Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Six Months Later – Is It Worth It?
Assassin’s Creed has been going through an identity crisis lately. The Ubisoft franchise started out as a spiritual sequel to Prince of Persia with social stealth and parkour mechanics, and its latest entry Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is an out-and-out RPG Viking game. The franchise has seen many changes throughout its life, and the latest installment is perhaps the best combination of them all. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla launched six months back in November, but Ubisoft has kept updating it similar to a live-service game. After six months of polish and a steady stream of new content drops, with a promise of future support well into its second year, should you pick up Assassin’s Creed Valhalla now?
Valhalla’s development began its life as an expansive sequel to Assassin’s Creed Origins, with much of the same team returning the game to its roots after Assassin’s Creed Odyssey went in a different direction. The game expands upon its Witcher 3-inspired RPG mechanics while also managing to connect back into the modern day story that was left hanging in Assassin’s Creed 3. Remember Desmond Miles, the once modern day protagonist of the series? While he was killed in the aftermath of ACIII, narrative director Darby McDevitt managed to link current protagonist Layla Hassan’s story back to original modern day protagonists. Similarly, there are other major revelations in Valhalla that smartly retcon Odyssey’s many stupid deviations to be more in-line with the original trilogy’s story arc and tone. For starters, the Assassins are back, even if you don’t play as one! The game also manages to weave itself into the framework of the very first game in the franchise.
However, Valhalla has also seen the biggest tonal shift after its launch in the franchise, with the game’s director and McDevitt leaving the company soon after its launch. This is important, as the influence of them leaving can be seen directly in the game’s new updates and expansions.
The Tale of Assassin’s Creed’s Live-Service Inspired Updates
Valhalla’s launch was celebrated by Ubisoft whole-heartedly, with it smashing the franchise’s previous records into oblivion. Of course, the franchise’s passionate community didn’t welcome the game’s focus on Vikings over, well, Assassins and Templars. But hey, I’ll take anything over the lore-breaking hoops in Odyssey. The base game’s story told a well written, if a tad bit too long, tale of Eivor – a Vikingr arriving with her clan in England. The game’s narrative parallels to the Norse mythology was smart, and made clever use of the franchise’s signature ‘pieces of Eden’ lore to bind together the story of Odin and Eivor. The modern day story also, as mentioned above, took a nostalgic trip to the past by bringing back Shawn, Rebecca and some other elements we wouldn’t like to spoil here. Of course, the story there has far from reached its conclusion, and we should be seeing it continue in the game’s upcoming expansions.
What about gameplay then? Assassin’s Creed Valhalla mixes Odyssey’s free-reign RPG mechanics with Origins’ focus on a specific narrative with well defined characters. It doesn’t always meet its ambitions, but it gets bonus points for trying. Ubisoft Montreal finally broke away from the franchise’s tradition of mundane side-missions with interesting ‘world events’. These smaller, self-contained stories almost always have a unique hook to them, and have contributed to some of my favorite moments in the game.
The combat also borrows a lot from its immediate predecessors with its Skyrim-like ability tree that has been constantly updated with new additions post-launch. Ubisoft finally listened to the community by adding in support for one-handed longswords, a mere 4 months after launch. Similarly, the highly requested inventory transmog update arrived months after launch, and even then it requires a good amount of in-game grind to be a meaningful mechanic.
One thing that hasn’t improved though, is social stealth. Granted, it is a game about Vikings after all, but the title still has the word ‘Assassin’ in it, doesn’t it? At the very least stealth is an option here, and is also encouraged throughout the base game’s story in certain quests. Aside from that, I can’t say that stealth has improved at all since the game’s launch, and it didn’t work reliably before any way. You don’t need to look further than the franchise’s subreddit, which might consist of a minor subsection of players but they’re the ones who’ll spot the smallest of changes between each entry in the series.
