Review by Alaisdair Leith
Jumping straight into next gen with the Xbox Series X, Ubisoft have released the upgraded version to coincide with the launch of Microsoft’s brand new gaming system the Xbox Series X (and S). The advantage of this is a huge triple A open world game that combines jaw dropping landscapes and graphics that must be seen to be believed, revamped combat that feels like a fresh new way to play while requiring your character to build up a camp and army to make a mark on the space you settle in. While there are still many MANY bugs littered throughout the game, the good outweighs the bad here. There are times when I had to shut it down completely and re-load just to get past certain areas, because of how fast things now load in this generation, it didn’t ruin the experience of what I am saying is my favourite Assassin’s Creed game ever made.
Valhalla is set in the time of the vikings around 873 AD, you play as Eivor (either male or female version) who are not happy in their home of Norway with King Harald making decisions that minimise their appetite for destruction, so Eivor is joined by his sort of brother Sigurd to make the trip to merry old England. Here they establish a home base and raid other clans to pillage their loot to expand your village and influence on the area. On top of this Eivor also has his own assassin type missions to carry out and a strong connecting to Valhalla helps the game dip into its fantasy element.
The core gameplay has changed. While this could be surprising to seasoned players you still hack and slash enemies with various axes, shields and spears. The big change is the variety of weapons has been dramatically reduced. In previous AC games you constantly collect different weapons and are in a constant rotation of selling them. This time around that has been changed, you can find new weapons but they are far and few between. Instead you upgrade what you have using your blacksmith and apply different runes to your weapons. When raiding on other camps you travel by boat, use your horn and members of your clan join you to complete the raid. This forces you to fight as well as look out for the other members of your clan. If they fall you need to revive them, particularly as you are trying to level up and raid a clan with a much higher level than yours, you need to rely on your team (and arrows!) to complete the raid. It is a great refresh to the combat that was getting a little repetitive and felt like a deliberate step forward for the series on next gen.
Since the third game, the use of stealth kills and hidden blades has well kind of faded into the background. The good news for fans of the series is that there is a lot more focus on stealth kills and large rewards if you do so. There is a great training area in Norway and England that showcases different ways to blend into crowds, recruit NPC’s to walk with you and chatter while you stay hidden from your enemies. It really is a huge refocus on this and will please old fans and new ones.
Graphically there is so much to talk about. This was the first game that I played on the Xbox Series X and the difference is breath taking. The details on each character really shine. The hair strands and clothing are really detailed and you can almost count every hair and thread on characters. When it comes to the world itself recreating England in the dark ages is nothing short of gargantuan. The incredible beauty in the world is something that cannot be understated. Traversal across the land can be done several ways. You can travel by steed of course which incorporates the follow road and travel to waypoint function from the previous games. In addition you can do this with your longship which is a great new feature that allows players to take advantage of the “cinematic camera” mode when this happens. So I will be totally honest, the cinematic camera is complete rubbish. The camera swings behind the ship and it looks like an attempt to do something fun but unfortunately it just gets stuck behind bushes, goes too far and you can’t see much and ends up just being a waste. Hopefully this is something that can be patched (maybe?) Or just improved in future titles.
Loading times have always been a sore spot, particularly in Odyssey and Origins. Utilising the power of next ten I am happy to report that these are improved, drastically. Like out of this world fast, to the point where it is a 2 – 3 second loading time when you fast travel and virtually no loading time when the game initially boots up. The longest loading time I noted in the game occurs when you die and respawn. This takes about half a minute to load your most recent save and put you back in the action. That being said this is a massive leap forward for huge open world games like this and in particular ones that are as spectacular as this.
Having the game set in such a dark and violent period in history, it could have been easy to gloss over parts of it. Fortunately the writing team lean fully into the accuracies of the team and the raw and powerful force of the vikings and their allies are felt throughout the missions. Eivor’s solo assassin missions are a little mixed. It is all based around a vision of a huge wolf and while this idea is explored, it really feels like a completely seperate thing to the clans and world building in the rest of the game. Personally I would have preferred this to be DLC as the changing between the two can be quite jarring, particularly when you are set on one specific path. That being said the side missions are a dream in this game. Gone are the “head to my ex lovers house and retrieve my pet goat” missions from the previous games that really take you out of the action. Additionally these side quests are littered throughout the world and lit by tiny beacons of light and are completely optional to engage with.
Something that I rarely pick up on is music in a game. I am usually the person that has Spotify playing in the background as I grind through game after game for review purposes. This time around I didn’t do this. The score by Jesper Kyd, Sarah Schachner & Einar Selvik is a great combination that fits into each scene of the game switching from Norway to England, to the merry and often sombre tunes the sailors sing as you are journeying up and down the English channels.
My time with Valhalla is far from over, I have been playing for around 30 hours and I still have so much more to complete and unlock (with upcoming DLC not counted!) The rapid fire in which the game throws everything at you is only accelerated by the power of the Xbox Series X and at times left me completely breathless. There were many times that I paused to watch and really pay attention to the synchronisation and moments when this game stops to let you breathe and take in the scale of this epic open world adventure. The improvements to gameplay and fighting mechanics are a welcome change to an almost tired combos that haven’t changed much in 23 years. The sheer epic scale of the world and its inhabitants are on a scale that hasn’t been seen before in this franchise. The world looks so real there are times you blink and are convinced it is real. All of this is bolstered by the power of next gen consoles with a story you won’t soon forget.
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