With a world so vast, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla can be overwhelming in its first few hours.
You have some sense of the main missions you need to be working towards, sure, but there’s also so much else vying for your attention. Even when you try to stick to one of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla‘s main story threads, you’ll find yourself distracted by something else; be it a raid, a hunt for treasure, or even a dabble with some magic mushrooms. Valhalla is truly an open world, begging you to freely wander it as you see fit. And try as you might to stay focused, you’ll always succumb to the lure of something less important. But that’s the beauty of this epic adventure.
The latest game in the Assassin’s Creed franchise casts you as Eivor, a male or female (your choice) viking, sent from Norway with their clan to find a better life in England. As Eivor, you’ll soon find your new home town – Ravensthorpe. It’s your job to develop it; that means collecting supplies to expand facilities and put the town on the map. It’s only a small part of the bigger picture of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but it provides a central focus; Ravensthorpe acts as your anchor throughout this journey, and you’ll be grateful for its comforting familiarity.
Much of your early time with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will be spent travelling to neighbouring towns and cities, helping them out with various tasks. Being a viking warrior, a lot of those “tasks” involve brutal combat and murder. Valhalla is unapologetically merciless, so if you’ve a weak stomach, you might want to give it a miss. Heads and limbs fly free in combat as Eivor finishes their foes with fancy-footed attacks.
You’ll find yourself in combat a lot, whether it’s as part of a mission, a side-quest to raid a nearby location, or just as you’re passing through a hostile area. If you’ve played one of the more recent Assassin’s Creed games you’ll quickly find yourself familiar with it; you can deal out light and heavy attacks as well as parry and block, though you also have a hefty arsenal of special abilities to use. Hidden around the world are books that, when found, grant Eivor a new ability. When equipped, they can be used in combat sparingly to deal large amounts of damage.
Eivor also has a hefty skill tree to spend points in. You’ll accrue skill points by completing missions, gaining XP and generally progressing through the game – and they’re generously doled out, too. Usually in twos, you’ll start filling your skill tree fairly quickly. And it’s a good job, considering the sheer size of it. With multiple branches that unlock as you spend more skill points, you’ll gain passive buffs to Eivor’s strengths and defences, occasionally unlocking new skills.
Despite the brutality of combat, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has plenty of quieter moments, and it’s in there where I find myself most in awe of the game. Valhalla‘s world is huge and beautiful. Though much of it feels barren, you’re never very far away from a new side quest, or a secret, or a settlement. But even when you are in the wilderness, with nothing or nobody around for seemingly miles, there’s something magical about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Playing on Xbox Series S for review – not even the best version of the game – it looks absolutely stunning. At times like a photograph, other times it’s too rich, too vibrant, to possibly be real; you feel like you’re exploring a living oil painting. On many occasions you’ll be awestruck by the scenery in front of you, needing to stop what you’re doing just to take it all in.
Valhalla works well as a standalone game, even if you’re not invested in the overarching narrative of the Assassin’s Creed series. There is, of course, a lot of lore to absorb if you want to, and there are once again modern-day segments to engage with – though they’re sparse. It’s very much Eivor’s story; the fact you’re experiencing it through Layla’s mind in the Animus feels irrelevant when you’re deeply absorbed in exploring middle England.
If you are a longstanding Creed player, though, you’ll get a kick out of the fact the game returns to its roots in numerous regards. It’s very much a ‘modern’ Creed game in the vein of Origins or Odyssey, but there are touches here brought back from earlier games in the series. Once again can you blend into the environment; cloaking yourself from possible pursuers and hiding in plain sight in groups of people. Codex pages also make a return; you’ll need to chase them down across building tops and treetops. Assassin’s Creed has a rich history, and it feels like a lot of it has been considered in Valhalla‘s development. It’s an amalgamation of the old and new, which feels like a celebration of the series as a whole – and that leaves me excited to wonder where it will go next.
But even as a standalone open world adventure, they don’t come much more deep and engaging than Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. You’ll come to care for Eivor, whichever version of them you play as, and the decisions you make as them will somewhat shape your experience. If someone raids Ravensthorpe, for example, do you spare their life, sending them back with a warning? Or do you kill them in cold blood to avoid being seen as weak? It’s your call – but the path you take may affect how your clansmen (and women) view you.
You’ll want to keep them on side, though – even if only for your own posterity; more than any other Creed game before it, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla nurtures a strong sense of community. Eivor isn’t a lone warrior; they have a whole army backing up their actions. Raids aren’t carried out alone – your longboat full of warriors is just a call of your horn away, and they’ll dutifully help you hack and slash your way through settlements and monasteries as you seek out the rewards you’re searching for. When Eivor finds treasures, supplies or riches, they’re not for their own personal gain; they’re for the betterment of Ravensthorpe.
There’s a lot to say about Assassin’s Creed Valhalla – too much, perhaps. And yet I’m reticent to delve into too much detail because part of what makes this game so special is walking into the unknown. Arriving in England in 873 AD, Eivor doesn’t know what awaits them. As the player, you don’t either. And the joy is exploring it together with Eivor, discovering new towns, new secrets, new friends, and new enemies. The stories told by the game’s narrative are fascinating and engrossing, sure, but it’s your story – the one you make by exploring as you see fit, tackling the game in the manner you choose – that really makes Valhalla what it is.
Cut from the very best cloth of open world games, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a pleasure from start to finish. Though overwhelming in its early hours, once you settle into Eivor’s shoes, exploring England is an exhilarating journey like no other. Try as you might to focus on the main missions, the lure of exploration is too strong, and you’ll find pleasure in every tiny discovery. Is this the best Assassin’s Creed game yet? That’s difficult to say – but it might just be. Especially if you enjoy the beauty of British countryside and the contrasting brutality of viking combat.