Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Review. It flowed down the mustache, but did not get into the mouth

I will warn you right off the bat about two things: firstly, I cannot call myself a hardcore Assassin’s Creed fan . I have played most of the titles in the series, but only a few have made it to the end, and the two previous parts of the modern RPG trilogy, Origins and Odyssey , did not hook me at all. Therefore, on the one hand, I am not an expert on lore, but on the other, I look at the series with a more or less fresh, not yet blurry look, since I am not tired of the gameplay formula of the last parts.

Secondly, I liked Assassin’s Creed Valhalla more than I expected. I did not expect anything outstanding against the background of the last game and, in general, did not get it, but still I was pleasantly surprised. The only question is, whose merit it is: Ubisoft Montreal , which took up the mind, or the writers of the series “Vikings” , whose studio copied homework.

I am Alone, with me the Vikings

No, I in no way depreciate the work of the developers: despite all the similarities (both good and not so), “Valhalla” with “Odyssey”, she has her own findings, worthy of praise. It’s just that it is not they who attract attention, but what the authors shamelessly borrowed, albeit indirectly, from the History channel show – the narration and setting.

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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla tells the saga of Eivor, nicknamed Brother (or Sister!) Of the Wolf – a Viking who lost his family in early childhood due to betrayal. The clan of the Raven took the round orphan under its wing, where the child matured and over the years grew into one of the most formidable warriors of the North. Together with his half-brother Sigurd, Eyvor gathers a small detachment of like-minded people and goes to England – in search of fame, freedom and treasures.

Throughout most of the “Valhalla” plot, the story unfolds before us not about the assassins, the Templars, ancient prophecies and great accomplishments, but about ordinary people who in an instant abandoned their previous life to start a new one. From scratch, without any guarantees, in completely unfamiliar conditions. The English lands, of course, are more fertile and warmer than the snow-covered fjords of Norway, but they cannot be called paradise bushes either. The country, fragmented into many small kingdoms, had previously suffered from internecine wars, and with the arrival of Ragnar Lothbrok and the Danish hordes, it generally drowned in blood: the Danes plundered and burned a good half of England.

It is not surprising that the locals are not too happy about the new neighbors who have sailed on drakkars. Eivor, the right hand of Jarl Sigurd, needs to take care of the well-being and safety of his new home – the settlement of Ravenstorp in the heart of Mercia. And for this it is important not only to develop the infrastructure, but also to settle some political nuances. Conclude alliances with peaceful clans on the mainland, pacify the violent and create at least a semblance of friendship with the British: allies here are worth their weight in gold.

Chasing the sun and moon

In other words, this time the story turned out to be much more mundane than before – and this is where the influence of the “Vikings” is noticeably strongest. There is nothing wrong with that – on the contrary, within the framework of the series, the plot, where so much attention is paid to domestic politics and undercover intrigues, is perceived unexpectedly fresh. However, those who for some reason expected assassins from the game with the subtitle Valhalla, predictably risk being left out. Technically, they are present in the plot and play an important role in the development of events, but the key word here is “technically”. Leapfrog with secret orders pushed far into the background in the adventures of Eyvor: formally he helps the assassins, but in fact undermines the hegemony of the Templars in passing, just in between. Even the symbol of brotherhood – the hidden blade – he receives as a gift.

The situation is approximately the same with the storyline in the present tense. Running with the staff of Hermes and saving the world from another apocalypse is given literally a few scenes at the beginning and end of the game, except for the traditional anomalies of the Animus. Naturally, by the end, parallel plots still intersect, but … Considering how little time is allotted to Leila and the company, the nonsense characteristic of the sci-fi series here looks like an optional appendage to the historical drama.

I, again, have no problems with this: everything has been going towards this for a long time, so the developers have made a completely logical step. And it probably would have worked, but the story progression in the game is designed in such a way that without inter-temporal interruptions, the narrative quickly becomes predictable and begins to seriously tire.

Here’s the thing. The world of Valhalla is broken down into separate kingdom-principality regions, and each has its own story arc. You choose the place you need on the strategic map in the settlement, start a chain of quests and move out. Eyvor solves local problems, enlists the support of those in power, and returns home with good news. And between these arches a global plot is periodically wedged in – the story of Eyvor and Sigurd directly. It turns out to be a bit tough, but laconic gameplay loop with a clear structure. I chose a region, disappeared there for several hours, returned to Ravenstorp, watched the cutscenes, and drove off in search of adventure to the next area.

