Assassin’s Creed has come a long way since its first appearance back in 2007. We’ve seen all over the world thanks to various entries in the franchise. Recently though the series has moved further and further away from what Assassin’s Creed initially was.
For those hoping that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a return to series roots then I’ve got bad news for you. It’s not. For those that have enjoyed the recent pivot to more of an RPG formula then you’re in luck. Valhalla is even more of that but it brings with it some changes.
You have the choice to play as a male or female Eivor. Why don’t they have a different name like in previous Assassin’s Creed games with multiple lead characters? Because everything Eivor does can be done by either of them, from fighting to drinking to romance. You can even switch who you’re playing as in the options menu, just in case you fancy a change mid mission.
All gear and customisation decisions will be switched over when you change character and, from what I played, it seems all encounters are more or less the same too. That means you can pick who you prefer to play as and, if you decide you want to change, not have to start a new game.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla takes place in Britain during the viking era. Eivor and their people are trying to find a new place to call home. Although I didn’t get to see any settlements in the demo I played I did get to see what you can do in your bid to help make East England a better place. In the part of the story shown we got to see Eivor and others try and save a character called Oswald, to help bring peace to the area of East Anglia.
The game plays similarly to what we’ve seen in Odyssey but there’s been some refining of the hand to hand combat. Switching the hands your weapons are in can be done with a simple tap and you can even dual wield weapons if you’d like to. Getting up close and personal is the funnest way to play, with special moves helping add some pizzazz to your scraps. It feels like God of War and Assassin’s Creed had a baby, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t always look pretty but it can be great fun to play.
That does highlight an issue with the game though, especially for long term fans of the series. From the section of the game I played stealth just didn’t feel encouraged. Getting stuck into a fight and taking down areas with your people rather than by yourself felt much more rewarding than trying to sneak around. I am hoping this is just because of the section of the game shown but, as someone that always preferred the stealthy route in Assassin’s Creed games, I was disappointed that the focus has shifted away even further.
Looking through the skill tree system it seems there’s definitely options to improve stealth and I’m sure, with more time with the game, there will be plenty of moments that sneaking around feels rewarding… but after 3 hours with the game I’m yet to see much of it. It is worth noting though that the skill tree has A LOT of customisation and that will mean you can refine it to the style you find the most entertaining and effective.
Is this really a negative though when the combat is so addictive? A real highlight of my time with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was the assault on Burgh Castle. Watching the ships sail across water in a storm with the castle in the distance, having my army shield themselves from flaming arrows raining from the sky and finally hitting the shore to land straight into a battle is some of the most adrenaline fuelled action the franchise has ever offered.
Assaults themselves have a lot of nice layers too. Thinning out the enemy army, whether with hand to hand combat or your bow, on the ground makes things easier but you can’t ignore those on the castle walls. It forces you to add variety to your attacks, as you can normally only attack from a distance, and it adds to the franticness of the experience. Combine this with your battering ram and you’ve then got something else to think about.
I found myself grabbing onto it at the start of each section to rush it to the doors so I could then focus on helping my comrades win the fight. Get through enough of the doors and you’ll eventually get to a section with a boss character. In this occasion it was tied to the main story and left me with the opportunity to kill them or spare them. Although I saw ramifications of my actions in the demo I’d be curious to see if there are long term differences if you choose a different option.
Outside of the assaults the missions presented were a fairly standard affair. One was taking over an area, which basically meant wiping out everyone in there and signalling to others, and the other was a wedding with some fun mini games and nice cutscenes. Realising a situation is too overwhelming for just yourself and calling in reinforcements is a satisfying feeling. It’s a shame at times that your allies can be a bit idiotic in actually following you to where you’re going though. On one occasion I moved forward into a new part of the area I was in and they just… didn’t follow me. There is a button to help get their attention to follow you at least, which does work, and hopefully the ally AI is smartened up a bit before release.
The world outside of the main missions was littered with camps and side quests, and you can even set your horse to follow a route if you struggle to navigate areas, or like to give yourself a bit of a break getting from A to B. There’s still plenty of things to climb, synchronise and jump into piles of hay from and the landscape shown in the East Anglian section I saw was nice to look at, although a bit one dimensional.
This is in part though of the fact that East Anglia is a fairly flat part of the country. It will be interesting to see the changes of terrain in the full release of the game. For those of you that love a challenge there’s plenty of special battles to hunt down too. Some of these are warriors with tricks up their sleeves but you even have legendary animals to try and discover. These aren’t as clearly signposted on your map but there is a marking of the general area they’re in.
In the demo played I discovered the Black Shuck, a classic bit of East Anglian folklore I remember hearing about from my childhood. It puts up a fight and packs a bite and was a nice change of combat pace from fighting the human characters. There are also plenty of general wildlife to take down in the game world too, if you want to try some hunting or test your combat skills.
Graphically the game seems an improvement to Odyssey but it feels like some of the animations still need a little work. It’s not a game that will leave your mouth agape with its beauty but there’s no denying that it still looks very good, especially in motion. The setting of the demo does mean there’s not as much natural beauty to the game as Odyssey, because East Anglia is a marshy muddy coloured place. There are glimpses of scenic beauty though and there’s still plenty of the world that has not yet been seen.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is at its best in battle. The quality of its combat, coupled with it allowing for multiple playstyles means you should be able to find your rhythm. It’s just a shame it seems to be at the sacrifice of the stealth the series was built on. The mechanics are still there but they are no longer the focus.
Even without the stealth though, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is brutal, beautiful and badass. It continues to do its own thing as it builds itself into an action RPG franchise. After my time with the game I’m optimistic that it’s going to be a fun release that many will lose countless hours to and enjoy. Time will tell though if it is an entry fans will remember fondly in years to come. It will be interesting to see if concerns are ironed out before release.
You’ll be able to pick up Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on November 18th.