I, for one, am a huge lover of Norse mythology and viking related settings. You can imagine my excitement then when Ubisoft announced that the next Assassin’s Creed game would be named Valhalla and would follow the story of the vikings moving into England; doubly so when they announced that one of the DLC stories will take place in my home: Ireland! Thankfully, Valhalla delivers the gripping, fun experience I was hoping for, one which refines Ubisoft’s open-world RPG format by cutting out much of the bloat which hampered Odyssey and doubles down on filling the game’s gorgeous setting with interesting, impactful lore.

Upon starting the game, you will be immediately thrust into Norway, as part of a clan of vikings. As the game introduces you to some of the key characters and their backstories, you cannot help but be drawn into the beautiful, convincing setting which Ubisoft have once again managed to craft. I can’t speak to the precise historical accuracy of what the team have created, however, it is certainly convincing, to say the least. Ubisoft want you to feel like a viking warrior going out on your own journey and they have delivered just that experience in Valhalla. You may choose the gender of the protagonist, just as in Odyssey, however, you may also swap gender at any time during the story. I went with female Eivor for the entirety of my time with the game and I found her voice acting to be superb.

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla delivers the most visceral combat of the series to date, as you might expect given the savage nature of the vikings. The system in Valhalla has been changed quite substantially from Odyssey, more than I had expected, but they still share a similar core. One very pleasant change in Valhalla is that enemies are less spongey when it comes to damage than in Odyssey, meaning that they die in fewer hits. As a result, fights are more fast paced, involving more enemies and I am very fond of this change, as killing many enemies is far more satisfying than poking at one or two for five minutes each.

Enemy variety is also something which has improved in Valhalla, with a greater variation in the weapon wielding options of your foes. You will find enemies using maces, pikes, swords, bows, shields, axes, flails and great swords. This comes together with the larger number of enemies per fight to make combat in Valhalla feel far more grand, thrilling and exciting than in Odyssey and Ubisoft have done a great job in taking feedback on board when restructuring this element of the gameplay loop.

What about your own weapon options? Valhalla is extremely different from Odyssey here, in that you don’t constantly find weapons out in the world. Weapons are more unique and specific and require continuous upgrading, rather than waiting for higher power variants to be dropped. As someone who found Odyssey a touch overwhelming in the sense of constantly throwing loot at you, I much prefer this focus on more special, once-off instances of different weapons which you must work to upgrade and enhance, ultimately offering more choice and a more rewarding experience. The game has a large number of weapon classes, similar to the ones mentioned above which enemies can wield and it gives you full freedom to equip your left and right hand with whichever weapons you should desire. Want to wield a mace in your left and a sword in your right? No problem! Valhalla is more than happy for you to do that. This level of customisation is great for making the combat feel more specifically tailored to your own play style. If you’re not a very defensive person, then you can forgo your shield and equip a second weapon to eviscerate your enemies in an all flails blazing-style approach. Some weapons, however, require two hands to use and thus you may not equip a second item alongside them.

You also have access to a number of abilities, similar to Odyssey, however, Valhalla makes you work a little more to unlock these. You unlock abilities by finding special books which are hidden in hard-to-reach locations, for example, in the buildings of various villages and towns which you can pillage. Sometimes, they involve solving a small puzzle or finding a special key to unlock them. The abilities can also be upgraded by finding a second book of the same name, which enhances them to level two. Abilities can be accessed by a combination of one of the triggers and a face button, just as in Odyssey, but they feel very well tailored to the setting. One of the first abilities I unlocked was a charging attack which pins the enemy to the ground, allowing you to repeatedly strike them in the face. You charge up uses of abilities by dispatching foes, again, very similarly to the predecessor. There is a great mixture of stealth based abilities and physical abilities to allow you to customise your experience how you see fit and these go great lengths to freshening up the combat with more exciting moments.

Moving on to visuals, we played the game on Xbox Series X and it looked stunning. The game is using dynamic resolution scaling, temporally upscaled to 4K, with a 60 frames per second target on both next-gen platforms. The increase from the usual 30fps target on previous generation titles to 60fps on next-gen is an absolute game changer, and Valhalla feels so much more fluid, dynamic and smooth with this enhancement. It does this without a major hit to the visuals, as the game still looks noticeably more impressive graphically than both Origins and Odyssey, with texture details appearing very high and everything looking extremely crisp and sharp. This is a gorgeous game and delivers on the promised beauty of Norway and England during the viking era. I must admit that I am impressed with the uptick in graphical quality which Ubisoft have delivered, given the game is cross-gen and is targeting so many platforms, which means little time for per-platform optimisation. The only place where I would say that Valhalla truly lacks is in character models, which look quite dated compared to other recent games. I hope that this is at the top of the Ubisoft’s list when it comes to improvements for their next Assassin’s Creed game, which hopefully will target next-gen specifically, assuming it will release in 2022, going by the usual gap between entries in the series.

Unfortunately, while the visuals are impressive, there are a number of technical issues with the game at present. While I did not notice this myself due to having an LG CX with variable refresh rate technology, there is substantial and frequent screen tearing in both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions of Valhalla, with Series X appearing to suffer from it more frequently. I was able to test this by disabling variable refresh rate in the Series X settings and can confirm it is present. PlayStation 5 does not currently have VRR (however, it will come in a software update in the near future) and thus there is no remedy for the issue currently, though I have heard that the issue is significantly less noticeable on PS5. Outside of screen tearing, there are a number of bugs and glitches in the game, however, I have not encountered any major ones which hindered my experience in any impactful way. In all likelihood, these issues will be fixed in a patch and if you have the PS5 version, or you have the Series X version and a VRR display, you will likely not notice much of a problem.

