The "I haven't quite finished this game" Assassin's Creed: Valhalla review

I'm like 3/4 or so through ASSHALLA and I want to talk about it.

the_doctor

I don't want to waste anyone's time with this avalanche of half-baked thoughts, so I'll just go straight for the meat and you can skip anything you don't care about!  Warning:  some very slight spoilers contained below.

Good Random Stuff:

  • I'll lead with something controversial: I think there's a lot of really good writing in this game.  Without spoiling anything major, the early whodunnit sequence, the East Anglia weakling King's journey, and later game "The Hangover"/framing for murder plots stand out so far.
  • The AC games do weird/trippy but cool shit really well.  I had an insult poetry battle with fucking Thor in Valhalla, in the shadow of the World Tree.  I mean, who had this idea?!  But also really cool too.
  • The main plot (so far) is solid and interesting.  They're doing a really good job of painting Eivor into a corner where there are no good choices. 
    • I particularly liked the Randvi story and the way it presented the option of "betrayal" as...well, not a blatant good/evil thing, but something much more nuanced and real. 
    • And the impact -- no matter your choice -- it has on all relationships moving forward is very well done.
  • The game is just gorgeous.  I love playing it on my Series X, and the graphics lend major atmosphere to many sequences. 
    • For example, at one point I had to go save an Ealderman from a human sacrifice, and to get there I had to ride/sneak/fight through a foggy, moonlight overgrown forest and deep into a beautiful cave system with druidic flair all over.  Just before I got to the final confrontation of the sequence, Eivor mutters offhand, "am I still in Midgard?" I exclaimed unintelligibly in response because it captured perfectly the otherworldly feel the graphics and world design acheived.  The entire art/design team deserves a medal.
  • Some few of the little side "mystery" stories are funny and/or compelling.  I won't go into them because they're too easy to spoil, but sometimes they are trying to be interesting, which I appreciate.
  • Orlog is one of the best side activities in an RPG I've seen.  Not quite Gwent but it's close.
  • Flyting is great. Too easy, unfortunately, but really fun.
  • The fire arrow that breaks the breakable walls instead of the horrible, horrible searches and fetches for exploding jars is the biggest quality of life upgrade you can find.  A close 2nd is the auto loot upgrade.  Get these.
  • The horse is the best "fast travel" option ...maybe ever?  you're not just warping around, you're experiencing the world, but it's smooth with very little jank and you're getting there very quickly.  The only complaint I have is that they really missed an opportunity to build attachment/progression to your horse.
  • The polish on the game is really solid.  I have had a few minor quest scripting issues, but overall the bug level is incredibly low for the amount of content in the game.  In a world with Cyberpunk, ASSHALLA should be praised for the effort put into QA.
  • The new abilities you get through the leveling system are great, and feel very impactful. I'm still looking forward to new levels (currently I'm like 320ish).

Meh to Bad Random Thoughts:

  • The combat is fine, but nothing particularly interesting, like most AC games.  It's basically the same as Witcher 3 -- dodge a bunch, strike when opponent is exposed.  There's a bunch of additional abilities, but they don't seem to help much with the fights that matter, boss fights. 
    • I find the world fights against like legendary beasts and zealots way too long and samey.
    • Fuck those guys with spears.
    • Fuck those guys that run away super fast then throw rocks at you.
  • What in the flyting fuck are they trying to do with itemization in this game? 
    • I'm literally wearing my first armor set from the starting area, using the same 2 axes from the same area, because the limited amount of resources they give you pushes you to stick with a particular upgraded set. 
    • Everything you find in the world needs upgrades to be on the same level as your current stuff in every case I've seen.  To upgrade these new sets/weapons you'd need a TON of resources, and it's not really better, just slightly different.  So, you just end up sticking with your current set. 
    • I imagine there's an endgame set (I've seen hints), but what a waste. 
    • Each set/weapon should have had an upgrade cap that forced you to look for better gear periodically.  This would have forced us as players to branch out and experience this content, and enjoy looking for better gear.
  • This has been said over and over, but while some regional plots are good, there are many that feel paint by numbers.  Run around, do some shit for a character you don't care about, siege a castle, done.  There's WAY too many plots of this type, AC as a series just can't seem to stay away from this repetition.
  • And speaking of repetition, most mysteries and world icons are trash. 
    • There's hundreds of them, no exaggeration - sad little fetch quests, the same 6 break into the house puzzles OVER AND OVER. It's quantity over quality and that sucks. 
    • And furthermore, to have fully upgraded gear you do need to do a lot of this stuff because the amount of resources to upgrade even one set is pretty serious.
  • The same goes for the monastery raids.  The first one was pretty good but they are exactly identical after that, and the core mechanics are far too simple to justify that repetition.
  • The base building should be so cool and it's not.  I mean, it's satisfying to see the town growing but the only real effect on the world is that you get a slightly better feast buff (which is essentially nothing).
    • Once again, just like with gear or the horse, this game has no idea how to do satisfying progression and mechanics. 
    • I feel like it's possible a ton of content was cut here and might show up in later DLCs. 
    • It seems extremely obvious that some kind of initial, ongoing resource needs and raiding threat on your base would have added much needed stakes to the whole thing.
  • Worst fishing in a game ever.
  • The drinking minigame is trash and I hate it with the burning passion of a 1000 suns.
  • Why do they give you so many ingots and so few fabrics/leathers/irons/titaniums?  The ingots just open more slots for upgrades and change the appearance.  It feels like this was not playtested.

