight!

          • reply
            November 9, 2020 10:04 AM

            Unlock time doesn't affect me as I'm still playing WDL, and going slow on it until my new CPU shows up this weekend/next week.

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 10:36 AM

        Can get 20% off with the ubi points thing if you have any.

        • reply
          November 9, 2020 10:42 AM

          it says you can't use the 20% for pre-purchases tho =(

          • reply
            November 9, 2020 10:48 AM

            yeah not only that but you can't use it on new release games which Ubisoft considers to be anything released within a month, I believe.

            • reply
              November 9, 2020 10:50 AM

              I totally cashed out my points for a coupon... wonder if I can use it on in game currency to unlock the ... launch day dlc ( /sadface)

    • reply
      November 9, 2020 10:56 AM

      Something stupid that I wish multiplatform games would do. In the PC graphics settings I would love there to be a "PS4/PS5/Xbox/etc" mode. Mostly just for curiosity sake, but also there are times when I wonder if I should have just bought the game for my PS4 thinking it would have run better haha.

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 11:00 AM

        That's not stupid at all, I'd love to have that

      • reply
        November 9, 2020 11:10 AM

        That is a good idea. Meanwhile, before I bought the PS4 version of RDR2 I just tweaked the settings in the PC to what an approximation of what PS4 was set to.

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