While we’re still waiting for WoW’s 9.1. content – at least give us the release date, come on! – I’m traveling through the historical periods provided by Assassin’s Creed games.
My next stop is AC: Valhalla, the third and final game in the after-reboot era so far, and the final one I’ll be playing in AC series – at least before they release the next one.
What’s Good So Far?
Valhalla masterfully embraces you in the era of viking conquer of England in IX century. Vikings had a huge impact on most of European world: traveling as far as Mediterranean countries and America, plundering France and England, assimilating in Old Rus’ and founding the Russian royal dynasties – so this historical legacy alone would suffice to ignite interest all over the major gaming world. We can’t forget about the media love for the vikings society – cartoons, movies, comics, Marvel, heavy metal music – the source of inspiration which are vikings cannot be fathomed and seems endless. And of course, the brilliant award-winning series of 2013 which explores exactly the era, the place and some characters you’re running across and focus in the game. What’s not to love?
The visuals are stunning and deliver the ambience top notch. Both England and Norway (as far as the first installment without expansions goes) are very immersive, and a total eye candy. All in all, combined with characters’ behaviour and story, it provides a genuine viking experience in their conquest.
The gameplay is again a lot similar to after-reboot AC games Origins and Odyssey. All the trademarks like hitbox-based, easy combat, bird’s eye view, mounts, fast travel, blacksmith/vendor stalls, parkour, stealth kills, baddie target grid, exploration/treasure checkpoints on the map to cross out are all there and go unchanged.
The new stuff for the game is quite interesting. The bigger settlement checkpoints for plundering which provide most resources now imply you summon a drakkar with your crew, so they help – a lot – with the attack, not by just killing enemies on their own, but also helping you with some barred doors and opening extra heavy chests, which looks and plays quite immersive and vivid, a small raid of sorts with clever and productive NPCs on your side. There are world quests of sorts – small, mostly funny one-time stories for a couple of minutes which are super inventive and entertaining on their own, no matter the reward. Oh yes, and while the game still relies on exploration, story and a lot of legwork, there is a garrison home town you care about and improve for additional perks – with separate resources, not impeding your other activities.
Traditional chekpoints like caves, shipwrecks, cities now not only have treasure chests, but deliver puzzles to solve, which is great! For example, a door is barred from inside, and you need to find a way around a shoot the lock through a hole in the wall on the other side, or find a way to drop a heavy load to break the floor to make a passage, or search a key to a house in a well, and many other things like that.
Finally, the story follows a group of vikings trying to settle in England, to carve out a place in the land for themselves, to deal or ally with local Saxon kings and population and the viking firstcomers who already have settlements here. The story characters and player character move, talk and behave exactly like vikings would and how they did in the series, authentic, that is – and that’s where the bad kicks in.
What’s Bad So Far?
You see, it’s personal, but it ruins the game to an extent for me. Vikings were not nice – like at all. If you strip away the appearance and pop culture image, what you’ll have left is a brutal society with a cult of strength, primitive, dumb and cruel. They live on and worship murder and plunder, tears and suffering, with loot as an absolute value – a direct analogue of any modern city gang, no less.
And that alone takes heavy toll on my perception: I simply cannot invest in the character and her tribesmen, however authentic they might be. In fact, it’s exactly their authenticity that hurts :) Ironic, if you ask me.
The second thing is technical requiements. While Odyssey ran on my computer without a hiccup, Valhalla demands lowest graphics settings not to move like a snail – and it’s been only a year or two between the two games. Even lowest settings are more than enough for beauty, but hey, what about optimization – am I supposed to upgrade with every next Ubisoft game now? And my computer is up-to-date, bought only last year, not the best of the best ofc, but quite decent and valid for every other modern game so far.
The third thing is that character and NPC design looks more schematic, less realistic proportions and design – regressing to Origins and even more like previous games, like Black Flag. They begin to feel like dolls again compared to a more realistic Odyssey, so even brutal finishers where you hack several times on the neck with an axe or pop a head off don’t feel brutal – it’s like toy soldiers killing each other.
A Resume So Far
Valhalla is by all means a decent successor of the previous two games, keeping their trademark design, gameplay and style, while providing several interesting new things and changes on its own which work perfectly with the viking theme of the game. Visuals, music and ambience are great, and totally succeed in delivering the era vibe.
The story and characters are quite immersive, and make you want to play and see them through, while of course encouraging exploration – even more so with all the many story-in-itself points.
But – again, I say it’s personal – I don’t feel for my character and her kinsmen, granted they are legit sons and daughters of a primitive, cruel society of plunderers and murderers. So – no, I’m not too engaged in their fates, and their demise, for example, would not bother me at all. The same thing was when I watched Vikings the series – I was not rooting for vikings to succeed in their raids, just observed what was happening to them, and was not mourning the passing characters for the exact same reason.
What About Odyssey?
Well, yes, I finished the game – now by 100% of stories and quests, including expansions. Expansions were super great and interesting to play through, and I enjoyed traveling with Cassandra for another round of events, including the heaven/hell/Atlantis ride!
By the way, same as with Shadowlands – I was not too immersed in a non-real world, albeit interesting to an extent. By the middle I wanted to get back to the real world so much, and so returning for the final expansion to play and travel in the real Greece with real enemies felt super awesome, and its finale was a deeply moving tear jerker.
AC: Odyssey left a deep impact on myself like little to no games did – and I even decided I want a physical reminder of this great experience, so I indulged my self into buying a merch item to place on my wall:
This is a broken spear of that very Spartan king Leonidas, by game lore Leonidas an ancestor of the played character. The main character uses it as a stealth killing blade throughout the game, and being a Greek god-made item (precursor race – “isu” – in AC universe), it also grants Cassandra a number of several not-so-human perks.
The game itself stays on my hard drive, as you can still take some killing contracts and quests from the message boards across the map. Totally unnecessary in any walkthrough style and add little to none for lore and stories, but they are an excuse to launch the game once you miss the character and the world :) Which is my case.