Assassin's Creed Valhalla review — too much bloat for the Viking boat

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,

Ubisoft's massive RPG trilogy ends with Assassin's Creed Valhalla. We review on PS5 to see if this medieval English voyage has the bloat that sinks the Viking boat.

Finishing the Assassin's Creed Valhalla trophies will take you around 120 hours and the base game is just over 80 hours. However, while the latest in Ubisoft's series has a world and historical theme worth seeing, the RPG can't escape the artificial bloat that nearly unravels Assassin's Creed Valhalla's saga. These failures leave it floundering on our best Assassin's Creed games ranked list despite being no less than a good game.

For the Assassin's Creed Valhalla review, Kes played for 120 hours on PS5. With Assassin's Creed Mirage coming soon, we are filling out our back catalogue of unreviewed games in the Assassin's Creed series.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla review PS5Assassin's Creed Valhalla review for PS5

Assassin's Creed Valhalla is its own worst enemy

As the 12th mainline Assassin's Creed game, Valhalla has a lot of legacies (yes, plural) to live up to. The long and short of it is: this is nothing like the early, more linear Assassin's Creed games. Running up until 2015's Assassin's Creed Syndicate, these games used to prioritise proper tight mission structures and tall cityscapes (until AC III and Black Flag). Instead, Valhalla takes the historical setting to 900 AD England, a divided Anglo-Saxon land under Viking siege, and the game presents this to us in a vast open RPG. It's a game where players can explore, choose dialogue, loot weapons from dead bodies and random boxes, cultivate a skill tree, and execute super abilities in combat. For a lot of these mechanics, Valhalla builds on its RPG predecessors — Egypt-set Origins and Ancient Greece-set Odyssey.

While Assassin's Creed fans can debate all day about the old and new look of the series and which is best, ultimately this is a game in its own right. As a male or female Eivor, you'll travel from Norway to England with your brother Sigurd to establish a Viking settlement called Ravensthorpe. From here, you will build out the village while forging alliances with the kingdoms of a not-yet-united England — from the colds of Jorvic in the north to dirty Lundinum city and the holy-than-thou Winchester. With an old creed of mysterious hooded figures filling your brother's head with new and strange ideas, it's not long before myth, history, and science fiction become entangled.

Assassin's Creed ValhallaAssassin's Creed Valhalla beautiful

It does a lot right in its 120-hour length. The setting has always been Assassin's Creed's strongest point, and Valhalla delivers vast and gorgeous England and Norway settings live up to that history. There are moments in which you'll be sailing your Viking boat through the river, glorying in the fields, river banks, and swaying trees, before feeling the rush of reaching the open seas and high cliffs to the swell of your scald singing bawdy tales of your adventures. It's full of life, it's genuinely exciting, and it really encapsulates the freedom and adventure that the medieval period incites in our imaginations.

With Jesper Kyd and Sarah Schachner at the helm of an often perfect score that hits at the right moments, it really does feel like we're exploring the pages of an epic saga. The story that accompanies your adventures is often good — sometimes great. As you make connections with kingdoms like Oxenefordscire and Sciropescire and integrate your clan with the political landscape of the petty lords that preside over them, you'll end up in 10-hour mini-arcs. Some are required for the main story, and some an optional detours for brownie points. Some characters, like your fellow wild Viking Ivarr, pop up in several arcs like the recurring guest star of a TV series, and this episode format allows for a pretty unique story.

Assassin's Creed ValhallaAssassin's Creed Valhalla's main story is often the best bit

Evior is a bit of a blank slate (see: quite bland). The canon female Eivor is played by Cecilie Stenspil, who brings a little humour, while male Eivor actor Magnus Bruun brings a touch more depth to the role. The main quests follow Eivor's relationship with Sigurd and his wife Randvi, as well as the actual Assassin Basim. All three are fantastic characters and make the main quests worth sticking with, particularly as things spiral with Sigurd.

In particular, there's a scene with Basim around a campfire in the mid-game that is so sublime, it makes you wish more of the story had been that impactful. Unfortunately, the weak link is Evior, who can be a bit flat — though he's hardly helped by some of the poor dialogue. The high points are high, but the game is so big it struggles to maintain its own high-quality bar throughout.

ac valhalla dawn of ragnarokAC Valhalla has a massive mythical DLC called Dawn of Ragnarok

Some of the distinct arcs in England are as impactful as the main story, with the writers clearly in full swing on emotional impact and political intrigue as you watch kings rise and fall, characters trade sides, and many, many people die. Some of these "episodes" are set in cities, and some are set in the more expansive mires of a county. A few of these, like the one set in Sciropescire featuring a young nieve king trying to make a name for himself, are full of brilliant twists and turns. However, while there is variety, the sheer scope of this game eventually bogs down any sense of variation.

