After playing just under three hours of an early build of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, I came away suitably impressed. Not because the game dramatically differs from Assassin’s Creed Origins or Odyssey – Ubisoft hasn’t delivered the type of paradigm shift that we saw after the much-maligned Assassin’s Creed Unity – but because Valhalla has managed to deliver a thoroughly convincing world, set in a historical time period that I’m genuinely fascinated by.
After all, the Viking age is one that had far-reaching implications for many European countries, particularly Britain, and its effects can still be seen today. York, a scenic town no more than 45 minutes away from my home, was famously invaded by Ivar The Boneless and subsequently renamed Jorvik. Pretty cool, right?
Now, various school trips aside, what really reignited my passion for burly bearded-men and inspirational shield-maidens was the aptly-named Amazon Prime show, Vikings. Watching the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok, Lagertha and the heartless Ivar was truly gripping entertainment, particularly as many events took place in familiar locations. Sure, liberties were taken with timelines and historical accuracy, but it provides a bewitching insight into what life was like.
It turns out that the vikings were an incredibly complex and contrasting set of people. Their savagery is usually highlighted in dramatic fashion, and their surprising amount of sophistication and progressive ideals are often overlooked. But one thing that is always agreed upon was their ambition to expand.
From riding through perilous seas to raid unknown lands, to establishing the idea that death in combat was the greatest honor of all, the vikings make the perfect source material for a great video game (see: God of War). Throw in the pagan gods such as Thor, Odin and Loki into the mix, and you have yourself a well-woven story that is surely envied by even the finest of authors. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has the perfect subject matter to succeed, then.
You might think that praising Valhalla based on its chosen era is rather faint praise – after all, Assassin’s Creed games are often revered for their incredibly detailed and fully-realized worlds. But there’s no denying that the personal appeal of each Assassin’s Creed entry ultimately boils down to its setting. It’s why I can’t wait for Ubisoft to finally deliver a game set in feudal Japan, although Ghost of Tsushima is likely to scratch that long-awaited itch when it releases on July 17.
A realistic setting and historical nods is one thing, though, but could Assassin’s Creed Valhalla make me feel like a viking? If the game couldn’t encapsulate what being a viking felt like, it would all be for naught. Thankfully, Valhalla delivers.
Sailing towards an enemy stronghold, as the rain lashed down and thunder broke overhead, brought a sense of excitement I haven’t felt from a Ubisoft game in a long time. When the Nordic music kicked in and my band of warriors started to roar their battle cries, I felt a wide-grin begin to form on my face.
Once our longboat crashed onto the shore, Valhalla’s combat came to the fore. And while I wouldn’t call it perfect by any means, it was weighty, impactful and predictably gruesome.
You’ll plunge your axe into the chest of your opponent, then forcefully pull it back out in a shower of claret. Your shield will be swung with such force that it will break bones, and each special ability (which can be unlocked and improved from the various skill trees) were satisfying to perform. I particularly enjoyed stomping fallen enemies into the mud, but that’s just me.
It didn’t take long for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla to reward my prior optimism that this game would let me live out my viking dreams. The raids are sure to create some dramatic set pieces and memorable conquests, but the underlying story and characters that inhabit the world were equally as pleasing. I attended a viking wedding, out-drank a fellow mountain of a man, and even lay with a promiscuous fellow.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is shaping up nicely, then, although I have some reservations about how the game will keep the experience feeling fresh. I only savored what is sure to be a small slice of a game which will span 50+ hours. Make no mistake, however, the game has my attention as it stands, and my axe.