If you’re only familiar with the world of “Assassin’s Creed” as a vaguely remembered trailer for a movie starring Michael Fassbender, you should know that this entire franchise could be called massive. It’s one of the biggest of the century—“Valhalla” is the 22nd entry in the series that started with “Assassin’s Creed” in 2007 if one includes all mobile, handheld, and spin-off games. A blend of stealth and melee combat made these games into juggernauts, and Ubisoft started producing them at an annual rate, even releasing companion games like “Assassin’s Creed Chronicles”. There are also mobile games and a planned TV series. Comics, toys, board games—this is an industry more than a mere franchise.
In terms of quality, I have played at least some of every main release and it’s been a rollercoaster. For every truly accomplished game like “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” and the excellent “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” from just two years ago, there’s a title that feels clunky (like “Assassin’s Creed Unity”). These games are notorious for glitches (and “Valhalla” is particularly thick with those in its early days) and inconsistent gameplay, but they can also be transcendent in terms of their scope and ambition. What’s fascinating about “Valhalla” is how often it reflects both sides of this series. It’s a visually gorgeous game—especially on the PS5, where the load times are incredibly short—but it sometimes feels cluttered with minor side missions and objectives. My advice would be to stick to the story—look at the gorgeous world around you but let the minor time-killers spread across it remain incomplete.
“Assassin’s Creed” games have taken to building their stories and gameplay from a culture. For example, 2017’s “Assassin’s Creed Origins” unfolded in ancient Egypt; “Odyssey” transported gamers to Greek history and mythology. This installment is the “Viking Game,” a perfect fit for the action style of this franchise (although fans should know that the “assassin” aspect of the game hasn’t been completely discarded in favor of axes to the face). And the developers here clearly considered the larger-than-life aspects of Viking Mythology when conceiving the game. You can’t make a “small” Viking game. And so the mountains here are massive, snow-covered creations; the oceans go on for miles; the landscape is daunting; the combat is brutal and bloody. It is a game about territory and legacy, told on a broad canvas that reflects the culture of its story.