It’s a busy Q4 for French game publisher Ubisoft. Two weeks ago, it released Watch Dogs: Legions (read my review here), Immortals Fenyx Rising is out next month, and sandwiched in between is Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the twelfth major installment in the legendary series.
As the name implies, this entry brings the franchise to the era of the Vikings, 873 A.D. to be specific. Valhalla tells the story of Eivor, a Norwegian Viking raider from the Raven Clan, who can be either male or female depending on the player’s choice.
The game opens in the snowy mountains of Norway, but quickly moves to the lush meadows of England, as Eivor is tasked with expanding the Raven Clan abroad.
You can always go back to Norway to explore more, but the majority of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is set in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla picks up where the previous two games, Origins and Odyssey, left off. No longer set in dense city environments, these games take place in large open worlds, navigated on horseback or by boat.
I didn’t love this structure when it was first introduced in Assassin’s Creed Origins. The world felt big for the sake of being big, without having enough interesting content to warrant its size. It’s not that the world was empty, rather the stuff that was in it wasn’t fleshed out enough for me to love it.
Assassin’s Creed Origins’ sequel, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, didn’t grab me either. Something about the way the game forced you to grind out experience points before you could progress in the story rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t love the game’s tone either, but the weird progression is ultimately what made me stop playing. The fact that Odyssey offered the option to forego the grind by paying didn’t help.
I’m happy to report that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has none of these problems. I’ve been playing this game almost non-stop since I got my hands on it last week, and I’m still having a hard time putting down the controller to write this review.
Valhalla cuts the open-world fluff from its two predecessors, and delivers a more focused, fleshed-out experience instead.
The writing in Valhalla is the best the series has ever seen. Its characters are well written and compelling, its tone strikes the right balance between grit and humor, and the stories are enticing. There are funny moments, but it never tries too hard to be silly, which is a huge step up from the previous game.
The actual gameplay in Valhalla is just as good as the writing. Vikings are not known for their subtle approach and sneaky tactics, and Valhalla doesn’t force you to play that way either. Like all previous games in the series, you can still sneak around and assassinate silently if you want, but barging in axe swinging is just as viable as a tactic.
Vikings were no strangers to raiding and pillaging, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is happy to accommodate. The map is scattered with settlements to raid, and your character is now equipped with a horn that lets you summon your clan to aid you. The game’s excellent combat system makes these moments a joy to play, and the new combat abilities you’ll unlock on these raids make them a worthwhile distraction from the game’s main storyline.
Graphically, Valhalla is the prettiest game in the series. Both England and Norway look absolutely stunning, and so do the characters in them. The PlayStation 4 Pro runs the game at a (dynamic) 4K resolution with a steady framerate of 30 frames per second, and we can assume the Xbox One X delivers similar performance.
Now this isn’t just the week the new Assassin’s Creed game comes out. It is, of course, the week the next-generation game consoles come out. As of tomorrow, the Xbox Series S and X will be available, and the PlayStation 5 launches on Thursday.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a launch game on both platforms and I was fortunate enough to spend most of my time with the game on the Xbox Series X, where it runs in a buttery smooth 60 frames per second in a gorgeous (dynamic*) 4K resolution. It’s the first time an Assassin’s Creed has run at 60FPS on a console and I never want to go back to 30FPS.
* update: initially I wrote that Valhalla ran in native 4K on the Xbox Series X but it turns out to be dynamic 4k , sorry
Here’s what it looks like:
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to test out the PlayStation 5 version of the game. The PS5 port is meant to offer the same graphical improvements as the XSX version, so I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I’ll be sure to update this review if there’s anything noteworthy about the PS5 version once I get a copy.
Ubisoft has knocked it out of the park with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. It’s a joy to play, the writing is the best it’s ever been, and it looks stunning to boot. I’ve already played an ungodly amount of hours and I can’t wait to jump back in. This is easily my favorite Assassin’s Creed since Black Flag, and I’m confident any Assassin’s Creed aficionado will love it just as much.