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Let’s Talk About Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: What Could Have Been A Great Game

I rarely buy games when they first come out. 

Previously, it was because I didn’t have a gaming device powerful enough to run them. But even after buying a new gaming laptop last year, I’ve only gotten older titles, because: 

  • they’re much cheaper, and 
  • if you haven’t played them before, what does it matter if they’re ‘old’ or new? 

Assassin’s Creed: Origins was one of the first games I played on my new laptop, since Steam had a sale. After that, I was hooked. I bought Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as soon as I finished Origins, and I enjoyed it as much as the first. So when AC: Valhalla was released in November 2020, I was thrilled and bought it immediately; because unlike players who had waited for years for the new game, my AC journey felt continuous, so to speak. 

While I wouldn’t say I regret forking out RM200 for it, I can now understand, at least in part, why many players caution against buying games right off the shelves, especially if they’re from Ubisoft (apparently the company gets a lot of criticism from the gaming community due to lack of quality, bad business practices, etc. I can’t say for sure because I don’t play enough of their games to comment). But personally, comparing my experience playing this latest game versus Origins and Odyssey, Valhalla is definitely a ‘downgrade’, in terms of overall story and gameplay. And the BUGS. Oh, god, the bugs. More on this later. 

In previous installments, we played a righteous Medjay in Egypt, and a half-god mercenary with questionable morals, fighting for glory and riches in ancient Greece. This time around, we follow Eivor the Wolf-Kissed, a fierce Viking raider whose sole loyalty is to her clan and people (Like in Odyssey, you can choose between a male or female character. I chose to play a female). 

The story kicks off in the fjords of Norway, where a young Eivor watches as her entire family is slaughtered in a brutal attack by a rival clan. Saved by her friend Sigurd, whom she later calls brother, she is raised as a warrior of the Raven Clan, and exerts revenge on the leader of the rival clan who murdered her parents years ago. Returning triumphant, Eivor and Sigurd are shocked to learn that their father the jarl has yielded to King Harald, who intends to unite all the scattered clans of Norway under his banner. Refusing to live under another’s rule, the siblings renounce their father and board their longboats, seeking fame, glory and fortune on Anglo-Saxon shores, ie Britain. With no allies and very little influence in a new and unfamiliar land, Eivor must help her clan forge alliances and ensure a stable future. Along the way, however, she encounters a mysterious Order, whose influence seems to stretch all across Britania. And for some reason, they seem keenly interested in Sigurd… 

STORY AND CHARACTERS

When I played Odyssey for the first time, I didn’t like the protagonist, Kassandra. As a ruthless mercenary who only cared for money, she was so different from Origin’s Bayek of Siwa, who was a protector of the people and saviour to the oppressed. Eventually, though, she kind of grew on me. 

Image: Ubisoft

Valhalla’s Eivor is a different character altogether. She is rash, quick to anger and her solution for everything seems to be to rush headlong into a brawl. Fists first, questions later. But true to the Viking Code, she is also courageous, disciplined and places honour and loyalty above all else. Throughout the course of the game, she matures into a stronger leader, one who is more level-headed, takes advice, and can make difficult decisions in order to secure the future of her people.  So even though initially, like Kassandra, I did not like the character, she kind of grew on me too.

Most of the other characters in Valhalla are well-fleshed out. I really enjoyed the story arcs where players have to forge alliances, as you’ll get to meet some pretty interesting characters inspired by real life historical figures, such as Alfred the Great of Wessex (a king who led his people against Norse invaders) and Ragnar Lothbrok (a legendary Viking warrior who was called the scourge of England and France). Narratives are rich in Norse and Anglo-Saxon culture, and you’ll learn more about the dynamics between these two groups and how they struggled to live alongside each other during the Danish conquest of England; the political intrigue, the power struggles, the plots and the scandals. 

Of course, this being an AC Valhalla game, the Isu – the technologically advanced alien race that existed millennia before humans came to be – will also factor into parts of the story, but personally, I find the conquest of England arcs to be more interesting. 

As with previous instalments, players will also take a deep dive into mythology, and battle a mythical beast (in Odyssey it was Medusa/the Minotaur). There’s a segment where you get to play as Odin and explore the fictional realms of Asgard and Jotunheim.

