Assassin’s Creed Valhalla PS4 Review – One thing that the Assassin’s Creed franchise has always done remarkably well is selling you a setting, making you feel part of a specific period in time. Whether it’s the sumptuous architecture of Renaissance Italy depicted in Assassin’s Creed II or the sun-baked Egyptian deserts of Assassin’s Creed Origins, Ubisoft‘s throat-slashing series is unequivocally a masterclass at player immersion.
I’m pleased to report, then, that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla doesn’t lose its footing one bit in this respect. It’s the third game in the newly-reinvigorated franchise that began with Origins and continued with 2018’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which has seen the franchise grow incrementally into a full-blown RPG.
Just like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was a love letter to the Golden Age of Piracy, Valhalla lets you live out your Viking fantasies in a sprawling open-world journey that’s packed full of rich locations, solid storytelling and bucket loads of things to see and do.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla PS4 Review
Set Sail For Invasion
Set in the year 873 AD, Valhalla follows Viking raider Eivor as he or she (you can choose your gender and even swap them out at any time) embarks on a mission to England during the Dark Ages to expand their clan’s influence.
First and foremost, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a beautiful looking game. While the character models are a bit perfunctory by today’s standards, lacking the nuances of Resident Evil 2 and Little Hope’s pixel-perfect cast, the locations are positively oozing with detail. From the stunning Northern Lights that illuminate the night sky as you trek through knee-high snow in Norway, to the crumbling Roman ruins and rich Saxon brickwork that punctuates the lush green and browns of England, Valhalla is a stunner.
The influence of Roman and Saxon cultures that pepper the hills, roads and muddy towns also makes for a striking juxtaposition, while stunning vistas and gorgeous sunsets really do help sell this as one of the most visually stunning Creed games to date.
The biggest compliment I can give Valhalla is that it sells the Viking backdrop without a hitch. The war between the Assassins and the Templars is woven into its rich tapestry, sure, but at its heart, the game is about finding a new home with your clan. Everything else finds a way into the narrative without feeling forced, but you very much feel that you’re weaving you own story here; a legend in the making, in many ways.
The Third Full-On Assassin’s Creed RPG
The RPG trappings are back, and thus locations and levels are governed once again by levels – in this game known as Power – which you’ll need to increase in order to progress. Power is raised by applying Skills to Eivor, which buff stealth, damage, and other key attributes. This time though, they’re separated by different animals (such as the Bear, Raven etc) that have specific perks for gear aligned to that creature.
This gives you more of a chance to customise your character’s playstyle how you see fit, and it’s interesting to play around with different gear and skills to suit your needs. Speaking of gear, it’s not quite as overwhelming as Odyssey, and there’s more of a focusing in investing in parts this time around thanks to the ability to upgrade it and install runes to add specific buffs.
I found myself actively investing in specific matching gear rather than just tossing out something as soon as I picked up something new. Overall, the gear system feels more concise, and not being showered with loot compared to previous games is a refreshing change.
Valhalla is ripe for exploration, and that’s also seen a bit of an overhaul. Side quests have been streamlined into three categories – Artifacts, Mysteries and Wealth. The former houses rare collectibles in the world, Mysteries are more traditional side quests where you sometimes interact with NPCs (and they’re pretty unique too, sometimes even slightly bizarre) while Wealth coughs up valuable resources used to upgrade your Settlement (more on that in a bit), gear, abilities and silver.
They’re all colour coded too, so sending your Raven out to scout the area will immediately flag up white, blue or gold icons so you know what’s around the corner. It’s a welcome change, and ensures your quest log and map isn’t bogged down by huge amounts of clutter.
Expand, Conquer And Reap The Rewards
Your settlement is almost a character in itself. This is where Eivor and company make their new home by expanding their influence in the region and establishing new businesses and other useful vendors. Everything from a tattoo artists, harbour master, to an assassins den and cartographer can be cobbled together, and they all have their uses.
For example, the Hidden Ones bureau sets you on a path to eliminate key members of the Templar Order, much like Odyssey’s cult members that reward you with precious new abilities. Meanwhile, the blacksmith gives you access to special upgrades for your gear, the cartographer flogs you maps to hidden treasures that reward all sorts of items, while the fishing hut rewards you with runes and other goodies if you nab the required ingredients to make tasty recipes.
Watching your settlement swell and prosper is immensely rewarding, and I put a fair bit of time expanding what areas I could; it’s addictive stuff, and you can lose hours in the process.
Of course, you can’t just magic everything from Thor’s backside. You’ll have to fight hard for resources (raw materials and supplies) needed to build your settlement, which is where one of the game’s best aspects comes in. Raiding. Yep, Vikings weren’t just about guzzling down copious amounts of mead, they were brutal bastards, and raids give you ample opportunity to cut a bloody swath across England green and pleasant land.
Hop in your longboat and approach a bandit camp or monastery, point it to the shore and hit Triangle when prompted and Eivor will sound their horn, and you’re free to pillage and kill as you see fit. It’s an exhilarating feeling, and perfectly captures the quintessential viking experience. Once you’ve hoovered up all the loot – and probably left a dozen or so bloodied corpses in your wake – you can put it to good use.
