Hey guys, I just wanted to share my spoiler-free review of Assassin's Creed Valhalla with you guys!
Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a game that makes the brand identity crisis more obvious than ever. This game has a passionate team behind it. The writing, especially towards the end may be the best the franchise has seen in a long time. The revival of the modern day and First Civ story are a welcome addition and tie in a lot of open questions that previous entries never cared to answer.
However, many of the issues that plague the franchise since Origins and became even more obvious in Odyssey are still there and don't seem like they are going to be solved in the near future. Valhalla continues the RPG route and leaves oldschool fans like me unsatisfied again. Just like in Origins and Odyssey, you are greeted with various different RPG mechanics, skills, tons of unimportant side content and a massive world to explore (I don't mean this in a good way). The bloat that especially plagued Odyssey returns again, but is handled a little better since Valhalla tries very hard to tie every little side activity into your main story and the growth of your settlement. Side stories are mostly non existent since all major narrative quests are part of the various main story arcs. Everything else on the map comes down to a bunch of different collectibles, skills, gear and little world events that don't really make an impact whatsoever.
Theoretically, this doesn't sound so bad, but in reality it just shifts one issue into another location. Yes, it's true that there is no need to do side quests in order to have a high enough skill-level to continue the main story anymore. But the reason for that is that the side content basically became main content and is now mandatory. There are tons of different story arcs in Valhalla. One half is actually amazing, really engaging and makes you want more. The other half however, is often quite pointless and feels like massive filler. Don't get me wrong, they are still well written, but they really damage the quality of the main narrative. Everytime when the story feels engaging and makes you want more, it stops and the game forces you to finish one or two of the filler arcs before you can continue the really interesting arcs. Therefore, the main story never truly picks up until the very end.
Also, since Origins the AC games don't really have a clear ending anymore. There is no real climax and a satisfying credit roll. Instead, it's just another finished quest and after a short "congratulations!" you are being thrown back into the open world. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that Ubisoft wants to continue the story in future DLC. A practice that I'm not really the biggest fan of. Valhalla with it's sheer size often feels like work, rather than a fun experience. If a game demands so much time and attention, I feel like it needs to earn this right. Games like The Witcher 3 or Red Dead Redemption 2 do this by really pushing forward story-driven open-world games and not releasing regularly. Valhalla, just like Odyssey before it, doesn't. This is just more of the classic Ubisoft content. Nothing that allows it to be as long as it is.
Overall, Valhalla tries to make the best out of a bad situation. Assassin's Creed has become an RPG franchise now, whether you like it or not. Odyssey embraced this and made very clear that it doesn't want to appeal to the older generation of fans. Valhalla is in a different situation, because it really tries to appeal to both sides. There is quite a lot of lore about Assassins / Hidden Ones, Templars / Order of the Ancients and First Civilization and almost everything of it is really good. In the bigger cities the game tries to emulate the feeling of older titles by including social stealth and blending in with the crowds. But in the end, it still is mostly a Viking fantasy with Assassin's Creed elements and fanservice added into it, never reaching the potential of older titles. It's still better than nothing though (looking at you Odyssey).
Apart from that, Valhalla often feels clunky and unpolished. There are a lot of bugs and glitches and the presentation at times may be a franchise low. Especially cutscenes, which for a long time were a prime discipline of AC with its fully mocap animations, are mostly nothing more than okay. The reason for that is because they now use AI animation presets to do most of the work, apart from a few mocap scenes.
But why is that? It's simple: Time. These RPG ACs are massive in every way. And with a development time of 2 1/2 years, the developers had to cut things short in order to deliver such a massive title. Quantity over quality in that case. Therefore, one can only hope that the next-gen AC will return the franchise to its roots. Delivering a smaller, but more thought out world, better cutscenes and a more streamlined story with an actual Assassin vs Templar conflict in the center. If you were looking for any of this in Valhalla, you will be disappointed.