Like so many others, I pre-ordered Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and was awake at midnight last night to play it. Now with bleary eyes and sea shanties ringing in my ears, I am here to give you my first impressions of the game. Now I’m only four hours in, and I have a tendency to start exploring open worlds right away. So that means I haven’t made it to England yet or started building my own little village from the ground up. But what I have experienced so far feels pretty emblematic of the game of the whole. So let’s dive into first impression of the early gameplay for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.
Image via Ubisoft
Light on the Assassin, Heavy on the Creed
First there is the fact that this doesn’t feel like a typical Assassin’s Creed game. You don’t start out with a hidden blade, so in the early gameplay for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, assassinations are not the stealthiest of affairs. I managed to sneak up on a couple of guys and take them down with a well-placed arrow to the skull, or an axe in the back. Even Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey started with the shard of the spear of Leonidas that she could use to stealth kill. However, Eivor is a Viking trained for battle and stealth isn’t really in keeping with their character’s story at the beginning of the game.
Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla has also revamped the skill tree which also makes it trickier to rely solely on stealth. It is now an interconnected web with sections dedicated to stealth, combat, and archery. Fans of the stealth approach can certainly invest in those skills early on but until I get a hidden blade, they feel a bit arbitrary. I spent the majority of the early gameplay in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla using my bow, but that might also be because whenever I try to pull my weapon out it automatically defaults to the bow. This actually aggravated me enough to unequip the bow entirely when I knew I had straight up combat coming my way. It also led to my first death in the game coming not at the hands of a huge Viking warrior, but at the paws of a large white bear. Seriously, those bears are deadly.
A Gorgeous Open World to Explore
Image via Ubisoft
Beginning with Assassin’s Creed: Origins, the franchise started to move in a decidedly open-world direction. This is undoubtedly due to the success of games like Skyrim and Witcher 3. Fans of the earlier games might not love this move, but I will admit that I love open world fantasy games. The Elder Scrolls is my favorite game franchise of all time (outside of Zelda). So for me, this approach is actually what drew me to the series in recent years. Although I played some of the earlier Assassin’s Creed games, it was Odyssey that really hooked me. So obviously I am a fan of the open-world format. And Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla delivers a beautiful, detailed world that is easy to get lost in.
The first objective after completing the story-heavy prologue, and reuniting with your crew to get off the first island, is to return home and report in. But as I hopped in my boat and looked at the map I saw how much land was between me and my objective. As I followed the coast home, I found myself stopping every few feet to explore a new location. From a distance I could see the skyline of other villages that beckoned and I could not resist their call. The game has also slimmed down the side-quest and loot system. Now I find that there are colorful dots on my map that indicate treasure, world events, or artifacts. And I made it my mission to hit as many as I could on my way home.
A Unique Gameplay Experience
Image via Ubisoft
This led to me experiencing several of the quirky side quests or ‘world events’ as the game calls them. I helped an old man with Alzheimer’s shake free of his delusions (or at least I tried). Then I ran into someone from my old village and chased them around a town. Afterwards, I helped some dude hunt a bear so he would be able to bring a story of heroics back to his family. I won a rap battle against some guy who loved being insulted. No two world events were the same, lending a uniqueness to the world that was lacking in previous installments.
And through it all was the beauty and wonder of the world of Valhalla. The majestic vistas and rich jewel-toned color palette is a feast for the eyes. Trudging through snow leaves footprints behind and actually feels like you’re putting in effort to traverse the terrain. The cold water of the open sea is a shock that can drain your stamina quickly. Everything feels real and vital, while also leaning into the magic and mysticism of the time period.
Immersion in Norse Mythology
Image via Ubisoft
I am always a fan of mythology in video games. I loved what Odyssey did with the classic Greek mythology and its endless parade of gods and monsters. And Norse mythology is one of those canons that everyone knows something about. We have been inundated with Norse mythology in recent years thanks to the popularity of Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However this is a different approach to the mythology that I really appreciate. It feels more grounded and real, like an actual system of beliefs that people held to in ancient days.
Beyond that however is the mythology of the Vikings themselves. The lore and legends that have sprung up around the historical Vikings almost equals the popularity of Norse mythology at this point. They are almost inextricable. I will admit that I was a little hesitant when I heard this game was going to be about Vikings. I thought, haven’t we had enough by now? Isn’t it a little played out? Valhalla gives us a full immersion into the Viking world, complete with longboats and raids against villages. There are bards and epic poems, mystical connections to animals, and drinking contests aplenty.
The whole experience so far has simply been a joy to play. And I know that I have barely scratched the surface. So I’ll return now to playing and come back with a full review once I’ve made it to England. See you on the other side.
Featured image via Ubisoft
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.