Assassin’s Creed Valhalla doesn’t waste any time reaffirming its stance regarding the series’ stealth-based origins. Eivor refuses to wear her hidden knife on her wrist and instead displays it openly on her forearm. She is hesitant about hiding a weapon or losing a finger to carry a dumb knife. She’s correct. Assassin’s Creed is too fond of tradition, so Valhalla embraces all that the series has yet delight in, including ripping off limbs with large axes. You don’t have to hide when you can be a fiery tornado made of steel and blood. Eivor is a blazing viking gore blender and I won’t shush. This is Assassin’s Creed Valhalla at its best. Valhalla does not abandon stealth but doesn’t treat it as its favorite child. Ubisoft clearly realized that whistling out of the bushes to form an undercover stab-guy assembly-line couldn’t indefinitely transport a series 80-hour-long games. They opened the doors to freeform murder.
The Viking fire tornadoes are a major departure from the 2006 E3 demo for Assassin’s Creed. This showed Altair carefully climbing a building to view his target, and then tip-toeing through busy market streets to stab his target. Killing people in broad daylight was an offense in previous Assassin’s Creed games, especially Odyssey. It was worse to stay put. If anyone sees your crimes in Odyssey, they run away, alerting the authorities and siccing all nearby guards. As pandemonium increases, a GTA-like wanted meters increases. This means that mercenaries are sent in greater numbers. For roughhousing, you can be punished by either paying the bounty or killing all the other mercs to reset your wanted level. In Valhalla, such a system is not possible. Zealots can be used as a substitute for mercenaries, but there aren’t witnesses and there is no wanted level. If you do an early quest in a certain manner, Zealots will
Hunt you. You can play however you like. I am a Valhalla citizen, and regardless of whether I clean out a fortress in a bloody, grueling nightmare or get it off my hidden blade, I can be assured that I did a great job. Although cleaning out an enemy base undetected is a rewarding task in itself, Vahalla’s incredibly violent combat makes it clear that you should never clean out another enemy base undetected.
Bustin’ (heads) makes me feel good
An accidental swipe of an axe can sever heads and limbs. The melee arenas are littered with giblets, tiny physics objects that bounce around like gore confetti. Regular guests include fire and poison gas, which are ushered in by the sound of explosions, ceramics breaking, and men screaming in pain. The battlefields of Valhalla are an audiovisual treat that is far more satisfying than dragging another guard into a bale hay. You can use your own weapon against an enemy to stun them and kick off a special kill animation. Eivor supports soldiers by stabbing them with her spear. She then swipes their knees with their greataxes and hammers their heads. All this is accompanied by a variety of foley work and canted camera angles. All you need to think about in stealth is the enemy’s location and whether you are able to do enough damage for them to take out more difficult enemies with one shot. Combat is a different story. I don’t know what I can expect.
Boar masters send their pigs pingponging around the arena. This forces me to either watch my back or prioritize getting them out first. Berserkers are relentless axe-throwers who can close the distance in seconds and rarely give you a chance to stop them. A MacBeth is an enemy type that lumbers around and downs superpowered energy potions when they are desperate. You’ll encounter some very surprising enemies. You can have a lot of these cronies in one arena, which is a unique challenge for Assassin’s Creed. The massive skill tree is something we have yet to consider. The basic damage stats and resistances of most nodules in this Path-of-Exile-esque webjuice are the same, but the perks can dramatically alter your playstyle. I can now use two-handed weapons and set fire to enemies. A bonus: Guards that I kill with poison emit a large amount of poison gas. Pair me with an axe which procs poison and one that procs fire, and you can imagine all the mess I can make.
Special bonuses are also available in armor sets, which means there is plenty of scope for unique builds. I can be a wolf-summoning master bow master with a poisonous falil, a master at distraction that drops smoke bombs and darts into unblockable moves of opponents for a Sekiro style counter–or my dumb and great tornado guy. Most builds expect to be spotted and go all-in on deeper, wider, more shinier combat. Stealth is still an option, but it can be used as a back-pocket move to initiate or reset combat. It is boring to pick off soldiers one at a time, compared with the alternative. To emphasize the shift, the Assassin’s Guild has been removed from Valhalla. They are now kept in a hut within the settlement, and can be accessed via an optional series sidequests. The guild’s purpose is to preserve the name and bring back the cool cult system of Odyssey. I have killed all special targets in broad daylight using the overhead swing of my two large axes, despite the shadows of Assassin’s Creed. It’s good to finally have someone to listen.