Assassin's Creed Valhalla Needs To Get With The Times

Assassin's Creed Valhalla Needs To Get With The Times
VOICE OVER: Ty Richardson WRITTEN BY: Ty Richardson
So, here we are with “Assassin's Creed: Valhalla”, the umpteenth entry in Ubisoft's historical fiction gone science fiction series. Here, you take the role of Eivor, a viking who, having been kicked out of Norway by another faction of vikings, must rebuild their settlement while raiding villages and assassinating Templar leaders. Does the game do anything new or different in terms of gameplay? Does the story hold up alongside other AC games? How much does a buggy launch take away from the experience? All this and more during Ty's review of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla.

Script written by Ty Richardson

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Review

If you’re hearing this audio recording, then I regret to inform you that I have perished under the weight of my own salt. On the weekend before PS5 and Xbox Series X launched, I came into contact with a life-draining artifact known as “the Assassin’s Creed”. Many times have I encountered it, and many times I dismissed it. I knew not of its power before now. After days of fatigue, apathy, and pitiful laughter, my salt has finally caught up with me. I fear this may be the end…

Nah, I’m kidding! You can’t get rid of me that easily!

Greetings, ladies and gentlemen of the internet! My name is Ty with MojoPlays, and this is my review of “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla”! And hoo, boy, are we in for a ride!

In case you aren’t familiar with my gaming habits or the games I rave about on Twitter (which if you haven’t followed me yet, you probably should), I only play AAA titles if I absolutely admire almost everything. After all, sixty bucks is a lot of money, and these are typically games with bigger budgets, more cogs to the machine, more manpower to make sure everything is working as intended. Although these days, it also tells me I might be buying something that is more “product” than “passion”. C’mon, if I’m being asked for 40+ hours of my time, I expect consistency - I expect a well-thought out narrative with evolving character arcs, an exciting combat system that keeps teaching me new things, and has a clear, simple focus on what it wants to do. And it has to not run like its functioning off a moldy potato! Really, would you play a game that long if it was a technical mess, had a dull combat system, and wasted your time with absurd design choices? I surely did! Besides, “Assassin’s Creed” is all YouTube wants to talk about outside of the new consoles, and we gotta keep Ricky fed before we drag him from the basement for more voice-overs.

So, here we are with “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla”, the umpteenth entry in Ubisoft’s historical fiction gone science fiction gone “cookie cutter open world formula to use in twenty other games”. Here, you take the role of Eivor, a viking who is supposedly some sort of demigod given how they survive getting their neck chewed out by a wolf as a youngin’. Having been kicked out of Norway by another faction of vikings, you and your brother Sigurd must rebuild the settlement while raiding villages and assassinating Templar leaders. Gather materials to upgrade shops, customize your warship, improve your equipment, raid a village, fight off guards, open chests with a mate, watch this cutscene, you have new skill points, stealth kill this dude, tell a story, recruit online players, stealth kill that dude, look at this empty land, burn with GIFs, guy on my head, practice flyting, play this dice game-- *pant, pant pant*

We’re already off to a bad start with this overwhelming gameplay loop, and I have a list of complaints about as long as Ubisoft’s usual chore list in games like this. Where do I even begin?

Look, I’d be fine with a game that had a meaty amount of content, but when it’s something this formulaic and uninspiring, that’s where I lose my patience. That’s when I start thinking about all of the games that I have played before and how those titles made the open-world formula their own in a variety of ways. Now, I’m usually not about comparing games in my reviews, but here it’s almost unavoidable given how many things are wrong here. Last year, I reviewed “Ghost Recon: Breakpoint”, and upon playing “Valhalla”, I kept asking myself if I was playing a viking version of “Breakpoint”. If that doesn’t tell you how unrecognizable “Assassin’s Creed” has become, I don’t know what will.