What about the constant string of game updates? Assassin’s Creed Valhalla holds the record for perhaps the most amount of varied gameplay mechanics in the franchise. That doesn’t mean all of them are innovative. For every fun drinking mini-game there’s 3 different types of fort raids. Even the game’s first major expansion, Wrath of the Druids, didn’t stray far from the base game in that department. Sure we got a new map, which looked visually identical to the barren England for the most part, but there just wasn’t any new gameplay meat to sink your teeth into. For the most part, Valhalla’s major content updates are iterative, which means that all of them build on top of and expand existing mechanics. Every major gameplay mode from the base game, including the likes of raiding, flyting has received expansive updates. However, if a player wasn’t a fan of them to begin with, there’s little chance of them re-engaging with those mechanics.
Recently, Ubisoft has also been hosting in-game festivals and events, often time-limited, similar to what we see in live-service games. Of course, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a single-player game through and through, but it’s interesting to see the effects of the developer’s recent comments regarding its shift in game development structure. Perhaps we’ll see a free-to-play spinoff of Assassin’s Creed soon, hopefully one inspired by the underrated multiplayer mechanics from the Ezio trilogy.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Game Performance – Has It Improved At All?
In recent years, Ubisoft’s big games have gotten a bad reputation for being poorly optimized. Part of that can be attributed to the hardware they were designed to run on – the PS4 and Xbox One. The developer’s games, particularly everything since Assassin’s Creed Unity, have always been hard on the CPU that was poor to begin with on the last-gen consoles. We all remember the fiasco surrounding Assassin’s Creed Unity at its launch. Unfortunately, while the games hit their 30fps targets on consoles, their PC counterparts didn’t scale as well as many gamers hoped for.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is no exception, pushing even the latest and greatest graphics cards to their knees, and not in a Crysis style way. At launch, I played Valhalla on a relatively high-end gaming PC, armed with the then-newly launched AMD Ryzen 7 5800X CPU and Radeon RX 6800 XT graphics card. These are some top of the line PC components for consumers, but try telling that to the game. At least it holds well to its 60fps target on the new consoles, which a first for the franchise.
With Valhalla, as a general rule of thumb, you need to target a resolution one step lower than what your graphics card was meant for. When it came to testing my Ryzen 3700X and RTX 2060 Super powered system, one that can usually play games at 1440p with no issues, I had to step it down to 1080p. Thankfully, the game offers multiple resolution scaling options and they work decently. Here are some benchmarks of the game at the three primary resolutions (1080p, 1440p and 4K) on the “Very High” preset:
For what its worth, the game does run better than it did when it launched thanks to driver optimizations and Ubisoft’s updates. In our testing, the game scores approximately 25-30% higher frame rates compared to when it launched six months earlier. It’s still a heavy game to run, with lowering settings on budget gaming rigs being requirement to enjoy a smoother frame rate.
Thankfully though, the game continues to see improvements well after launch. Ubisoft has cultivated a great community around the game, listening to feedback and acting upon it with monthly updates. These updates have not only included bug fixes, but also additional in-game options and quests.
Should You Play Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Now?
Ultimately, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is made specifically for the type of gamer who appreciates both the old and new styles of gameplay in the franchise. The game will give you your money’s worth with its sheer quantity of activities and bloated length, provided the gameplay loop feels rewarding enough to the player. For others, I suspect most will have already left the game halfway through.
The amount of support Ubisoft is putting behind Valhalla may just be enough to pull the more casual gamers back in. If you’re already a fan, then the promise of seasonal content and extra expansions should be enough to satisfy that Viking hunger. For me, I’ll still be playing Valhalla, waiting for the day when Ubisoft releases an instalment which actually brings the focus back to the assassins, templars and the ones who came before (without throwing away the existing lore).
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is out now for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. The game’s first expansion, Wrath of the Druids, is out now and a second expansion, The Siege of Paris, is releasing later this year. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will also receive at least one other expansion sometime in early 2022.
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