While social stealth has returned to the game for the first time in a long time with hide and seek in the crowd, it is not necessary to use it. Stealth in Valhalla does not provide any advantages, and no one punishes for mistakes
The loop is really entertaining at first, but towards the middle of the plot it creates colossal problems with the pace of the story. At a certain moment – after about thirty hours of games – events are clearly gaining momentum for a climax, and, no joke, I can’t wait to find out what everything will turn out into … but you have to wait for a spectacular denouement as much, if not longer. Because history is served drop by drop a year – and mostly strictly between the cleansing of endless principalities. As a result, the Valhalla scenario feels unbearably drawn out, and therefore the conflict and the intrigue, which is not badly twisted (by the standards of Assassin’s Creed), suddenly fizzle out.

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The stories of Eyvor’s allies are often almost unrelated to the global plot, which is why it develops
catastrophically slowly – and, even worse, monotonous. With rare (albeit very striking) exceptions, quest chains in different parts of the world are as similar to each other as two drops of water. Each time you need to make a coup in order to seat a ruler loyal to the Vikings on the throne (less often – to help the already loyal one). Each time it turns out that the task is not as easy as it seems, and everything is not going according to plan. Each time, everything inevitably ends with either a mass carnage, or the storming of another fortress, where the “villain” dug in. Wherever you go, you will have to do approximately the same, approximately according to the same scheme – the final segments of the game I went through somehow, through force, barely understanding what I was doing and why. That is, of course, it is clear why: to gather allies. But for what? What’s at stake? Why should I care if even the game is not interested in its own plot?

The minor characters are not particularly memorable, although Ivar the Boneless, whose character and habits is suspiciously similar to Vaasa Montenegro, at least amuses

 You are not my brother, a pagan Scandinavian

Against this background, the mental gymnastics of Ubisoft, which once argued in all seriousness that The Division 2 and Far Cry 5 are far from politics, looks even funnier. Four months ago, after playing a small section of Valhalla at the press screening, I already noted that the studio diligently avoids the most inconvenient aspects of real history. Everything is true, but in the release version of the game the situation is even more absurd: the Vikings are pathologically incapable of making mistakes, and the damned Anglo-Saxons, on the contrary, are always wrong.
Eyvor robbing monasteries? Well, this is out of dire need in order to obtain resources for the development of the settlement. And in general: accumulating wealth is not Christian, so the Raven clan is doing the Catholics a favor. Eyvor without hesitation kills hundreds of Englishmen and burns the houses of peasants? It is their own fault that they dared to defend their native land from foreign invaders, they could simply shrug their shoulders and lay down their arms. Eivor overthrows legitimate monarchs and puts puppets in their place? Under the new rulers, the people who had previously hated the Danes, as if by magic, began to live happily ever after. Brother Wolf never questions ethics, and the game only takes the courage a couple of times to condemn the raider way of life through the lips of some NPCs. But even so, the position of the British is presented as if they were just grumbling about nonsense. Well that’s right: otherwise, it’s not even the hour,

Raids on monasteries quickly become boring, but at first they make a strong impression. Music, war cries, the sound of a bugle – adrenaline rushes over the edge

However, an extremely skilful world-building saves the narrative from complete failure. Although almost all hostile Anglo-Saxons (and not only them) are drawn as caricatured Disney villains, the developers showed ordinary people to be extremely human. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is almost the only game in the series where the traditional disclaimer, reminding that the project was created by a “multicultural team,” takes on a real, and not just a PR sense. Because England is not inhabited by abstract Englishmen, but by many different peoples – and the authors honestly try to show their features, similarities and differences. The world here is revealed not only in battles: bloody battles in the glory of Odin are only part of the adventure.

In one of the plot arcs, Eyvor finds himself in a village of the Celts, where Samhain is celebrated, and, unexpectedly for himself, gladly walks from house to house and begs for sweets, dressed up in spirit. It’s just like raids, only people themselves give you the trophies! In another arch, where it is necessary to help with the funeral of the old Jarl, the mourning Danes threaten with reprisal the unfortunate Anglo-Saxon: he, with the best intentions, sprinkled the body of the deceased with holy water, so that if the Jarl were suddenly not accepted to Valhalla, he would go to Christian paradise. When Eyvor and his raiders first sail past the monastery, the drakkar team is surprised: who in their right mind would worship the cross on which their god was killed? And after several plot fights, you need to decide whether to put his ax into the hands of the defeated enemy – the way to Valhalla is forbidden for the drangs without weapons. Which is stronger:

Points of interest are also intelligently tied to the cultural characteristics of the setting. Druid temples, sacrificial altars, stone circles, cairns where you need to build pyramids from cobblestones …

These are all, of course, little things, and not everyone will pay attention to them, but it was scenes like these that made me return to Valhalla. And this is the great merit of Eyvor himself: although the female version of the character, judging by the unequivocal hints, remains canon, she, in my opinion, is much inferior to the male Eyvor – thanks to the acting performance of Magnus Bruun (Knud from The Last Kingdom ), the character turned out to be incredibly charismatic … He has an understandable inner conflict, character and principles that the plot constantly tests for strength. Even in the saddest moments of the passage of what is happening on the screen, you just want to follow in order to find out how Avor will react to events and what else will fall to his lot.