**PS: I find Sigurd’s character infuriating, especially after a certain point in the story. Dude just seems like an asshole lol. 

GRAPHICS AND SETTING

Image: Ubisoft

No matter what you say about Ubisoft, one thing you can’t accuse them of is a lack of detail in the worlds that they create. Valhalla has plenty of breathtaking scenery, from the icy fjords of Norway with its sparkling peaks and colourful auroras, to the lush greenery and gentle woods of England, ripe to bursting with fertile farmland and rivers bubbling with fish. Asgard is absolutely stunning and includes everything you see and read about in mythology: the rainbow light bridge, the gigantic tree of life Ymir, the wondrous feast halls filled with mead and dancing. Granted, the setting doesn’t feel as culturally diverse compared to Origins and Odyssey (there’s a part of the story where you’ll have to travel to Vinland though), but it’s still immersive and a joy to look at. That being said, the map is huge and fast travel points are few and far between, which can make travelling from point to point cumbersome and boring, since the landscape doesn’t change much. 

GAMEPLAY

AC Valhalla largely follows the formula of its predecessors, with a few additions. Some of them are improvements; others feel somewhat clunky and awkward. I’ll start off with the ones I like. 

Raiding. Unlike other AC titles, which rely largely on stealth, Valhalla switches it up with raids. You travel around on a longboat for most of the game, since there are many rivers around England, and whenever you spot an enemy encampment or a monastery, you can blow a blast on your horn to have your crew raid the place and rob it of its treasures. This means dashing in to hack and slash your enemies, true blue Viking style. You can still go the stealth route if you want, but I personally find raiding much more fun. 

Social Blending. The game brings back the social blending aspect where you can blend into a crowd by hiding amongst people, pretending to do certain tasks like weaving or grinding, sitting on a bench, etc. It’s a blast from the past for those who have played older games like Assassin’s Creed 3. 

Mini Games. There are several mini games that you can play as Eivor, including drinking contests, Flyting (where you test your rhyming skills and gain Charisma points, which are required to access certain points on the map) and Orlog, a dice game. I find these mini games good for making more coin, and they’re a welcome distraction from the main story. 

Building your Settlement. When Eivor and co first arrive in England, you start off with just a couple of buildings, which you can upgrade to expand your village. You do this by gathering resources, which you get from raiding. Upgrading shops and buildings gives access to better equipment and items. 

Fishing and Hunting. Another nice distraction if you want to take a break from the story: you can basically fish in the river or hunt for animals and gather items in exchange for runes and equipment. 

Different kinds of enemies. There are many different enemy classes, each with their own attack style and specialties. If you’re playing for combat, then this will provide a good challenge.

Raiding a monastery for that sweet, sweet loot. Image: Ubisoft

Now for the ones I don’t like: 

Puzzles. Some of the puzzles are not intuitively designed. For example, sometimes you get obstacles which you’ll have to blow apart in order to get to a certain treasure. In most cases, there will be an explosive pot around that you can hurl at the obstacle, but at other times, you’ll have to shoot at something in order to clear it. The game doesn’t tell you which is which. There were times I ran around in circles for an hour trying to find a pot, only to look up a walkthrough and find out that I had to shoot something instead. 

I also hate the Anomaly puzzles with a passion. They’re puzzles that you can complete to find out more about the Isu, but boy oh boy. There’s a lot of repetitive jumping and climbing involved, plus puzzle combinations that no average person could have figured out on their own without looking at a walkthrough. 

Synin. Your raven is basically useless. It can’t attack enemies like how Kassandra’s eagle could do. I also felt like it was not as good as locating items, as compared to previous AC games. Some people actually prefer it this way, because they say it makes the game less “hand hold-y”.

BUGS 

I’ve dedicated a special section to this because the bugs in AC Valhalla are an absolute nightmare and makes the game almost unplayable. Bugs in a new game are normal, but Valhalla is on a whole new level. Makes one wonder why Ubisoft would even release it in the first place if they had this many issues … kind of solidifies the impression that they’re this money-grubbing company lol.

I don’t mind bugs if they’re funny, but not when they make the game unplayable.