Let’s move forward with the least offensive item - the story. Personally, I wasn’t all that invested in Eivor and just about every other beard and braid that crossed the screen. Cutscenes and dialogue would go on for so long that it felt like I’ve spent more time watching the game than playing it. If I wanted to watch a movie or a TV show, I’d go do that! Of course, my sworn enemy - the Animus - has to rear its ugly head into the story, effectively killing the pacing and all immersion I would have in my viking fantasy. Not all that surprising since that’s how it killed “Black Flag” for me. Good bye, pirate adventure, and hello, office worker playing VR.

I do have to give props to whoever came up with the side missions. Surprisingly, “Valhalla” borrows a philosophy frequently used by the “Yakuza” franchise, which provides a main campaign centered on a dramatic and intense story, but lightens the mood with absurd and hilarious side missions. I also appreciate some of the more fantasy elements that piqued my interest such as the ominous cursed tree that looks straight out of the mind of Edgar Allan Poe. Still with most of the effort gone into “Valhalla’s” world and not so much the main story, it feels like Disney World had new flowers planted to distract me from a faded Cinderella castle.

Speaking of faded, I thought prompts to hold down buttons was a faded memory. Imagine my surprise when “Valhalla” demanded I hold a button for almost every single action. I’m not kidding! The triangle button is used as a basic context-sensitive input, meaning that the button is centered around doing a variety of things. Hold Triangle to break down doors, unlock chests, and carry corpses. And trust me - you’ll be doing a lot of that, which annoyed me to no end. I’m someone who wants the thing done as soon as possible. Why can’t I simply press the button and be on my way? Why must I sit through a gauge that has to confirm my action before doing the action and forcing me to sit through something overly animated? Just open the damn chest! Let me bust the door down with my obviously capable axe and flail! JUST...DO...THE THING!

Sorry if it seems like I’m making manure out of magpies, but considering how often I had to sit through these “hold” prompts and indulgent animations, I felt like a lot of time was being wasted between time of button press and task completion. Adding to my frustration was the fact that actions like breaking down doors or opening large chests is impossible to do without the “help” of an AI. So if all of your guys are on axe dates with the enemy or focusing on torching buildings, you ain’t getting crap! Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back til your crew has nothing better to do.

Perhaps it is my lack of control over the crew that irritates me, but the little control I do have is just as frustrating and occasionally laughable. Eivor’s general movement is fine overall - dodging feels alright, climbing things isn’t as much of a hassle as they were in AC2 and Black Flag, and parkouring across structures feels fluid...when it works. There were a handful of times where Eivor was jumping farther than I wanted thus missing an attack or jumped to some other portion of a structure. I told you to climb up, not jump across the window, you dolt! It’s also worth mentioning that Eivor’s “realistic” animations can make it “realistically” frustrating to move around enclosed spaces.

If there is one thing Eivor can do correctly, it’s combat. However, I can’t even give Eivor the credit because the AI is so insipidly stupid. Originally, I was playing the game on its default settings, that is until I noticed the enemies weren’t exactly doing anything to challenge me. Despite cranking the difficulty to max, nothing changed. Some enemies would focus more on my crew, others would watch me chip away at their health wondering when I’d stop and offer them some gummy bears. The most shocking part of “Valhalla’s” combat is just how easily exploitable it is. If they weren’t equipped with a bow, they’d charge at me and utilize one of two attacks - a horizontal swing that takes forever to land, and a vertical swing that takes forever to land. Here’s the problem - a simple parry or two is enough to insta-kill anyone with a Stun Attack who doesn’t significantly outweigh your power level.

That’s another thing! Power levels!! I cannot stand how common the use of “power levels” has become in AAA games! To me, power levels are a lazy way of adjusting your game’s difficulty. They void any significance of armor and weapons by generalizing their effectiveness down to a number, they make it pointless to iron out a playstyle to call your own, and it forces the player to grind even more just so they aren’t being gatekept out of parts of the game. I wasn’t crazy about it with “God of War”, I didn’t like it in “South Park: The Fractured But Whole”, and I certainly didn’t appreciate it being here. “Valhalla’s” power level system repeats the very problems I have mentioned with previous ones, and with an AI too idiotic to defend themselves and diversify their attacks, it only adds to the glaring laziness. I would have been more forgiving of this had the combat been fleshed out more. Instead, I’m a Power Level 26 trying to actively avoid camps with triple-digit power levels. So, that’s fun.

