Tis Q4, an age of steel and next-gen console game releases

A time when a writer’s sleep schedule drastically decreases

From the mists of time comes Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Not to be confused with Ubisoft’s forgotten Brawlhalla

To review this game we require a man of talent and wit

Alas we have Darryn, who’s a bit of a twit

The review begins so buckle your butts

Because you’re about to see that this game is totally nuts

Assassin’s Creed has been a bit different in its last two outings when compared to previous games in the series. The bones were still there, a historic trip down memory lane mixed with an ancient feud, class warfare, and conspiracy theories about ancient aliens that would give the History Channel enough content to last several lifetimes.

On top of that frame though, was a game that was less fussed with forcing you down a rigid path of subterfuge and content to allow you to YOLO your way to victory. Assassin’s Creed Origins got the ball rolling, while Assassin’s Creed Odyssey proved to be the very pinnacle of the series and its new direction, creating an impossibly high barrier to overcome thanks to its combination gorgeous Mediterranean scenery, dozens of hours of content, and a protagonist who was pure charismatic swagger.

Can Assassin’s Creed Valhalla match or even surpass that glorious benchmark? Nah. Ubisoft’s latest sandbox comes in second place in this latest tour of a bygone era, but I’ll say this much: It’s a damn close race.

It’s the darkest of ages, when England was being invaded and colonised by settlers from distant shores. Danes roam the land, gratuitous Saxon violence is the only law of the land and kings rise and fall as quickly as a sunset over a distant moor. Enter Eivor, a Viking warrior blessed by the fates with abilities inherited through their bloodline.

It’s not too long before you exit Norway and begin a voyage to England, a country shrouded in mists of mystery. Eivor and their clan may be invaders, but within time they also become settlers on hostile territory while becoming embroiled in the age-old war between those who seek to control humanity and those who wish for everything to be permitted.

On the surface this may look like Assassin’s Creed with a new coat of paint, and that’s partly true. You’ll still scour the land for synchronisation spots, meet with famous figures of the era and introduce anyone who gets in your way towards the business end of your cold steel, but underneath the hood there are a number of significant changes that all tie into the idea of creating a far more organic experience.

For starters the Dark Souls influence feels heavier than ever before. A stamina meter gauges just how many heavy attacks you can land or enemies you can roll away from, forcing you to adopt Eivor’s aggressive culture and fight more aggressively than ever before. There’s a whole new cadence to the battle-dance when compared to the deadly duets of Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey, and Valhalla feels better for it.

How you gain power has also been completely revamped. Instead of focusing on a Destiny-like system of gear that would give you a fighting edge and the strict level-up system where a single difference in numbers made a huge impact on your ability to survive an encounter, Valhalla has you racking up experience and skill points. Invest your skill points in one of three primary trees, and you’ll be able to unlock more abilities, durability, and adrenaline bars for your special skills along the way, thus building on your overall power.

Your arsenal also feels far more focused: Great swords will cleave through shields, dual-wielding a sword and shield provides both offense and defense, and experimenting with other combinations reveals a much deeper combat system that feels more fun than ever before. I’m especially fond of daggers and axes, especially when I can literally hack a shield to pieces with them. Combine that with the number of skills that you can equip to either trigger button, and Eivor’s a Danish wrecking machine.

Do I miss the Spartan Kick from Odyssey? Absolutely. Am I glad that it’s replacement is a bare-knuckle rugby tackle that you can strategically use to chuck a soldier off a cliff? Oh hells yes. While Valhalla had me playing more aggressively than I thought I would, I’m still happy to see that stealth has its own use in Valhalla. With a hidden blade equipped, the right skill in your pocket and an eye for thinking outside the box when you’re burning a castle to the ground, Eivor’s capable of taking down some of the most notorious bastards who ever terrorised the kingdoms of England.

In areas where guards will happily run you through with a pike, you can even pull your cloak over and blend in with crowds to escape notice. It’s not entirely necessary to do so and you can pretty much murder your way out of a jam without having to worry about a gang of mercenaries hounding you down, but it’s nice to have options.