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I sharpened my ax

The question remains: how are things with the gameplay? Well … Dealing with him is fine, plus or minus. Usually. Many of Valhalla’s gameplay changes are a direct response to criticism of Odyssey, which is good news. But the reaction is often too painful: in some aspects, the developers simply rushed from one extreme to another. Sometimes it is appropriate, sometimes not too much.

Eyvor’s companion Xiuning doesn’t have Senu’s or Icarus’s abilities – she’s mostly needed for simple air reconnaissance. Well, or to admire the views from a bird’s eye view

The main complaint against Odyssey was senseless and ruthless grind – and Valhalla got rid of it completely. Open the champagne, Ubisoft Montreal has made a breakthrough: now “optional” content is truly optional. The game generously rewards experience for every sneeze, so there are no problems with leveling up – here he is tied purely to the character’s skills. You can play at your own pace and never run into a wall, although each region (and therefore enemies) still has a recommended level. But, as in “Origins” with “Odyssey”, no one bothers you to meddle in locations for which you are still “small” – and this is a good way to throw yourself at least some challenge.

And since the grind was one of the key elements of the gameplay, everything that relied on it also had to be redone – most of all it affected the equipment. Say goodbye to the kilotons of loot that dropped out of every other enemy: now the approach to equipment is more like Bloodborne – that is, all weapons and armor in the game are unique. Among them, there are no copies of the same item with different numbers, and they do not roll underfoot – new items must either be found in the open world, or fished from merchants and received as a reward for quests.

Valhalla unambiguously chooses the first between quality and quantity, and, in my opinion, the decision was right. The arsenal of weapons in the game is not that large (as is the case with Bloodborne), but you can experiment with it for quite a long time. Common axes, two-handed axes and swords, flails, spears, several types of shields, three types of bows … In addition, Eyvor has two weapon slots, one in each hand. You can take at least two axes, at least two shields, at least two heavy swords, if you open the desired perk. My personal choice is a simple smith’s hammer with a shield or two spears. Critical hammer blows knock enemies down so that they can literally be trampled into the ground, and the spears, firstly, are long, and secondly, they are fast. They can also pierce the victim and push it with all their might – for example, into a jug of flammable oil, which will immediately explode.

If there are no questions about Eyvor’s active abilities, then the passive skill tree turned out to be extremely stupid. “Fog of War” makes it difficult to clearly plan the build, and two-thirds of the perks are rubbish like “+1 damage to light attacks”

In other words, there is less equipment here, but you become much more attached to it – and you look for each new piece of equipment with anticipation. And because of this, exploring the world feels more organic: you do it because you want to, not because you need to. Moreover, England looks just amazing – in this regard, Ubisoft raises the bar of quality higher with each release. Even on PS4, the beauty and variety of landscapes is breathtaking. Fog-covered swamps, flower meadows, green hills, steppes with arable lands, melancholic, yellow-tinted forests, valleys between mountain slopes … In general, the soul sings, the heart rejoices.

Full-fledged side-quests were replaced by world events – a couple of minutes long sketches telling short stories.

Among them there are also dramatic ones, but these, deliberately absurd, are still more common

There is only one “but”: there is no real incentive to explore this wonderful, heartbreakingly beautiful world. Technically, they are, but after 60 hours of gameplay, it seems to me that the research rewards are completely not worth the investment. Unless, of course, you are suffering from end-stage 100 per centophilia. You can collect Roman artifacts (always for some reason, masks) in the ruins and deliver them to the collector in Ravensthorpe, but in return you will only receive decorations for the village. You can hunt legendary animals, but you can’t trade trophies for cool weapons and armor – keep some cosmetic stuff. I do not argue that really useful things are also hidden in the open world (new weapons and fragments of armor sets), but they are unbearably rare for such a long game.

