Riddle me this: How does a company who has worked on a franchise for 12 years manage to wreck all of the core mechanics in the latest instalment? By taking too much to heart what a small minority of fans who have no idea how to make a video game says.
For about 2 years we had the “purists” complaining about Odyssey. Some of it was valid, a lot of it was just petty and should have been ignored. The minority were vocal and the majority were too silent in their praise and the result is Valhalla – a game that almost feels like it was made exclusively to apologise for a game that was widely successful and undoubtedly caused the massive increase in sales at launch.
I have over 100 hours now in Valhalla. Last time I looked I was at power level 317. I have yet to complete the story but I have explored the map like crazy and cleared most of it. I know this world pretty much inside out now so believe me when I tell you this is one of the worst Assassin’s Creed games ever made. It’s not bad but it’s not good either. It has so many problems both big and small that anything that’s good about it is almost instantly offset by the bad. That means the moment to moment gameplay alternates on a dime between fun and frustrating making it hard to discern whether I like it or not.
My god, what have they done to the movement? It’s the worst in the series. Sluggish, clunky, poorly animated. In trying to fix the light-as-a-feather feeling that has plagued the series since Unity they have gone totally overboard and made a character that eats far too many cakes. (There’s actually a world event where Eivor answers riddles for the prospect of cake so I’m not even sure I’m exaggerating).
I honestly can’t tell if I’m running or jogging half the time so I just spend most of the time jogging. It’s easer on the thumb since they made the ill-conceived decision to toggle L3 to run in a game that is well over 100 hours long. Why did they think this would be a good idea??? Oh yeah because a couple of PC players whinged about run and walk speed. In the older Assassin’s Creed games you had to manually activate sprint as well but R2/RT is far less burdensome on the finger.
It gets worse. They brought back fall damage because people complained about the lack of fall damage being unrealistic. What these fans failed to understand is that Quebec removed fall damage knowing full well that a world full of mountains is not inherently fun to traverse. In the older games fall damage made sense because entire cities were built around a robust parkour system whereby your skills as to how to navigate it were being tested. In Valhalla, Odyssey and Origins parkour is simply a means to an end and the world is not designed for flashy acrobatics (that's why they made it so you can just climb anywhere to bypass it entirely). Now we’re being punished for jumping off a cliff to get to our destination quicker when we can hardly be blamed for a parkour system and level design that is a slog to get through. In actual fact, I find the fall damage in Valhalla even more immersion breaking because I have survived jumps that what would have killed me instantly in Assassins Creed II but in Valhalla ‘tis but a scratch.
And where have the haystacks gone??? Often I can’t make out where they are when performing a leap of faith because they’re hidden or there are no birds to indicate the jumping off point. Is this the game being meta? Like, hiding the haystacks to test our faith? Because it’s pretentious at best and a waste of time at worst.
It gets even worse. Horse riding is almost pointless. Good on Montreal for improving the animations but the actual getting around on the horse is awful. It’s not the horse’s fault; it’s the world design. There are too many obstructions which means you’re constantly being interrupted. There are hardly any roads to follow and most of them take you around the whole country before they actually get you to your destination which means you are forced to just ride your horse on the rocks. Building the stables in the settlement is a must to alleviate the frustration of not being able to take the horse in water initially. This game actually expects you to swap between horse and longship like every 30 seconds prior to building it. Don’t waste my time.
Oh, but it gets worse! They’ve brought back the climbing puzzles which hilariously exposes how bad the new parkour system is. As an example, the shanty chase sequences from Black Flag are awkwardly plonked in (you’re chasing tattoos now) because the parkour system and camera is not designed in a way to accommodate it lol. It’s clunky, it’s not fluid, animations don’t flow into each other like the old games and you have to yell at it to get it to recognise climbing on trees as a valid input. Auto low-jump when close to the ground was not bothersome in Origins and Odyssey but it is now because of these puzzles. Honestly, Eivor looks like an overweight old man trying to catch his hat in the wind. What’s worse is that I replayed Rogue and Black Flag recently so it’s even more jarring how bad it is because I have that fresh comparison.
In short, the movement, free running and climbing in this game is a disaster. They need to patch in an auto sprint option if this is not already buried in the menus.
Now let’s talk about the combat because this to me is so tragic. Combat in Assassin’s Creed has always been weak but they finally improved it in Origins, and then the combat in Odyssey was pure joy.
What a sad step back.
Valhalla somehow makes it worse than both Origins and Odyssey, even doubling down on some of the flaws. It tries to merge the combat in Origins with Odyssey and the result is an awkward hybrid that never feels grounded enough to be satisfying to pull off and never batpoop crazy enough to be fun. When it works it can be enjoyable - I appreciate how much slower it is (I’m using a great sword on primary and axe on secondary) but when it doesn’t it’s eye-roll worthy.
Firstly, getting rid of shields in Odyssey was one of the best decisions Quebec could have made. It forced you to play offensively and not turtle like a coward. The devs obviously discovered that people were abusing the dodge button and so this, with the return of shields, is probably why we have the stamina bar to offset it. I don't mind the stamina bar (after initially being against it when I first saw it in previews) because it forces you to parry which I do anyway. The problem is when you come across boss fights or wild animals where 98% of their attacking moves are unblockable, forcing you to dodge or cheese it by simply doing the side step dance. They added in a stamina bar without redesigning A.I. behaviour to match it. You can use weight runes to improve stamina management but that's a waste of runes IMO. On the subject of runes, the game tells you that the red rune attacks are unblockable but some of the orange ones are unblockable too so which is it? They need to make the colour coding more clear.