Of course, Valhalla carries on the RPG elements of Origins and Odyssey and your Power level acts as a guideline for the types of activities you should be running towards, and running away from! The skill tree in Valhalla (not your gear) is responsible for forwarding your power level and you can use skill points to unlock new skills. Most of these skills, which are arranged like constellations on the skill page, are simple effects, such as a small health buff, a small buff to a particular type of damage or changes to your stealth abilities. Some of them, however, are much more powerful unlocks which give you new passive abilities, for example, an ability which allows you to attack while running.

Things aren’t all the same though, as Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla introduces a new mechanic which marries skills and gear in a unique way. Gear can be associated with either Raven (yellow), suitable for stealthy combat; Wolf (blue), tailored for ranged attacking with bows and Bear (red), designed to be used with physical, melee combat. The skill tree in Valhalla is separated by these three different animals and the passive abilities mentioned previously will apply to weapons you collect matching the same animal class. This is a great way to integrate the RPG systems of the games in a new way, while taking the focus away from throwing new loot at you constantly and moving the power system to be tied to your skill tree rather than gear. Despite this, weapons in the game can still be customised and enhanced stat-wise and this is done through both upgrading and applying runes you find throughout the world, each of which have a different effect. Armour in Valhalla usually comes in sets, the pieces of which must usually be found and collected separately. Applying an entire set of matching gear generally results in some type of passive effect becoming active. It is also possible to apply runes to gear for additional buffs, such as health or resistances.

Weapons and gear are upgraded at blacksmiths at different levels of rarity. You can also upgrade weapons directly through your inventory at a lower level, so you’re upgrading within a rarity class, essentially. Weapons are often found at the lowest rarity class and you must use carbon ingots to upgrade them to the second rarity class and so forth, each time requiring a rarer material. Each time you upgrade class at the blacksmith, there are more levels unlocked for you to sub-upgrade the weapon within that rarity before maxing out. Of course, both the class upgrades and sub-upgrades deliver stat boosts, with the class upgrades usually unlocking additional rune slots. I really enjoyed this new system as it gave me the flexibility to upgrade whatever weapon I liked, rather than being stuck relying on whatever weapon I happened to get a high-level random drop of, as in Odyssey. Valhalla is all about the player making the experience their own and the new loot and skill system is the perfect embodiment of that ethos.

What about content, then? Well, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla makes strides in removing a large amount of the unwanted bloat which has so often been a criticism of the prior entries in the series. Instead, this game puts a much larger focus on the core narrative, with significantly less inconsequential side missions than before. To touch on the main storyline first, Valhalla delivers an absolutely gripping story with huge twists and turns and massive, awesome set pieces of viking war. You will make certain allegiances with other settlements around the beautiful depiction of England and deal with plenty of negotiation, betrayal and bloodshed during your time with Valhalla. Throughout your travels, you will continuously meet charismatic and charming characters, as well as formidable leaders. This all comes together to offer a powerful, engaging narrative and one which feels quite different from both Origins and Odyssey.

Beyond the core narrative, the remainder of the content focuses primarily around world exploration and that is one of the absolute joys of Valhalla. The stunning beauty with which the game’s setting has been crafted means that exploring every corner of the world feels both satisfying and rewarding, with many moments capable of taking your breath away. The map is dotted with yellow, blue and white markers, yellow representing wealth, blue representing mysteries and white representing artifacts. Syncronising the area at points represented by the eagle symbol will reveal every marker in that zone, as usually you will only see a limited number of markers prior to activating the area’s fast travel point. Wealth, as you might expect, rewards resources, weapons or gear and artitfacts are rare collectible items outside of the classes which wealth cover. Mysteries, on the other hand, are smaller side quests or challenges, however, they feel a lot more unique and inspired than prior side quest content. You won’t find many fetch quests in mysteries and many of them are, in fact, very intriguing little tales.

The final of the primary activities in Valhalla revolves around your own settlement and gaining the resources to upgrade it. Upgrading your settlement results in new facilities becoming available, such as a cartographer, a taxidermist for making trophies from your kills, a tattoo artists and the Hidden Ones bureau, perhaps the most interesting of the facilities. Through this bureau, you will be able to track and eliminate members of the Order of the Ancients, which is essentially a rehash of the cult members from Odyssey. Despite this, these members often tend to feel like mini-boss fights, rewarding useful items and presenting challenging combat encounters. You can unlock all of these facilities by contributing raw materials, which can be gained by raiding. There are many other settlements which you can reach via your longboat and once you come close to one, you can initiate a raid by blowing on your viking horn. This will result in the total annihilation of the village by you and your crew, assuming you are high level enough to defeat the village, which will then leave you free to pillage their resources for your own settlement. The settlement in Valhalla truly does feel like your own home and the Raids are incredibly fun, perhaps one of the most well-designed aspects of the game.

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is an admirable refinement of the open-world Assassin’s Creed formula and trims almost all of the excess fat of prior entries, introducing exciting new activities, a thrilling, authentic story and gameplay systems which will keep you returning to its luscious, breathtaking world as you chart your own viking adventure! Valhalla is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Stadia now!

DISCLAIMER: This review was carried out on Xbox Series X|S using review code kindly provided by the publisher, Ubisoft.