Since 2007, the team behind the Assassin’s Creed franchise has cobbled together a dozen games about the surreptitious, murderous ways of individuals tied to a historical faction of assassins. And Ubisoft’s new Viking-focused title, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, is already the biggest-selling entry on that long, sneaky list.
Of course, when you think of Vikings, slipping through shadows and stealthily leaping off building tops likely aren’t the first things that come to mind. So, let’s jump in ourselves, and see what’s happening this go around.
This newest Assassin’s game contains, once again, a two-part story. The present/future side is the tale of a young woman named Layla Hassan who must figure out how to save the world. Some newly discovered bones are her only clue to the current conundrum. She uses a DNA sample from the remains, and an incredible machine called an Animus, to relive the life of a Viking from the 9th century. All in the hope of finding something that might lead to a modern-day discovery.
Meanwhile, back in AD 873, gamers then play as Eivor (who can be male or female or an odd, sometimes alternating version of both), a fearsome brawler who was scarred early on by a warlord raid that claimed his parents and left him with a thirst for revenge. While following on with that bloody crusade, and being pushed this way and that by spiritual visions of Norse gods and terrifying monstrosities, Eivor eventually realizes that his fate lies in the direction of England.
The lion’s share of this adventure, then, involves invading and spreading Viking influence throughout the four major kingdoms of this now not-so-merry-old-land. Eivor and his crew sail the English Channel in their longship, or ride cross-country on horseback, then unleash their brutal talents on any settlement they see—pillaging and annihilating their way to dominance. Building settlements from scratch, forming alliances, and launching large-scale raids on gigantic fortresses are all part of the central narrative as well.
There are a wide range of activities in this huge open-world game. You’ll finds hundreds of conversations and quests to pursue, encounter romantic flirtations and build friendships, and deal with the political side of spreading your influence. Other quests offer everything from assassination jobs to the possibility of traveling to Asgard itself to battle alongside Thor.
But raiding and assaulting others in vicious combat is really the bloody backbone of Valhalla’s gameplay. Eivor can rip out organs, hack off heads and break bones (sometimes shown in close-up detail) with any combination of swords, flails, maces, axes and shields in his or her hands. And with unlocked skilltrees full of even more abilities, foes can be rushed, bashed and flung; axes can be thrown into waiting skulls by the score; and multiple targets can be marked for rapid-fire arrow shots in slowed-down time.
Valhalla invites gamers into a truly brutal and gore-spattered world, where they wade through the carnage they inflict with a primal Viking scream always at the ready on their virtual lips. But that’s not the only thing they’ll have there. There’s quite a bit of booze-guzzling and partying in this mix, too. Interactions with spiritual seidr seers generally involve gulping or inhaling some kind of mind-numbing substance. And a drinking game leaves characters stumbling through blurring, tilting scenes. There’s some pretty nasty language flowing from various mouths too, involving f- and s-words and crude sexual slang that includes the c-word.
To top it all off, those Viking mouths come into play with same-sex and opposite-sex romantic interludes. Partial nudity and lip-locking is the farthest anything goes onscreen, but the offscreen bits are later talked about and alluded to. And you can even enter a brothel with near-naked women and an odd group of Christian nudists who amble about in various forms of undress.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a truly massive game that immerses players in a Viking way of life while giving them a larger puzzle to slowly piece together. You can’t help but be impressed with all that it offers for its $60 price tag. But you can’t help but be impacted by the harsh and bloodthirsty side of this hi-def game as well. In a way, that’s the real price of entry.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.