author: Kristian Smoszna
Assassin's Creed Valhalla Review - The Assassin We All Wanted
Last week was a hell of a week. I spent it with AC Valhalla, at the side of Eivor, a brave warrior from Norway, who went to England with a bunch of friends to build her house.
- the best soundtrack in the history of the series;
- phenomenal atmosphere;
- very good story (given the series' baseline);
- packed with content to the brim;
- dialogs are usually solid;
- numerous inserts into the universe, there are genuinely hair-raising moments;
- The Order of the Ancients and everything connected with them;
- huge, diverse world; as many as three regions – one large, and two smaller;
- the village is a pleasant, safe heaven;
- surprisingly, pretty good side activities;
- hidden blade finally works as it should.
- just terribly glitchy;
- unavoidable open fights that ruin stealth playthroughs.
I travelled across Albion, decided the fate of fractionalized kingdoms, overthrew old rulers and installed new ones, climbed the ruins of Roman buildings, saved a dozen villages from destruction, and burned others to the ground, plundered many temples, where clerks locked precious loot in golden chests, hidden from the jealous gaze of the common people. I drank a lot, went to bed with anyone, spent time on more or less fruitful conversations, but most of all – I killed. Not randomly, of course; not the poor people trying to survive in this wild world, but rather those who decided to actively defy my aspirations for success. I killed kings, ealdormans, priests, Anglo-Saxon warriors of all kinds, all armed to the teeth, but also some of my kindred. But now it's time to take a cold shower and try to find a number that best describes my impressions from the game.
Let's start cutting to the chase. Everyone can see the score, but it does require an extensive commentary, because otherwise, it's going to be misleading. Because you see, Valhalla actually deserves more – maybe as much as 9.5, but there are some pretty significant issues that keep me from glorifying it too much. Surprised? I was, too, because on the one hand, Ubisoft delivered a game that seems damn well thought-out and arranged, and which, on the other, is so technically unpolished that it's almost a miracle that it can be completed.
HOW IT SOUNDS
Jesper Kyd is a recognized and appreciated composer, and I always liked his output in the series. Now, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I think that the best soundtrack in the entire series was composed for Origins. I immediately became a fan of Ms. Schachner's style and I am very glad that it was she who, in collaboration with Kyd, by the way, composed the OST to Valhalla. Einar Selvik from the band Wardruna also participated, composing some of the music heard during exploration, and singing in quite a few other pieces, displaying his amazing vocal abilities, and even appeared in the game as Bragi. The result are absolutely dazzling. It was the first game in the series that made me stop sometimes just to listen to the music. Some of the themes are still playing in my head and I know that after the premiere of the soundtrack, I will binge it for months. Phenomenal!
Size matters, but quality matters more
One thing we have to get out of the way right away is that this is a huge game, filled to the brim with content. I had a week to complete it, and I often thought I wouldn't manage. I don't know for sure if the main thread of Valhalla is actually longer than the one from Red Dead Redemption 2, but it's trully impressive. It's definitely longer than the last Assassin's Creed game, Odyssey, which itself is very surprising. Not only did Ubisoft squeeze even more out of the Vikings, they also worked hard on the quality of tasks and stories, so the story doesn't seem anymore to be stuffed with mundane fillers. Things like that do happen, but mostly in the main thread.
The length of the game is no doubt influenced by the specific structure of the campaign. After completing the prologue in Norway, we arrive in England, which is divided into a few specific areas. Eivor visits them one by one in order to establish alliances there with local rulers. Only an alliance has been crafted can he report to his own protector and proceed to the next area. The storylines in each land are really independent stories, dealing with different problems. In one region, we're trying to influence the selection of the successor of the deceased Ealdorman, and in another, we're conducting an investigation with a view of neutralizing the conspiracy of the Order of the Ancients. As if all this were not enough, we get access to another map at some point, as the game sends us on an unexpected expedition beyond England and Norway. We spoil the surprise, but rest assured that this detour will also take a few hours.
Listen to the stories
The most important thing in all this, however, is that each of these choices is justified. The stories prepared by the authors are mostly interesting, and some chapters – for example, those in London or in Jorvik – are quite memorable. Paradoxically, Valhalla is the least impressive in those episodes that focus entirely on the Viking conquests, and thus on open warfare. Writing this, I mostly mean the moments focusing on the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok. They're definitely among the game's most underwhelming missions, and if I could, I would skip them altogether.
These chapters, although seemingly disjointed, are, of course, intertwined. In the background, we've got another story: not about the fate of the protagonist, but rather the future of the world. The game spins the conspiracy carousel quite early, and thanks to the occasional appearance of Basim and Hytham, we're often reminded that there is a much more important conflict going on than the mundane quarrels of Normans and Saxons. The Hidden Ones accompany us almost from the beginning of the adventure, and the Order of the Ancients begins its transformation into the Order of Templars that we know from the original Assassin's Creed. The game certainly lives up to the traditions of the series, which you sure couldn't say about Odyssey.
Since we're comparing, I also have to praise the authors for the dialogs, cause they've done a real good job. Odyssey, which, in my humble opinion, was the weakest part of the whole series – seemed very infantile, and Valhalla proves that was the case. While the characters of the ancient Greece never done much to make me at all interested in their affairs, it's completely opposite here. The writers have definitely upped their game in terms of character creation, which is evidenced by much more engaging dialogs. Although there still is a fair number of cringy characters, they're no longer the majority.