Brutal And Bloody Combat
Scrapping is intrinsically linked Raiding, or indeed being a Viking in general. And I can say without hesitation that Valhalla’s rucks are without a doubt the most brutal, visceral experiences the series has seen to date. Shields splinter, bones break, and limbs are lopped off in a fine spray of crimson as you battle hardened warriors, and there’s quite a variety of them, too.
There’s your usual grunts with swords and bows, but also tougher customers wielding maces, shields and pikes, each one adhering to a particular attack pattern that you’ll need to learn. Lesser foes can be dispatched easily enough with a few swings of your axe, but the more complicated enemies require you to think about what you’re doing, parrying and blocking where necessary to open them up.
Your abilities also come into play here, which are mapped to the face button and accessed via R2 or L2. Whether it’s leaping into the air and bringing your weapon down hard on some poor bugger’s head, slowing down time to snipe foes or chucking your axe at bad guys, these moves keep combat feeling fresh in between the rudimentary slugfests. Staggering foes also allows you to hit R3 to inflict huge damage or kill foes outright, usually resulting in an especially grisly finisher.
The AI isn’t all that bright at times, though, which lets things down somewhat as I was able to effortlessly bump off foes without much resistance – some even stood still while I aimed and fired and arrow between their eyes. Fortunately, battle are usually too chaotic to worry about this. Bosses on the other hand are brilliant one-on-one clashes peppered with strategic depth, as you really have to make use of all the tools at your disposal and are a definite highlight.
Oh, and the Hidden Blade makes a welcome return, and yes, you can dispatch enemies in a single strike. Stealth seems almost inconsequential when you’re a Viking, but it has its place and works well; blending in on benches or casually chattering with locals is a seamless experience, and stealthily killing soldiers is as rewarding as it always was.
Grinding Gears And Irksome Bugs
Frustratingly, Valhalla shares the same inherent issues of any RPG – the grind. While you’ll nab XP doing just about anything – thus increasing your Skills and Power level with it – the process is actually pretty slow and more than often I found myself completely walled off by areas and enemies that were dozens, sometimes 100+ my current level. Cue one-hit kills and copious amounts of restarts.
This issue was further exacerbated by the fact you’ll have to upgrade your Settlement at times as part of a quest line, only to be faced by multiple raids that are well beyond your current abilities. As such, I spent a large chunks of my time trying to level up just to give me enough clout to perform a raid or to venture into uncharted territory.
Yes, it is possible to take on areas above your level, but there’s little room for error and it’s incredibly frustrating getting slaughtered over and over again and retrying. It’s a shame too, as I felt Origins and Odyssey had a better balance of grinding, but Valhalla is just obnoxiously harsh at times. I found that this is offset somewhat by the fact I had so much enjoyment exploring and gradually getting stronger, but it’s definitely Valhalla’s most egregious issue.
Likewise, the various bugs and glitches I encountered were a pain in the arse, too. Some of these aren’t too bad, but at times I had to reload my file as I was stuck on scenery or when opening a chest as my partner didn’t help, so I couldn’t claim the loot and finish a Raid.
The game also arbitrarily screw me over when performing one of my special abilities, which inexplicably missed or glitched through my target, and dialogue at times cuts out completely only to resume a few seconds later.
A Massive World Ripe With Things To See And Do
To further extend your clan’s grip on the region, you’ll pledge to expand your territory, opening up some of the game’s more interesting missions and dialogue choices. These typically involve a lot of bloodshed and plenty of twists and turns in the narrative; one occasional had me finding evidence to sniff out a traitor, before presenting my findings to an ally after which they prompting dealt with the offender.
Indeed, some of the choices are pretty weighty, although branching dialogue doesn’t perhaps feel quite as pronounced as other RPGs. Still, it feels gratifying forging new alliances, and the feeling that you’re grinding a Viking-sized boot heel into the country is palpable. What’s more, I wanted to explore; from Lundon, East-Anglia, Essex and beyond (I won’t spoil any of the more elaborate sights), Valhalla oozes atmosphere and is pure eye-candy – providing your character is strong enough to safely enjoy it.
Likewise, some of the side activities are brilliant; Viking rhyming battles are a laugh and raise your charisma, thus opening up new dialogue choices, while drinking games require a steady hand as you get more and more pissed and require timely button presses to keep you from falling on your arse. There’s Zealots to hunt down (they’ll also hunt you if you’re not careful), viewpoints and docks to unlock for fast-travel, Legendary animals to kill, and hidden treasures and manuscripts to unearth. It’s a packed world.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a feast for the eyes and you’ll spend over 50 hours soaking up just the main story, let alone everything else the game has to offer. Its near-flawless depiction of the time period and how it sells the Viking fantasy makes it one of the most immersive Creeds to date.
Yes, it’s bogged down by excessive grinding and annoying bugs, and I sometimes feel if the like the series’ paradigm as a whole can only go so far before needing a refresh, but for now it’s up there with some of the best RPGs for PS4. Like the Vikings themselves, AC Valhalla is both fascinating and rough around the edges.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is due for release on PS4, PC, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One on November 10, 2020 and arrives on PS5 on November 12, 2020.