Because experience and skill points are earned at a generous rate, that results in the player being more active overall. Your inventory has pretty much taken a backseat and while your various items do still have a large role to play, they’re not the be-all end-all of what you’re capable of as a warrior. If you’re at 90 power for instance you still stand a chance in a 160-power challenge.

Although you’re absolutely stuffed if you stumble upon an ancient king’s monument and you find yourself facing a vengeful daughter who outnumbers you by several hundred points and seeks to turn your skull into her newest drinking glass.

This creates a soft barrier, but one that doesn’t discourage you from exploring England. And with a country this gorgeous, why wouldn’t you want to hop on your steed and roam around ancient lands that have names which phonetically make no sense? Ubisoft has proven to be the company Ii n the video game business when it comes to creating worlds, and England doesn’t disappoint.

Regions vary between seasons, crumbling castles can be climbed, and there’s an air of the supernatural in the verdant green hills that lends the whole experience a spooky atmosphere. You can easily find yourself lost in these lands, which feel alien yet familiar. The entire presentation looks phenomenal as well, running at a pace that never drops a frame while beams of sunlight pierce through the sky. I’ve honestly never seen a sunset in a game as beautiful as the one that Valhalla gave me while I was impaling a Saxon captain on his own sword. I’ll get into this more in another feature, but Valhalla easily earns its place in Odin’s next-gen halls as a stunning showcase of Viking savagery.

While England doesn’t feel as big as Kassandra’s adventures in ancient Greece, it’s certainly a more dense location. Both in content and some of the side-quests you’ll take on which largely range from bonkers down to the absolute spooky. Across my many hours spent in the game I’d helped an imprisoned crone build up an almighty fart that leveled a city’s population, unleashed an army of cats on pesky rats, and met a chap who had a slight headache. Possibly due to the axe stuck halfway in his skull.

This juxtaposed against a more somber and serious campaign, at the end of which you’ll be knocked off your feet with a heck of a plot twist. To its credit though, Valhalla barely touches on some of the more outlandish First Ones lore until it truly needs to, handing out dozens of hours of adventures as you slowly forge alliances and wrap up a modern-day storyline that began in Assassin’s Creed Origins.

There’s so much to do than just the main quest however. You can attempt to drink alcoholic Englishmen under the table in feats of liver-destroying strength, play a game of Orlog that still baffles me no matter how much I try to read the rules and engage in epic rap battles. These were honestly some of my favourite events, as I put away my sword and drew a sharper tongue out in response to challenges from talented wordsmiths.

I’ve transformed a settlement of tents into a bustling hub of commerce by raiding monasteries on the shore with a crew of battle-hardened brothers, laid siege to castles, and once again engaged in a long hunt for people who truly deserved to have a hidden blade thrust into their black hearts. I’ve romanced and fought my way across Mercia, uncovered hidden secrets, and I’m still hoping to find a peasant named Dennis so that I can really show him the violence inherent in the system.

By actually scaling back and revamping its adventure system in way that makes wants you to stick to its golden path before you break away to explore, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla feels like a smaller game in its current iteration but also a far more focused one than ever before. If Assassin’s Creed Odyssey had a weakness, it’s that it was too big, too much to explore in any one lifetime even if you managed to somehow activate a Contra code in this reality.

Valhalla on the other hand has a story to tell first and a world to explore second. Eivor may not have the big dick energy of Odyssey’s Kassandra but their quiet demeanor is matched by an explosive delivery of scathing insults and brutal actions when necessary. England is a world ruled by the sword and is far less civilised than the Mediterranean empire that Odyssey provided, deceptive when peaceful and honest when violent.

Last Updated: November 9, 2020

Assassin's Creed Valhalla
A saga for the ages, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a breathtaking journey of discovery that has a cold charm to it. It is both serious and ludicrous in equal measure, an RPG that has added more than it has removed from its core experience while delivering a game that feels familiar and completely new at the same time. Skal!
9.0
Assassin's Creed Valhalla was reviewed on Xbox Series X
84 / 100

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