In between the fighting and monotonous power fantasy, I did find some enjoyment out of the sailing aspect, a feature very heavily borrowed from “Black Flag” albeit no cannons and nautical warfare. There are plenty of moments in “Valhalla” where you’ll set sail with your crew and raid whatever settlements you spot. During your travels, you can listen to viking songs or stories of your crew’s previous adventures, and if you have a longer journey, you can enter a cinematic mode and watch them travel. It was nice to have a breather between over-long cutscenes and “hold button” prompts, but it would be more pleasant to experience had the game been better optimized.

Yeah, here’s the part where I started questioning my own sanity. Much like “Ghost Recon: Breakpoint”, much like “The Division”, “Assassin’s Creed Unity”, and “Monopoly”, “Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla” has been released in a buggy state. I cannot tell you how many times I saw objects still being rendered while standing next to them. Frames drop about as frequently as rambunctious toddlers running around an art museum unsupervised. Textures have glaringly visible outlines and look like they were ripped from an old N64 game. Parts of the world may pop in and out at random moments. And my god, the animations… holy $#@%, the animations! The most hilariously awful moment came during my initial moments in exile when one character model forgot how to exist and became my own personal toy. [show character model floating away] “We all float down here. You’ll float, too!” Seriously, I have fewer fingers and toes than the number of times I saw character animations bugging out, AI failing to execute commands, or encountered a sliding character model. Oh, wait...the third arm just grew out...yeah, still fewer.

...And do I even waste my breath about the absurd level of monetization? A map to instantly show the location of all gear? Skins for horses and ravens?

This isn’t the only problem carried over from “Ghost Recon: Breakpoint” either. When I reviewed “Breakpoint”, I came across an alarming flaw post-review: should you die at a base, you will be forced to redo your entire conquest regardless of if you’ve eliminated all or most enemies. The same issue occurs in “Valhalla” - after finishing a raid, a random enemy spawned in the settlement and killed me, and upon respawn, I found I had to redo the entire raid, meaning I had to sit through more “hold button” prompts, more waiting for allies to help me open doors, etc etc etc. So much time WASTED!

If there’s one thing “Valhalla” accomplishes, it’s living the viking fantasy. There’s something really satisfying about barging onto shore like a jackass and blowing your horn, notifying any unsuspecting villagers that their land is your new hellscape. It’s like announcing how you’re about to become the biggest nuisance and know there will be no repercussions. Improving settlements with the goods you’ve raided is also somewhat fulfilling. What better way to improve yourself than by pillaging folks simply going about their daily lives? But enough about capitalism…

If there was anything I got out of “Valhalla”, it was an existential crisis. Maybe I’m just an old fart who remembers a time when games were simpler, a time when games weren’t big for the sake of being big, were more focused, know, didn’t run like plastic water bottles in a blender. Considering we are just now entering the next generation of consoles, I fail to see why such inane design choices are being implemented in a 2020 game like “Valhalla”. The basic combat, the “hold button” prompts, power levels, requirement of an NPC’s help to do simple actions like busting down a door… I was hoping this game would entice me to go and give “Assassin’s Creed Origins” and “Odyssey” a chance, but it has only made me want to play the Ezio games instead. At least AC2, “Brotherhood”, and “Revelations” had a story to tell and had mechanics that distinguished themselves from other games at the time of their releases. “Valhalla” shouldn’t need an old windbag like myself to tell it to get with the times. No matter which way you spin that irony, one thing’s for certain - we’re both ghosts of a once thriving era of games.