I really like ASSHALLA, but it's a flawed game.  It's easy to say it's the Ubisoft formula, but I think that's a little too simple of an analysis -- you can skip most of the repetition in the game.

In my opinion, the core issue in the game is a lack of satisfying progression.  The gear feels mostly meaningless.  The base-building is meaningless.  The upgrades to your gear do have gameplay impact, but they are not associated with a satisying decision, it's just an unending grind.

These elements are so core to the gameplay loop, it's a mystery to me that these issues weren't addressed.  With some very minor tweaks I think this game is a 9+/10, but instead it's a 8/10.  Shame.

8
8
8
Pros

Amazing graphics that have genuine impact on the experience

Surprisingly good writing in many areas

Excellent polish

Horse

Orlog

Cons

Far too much repetition

Far too much repetition

Far too much repetition

A plethora of strange choices in game design that render many key gameplay systems unsatisfying

From The Chatty
  • reply
    January 18, 2021 11:01 AM

    the_doctor wrote a thing!

    Read more: The "I haven't quite finished this game" Assassin's Creed: Valhalla review

    • reply
      January 18, 2021 11:42 AM

      Have you played any previous Assassin's Creed games? I had a quick search on your profile and was surprised to not really see anything.

      Valhalla is in my very short backlog of games to play soon.

      • reply
        January 18, 2021 12:29 PM

        I have played most, but I'm trying not to refer to the history of the series too much.

        I would rank the ones I've played as:

        AC4: Black Flag
        AC: Valhalla
        AC2: Brotherhood
        AC2
        AC: Origins
        AC2: Revolutions
        AC3
        AC

        The notable ones I haven't played are the recent greece one, unity, and the rebels one.

        • reply
          January 18, 2021 12:39 PM

          I'm not sure how I'd rank them, but Brotherhood would be dead last haha!

          I replayed Origins last year. I loooooved Unity, but it was the one filled with bugs (on the PC, initially; now it's fine).

          Rogue is not bad. An inferior Black Flag but they did make ship combat a little less tedious.

          Did you get to try Syndicate as well? The one set in London.

          • reply
            January 18, 2021 12:54 PM

            brotherhood...last? isn't it pretty universally acclaimed? Unity I own but never played because I heard such bad things. I have never even heard of syndicate!

            • reply
              January 18, 2021 2:27 PM

              On my replay of every game in the series, Brotherhood was the only one I couldn’t wait to be over.

              Didn’t like any of the main villains or characters (other than Ezio, obviously) and they made the best female character (Caterina Sforza) into a very annoying raging psycho.

              The Desmond Miles present day stuff was fine.

              And it was my least favourite world to get around in. Felt like I was constantly cutting through the slums to get where I wanted to go and I didn’t enjoy it.

              Ah well, can’t love them all.

              I think one of the main reasons people like Brotherhood was the introduction of multiplayer for the first time. That was kinda neat.

              • reply
                January 18, 2021 2:50 PM

                interesting. it's been a while for me so I'm going off memory, but most AC lists I'm looking at have brotherhood top 3 at least.

                • reply
                  January 18, 2021 2:57 PM

                  I'm with him on Brotherhood and generally he and I are pretty far apart in gaming tastes.

                  Brotherhood refined AC2 mechanics and systems. But it's a total bore. Like he said, bad characters, an absolute dump of a story and the world map isn't good.

                  It was hailed for introducing multi-player at a time when every Ubisoft analyst and investor was crying for more money. The surprise was that they actually made a good one, although later games would refine it further.

