Like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Origins before it, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla continues the series trajectory into a full-fledged open-world RPG. Though Ubisoft has dug up some of its stealth-action roots to make that style more appealing, Valhalla’s focus is on the absolutely massive recreation of Dark Ages England, brought to life with stunning beauty and a level of detail I’ve rarely seen.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s story follows Eivor, a male or female Norse Viking who grows up with a chip on their shoulder and vengeance in their heart after some particularly dastardly events in the opening cinematic. From those starting moments, the table is set and soon you and your brother Sigurd are off on a grand adventure to England, a land ripe with wealth and glory, and already well-integrated with Danes and Norse from years of Viking invasion and conquest.
That sets the stage for your arrival in England as you settle the land and forge alliances to protect and expand your fledgling homestead against the chaos and political dust storm of warring factions across England’s four kingdoms: Mercia, East Anglia, Northumbria, and Wessex.
The last time Assassin’s Creed tried letting us choose to play as a male or female protagonist the results were hit or miss. The female versions of Eivor are admirable, though some accents drift a bit.These brief moments are absolutely the exception to the otherwise steady and earnest delivery throughout, which is also true of most of the main characters.
Outside the main cast, though some random NPCs can be a little… much.
The anchor of this story is my settlement, called Ravensthorpe, which expands slowly over time as I gather new resources and construct new buildings. Like Dutch's camp in Red Dead Redemption 2, the settlement is my home base that I return to frequently in between quests.
New buildings unlock new upgrades, like a forge so I can enhance my equipment or a brewery so I can host feasts that give me a temporary buff to my stats. As the settlement expands, it draws new characters, sidequests, and even the opportunity for romance.
When huntress Petra asked me to help her look for her missing brother, for example, we ended up accidentally tripping on some magic mushrooms we found and chasing forest creatures instead. Like any good trip, we bonded and became lovers a few dates later.
The Combat system is similar to Odyssey's in a lot of ways, but much more satisfying. For example, I can now dual-wield any two weapons, changing my combat style while also giving me access to special moves unique to my offhand weapon.
Playing on a harder difficulty, I immediately favored the traditional axe and shield for the extra defense. But then I unlocked an ability on Valhalla's skill tree that let me dual-wield two-handed weapons. What a game changer.
Instead of sporting a measly axe, I'm holding a two-handed battle axe in one hand and a massive spear in the other—or I can hold two spears and be extra stabby, or two shields and be extra shieldy.
It's so much fun discovering all of these combinations. And no matter what weapons I choose, I know I'm going to be both horrified and amazed at just how artfully Eivor can use them to separate people from their limbs.