Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has a lot riding on it. Ubisoft didn’t release a new Assassin’s Creed last year in order to work on Valhalla, which is due out later this year.
And so far, after playing it for a few hours, the work seems to be paying off.
Hands-on game reviews are a journalist's first impressions of a game based on spending some time with it ahead of our full review. In this case, we played three hours of Assassin's Creed Valhalla. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves, and we can give you some sense of what it's like, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.
What Ubisoft’s 14(!) development studios have produced so far is a Viking epic that takes you from the shores of East Anglia - what we know today as Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire - to the innards of the English isle with plenty to explore in between.
And yet, despite the new setting, Valhalla has all the trappings of a traditional Assassin’s Creed game: there’s vantage points to climb, conflicted protagonists dealing with issues of their day, power level-based areas, a loose historical narrative to follow... and a lot of small technical issues. That last part is worrying, obviously, but Odin willing, Ubisoft can fix them all before release.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla price and release date
- What is it? The next entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise
- Release Date? November 17, 2020
- What can I play it on? PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia and PC
- Price? Standard edition is roughly $59.99 / £49.99 / AU$69
The tale of two Eivors
Set in 873 CE, Valhalla follows Eivor of Clan Raven, who can either be played as a male or female character just like in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Each has their own corresponding voice actor and we were able to switch between them on the fly.
When we dropped into our demo - just a little ways into the game - we were told that East Anglia was nearly unified under the rule of King Oswald, a good-hearted Saxon… until Oswald was taken by Rued, a rival Viking who hasn’t taken kindly to Saxon rulers.
To find Rued you’ll have to amass a small army and go on one of the game’s first Raid missions that can best be described as a small-scale amphibious invasion.
Thankfully, you don’t have to look far for that army. As a member of Clan Raven, you have allies and clansmen already who’ll be there when you summon them on your longship. Load it up, and you're off to war.
Fjords and swords
The assault on Rued’s camp is really the first big test of your mettle in Valhalla. It’s a multi-stage fight that has you breaking down doors with a battering ram while protecting your troops from arrows and enemy soldiers.
The combat, like the previous two games, is still number-based and brutal-but-fair.
During the demo we tried two different weapon styles, the single-handed axe and steel chain whip, and they provided some nice variety to the combat.
Besides the different weapons, you’ll also be able to assign skill points in one of three skill trees: Wolf powers, Raven powers and Bear powers, that roughly correspond to agility, stealth and strength. Each skill on the tree is either a buff, like extra health, or a new special move to use in combat.
How difficult a fight is comes down to how well-geared you are, how many abilities and buffs you currently have and how well you can dodge and deflect attacks. Being good at the latter can get you pretty far in the game, but at some point you’ll need to invest in upgrades to turn down the difficulty on some of the boss fights.
Making memories in East Anglia
Combat and exploration will take up most of your time in Valhalla, but you’ll also be sent on a fair number of surprisingly memorable side missions that are scattered throughout the world.
One of the more memorable ones we got the chance to see during our demo came during a marriage of a Dane and Saxon where we got to participate in making toasts, carrying drunk friends off of roofs and drinking until Eivor couldn’t stand anymore.
The whole wedding served as a nice palette cleanser from the brutal assault we just played 15 minutes earlier in our demo, and helped us feel closer to everyone in Valhalla’s world. It was fun, well-executed and memorable.
Another excellent side mission came when we had to rap battle a snobby Dane and yet another came when we had to help a farmer collect blood mead (read: menstrual blood) from a seeress.
The side quests have so far added some ridiculous fun to the combat but they are a bit sparse and, while we appreciate what’s there, it could be tough for Ubisoft to make all the side quests interesting from start to finish.
Bad voices and worse glitches
When things weren’t so fun was when we encountered an immersion-breaking bug - or worse, almost had our demo completely derailed by a spinning camera.
In just three hours spent in the game we encountered dozens of issues, from simple things like characters’ possessions disappearing from their hands in cutscenes to being told that our horse is unavailable and being forced to walk from destination to destination. It seemed like every minute, some new error popped up.
And while they weren’t technically glitches, the voice acting can be just as immersion-breaking as the bugs: you’ll hear a number of different accents throughout the adventure ranging from guttural to pompous but barely any of them mesh together in a way that seems to make sense. Somehow every character has a different accent - none of which feel period-appropriate.
Now, look, we’re not voice acting experts by any stroke of the imagination but considering that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s biggest weakness was its voice acting, it’s a shame Ubisoft didn’t double down on getting the voices perfect this time around.
With fun combat and even better side quests, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is shaping up to be quite the Viking saga. The region of East Anglia that we saw during our demo is brimming with potential… even if a lot of the space isn’t quite used to its maximum potential quite yet.
But a lot of the game’s success will depend on Ubisoft squashing the dozens of game-breaking or immersion-breaking bugs we found while playing the game - it’s just too hard to have a good time when horns of ale and enemy shields float in the air and cameras rotate on their own.
Odin willing, it will all get sorted before November.
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