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Letters from the Front

Like the previous two games in this trilogy, Valhalla continues the foray into the RPG space. Although, Ubisoft dug up its more iconic stealth genre to make it more enticing, Valhalla’s focus is on the recreation of Middle Ages England, brought to life with stunning graphics and a level of beauty that makes other games in the series fret. It’s been an impressive showcase for the Series X, playing in Native 4K with 60 FPS attached.

Valhalla follows the exploits of a male or female Eivor, a Viking who grows up with vengeance in their heart and from the starting moment, you’re on a tale that will take you across the North Sea to England and presumably to North America as the remains of Eivor has been found by the modern day Assassin brotherhood outside a remote seaside cabin in the region of New England, England is ripe with wealth and glory, and already well-integrated with Danes and Norse from years of Viking invasion and conquest, including the famous England invasion of Ragnar Lodbrok. That sets the stage for your arrival in England as you begin to forge alliances and conquer land and expand your kingdom across the four districts: Mercia, East Anglia, Northumbria, and Wessex.

Valhalla’s interpretation of Middle Ages England is massive, when coupled alongside a good portion of Norway then Valhalla is quite a large game and presents a staggeringly large playground. As I played it on the Series X, running at 4K resolution and 60 FPS, it could be the most impressive Assassin’s Creed world yet; certainly the most satisfying one yet. The rolling green hills of England, the medieval-looking city of London and those beautiful English villages with iconic stone walls, are a ready canvas for the god rays that cut through the muggy cloud cover, casting shadows. Beyond the beautiful landscapes of the English countryside and the grimy city, England is in complete turmoil: it is home to Danes, Norse, Saxons, Britons, Picts, and a lot more who have claimed a piece of this iconic land and are willing to kill you over it. It’s a melting pot of different religions and political ideologies, it’s a confusing mess of integration that creates an excellent social and political subplot to tie into the knots of the main story, but, as always the Order of Ancients runs everywhere and they’ve returned here.

The Assassin Brotherhood and the Order of Ancients are back at it again. The order is well represented in the various factions, and even in the remnants of the Roman Empire whose structures and architecture not only litter every region, but serve as excellent places to delve into tombs and other secret places. I’m surprised that the Assassin Brotherhood is even in the game at all and serve a huge role in the game, they rope Eivor in slowly, slowly weaving themselves into the story with great restraint. But the focus is always on the story and never strays from the vision of Eiver and their quest to make alliances in this new region.

On the gameplay front, Valhalla plays a lot like Odyssey and Origins and keeps a lot of those systems in play while there are some new systems in play, for better and worse. Skill progression and abilities have been decoupled, meaning you no longer gain new abilities automatically simply through leveling up. As a matter of fact, the entire level system is basically gone. Although, you still earn experience, and it’s still cached at steady intervals to reward you with skill points, you don’t gain levels in the more traditional format. The skills points you earn are spent on the skill tree, which is a lot like a web or Skyrim-like, linking various clusters of unlockable upgrades into constellations that you work your way through along the three main regions: combat, stealth, and ranged. Very reminiscent of Skyrim.

Secondly, the unlock able skills at the center of the clusters are more passive, and upgrades what you can already do, rather than the new abilities. A lot of them are incredibly useful – vital even – but while being able to stomp on a downed enemy or control an arrow you fire from a predator bow are very useful, they’re not as impactful as some others like being more lightweight. Those game-changing new abilities are hidden throughout the world in books of knowledge, so unless you’re exploring and hunting them from the get-go, the big-ticket abilities may not end up in the arsenal. Because of this, for the first 10 or 15 hours Valhalla’s combat was mediocre next to Odyssey’s bombastic style. I was eventually proven wrong, of course, and it became as flexible, fluid, and brutal as ever after I unlocked enough skills and abilities.

On the other hand, the new direction that Valhalla takes when it comes to inventory and quests is great. There’s far less loot in Valhalla than in Origins and Odyssey; instead of finding 100 junk-level bearded axes that you’ll inevitably sell to a merchant, Valhalla gives you different kinds of the archetypal axe, or shield, or greatsword, etc. Each weapon has a unique look, and even though two greatswords might be only slightly different statistically, they carry different passive bonuses for flavor preference. If you find one you enjoy, you can invest collectible currencies to not only upgrade its level, which improves its stats, but upgrade the quality, and that often comes with a new visual appearance and always allows you to upgrade its level even further.

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is a beautiful entry in the series that delivers on the fan-request of Medieval England and the stories that accompanied this legendary time. It walks a good line between historical fact, great conspiracy theories, and veiled mythology to create a very good take on historical fiction and against the backdrop of a focused story. It’s a fantastic entry that you won’t want to miss it out on, stay tuned for my full review.

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