Also, the parrying feedback is very bad – as in you don’t know when you’ve performed a successful parry so you’re left wondering why your health isn’t going down. They need to look at Ghost of Tsushima as to how to make it clear to the player that the parry was successful.
The adrenaline bar management is more punishing which is fine but the actual abilities are weak and half of them are buggy and don't work or easily cancelled by enemies. The rations system is terrible mainly because it's so limited and annoying to scavenge. They should look to Bethesda games as to how to do health bars that don't auto regenerate or better yet refer to the early AC games where this was done so much better.
And what the hell have they done to range combat? The bow aiming SUCKS. I wonder how ‘hunter’ players are getting along because I cannot imagine playing purely as an archer would be fun. You can’t craft arrows (stupid decision), you can’t quick swap between bows AFAIK and aiming is broken so the only thing it has going for it is just hitting weak points for max stun damage and breaking door barriers.
I haven’t even got to the boss fights yet. They are AWFUL. They spam far too many unblockable attacks in quick succession, recover far too quickly from staggers without warning and they dodge all over the place which exposes how loose the lock-on is so you spend half the time in boss fights just trying to close the gap and by the time you do the boss has already dodged out of sight, it’s a waste of time. The zealots are a prime example of how Valhalla does not learn anything from Odyssey and instead acts more like a sequel to Origins. In Odyssey, they replaced the phylakes with the wonderful mercenary system which rewarded and punished you in equal measure. The zealots brings back the same problem the phylakes had: a boss fight that takes place in the open world where any fool can join in.
You could argue that boss fights can have adds but there is a fundamental difference between a boss fight with adds and what Valhalla does with the zealots: adds in boss fights are tailor-made for the boss. The zealot fights take place in a dynamic open world which means you have infinite number of spawning enemies on the road and all sorts of animals coming out of the woods for a free for all - and the animals never attack the zealot or other enemies, only you. A fight that would normally take me about a minute to clear now has to take 5 minutes because I’m dealing with infinite random enemies.
And you wanna know what the worst part is about combat? It’s too easy and exploitable. Parrying is OP, you can just spam it to get enemies into a stunned state then one-shot them hence why in boss fights they had to make most of the attacks non blockable. It's like they listened to the fans who complained about the lack of finishers and so made a combat system where 50% of it is just finishers. And don’t even get me started on the raven and the wolf abilities. They’re the only abilities with cooldowns AFAIK because they do such a ridiculous amount of stun and health damage that they make boss fights a joke. I'm doing a bear playthrough on Normal difficulty and I'm unkillable in regular fights and I've only ever died in boss fights where the boss had a red skull. Says it all really.
And finally, the stealth. Oh boy, this is a new low for the series. The stealth makes Odyssey look like Splinter Cell. My expectations were low but holy crap I didn’t think it would be this bad. Is there even a stealth system in this? You could argue that there isn’t. One of my few gripes with Odyssey is how Quebec used power to mask weak level design and poor enemy A.I. In Valhalla they don’t even bother. You have the ‘guaranteed assassination’ option which exposes how bad the stealth is because now that the joy of making a good build that one shots enemies is gone the embarrassing A.I. and non existent level design is laid bare for all to see. The A.I. is so inconsistent - one minute dumb as rocks, not able to detect someone right in front of them, the next they have eyes at the back of the head from miles away. Chain assassination works when it feels like it and assassinations don’t feel good. The sound is great but the impact is off and there is only like 1 or 2 animations dedicated to it. It’s weird.
Also, why does it take 155 years to activate eagle vision? This was one of the first things I noticed when I first started the game and I knew instantly it was going to annoy me. Again, it’s taxing on the right thumb. Is it just so that getting the skill where crouching undetected automatically tags everyone feels more rewarding or have they simply forgot how to do eagle vision? On that note, visibility is very poor. I can’t actually see what the enemies look like? That could just be my eyesight but in Odyssey I felt like enemy designs were very distinctive. Here, I can’t make out their faces. It’s hard to explain.
And the social stealth is so pandering! They’ve taken the social stealth from AC1 but have forgotten that the social stealth in AC1…sucked. Sorry. I love AC1 but the social stealth in that was the worst thing about it. They improved it in AC II by forcing you to navigate social stealth in close, tight spaces in order to pass guards. In fact, in the older games social stealth was imperative to completing a lot of the missions successfully.
In Valhalla the streets are too wide and there’s not enough people to actually blend in with (as the performance would surely tank if there was, like Unity) but worse yet there’s not even many guards! Therefore, there’s no reason to walk slow because there are so many ways for you to hide just by crouching and running on rooftops. They needed more patrolling guards on the streets to encourage you to use the ‘blend in’ spots but there’s barely any around, they’re all cramped in red zones so what’s the point? It’s embarrassing when you can’t even do what you used to do right. Patrice must be laughing his head off.
Then there’s the tailing mission in the Lunden arc. I thought I was going to die of cringe when it happened. It’s watered down because the parkour and social stealth is so weak that there’s no point in using them to avoid detection when you can just RUN behind the target while keeping your distance. Literally, I RAN behind the target to tail him. It’s a joke.
Ubisoft, please, never listen to the vocal minority again. Fans think they know what they want but in practice they don’t. I want the old AC back too but I recognise that context is important. Therefore, if you’re going to bring back old gameplay ideas you need to move away from bi- annual/yearly releases to give yourself the time and polish to do it properly rather than tacking it on in a world design that was never conceived with these ideas in mind.
Thanks for reading and sorry for the long post but I had a lot to say.
(Please don’t post spoilers for the story either in response. It’s not even relevant as I’m talking purely about the core gameplay mechanics. The story is a whole other mess for another thread.)