This review will not contain any story spoilers
In Part 1 of this review, I highlighted some of improved features and additions made in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. In Part 2, it’s time to address the concerns and problems I had in my 120+ hours with the game. Note, this is not a comprehensive list of problems, just some issues I found particularly notable.
Perhaps the most widely agreed upon critique is the matter of the game’s length. It is far too long. The main campaign is easily over 60+ hours, and this is not even considering other side activities and questlines you may want to do alongside the main arc. Games having lengthy campaigns is not always a bad thing, but the core gameplay loop must support it, and here Valhalla does not always perform.
As we play as a Viking, it is natural that you would spend a lot of time in combat. Despite being marketed as the ‘ultimate Viking experience’, I found combat to be a complete mess. Weapon variety has been gutted to make way for a new dual-wielding system, a decision that I feel was a mistake. Dual-wielding is not as smooth as it needs to be, meaning combat devolves into button mashing with the occasional dodge being necessary. Combat feels slow and unresponsive, meaning battles with more than a handful of opponenets becomes a visual nightmare.
Loot and progression have also taken a hit. In Odyssey, you would find gear constantly and you swapped out gear frequently. Yet I wielded the same bow I got at level 1 for over 50 hours, purely because I did not find another hunter bow until that far into the game. Gear can be upgraded and depending on the item, its appearance can change with the new blacksmithing system, but these changes are usually minor and most armour sets do not feel special or meaningful as they look and feel similar to each other.
As mentioned in part 1, the skill tree is expansive. But its size is deceptive as the upgrades are uninteresting. Minor stat boosts such as 2% critical chance are not exactly the types of perks that I want to be investing in constantly. You gain levels so often it is apparent why nodes like this are necessary, as without them you would have less than half of the tree remaining for a game that is well over 60+ hours long.
A notable problem with Valhalla is its performance. It is clear that this game was released early to be a launch title for the new consoles, but its quality has suffered because of this decision. I was very lucky to hardly experience any bugs, but what I did run into frequently was crashes. I have never had a game crash on me as much as this one did. After number 15, I stopped counting. Every time I would boot up the game, it would crash sometime later. Luckily the saving system ensured I never lost more than a minute or two of progression, but I hope this problem is addressed in future patches.
Valhalla tries to strike the balance between appealing to older fans of the franchise whilst keeping new players engaged – players who may have only experienced the new format of Assassin’s Creed. The balance is struck well at times, but in others Valhalla struggles to know who and what type of game it is and wants to be. Some missions feel very familiar, following the older generation in style and presentation. Other moments see the game embracing its newer roots, but this back and forth is a struggle that is never truly resolved, so certain story threads are left disappointingly answered as it tries to juggle many storylines together.
The attention to the lore is obvious and appreciated (as mentioned previously), but Assassin’s Creed has no lore master, which makes me worry for future titles. With no person(s) controlling the overarching narrative being told, I worry that the next studio will not take advantage of the position this game sets up, and the overall franchise cohesion splitting even more than it has already.
Finally, Valhalla’s marketing is a point of contention. In all but one trailer, Eivor is shown to be a man. The option to choose your gender is something begun in Odyssey and it returns here. However, canonically Eivor is a woman and this has several story links behind it. I cannot say too much here to avoid spoilers, but I will say it is extremely disappointing to see that the game fails to make its canonical protagonist the one highlighted in their trailers and gameplay reveals (and this is not the first time they have done so). With recent firings and allegations against Ubisoft execs, it makes sense why male characters were given more prominence in marketing, but it is frustrating to see that despite the developers support for the #ACSisterhood movement (a group of players committed to celebrating and advocating for more female characters in Assassin’s Creed), this is not reflected in how this game is presented to the wider public. This franchise has always had a problem with female protagonists, and I only hope with the recent shufflings at the company, we may finally see some variation in the types of characters we get to play as and experience.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a game trying to shrug off the legacy of its predecessor. It has some excellent story moments and makes strives we have not seen since 2012. However, this is marred by technical faults and a combat system you have no choice but to engage with. Its RPG systems are a thin at times, which only serves to prove how this franchise is still uncomfortable in its own skin. This formula of open world is already beginning to fatigue, so I hope that with the next installment we see true innovation that takes advantage of next gen hardware and new creative opportunities.
All images captured by me on a PS4