For me, my problems started after they released this Christmas special event called Yuletide. It basically involves a party in your village, with drinking and archery contests, games and whatnot. What happened was that it broke my game: after participating in one of the drinking matches, my character would wake up drunk, even after reloading, and even when I wasn’t in my own settlement. The drunkenness would wear off after a bit, but the woozy, out-of-focus screen was annoying to look at, and the character wasn’t able to jump into action right off the bat. 

What really annoyed me, though, was when my fast travel broke. I could not fast travel AT ALL. Every time I did, my character would remain stuck in place, and I’d have to reload. Apparently this is a known issue and happens frequently to other players, because the game registers that you’re still in a raid or battle, even if you’re not. Now, if you know AC games, you’ll know that most of the time, the map is massive. I ended up travelling to each region on horseback. Sometimes a waypoint would be 6,000 metres away from my settlement, and I’d spend a full 15 minutes just riding my way across the landscape. This isn’t Death Stranding FFS.

Speaking of waypoints, some waypoints would not show up where they were supposed to be, cutscenes wouldn’t trigger, and NPCs that were supposed to be there to further the story did not appear. I’ve also had instances where my raiders turned into their base models (grey, faceless ones that looked like nuns), floated off the boat at the raid command, and Eivor would get stuck and die out of nowhere. Pretty creepy. 

I think they recently fixed the fast travel issue with a patch, and I was able to fast travel again and complete the main story. I got stuck in the Asgard arc, though, as it refused to let me battle with the mythical monster – the screen gets stuck and there’s nothing I can do except reload. After reloading for the umpteenth time, I gave up and uninstalled the game. So no 100% completion for me this time, which as a completionist, is frustrating. 

So in conclusion, bugs galore. If you still haven’t purchased the game, I suggest waiting for a few more months so that they can iron out all the kinks. Else, be prepared to want to smash your computer lol. It’s disappointing, as it could have been a great game otherwise. Now, it’s just …. Good (?). Considering the fact that there is so much content and that I only paid RM200 for it, I’d still say it was worth the purchase. 

It’s obvious Ubisoft has tried to inject a breath of fresh air into the game by adding certain mechanics, but it still feels very safe and formulaic somehow. Now that I’ve played three in a row with a similar format, I don’t think I would enjoy it as much if they came out with another AC title that plays the same way. If the franchise is to continue thriving, perhaps it’s time for Ubisoft to relook at what the series will be like moving forward.

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I Finally Played Assassin’s Creed – Here Are My Thoughts

The Assassin’s Creed series is one of the most popular games in the world, with 11 installments under its belt and over 140 million copies sold. While I have heard many good things about the game, I never had the chance to play it until recently. Steam was having a sale on all AC titles, some of which were going at half price – and after looking up reviews, I settled on AC: Origins.

Only regret? I should have started playing sooner.

AC Origins is set in the last days of the Ptolemaic dynasty in ancient Egypt, and follows Bayek of Siwa, a Medjay whose duty is to protect the people – sort of like a modern day sheriff of sorts. A dangerous job begets dangerous enemies, and Bayek and his son Khemu are captured by mysterious masked figures from The Order of the Ancients. They demand Bayek open the Siwa Vault, but Bayek was actually oblivious to the vault’s existence, a fact the Order of the Ancients refused to believe. In the ensuing scuffle, Khemu is accidentally murdered by his own father. 

The story picks up one year later, with Bayek returning to Siwa after successfully killing The Heron, one of the Order. Bayek and his wife Aya are hell-bent on revenge, and they have a list of targets from which they intend to eliminate. However, the more Bayek investigates, the more he realizes that toppling the order isn’t simply about assassinating a few men, as the organisation is not only firmly entrenched in society and politics, but also wields enormous influence. They also discover that the Order is actually after powerful relics – which is why they wanted access to Siwa Vault – and use these powers to subjugate the population and bring peace and order to the world. 

To counter this, Bayek and Aya found The Hidden Ones, the precursor to the modern Assassins. Like the modern version, the Hidden Ones are meant to represent peace through freedom, whereas the Order of Ancients – a forerunner to the modern Templars in other AC games, represent peace through order. These two secret societies will battle each other through the ages: one determined to seek out relics for power, the other to prevent the subjugation of mankind. 

