Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Xbox Series X Review

November 30, 2020 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox, Xbox Series X

Publisher: Ubisoft  Developer: Ubisoft Montreal Genre: Action Adventure

Players:Age Rating: 18+  Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One, PS5, PS4

To clarify things right at the very start, it’s been quite a few years since I truly got deep into an Assassin’s Creed game. My usual routine has been to entirely forget the series exists, then get caught up in the hype once that first inevitable Ubisoft price drop appears. And before I know it, it’s time to start that cycle once again, completely neglecting to ponder just why I bounced off yet another in the series after a handful of hours.

It can’t be denied that expectations were along these similar lines after the first hour or two of actual Assassin’s Creed Valhalla play time. The opening is incredibly dry, serious, and featured characters that I just didn’t quite gel with. The ‘modern day’ section seems to be harking back to things that happened in previous games (I’m admittedly making assumptions here considering my lack of experience) with no introduction or real background other than some incredibly lengthy bouts of audio which I just found a bit of a drag.

But then I started to make inroads into England. I had the startings of a dwelling that I had the power to expand and make a home for my fellow settlers, abilities were available to utilise as I began to explore the absolutely enormous game world, and a whole wide range of icons began to populate the map. And it all started to click. 

Almost a cliche to state this in open world games, but that far off distance on the horizon? You can go there.

 Though lets get one of the less impressive parts of the game out of the way first. The broader story in itself is fairly uninteresting. Certainly not ‘bad’ by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s little to get overly excited about here. There’s the beginnings of something quite intriguing that could have really done Valhalla a lot of good, but it’s possibly the nature of the open world beast that means that a particularly deep and twisting overarching story is close to impossible. And the multiple game spanning modern day tale is simply lost on me, and I’m not digging into hundreds of hours of fairly similar gameplay in order to catch up. 

But this all meant that I could quite merrily get on with exploring this enormous well crafted world that’s just bursting with masses of delight without the constant urge of wanting to progress the story. For starters, this is one wonderful looking game. Playing on a Series X console, Valhalla does one heck of a job of showing what we should hopefully be looking at with this generation of consoles. Unlike some open world games that fail to fill all this space and leave you constantly meandering from point to point with nothing of interest in-between, there’s just so much here. The ever changing weather and time of day can make for some incredibly impressive visuals. Not just impressive, but realistic too. Rushing through snow you’ll leave trails of mud in your wake. Shadows cast by all the impressive vegetation across these rolling hills are consistently sensational. The way light can invoke all kinds of atmosphere, not just at prescribed moments, but at will is an absolute joy to behold.  

And these expanses are jam packed with not only visual treats, but so much to do, see, collect, kill, talk to, and steal. You might stumble upon an area of interest and do little more than chat with a character and be on your way with another item ticked off the world list. Or maybe you’ll pinch a box of clothing from a merry band of nudists. Or you might be drawn into helping out with some very creepy occult like goings on. Valhalla gets this absolutely right. Some games make these huge bundle of map markers looks like an unnerving chore that’s ahead of you. But here it offers up a playground of things to do, people to help, and treasure to loot. All these side quests are generally quick diversions too. There’s little that’ll drag on for more than a swift sideline. Which personally I did prefer somewhat. And makes Valhalla the perfect game to dip into for short periods of time as well as lengthy sessions.  

One thing I find a little disappointing however is that the series has absolutely evolved beyond its ‘assassin’ based roots. While a lot of the gameplay mechanics that were introduced way back at the start of the series are briefly revisited in the opening hours, it’s definitely far from my experience with Valhalla. While I might stealthily pick off a handful of guards, if you’re spotted then there’s absolutely no drawback to go in full on axe wielding and and chop off some heads. On the one hand it does avoid any instances of awkward AI not fitting in with this stealthy sort of action, but it does lump Valhalla much more closer to, well, every other open world action game out there. I’m sure you could do a lot of what Valhalla offers hiding away in the shadows, but that doesn’t feel like what the game wants you to do. It wants you to expand your skillset (praise must go to what it is a phenomenally hefty skill tree) and douse England in blood.  

Some battles will require all your cunning and well timed use of skills to down your foe.

 Although with that skill tree in mind, it must be said that while unlocking very specific skills can make your life a heck of a lot easier, and change your gameplay style as you go (and it’s all very open to you to craft exactly the kind of character you want to be) the smaller steps seem to make zero difference. These minor unlocks, which you’ll be choosing every half hour or so at worst, just seem to do so little as to feel pointless. But when you unlock the ability that slows down time when you deftly avoid an enemies attack for example, that feels like a, well, a game changer.  

I appreciate the fact that spotting a potential little side quest doesn’t stuff more text in your quest log, but simply remains as a glowing icon on the world map until you get close enough to see what it actually involves. I like the fact that you won’t be swapping gear after every battle, with the equipment drops kept to an absolute minimum, and making only minor differences. I dislike the fact that bugs do seem fairly plentiful. While none of those I’ve come into contact with have been particularly annoying and most only brief cosmetic issues, there’s still far too many of them. On the other hand, performance has been generally fantastic. Yes the initial release was plagued by screen tearing in particular on the Series X, but the latest patch does seem to have mitigated almost all of this.  

The same old Assassin’s Creed annoyances around the whole refusal to climb obviously climbable areas, or jumping in the wrong direction do remain. It seems unlikely these sorts of things will ever be entirely eradicated. But when moments that require very precise clambering and leaping around are ruined by your character doing exactly what you didn’t want them to do, you still won’t appreciate that waste of a few minutes of gaming time.  

Looking back through this dump of text it does feel like I’ve spent quite a while highlighting a number of issues and problems with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. And I don’t want that to be the takeaway from this review. Valhalla is a very enjoyable game in its own right. One that I’m sure I’ll be returning to once the inevitable DLC content starts to appear. And I’ll be delighted to leap back in. If my experience is anything to go by, those of you out there who’ve bounced off the series in recent years might stick to this one too. It’s a great looking, generally solid, and almost always enjoyable experience. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way shape or form, but it does refine it a step further and culminate in an impressive experience that won’t be getting beaten any time soon.