There is some content set in the mythical land of Asgard (and by "some" in Valhalla, we mean 20 hours). The location is bland, Odin and company unengaging, and it's often incredibly poorly written. The mythical arc is also so obtuse with its sci-fi and world lore that the 20 hours feel like a total redundancy until the final few. Given the mythical arc is vital to understanding what happens in the real world with Eivor and Sigurd, however, that is inexcusable oversight. By the time the story wraps up, it becomes convoluted in a way that the game thinks is clever, but in reality, is just convoluted. Also, modern-day protagonist Layla Hassan is back from the last two games — it's fine.

Assassin's Creed ValhallaAssassin's Creed Valhalla riding by horse is good stuff

Indeed, at the centre of Valhalla is your village, which is full of characters you'll eventually come to know well. It's the centrepiece of the game and makes for a deeply satisfying base-building mode — if Ubisoft takes anything of Valhalla forward, it should be how well these base-building systems work. Getting to know your village and seeing it grow is a hook that doesn't stop giving and is immensely rewarding. Even so, at 60 hours, you'll have seen every version of a narrative arc, the quests involved in kingmaking, and have more than gotten a feeling for how everything will play out... yet the game just keeps going.

There's the Asgard stuff for 20 hours, it has a 10-hour prologue in Norway, it has an entire section in distant lands that chalks up another ten hours, and it has optional arcs and sidequests and side activities galore. As an RPG, it feels obligated to offer dialogue options that rarely feel impactful. The writing isn't always good enough in the side quests or narrative arcs to make them feel more than the filler they technically are, and some of the side activities simply aren't fun (shout out to cairn building though). There isn't the consistency of quality over time here — some of this could be dropped and the main, actually impactful, story wouldn't miss a beat and wouldn't have its pacing destroyed by all these tangental and poor arcs and activities.

Assassin's Creed ValhallaAssassin's Creed Valhalla has plenty of activities, but has problems with substance

Then you have these two underlying gameplay issues that won't go away: combat and exploration mechanics. The combat starts strong, but like most of Valhalla, it becomes clear that there isn't really much to it beyond the opening 20 hours. You light attack, heavy attack, parry and dodge, but there just isn't enough variety in animation or weaponry to make any of it feel worthy of a 100+ hour investment. The skill tree is devoid of interesting choices. By 40 hours you'll be killing enemies using the same combo chain in every fight — it's just not deep enough. While stealth was supposed to be back for Valhalla, it doesn't have the flair or precision of the older games that made them stand out from the crowd, either.

The exploration mechanics don't come together. The world may be gorgeous, but it's also so big that doing the same things over and over ceases to be interesting after only three of the more than 15 regions. There's none of the robust climbing mechanics of old and it doesn't really feel good to move around — Eivor always feels a bit light and fluffy. The exciting feeling of boating around in the early game becomes obsolete the second fast travel unlocks. Then, when you see the same building pop up over and over to help fill out the enormous world, it snuffs out that sense of exploration. Plus, the amount of pointless chests the game wants you to collect is bordering on insanity. Again, if this was a shorter, more concentrated experience, a lot of these problems wouldn't have had the chance to pop up.

Assassin's Creed: ValhallaAssassin's Creed: Valhalla

It's truly a shame because this is a very good game for long stretches — we define that as "a solid effort likely to find favour with fans of the genre, but missing a spark." If you are a fan of the RPG entries of Assassin's Creed, you might have fewer issues with the scale, but it won't solve the diverging narrative, shallow combat, or poor exploration. If you love those older games, then there is a lot to love about the historical setting and some of the really nerdy lore details about the Isu (even if it requires a few YouTube explainers to understand fully), but the bloat will weigh down the Viking boat heavily.

Summary

Assassin's Creed Valhalla nearly makes its unwieldy boat of RPG mechanics work, but ultimately the bloat sinks the ship. A superb world, historical theme, and music tie together a grand medieval English saga with an impactful main story. Ultimately, though, it's a game that frustrates. The combat, story, and mission structures are too shallow to justify the time sink. The main story is impactful but weighed down by unnecessary diversions into myth and repetitive side arcs. Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a very good game that could have been amazing with a little more restraint.
7 / 10
* Kes has the platinum trophy in Assassin's Creed Valhalla and has spent 140 hours with the game while braiding his hair and singing like a scald. The game was bought out of pocket.
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Editor Kes is our resident expert in PlayStation and Sony news. He writes about PS5 exclusives like Horizon, The Last of Us, God of War, and Death Stranding 2 using experience from years of playing PlayStation games. He also covers PS Plus and trophy news, as well as his favorite games — The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed, and some indie gems — before an evening swim.
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