The Story and Characters 

If you’re a fan of historical fiction (like Dan Brown), you’ll love how the story weaves Bayek and the Hidden Ones into real-life events in history. There’s even a mission where you help sneak Cleopatra into Ptolemy’s palace, so that she can meet Julius Caesar. The main story isn’t all that long, but there are plenty of side missions to keep you occupied. Some have interesting plots and add to the overall story; others are mundane and involve things like fetching items. As much as I like the game, I found the side missions tedious and repetitive after awhile, but kept going because I’m *hangs head in shame* a completionist and it bugs me when there’s an incomplete mark on the map lol. 

Bayek as a character is quite likeable, albeit a little naive (he often takes what people say at face value, then (insert Pikachu face meme here) is shocked when they betray him. Bayek’s guilt at Khemu’s murder ,his helplessness at being unable to protect his son and family, is also well written and portrayed through small side missions, like the one where you can complete puzzles and be rewarded with some dialogue about how Bayek and Khemu used to go star gazing.

I also think that the theme of revenge is conveyed really well. Bayek feels that by killing the people responsible for his son’s death, as well as those who have wronged Egypt and oppressed its people, he will be able to feel at peace. We see that this is not the case. 

Whenever Bayek makes a kill, the player is transported to a dark space where Bayek has a conversation with his victim and passes judgement for their sins, before they are sent to the afterlife. But as the player observes, Bayek is not always happy, even after his vengeance is complete, because deep down he knows that like Hydra in Greek mythology, cut off one head and another appears. There will always be oppressors, just as how there will always be the oppressed. It isn’t until he realises this and finds a greater calling – to protect the people through the Hidden Ones and leave a legacy that lasts beyond his own life – that he truly finds purpose. 

Graphics and Setting 

Image via Ubisoft

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egyptian history (one of my dreams as a kid was to go see the Pyramids of Giza), and AC Origins delivers with breathtaking visuals. It’s one of the prettiest games that I’ve played, aside from Detroit Become Human. 

The immersion is wonderful; at times I felt like I was actually exploring ancient Egypt in Bayek’s shoes, checking out tiny details on the buildings and statues,soaking in the culture and colourful tales of their gods and myths. The costumes are amazingly detailed and reflect the different stations of its characters, from the everyday people and the priestesses, to soldiers, merchants and nobility. You also get a nice mix of Egyptian, Greek and Roman culture, as during the Ptolemaic period these three were intertwined (Rome invaded Egypt in 30BC, ending Cleopatra’s rule and the ancient Egyptian dynasty). As Bayek, you visit important cities such as Alexandria, Krokodiliopolis, Thebes and Memphis, each with their own unique architecture.

Gameplay 

I have to admit – I was rather miffed at the lack of a ‘jump’ command when I first started playing, because it seemed like such a basic move that players won’t be able to do at will. Instead, you vault over obstacles when Bayek’s avatar is close – but you kind of get used to it as the game progresses. As the AC series is all about stealth, you’re not supposed to be running through hordes of enemies hacking and slashing, relying instead on hiding yourself in bushes, around pillars and timing your attacks so that enemies won’t raise the alarm. Overall, the gameplay feels smooth, even though sometimes I would accidentally release myself from a ledge and watch as Bayek falls to his doom wtf haha. That being said, the game allows you to move and climb virtually anywhere. The use of your hawk Senu to hone in on hidden treasure and enemies is a nice touch, and is apparently a hallmark of the AC games (can’t compare because I’ve never played the other ones). 

I feel that it is a good thing that I started with AC: Origins. Not only does it start in the ‘correct’ chronological order ie how the Assassins came to be, thus giving the player plenty of backstory, it’s also touted as one of the best AC games of all time. Because I had so much fun, I purchased AC: Odyssey, which is the latest one in the franchise and will be checking it out as soon as I have more time – and I’m planning to get some of the older games too.The thing about that, though, is that the new games tend to be improvements over old ones, so you just can’t get into them once you’ve played the new (case in point: I played Witcher 3 first, and Witcher 2 just sucked in comparison. Same case with Borderlands 2). 

Have you played any of the Assassin’s Creed games? Which one is your favourite?