Review: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (PS4/PS5)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 5
  • Xbox One
  • Xbox Series X/S
  • Google Stadia
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS5 & PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualSense (PS5) Required (1)
  • DualShock 4 (PS4) Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (GB)
Release Date: November 12, 2020
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Original MSRP: $59.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: M
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the latest installment in the long-running franchise from Ubisoft. A few years ago, after the disappointing reception of Assassin’s Creed Unity, the publisher made the smart decision to de-annualize the series. This has resulted in a great run of games, from Origins, to Odyssey, to, now, Valhalla. Allowing a longer development cycle has given the creators more room to breathe, and bigger worlds in which to play, and ACV is certainly no exception. There will be no spoilers in this review, so story beats will be discussed in very broad terms after the introductory piece.

You take on the role of Eivor, a Viking raider in the late 800s AD Norway, whose gender you get to choose. You can also let the Animus (*shudder*) choose for you, which leads the game to alternate genders during certain moments. I chose the female version, as that was the choice I made in Odyssey, and that worked out well.

Eivor is introduced to us as a child enjoying a gathering attended by his/her father and mother, Varin and Rosta, respectively, King Styrbjorn, and his son, Sigurd. The joy is soon disrupted by an attacking Kjotve the Cruel and his clan, which leads to tragic consequences for Eivor’s parents. You are saved by Sigurd, who becomes your adoptive brother. The story then fast-forwards seventeen years, and you are held captive by Kjotve due to your attempt at revenge. You are able to escape, and in the process recover your father’s axe.

When you touch your father’s axe, you encounter a vision of Odin. To learn more about this vision, you turn to Valka, the seer. Valka shows you yet another vision, which helps set the table for the story and therefore will not be described here. This will not be the end of visions, either. From this point, Sigurd returns from raiding and brings with him two men by the names of Basim and Hytham, from a group called the “Hidden Ones”. They have brought the Hidden Blade with them, and it is given to you.

One more battle takes place in Norway (no spoilers), and this leads us to another large gathering, this time involving several clans, with the objective of uniting said clans into a single kingdom, though under a different king than Styrbjorn. This upsets Sigurd, being that he would be next in line to his father. He gathers Eivor and the rest of his Raven Clan and sets off to England to settle into their new kingdom. We’re off to the races at this point, so my only further comment about the story proper is that this is a tale about loyalty, honor, vengeance, and betrayal that unfolds at a nice pace. There seems to be a heavier focus on the main storyline in Valhalla, but side quests are still an important part of the game.

Invading England involves utilizing the high seas to travel back in the ninth century. While the last several Assassin’s Creed games have focused on naval battles when on the water, Valhalla tends to use the longship more as strictly a transport vehicle. I happen to like this, as I found my enjoyment of the naval battles decreasing with each installment of the series since Black Flag. You can take a cinematic view of the trip, which pulls back the camera and allows you to enjoy more of the scenery. Your crew can be directed to either tell stories or sing whilst traveling as well.

Once you reach England, you establish a settlement at an former Viking camp, and call it Ravensthorpe. Within your settlement, you will be able to build a forge, barracks, and much more, all having a purpose, as well as having a longhouse, where you find your personal quarters. In addition, Basim and Hytham will have you build a Hidden Ones Bureau. Building this opens up the quests for assassinations of the Order of the Ancients.

Also at your longhouse is the Alliance room. In this room lies a map which shows you the alliances you have forged throughout Endgland, and allows you to decide your next move. Forging alliances is a key element in story of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

To enable your settlement to grow, you need supplies and raw materials. Being that you are Vikings in a foreign land, you will need to take them by force. The raids, as they are called, begin with a monastery which you reach by sea. As you get near your target, there will be a yellow circle that you point your ship toward, and then press triangle when close enough to the shore. Everyone on the boat exits, and proceeds to attempt to negotiate a peaceful transaction…wait, that’s not right! Your crew jumps out and you lead them into an attack on the location. You can let them focus on the battle while you search for the items you need, or you can join in on the fun and fight alongside your team, then pillage when there’s no one left to bother you. Raids are a lot of fun, and I quite enjoy jumping into the fray.

