Assassin's Creed Valhalla: every improvement we want to see when it comes to Xbox Series X

Heidi Nicholas - May 10th 2020

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is one of my all-time favourite games - for its in-depth exploration of Ancient Greek mythology and culture, for its incredibly beautiful game world, and for the gameplay itself. I’ve lost hundreds of hours to it, and I’ll probably be shackled to it for a long time yet. I was preparing myself for years of defending Odyssey as the best AC game, yet the first look at Assassin’s Creed Valhalla seems to have me shamelessly switching loyalties. It looks as though it could blow Odyssey out of the water for me. Odyssey was itself building on some of the newer RPG elements added to Assassin’s Creed Origins, and although it implemented these very well, it seems Ubisoft expects Valhalla to build upon those elements even further from what Odyssey was trying to achieve. As much as I love Odyssey, there are several areas which definitely could do with improvement, and it’s these I hope Ubisoft has focused its efforts on when Valhalla is released later this year.

So, in case you couldn’t already tell, I love Odyssey. I love Greek mythology, and I love open-world games. The game’s map ties these together and presents you with an almost endless level of exploration. This should be a good thing, right? Well, yes, sometimes. But also, definitely not. It really does feel endless — you could invest hours into exploring just one area of that huge map and still have forts, bandit camps, and question marks left over. Not to mention the wolves and bears you’ll encounter along the way — and the ridiculously overpowered boars which team up and ambush you with more gusto and skill than the highest-level mercenary.

Yet this endless opportunity for exploration doesn’t equate to an endless enthusiasm for it. The map is just as beautiful from Kephallonia to Pephka, but it can feel empty. Those bandit camps and outposts start to blur together despite drastically different backgrounds, and the similarity in layout, enemy types and combat styles can start to feel a little too repetitive. An endless open world sounds appealing, but without something of substance to make each part of it meaningful, that open world starts to suffer under its own weight.

It sounds as though this is going to be addressed in Valhalla with the introduction of the settlement feature. The main character, Eivor, travels from Norway to invade England, and it seems Ubisoft is keen to represent this settler side of the Viking character. Players will therefore be able to grow their own settlement, collecting members and adding and improving buildings such as a barracks, blacksmith, and tattoo parlour. The settlement itself will feature as a sort of hub area for the player to return to during quests, and a place to see the consequences of your decisions play out. Speaking to Eurogamer, lead producer Julien Laferrière said, “It’s your own Viking village you’ll see prosper and grow... It’s at the centre of our quests and the centre of the decisions you make.” Ubisoft seems well aware of the drawbacks of Odyssey’s huge map, and Laferrière says of Valhalla: “Instead of exploring one territory, then moving on to another and having no real opportunity or reason to return, the settlement changes the structure. So you’ll go on an adventure and then be encouraged to come back to your settlement.”

That emptiness was a real drawback of Odyssey, with Kassandra (or Alexios) feeling like a transitory character zooming from one place to the other without any real need to linger or return. The Assassin’s Creed games always feature great attention to historical realism, but even Odyssey’s beautiful temples and fortresses lost some of their allure and began to feel a little superficial, especially after encountering similar structures in every corner of the map. Valhalla’s usable settlement, meanwhile, gives players another reason to return to a particular part of the map, especially with the ability to upgrade buildings. This upgrade ability could also help those buildings to seem more fully realised, and less like a superficial inclusion. It’d be interesting to see this settlement feature as a measure of your progression through the game. Far Cry Primal did this pretty well: your prehistoric settlement gained more members and better fortifications, resulting in noticeable differences from when you first started out with one measly campfire. The settlement in Valhalla could likewise add to the story by showing the player’s changing position from invader to settler, mirroring your progression from first arrival to a thriving town.

Odyssey’s huge map also worked against the game with regards to Orichalcum, the in-game currency for the store. You didn’t need to use it to play the game, but if you wanted any of the better cosmetics (still holding out for the Pegasus skin), and weren’t using a guide, you’d need to spend hours combing the map just for the hope of finding two or three pieces of it. Completing contracts would get you about 40 Orichalcum a week, but considering store items can cost up to 100, it’s a bit of a grind. The Collector’s Edition of Valhalla seems to give the first look at the game’s purchasable cosmetics — the Beserker Gear pack — and what could be its in-game currency: runes. If Ubisoft is committed to more meaningful exploration and a more comprehensive map, it’s possible to hope any in-game currency will be more liberally scattered throughout the world, and less of a grind to find.

Another thing I’d like to see is more of an exploration into Norse mythology. The reveals we’ve seen so far of Valhalla seem to focus on the historical aspect of the Viking invasion,but we also saw a glimpse of Odin. Thierry Noël — historian and inspirational content advisor of the Editorial Research Unit on Valhalla — said: “The gods and myths played a very important role in the daily life of Norse people, through ceremonies, rituals, beliefs and interpretations of the world around them… Viking society, ritual and mythology is a fundamental part of the world of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.” Odyssey took a deep dive into Greek mythology, but aside from specific quests related to mythological events or figures, this tended to show itself more in background conversation and activities than in the character’s daily routine. Since Valhalla revolves around a settlement, and since Ubisoft seems keen to build on everything achieved in Odyssey, I'm hoping we could plenty of Norse mythology included. This could, perhaps, take the form of activities within the settlement, similar to camp activities in Red Dead Redemption 2. We know Valhalla features activities such as fishing, dice, hunting and drinking games; there could also be activities related to daily rituals or ceremonies.

The mention of “strategic alliances” in Valhalla, and “expanding your influence through diplomacy”, is also interesting. One major selling point of Odyssey was the ongoing war between Athens and Sparta, and the player’s ability to influence it by participating in large-scale battles, allowing the victor to keep or take control of an area. Yet these battles also begin to feel superficial, with no real consequence other than a change in the colour of the map’s borders. Political leaders for each area crop up as quickly as new mercenaries, and since there’s no way other than combat to influence the geopolitical landscape, it begins to feel like there’s not much point to it. This is another area which I’d like to see improved in Valhalla: England at the time of Viking invasions was divided into numerous Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and it sounds as though the dialogue choices in Valhalla will allow players more gameplay variety, with the option for diplomatic gameplay as well as combat.

The majority of the game takes place in England, but we know that Eivor starts out in Norway. “[Players] have to understand where these people are coming from," Laferrière said. "You'll feel the harshness of the lands, the political pressure there at the time. You'll feel all that and hopefully you'll understand why you have to move to England." Aside from Norway and Britain, there’ll also be "a few surprise areas".

I’d like to see the game’s map be more connected to the story, and it sounds as though Ubisoft is determined to make that happen. Odyssey’s huge world especially worked against itself with the more repetitive side quests, when fast travel points are miles away from your destination and it feels as though you’re spending 90% of your game time running from point A to point B. If the diplomacy options in Valhalla go so far as to help you change the balance of power in England, then it’s possible this could be reflected in exploration of the map, and in the side quests themselves, helping them to avoid that sense of repetition and superficiality found in Odyssey.

If it seems as though there are a number of areas in which Valhalla could build upon Odyssey, the latter only fell short in those areas because its huge ambition seemed to outstretch what it actually offered. If Valhalla manages to combine an extensive map with more in-depth gameplay and an interconnected story, it could very well cement the game as a staple in the action-RPG genre.

Track My Progress in Assassin's Creed Valhalla