Assassin’s Creed hasn’t had any luck with historicity lately. In Odyssey, it was impossible to use a shield, and in Valhalla, short swords disappeared somewhere – apparently, the authors decided that two-handed swords are cooler
This is exactly the extreme that I spoke about earlier. In their quest to eradicate grind and filler content, the authors have devalued almost everything that can (and, by design, should) be wasted. So that those who just want to run through the plot do not miss anything interesting, and perfectionists can still get crazy about collecting garbage. Is this an effective way to deal with grinding? Yes. Did he make the game better? I don’t think so. Odyssey was already accused of megalomania, and Valhalla turned out almost more – but there was even less interesting content.

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You died

Let’s say this problem can be avoided if you pass Valhalla in portions, without rushing anywhere. It is possible that I was burnt out due to the tight deadlines: in the end, I sat in the game for a week with breaks for food and sleep, and with sandboxes such marathons are contraindicated. However, of all the things that developers could 100% do better, the most offensive is the combat system. And not because she is bad, no – she’s just fine. It just might have turned out great, but it just turned out “okay.”

First, about the good: the battles in the game are extremely entertaining. Not thanks to bloody finishing moves with dismemberment, but due to choreography, if you can call it that. When the AI ​​of the enemies does not fall into a stupor, the opponents are extremely responsive to the actions of Avor. Some throw their shields and rush into the front, others pick up the weapons of their fallen comrades, and still others flee from the battlefield altogether. Spearmen are trying to catch you on counterattacks, swordsmen dodge blows, huge “goliaths” are trying to grab a Viking and smear on the wall with one throw. In battles, you always need to be on the lookout, because the game does not give you a descent – you can die here in a few seconds.

When you really want to kill someone for the glory of Thor

This sense of chaos and danger, coupled with Eyvor’s abilities, constantly creates wildly cinematic scenes out of the blue. Break through the skull of one enemy, hook the second with a harpoon and send it straight into the bag of flour to create an impromptu smoke screen. The third at this time throws his heavy two-handed ax at you – but you intercept it in the air and return it to the owner’s head. And the fourth, just knock to the ground and stab your fists until the endurance ends. The weight of the blows, unfortunately, is weak, but at such moments the fights bring purely aesthetic pleasure. You feel like a born warrior: incredibly skillful, but still vulnerable, unlike Odyssey.

Now about the bad: Ubisoft Montreal clearly tried to play on the FromSoftware field , but did it enchantingly ineptly, as if at random. Endurance management, limited healing, equipment weight, different types of attacks from Sekiro , rally mechanics from Bloodborne – the studio pulled together familiar soulslike elements, but did not figure out how to implement them in the gameplay. At best, you just don’t pay attention to them: weight, for example, affects only the rate of endurance recovery, but you forgot about the rides. At worst, they are mercilessly annoying. Couldn’t the game really do without a hard cap on healing? Did the developers really want the player to rush through the bushes in the middle of a pretentious battle in search of healing mushrooms?

Naturally, Ubisoft could not deny itself in arrogant microtransactions. True, here she took pity and allowed to buy premium items for a special currency

The emphasis on timing and parrying is great, it takes skill, yes. True, usually, requiring a skill from the user, a normal game would instead offer at least adequate hitboxes and more or less constant rules – here they change by themselves. This dude takes damage from throwing axes, and the next one doesn’t. You seemed to dodge this attack, but you still received damage. The gopher is not visible, but he is.

Alas, the only truly permanent thing is how often the game breaks. Ubisoft is not famous for its optimization in principle, but this time the team has outdone itself: the quality control at Valhalla is fabulously poor. The PC version without the patch of the first day slowed down even on top configurations (which is why we had to postpone the text), and on PS4 it consistently crashed with an error several times a day. There are so many bugs and technical flaws in the game that they will be fixed for at least another six months. Awful quality soundtracks, broken triggers in tasks, crooked pathfinding for NPCs, jerky animations, clipping, geometry errors – the list goes on.

But the cats here are huge, emasculated and muzzle

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is not lucky enough to be the final part of the trilogy. Whether she was first or second, many of her mistakes could be attributed to experimenting with the formula or to Ubisoft probing the ground for something new. But, alas, the studio, like the Assassin’s Creed series itself, has long exhausted its credibility, and there is nothing to justify the deplorable state of the release version of the game.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has a lot of problems – both fixable by patches and fundamental, which will not go anywhere. Should I put up with them? If you are a fan of the franchise or have been waiting for a big, expensive Viking game with at least a claim to historicity, then yes. In any other case … I’m not sure.

Not that I regret spending 60 hours of my life, but something tells me that I could use this time to my advantage. Although the beards of the Vikings, of course, noble, yes.

Especially for you Alihan Alihanrin!
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