That enjoyment is primarily because the combat is excellent in ACV. There is a dual-wielding mechanic in the game this time, and a focus on parrying more so than I can recall in any game I’ve played recently, save Ghost of Tsushima. The variety in the weapons is vast, with axes, shields, spears, etc. at your disposal. You can either utilize stealth or go in full steam ahead, depending on the situation, and, as always in this series, parkouring plays a role as well. Utilizing the rooftops and other higher structures leads to assassinations and getaways.

Eagle Vision has been replaced by a raven, and with that has come a modification to that mechanic. While you still use your bird to fly above and scour the area, gone is the ability to use it to mark your targets. Instead, the raven is more of a GPS for supplies and locations. As I was playing, I found myself wishing they had left this mechanic alone, as I had always enjoyed using the bird as a helpful combat tool.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has taken the series to the most RPG-level it has ever been, at least as far as the skill tree goes. It is the largest one in franchise history, and is a tad overwhelming for a non-role playing game player like myself. It is presented as a constellation in space, and you gain spendable skill points by completing missions, or accomplishing other tasks throughout the game. The tree itself is made up of colored “branches”, which represent melee, stealth, and ranged, and you can chip away at each section, arriving at major skills, which are in the center of each “star cluster (my words)”.

In addition, Abilities have a separate tab and are gained by locating Books of Knowledge throughout the land. Abilities are mapped to the L2 (ranged) and R2 (melee) buttons, and while holding those pressing one of the face buttons. Options include Ranged Poison Strike, Rush and Bash, and many, many, more.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla offers up some lighthearted fare to offset all the fighting and invading. While you travel the land, you have the opportunity to play dice games, meet up with locals for a friendly drinking competition, or my favorite, flyting. Flyting is best described as a ninth century rap battle, where you take turns dissing one another with rhymes. I enjoy the opportunity to break up the seriousness of the tale with these whimsical moments.

The game performs beautifully on the PlayStation 5. I have not encountered one issue on that console. The PS4, however, is what I began playing the game on, and that was a slightly different story. At one point, the game just crashed and froze my PS4, and twice I died, and when the game came back (after a typically long load time), I just fell through the earth over and over. Those three incidents robbed me of at least four hours of gameplay. Again, once I bought the game to the new generation, there were no issues, and the post-death load times were substantially quicker.

Also of note, bringing the game save up to the PS5 was seamless, provided you have a Ubisoft Connect account established, which is easy to do. Utilizing their cloud save also allows you to go back and forth between generations, if the need arises.

Visuals:
Simply put, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is gorgeous, especially on the new generation. Whether traversing Norway or England, the world is stunning, and each country offers its own unique environments. Not only can you navigate the high seas in cinematic mode, but you are able to do that whilst riding your horse. I advise doing this and taking everything in, as much as you are able to. The cutscenes beautiful as well, and I only encountered one oddity-a large hog just walked right through my legs like they weren’t there. But I guess that’s the exception that proves the rule.

I had some minor issues with the PS4 version where it felt a little murky, but I messed with my settings and worked those out. The game has a large amount of options overall, and the visuals are no exception. You can play around with the HDR settings, including luminance and exposure, and choose between performance and image quality modes. I went with performance mode to maximize the frames per second.

Audio:
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, as is customary in the series, offers up an excellent score. The music feels very “Viking” to me, and compliments the game’s story well. You can even go into the options and change how quickly the music triggers during exploration.

The voice-over cast does a great job as well. The accents seem fairly spot-on, at least in my limited knowledge of ninth century Vikings and such. The dialogue leans a little bit toward expositional, but I appreciate that sometimes in a game as large as this one.

You can also turn on menu narration, where the game will offer text pronunciation of in-game menus. I did not do that, but tested it, and it is a neat feature to have if you are so inclined.

Online/Multiplayer:
There isn’t a traditional online multiplayer element in Valhalla. Rather, you can create your own “Jomsviking”, which is a mercenary that can be used by other players to recruit to their crew. You will come across these mercs throughout your travels to add to your own crew as well. This is a neat twist on multiplayer which I like.

Conclusion:
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is another strong installment in the long-running series. I love the Norse mythology, and the settlement, raiding, and pillaging are nice additions to already solid gameplay elements. It’s a long game, one of the longest in the franchise, but the story justifies that length for the most part. If you are a fan of the games, or are looking for a Viking game, you will not be disappointed one bit.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by John Payant

John Payant

PlayStation Nation editor and writer. Been playing games for over forty years. Maybe someday I’ll actually be good.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook