24/11/2020

๐Ÿ“ฏ⚔️ Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla | Review | PS4 | "A Game That Definitely Gives Me The (Viking) Horn" ⚔️๐Ÿ“ฏ @UbisoftMTL @Ubisoft_UK #AssassinsCreedValhalla

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Game Title: Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Platform Reviewed: PS4 (base)

Rating 9/10

My personal history with the Assassin’s Creed series is pretty chequered, I played the original but didn’t really click with it and, following this, the constant releases, spin-offs and other media just alienated me slightly as the lore seemed to get ever-more dense.

I did dip back in with Black Flag on the PS3 at a friend’s suggestion but it seemed to run pretty sluggishly and once again, I didn’t connect with it.

It was actually earlier this year during lockdown that the stars aligned and teased me once again with the franchise.

My brother mentioned how much fun he was having with Odyssey and heartily recommended it just as I was after an open-world RPG to lose myself in (after completing The Witcher 3 for the second time as well as Kingdom Come: Deliverance) plus my fiancรฉe was somewhat obsessed with the various soundtracks on Spotify, I was being attacked from all directions and so I decided once again to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.

With the recent, positive experience of Odyssey in mind and my personal ‘Assassin’s Curse’ broken, I was keen to get hips deep into Valhalla but I did wonder if it would be a case of ‘Odyssey…but with Vikings’ and whilst that is definitely a fair comparison, this is a winning formula and the many subtle changes add up to making this feel like a step forward in the series and to me, the best (I’ve played) yet.

Casting you in the role of Eivor - a character whom you can choose to be male, female or let the Animus decide, which I did – you are a hardened Viking warrior who begins their journey in the snow-capped mountainous regions of Norway before sailing to England to conquer new lands with your brother, Sigurd, and this is where the bulk of the game takes place with the initial handful of hours in Norway acting as a tutorial, much as the island of Kephallonia did in Odyssey.

The game is strikingly beautiful and the soundtrack is as hauntingly wonderful as ever, I just wanted to get that out of the way straight off the bat. From the whipping, icy winds of Norway, where you can almost feel the biting chill to the verdant greens of England, complete with crumbling stone walls and towering Roman remains, the game is a joy to traverse and you are accompanied all the while by keening, ambient music and pulses of horns and ethereal vocals. Good.

Whilst a lot of the mechanics are familiar, they have been tweaked and tightened, giving the game a sense of freshness. Some examples of this would be how your health no longer regenerates out of combat, instead requiring rations and food to renew, this means that the combat has more impact to it (both in terms of a sense of weight and tension) and you can’t just churn through a load of enemies, run off for a bit to heal and then plough back into the fray.

There was a truly epic moment when I was just doing the last bit of pottering around before returning to camp - my health had been slaughtered due to a clumsy leap off a cliff - and I wandered up against a mythical, giant creature that resulted in one of the tensest battles I’ve had in a video game.

The climbing mechanics in this game have also been reined in a bit, you can’t just push forward and scale every sheer surface in the world as you could previously and so more tactics are required in certain areas which gives a little more depth to the proceedings.

The most welcome change for me, however, was how the quest system doesn’t result in having a plethora of missions clogging up your screen with level requirements hundreds above your current status, meaning that you won’t need to spend the entire bronze age waiting for clunky menus to load (they have really been spiced up, making them far snappier)and trying to come to terms with the hundreds of active quest spots in your list and on the map.

The world of Valhalla isn’t as densely populated as Odyssey and this, combined with how each weapon is unique and all of your armour and items are more focused on getting upgraded as opposed to replaced means that exploration and the discovery of new places, side-quests and weapons etc. all feel more special.

I was completely on board with the darker tone that Valhalla takes and the fact that you have a home village to expand on and thus familiar faces and areas made me more invested in the events of the story and the people involved overall. You are creating a settlement here and exploring the lands as opposed to being a wandering mercenary ticking off hundreds of quests.

There are some really nicely implemented mini-games to dip into you as you make your way across England. From drinking contests, flyting (poetry) competitions, raids and the surprisingly addictive dice game of Orlog to simply making stone cairns and removing curses from homesteads, even as I approached twenty-five hours in, I still felt like I was making new, fresh discoveries whilst always feeling connected to the main, narrative.

There are some minor grievances in terms of bugs, with the occasional delay in talking during cut scenes, odd lighting in some areas and stuttering music/frame rate drops during more involved battle sequences but in all honesty, they feel pretty minor when playing such a huge game with so much to offer and it’s all stuff that I’m fairly certain will be patched up in a couple of weeks.

In summary, whilst Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla doesn’t make any huge evolutions, it instead focusses on perfecting its own formula and hugely succeeds in doing so.

A darker, more involving narrative set in an interesting world that begs to be explored; this is clearly a game that I will be diving into for many, weeks to come.

Heck, even the modern-day sections are enjoyable in this one due to the personal pull of Eivor’s story and in Odyssey, whenever the game forced me back to the present day, I wanted to strangle myself with my own hair so that’s saying something.

Right, I’m off to throw a load of axes at some Saxon faces…after some Orlog, natch.

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