                  • reply
                    January 18, 2021 3:17 PM

                    O RLY??? Which other games do I love that you loathe? haha!

                    • reply
                      January 18, 2021 3:25 PM

                      Not loathe lol, but you're posting a lot about loving the newer Far Cry games right? And you mentioned Little Big Planet recently. Those are absolutely not my thing.

                      Although I got Far Cry 6 with my Ryzen CPU and I'm really looking forward to more Giancarlo Esposito in my life.

                      • reply
                        January 18, 2021 4:34 PM

                        Oh yeah I loved all of those :)

                        You don’t like LittleBigPlanet though?

                        • reply
                          January 18, 2021 5:49 PM

                          Never owned a PS3 and the few times I played LBP 1/2 with friends I had no fun. Felt floaty and imprecise but I admit we were drinking.

                • reply
                  January 18, 2021 3:15 PM

                  Also FWIW I loooved Assassin's Creed III haha and I think a lot of the hardcore fans did as well. It was so ambitious.

                  • reply
                    January 18, 2021 3:26 PM

                    Oh shit. Loved AC III and Rage? Maybe we're not so different after all 😂

            • reply
              January 18, 2021 3:05 PM

              Unity is great, better than Valhalla IMO

              • reply
                January 18, 2021 3:07 PM

                Although architecture and environment seem to be pretty important to my enjoyment of AC games, so Valhalla and the Rebel one are my least favorite. Running around 8th century England is boring AF

                • reply
                  January 18, 2021 3:22 PM

                  I will agree on that point: it's beautiful but it's severely lacking a real architectural masterpiece -- much like AC3/AC4. Does vision valhalla count?

          • reply
            January 18, 2021 2:08 PM

            I sort of liked syndicate even though it was super repetitive. The setting was good and I liked the main character(s).

          • reply
            January 18, 2021 3:19 PM

            Rogue is awesome because you play as Mads Mikkelsen

    • reply
      January 18, 2021 2:05 PM

      I agree with all this.
      The armour / weapons crafting is especially underbaked and I’ve yet to find a reason not to use my starting gear.
      The game is just too long and repetitive.

      • reply
        January 18, 2021 9:21 PM

        I’ve been running with the starting gear most of the time, but recently switched some weapons due to the bonus effects. Like instead of the first shield, I switched to the shield that randomly ignites your weapons on parries and it’s been cool.

    • reply
      January 18, 2021 4:33 PM

      I liked that I could respec my skills, but hated that I couldn't respec armor, so just like you I stuck with that default set the entire game, and it's dumb that it works that way.

      • reply
        January 18, 2021 4:36 PM

        I hate when developers take a mildly annoying like there being 100 million weapons/armor in the last game, and “fix” it by getting rid of the system altogether.

        I would rather have too many options to choose from than spend the whole game with starting gear.

        • reply
          January 18, 2021 5:03 PM

          it's not quite starting gear. it does improve with you, and it looks awesome eventually too.

          what it's like is ME1's numbered guns/armor, just you're not swapping mods/runes. just like that system, incredibly unsatisfying.

          • reply
            January 18, 2021 5:28 PM

            I loved the way ME1's weapons worked, hah. I was super disappointed that they nerfed the equipment aspect of things for ME2

            • reply
              January 18, 2021 5:48 PM

              Ha that was the example I was going to give when I agreed with you. They could have paired it down, but I liked all the gear in me1. The top level stuff was awesome too.

              • reply
                January 18, 2021 6:32 PM

                I'm shocked there's 2 people here that liked that system.

                What did you like about it? You basically had the same problem as this game, where everything was the same from the very start.

                • reply
                  January 19, 2021 2:30 AM

                  Was just at a time on my life I could run all the gear down and all the mods. By late game you could sell them for a ton of money and opened a higher tier of spectre gear that was very cool. It'd probably be too much for me now (see control, bunch of barely there mods I find annoying). That said I'd have liked a bit more options in me2

            • reply
              January 18, 2021 5:50 PM

              Exactly. Like you say, one way of fixing a design problem is by removing the whole system.

      • reply
        January 18, 2021 10:58 PM

        Wouldn't be so bad if they gave added more materials to the game to upgrade your armor. I made 1 switch mid-late game. Then when you beat the game you get the best armor and weapons. There are no materials left to collect to upgrade. I wanted to mess around with a bunch of different weapons and combinations but I was more or less stuck with my initial choices.

Hello, Meet Lola