The Assassin’s Creed series is a bit of an oddity. What started off as a series of games that focused on putting you in the shoes of, well, an assassin, has now turned into a sprawling open-world action RPG series where story and narrative take center stage. And that likely is for the better. I spent a good amount of time in the original Assassin’s Creed and while I enjoyed sneaking around, silently taking out targets from the shadows and escaping undetected, the gameplay felt artificial and linear. Fast forward to today and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has given me a reason to revisit a series I had dismissed as a one-trick pony.
Story & Narrative
Valhalla places us in the fur-lined boots of Eivor, a Viking warlord who has had to deal with tragedy, loss and betrayal from a young age. If like me you were following the marketing for this game, you’ll know that Eivor can be played as either male or female. Without spoiling much, I can tell you that there’s an intriguing narrative reason for that, one that you’ll come to appreciate as the story unravels.
The story of Eivor and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla takes place during a time when Vikings were looking to settle past Norway. With your crew, you land onto the shores of England and, let’s just say, you’re not exactly welcome. As you attempt to build a new place for your people to call home, you’ll have to fight for your right to maintain your foothold. What I found particularly powerful about this aspect of Valhalla’s story was how it portrayed Vikings as settlers looking for a piece of land to call their own. While we oftentimes associate these fierce warriors with violence and pillaging, there’s also that human side of them and Valhalla does a great job of keeping that front and center.
As if building a new home for her clan wasn’t enough, Eivor has to deal with some inner turmoil of her own. Early on she discovers she’s destined to betray her childhood friend and clan leader Sigurd. Outside of that, she also regularly sees the god Odin in visions. In essence, all three of these story strands intertwine with each other effectively and deliver a surprisingly cohesive narrative about the struggle between pre-determined fate and free will.
Eivor, Assassins Creed Valhalla
“I Will Not Be Captive To Another Man’s Gaudy Design. My Destiny Is Mine To Weave.”
World & Design
It’s not a big sprawling open-world game without plenty of land to strut around in. Despite that Valhalla takes place in England and it has almost as much variety in destinations as Odyssey. Between the English shores, Jotunheim, Norway and Asgard, there’s a good chunk of map to explore and get lost in while you complete missions, loot gear and items, and develop your skills. They’re all equally as breathtaking as well, even on a base PlayStation 4 used for this very review. The scenery and character designs are all highly detailed with one particular caveat. Character models were more often better looking when they didn’t have to move much. Outside of gameplay and combat, watching Eivor and Co interact during dialogue and story beats gave me the feeling that the game still needed a bit more polish. It’s jarring to see Eivor deliver attacks with believable animations during combat only to then sweep her arm in an awkward movement when conversing with one of her clanmates.
There’s a good variety of things to do in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. You’ll be doing quite a bit of exploring and fighting as well as helping build up your settlement and getting to know the people that reside within it. These conversations lead up to some exciting story moments and activities that tie in with the main storyline. Never was there a time when I felt that I was being sidetracked from the main narrative. Combat in Valhalla is brutal with a lot of weight and impact in every blow.
Action RPGs have a tendency to lack weight in their attacks. With every swing of her weapons, though, Eivor delivers meaty blows that pack a lot of punch. Of course, with a lot of punch comes a lot of blood and Valhalla has that in spades. Developing Eivor’s abilities happens in two ways. First is via an expansive skill tree that branches out into three different colored paths. Bear Skills, the red path, is all about enhancing your melee skills. Raven Skills, the yellow path, focuses on stealth, defence and assassination. Finally, Wolf Skills will make you a deadlier ranged fighter. You can obtain new skills by spending skill points to unlock nodes. The second way to give Eivor new abilities is by finding Books of Knowledge scattered around the world. From these abilities, you can have 4 melee and 4 ranged active at a time. The best part about this system is that you can respect your Eivor as many times as you wish without needing any resources.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has turned me into a believer of the series. The hallmark of a good game is to have an intriguing narrative and engaging gameplay. As a gamer who loves good combat systems, I felt right at home with the game’s flow and mechanics. On the other hand, the side of me that appreciates a good story was fully engrossed in Eivor’s story and her struggles. With this newfound belief, I’m now convinced I need to go back and experience Assassin’s Creed games I missed out on.
Yannis is a veteran gamer with over 25 years of experience across the spectrum of genres. He enjoys spending time with his family, livestreaming on Twitch and occasionally dishing out unsolicited dad advice. Also catch him on IG.