Assassin's Creed. A franchise that has become synonymous with the standard AAA open-world affair, for better and for worse. Ubisoft's now-flagship franchise has become an entity that has divided public opinion more than perhaps any other modern AAA series.
Assassin's Creed has undeniably birthed some of the best games of the last couple of decades, such as Assassin's Creed 2 and Black Flag. But it has also been responsible for some of the buggiest and most underwhelming launches of the past decade, like Assassin's Creed Unity.
However, post Syndicate, the franchise went through a transitional period, when Ubisoft decided to turn the franchise into a full-blown RPG, like Witcher 3.
The French video game publisher poked around and explored the concept in Origins to a moderate degree of success. The formula would kick in with Assassin's Creed Odyssey, a competent game, and a fulfilling RPG experience.
Yet, something was missing in Odyssey, which alienated a large portion of the fanbase. It seems like Assassin's Creed Valhalla is an excellent blend of the old and new and delivers the best game in the series in a very long time.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla: A return to form for the franchise
From its opening moments, players are made aware that this will be a very different experience from Odyssey. As Jesper Kyd's brilliant score kicks in and players go through a brilliant opening sequence that features a brilliant one-shot cutscene, the game is already more cinematic than its predecessor.
This theme continues throughout the rest of the game, as Assassin's Creed Valhalla polishes the RPG elements and balances the accessible nature of the previous titles.
It also introduces many new mechanics to the franchise that add to the game in a much more meaningful way that players might expect.
Human After All
Assassin's Creed Odyssey essentially put players right in the middle of a Greek epic in the shoes of a demi-god. The gameplay did well to reflect that sort of power, with the ability to jump off literal mountains and land with no damage whatsoever.
In Assassin's Creed Valhalla, players control a massively powerful Viking, who is but human. The gamer will realistically take damage from falling off heights, and the combat also does well to reflect the more grounded approach.
However, it is the new mechanics of Assassin's Creed Valhalla that genuinely reflects the character's mortality and ups the challenge for players.
No regenerating health and the inclusion of the stamina bar
This is perhaps the closest to a Dark Souls game that Assassin's Creed should ever venture to, but it is a welcome change for fans. Health does not regenerate magically, like other games in the series, and players must seek out Rations to make sure they don't die an unceremonious death.
Eivor also has a realistic stamina bar that depletes with each Dodge, Attack, and Sprint. This adds further depth to an already impressive combat system that pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the brutality of the Vikings.
Out with the levels, in with the power
The level system from Assassin's Creed Odyssey and Origins has been replaced with a "Power" progression system that feels much more fulfilling than a level cap. No longer will players need to spend countless hours grinding in repetitive side missions, as they will gain XP from virtually every activity in-game.
From merely talking to NPCs and Allies, the player will gain XP and eventually get power with enough ability points. The side missions also present an excellent incentive for players to complete, as they now have fully-realized cutscenes that are not as repetitive as previous Assassin's Creed games.
The open-world is still massive, with a jaw-dropping level of attention-to-detail and scale that will rival Greece's enormous environment in Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Dark Ages England is undeniably pretty and houses plenty of great details that history buffs are sure to appreciate.
Think and fight like a Viking
It really cannot be stressed enough how great the open-world and combat seamlessly blend in Assassin's Creed Valhalla. The player must embark on what is essentially one long quest broken up into several self-contained story arcs.
But Eivor isn't a brute, but also a thinking person. The player must also make critical decisions that impact the story and game in a much more meaningful way than simple, arbitrary choices.
Moreover, gamers can also play the story as Eivor either as a female or male, and can switch between the two as frequently as they like, making for a unique play-through every time.
A perfect blend
Assassin's Creed Valhalla wouldn't have been half as great if not for the wonderfully-realized and written cast of characters. Virtually every character the player meets is an interesting one, with plenty of agency in the story and unique personalities.
All in all, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is the perfect balance of the old and new, as it has enough in the way of innovative RPG-style gameplay while also delivering on the story as well as the cinematic value of the game.