Thursday, March 4, 2021

How Assassin's Creed: Valhalla fails to live up to the legacy of Origins or Odyssey

 


Assassin’s creed Valhalla is a tremendous commercial success. Outselling it's predecessor, Odyssey, in the first 4 months by over 50% according to industry tracking site Superdata. It's fair to say that when it's run is finally done AC:V could end up being the most successful Assassin's Creeds of all time.

 

I’ve spent over 100 hours storming the shores of England as Eivor the VIking, and I’ve loved a lot of my time looting and pillaging but I still don’t feel like I’ve “beat” the game much less finished all the content it has available and this has largely left me feeling unfulfilled.

 

I've pacified England

 

Laid waste to the Order

 

Grown my settlement to rank 6

 

Found the locations of all the hidden ones

 

I've even walked on Asgard




 

 

And while parts of Valhalla are an excellent game. All of these disparate story lines and game systems cobbled together make for an overall broken narrative that lacks any true cohesion and because of this disjointedness  wind up detracting from the whole.

 

I was able to tie up all of the territorial England Arc's before I wiped out the order and that effectively culminated at the strategy table with….. Well, a message that informed me that there is a lot more to see and do. Go check it out! At this point Sigurd was back at my side even if he was a shell of his former self. And that betrayal they referenced at the beginning of the game? I never really felt it. I had learned a bit about the animus, and I did have a confrontation with Odin's but I didn't realize his arc was over but apparently it was. From that point I assumed that I just had to kill the order and then I'd end up with a satisfactory ending. 

 

What was once a central focus of the series, the order, feels shoehorned in at best. I had only killed about half the order members before I knew who their leader was. Unfortunately I couldn't do anything about it, and while that's not really anything new for the series it felt rather pronounced in this case. This forced me to kill the remaining members and hunt down the last zealots. Zealots were an inferior version of Phylakes from Origins and Mercenaries from Odyssey. Those enemies inspired fear. They always showed up at inopportunity moments when I was clearing out forts. They'd force me to run or reassess my assault. They were a severe thorn in my side and the challenge they provided was welcome. The Zealots were tame in comparison. I never ran into one in the world on accident. The majority of them I hunted down at the end and killed once I had completed the story. They were uninteresting, they were never scary, they provided no tension, and were entirely ineffective at making themselves anything other than a speedbump in my gameplay at the end. They were utterly superfluous Then when I was able to confront them the resolution was odd to say the least to and I was left feeling, is that it? Is the game over? I didn't get a credit roll, there was no climactic event. I was climbing to a peak but once I got there it was like? Is this over?

 

I couldn't believe it.

 

I was in shock.

 

So I went back to my camp and worked on finishing all the rest of the quests.

 

I had a quest from the seer that at first I just assumed was a side quest. But now I was convinced that maybe I had to complete it as well.

 

I also had the hidden one's quest line open. Maybe that needed completing too.

 

When I collected the materials for the seer and began the Asgard storyline it felt to me at this point like DLC when in fact it was an excellent allegory for what was going on in Eivor's life that would have enriched my experience had I played it in parallel with Eivor pacifying England. However, the game never really nudged me to go back and participate in these two questlines at the same time. Had it been more intertwined it would have been much more impactful. Once I completed the troubles in Asgard I felt that this story arc had reached a meaningful conclusion, however, this wasn't the main focus of the game. Upon entering Asgard for the first time I finally became male Eivor. Which, I thought it was pretty weird. I had spent the first 90 hours of the game so far as female Eivor. I did choose to let the game auto select my gender for me the parts it thought was most appropriate. Apparently playing the game as a mortal I should be a lady, but when I'm Odin I should be a dude.

 

But I can't stress enough just how good the Jotunheim region is. With the magic and shifting environments this is the most engaging and fantastical content in the game. Mythological fantasy buffs are gonna love it, and I almost missed it.

 

Finally I made my way to uncover the remaining 3 hidden ones locations. There was a lot of lore in this missions as you uncovered the missives and it was nice to hear Bayek's voice again considering he is my all time favorite Assassin's Creed character. But once again, when I completed this quest, it was just done.

 

Sigurd's Arc, Asgard, Order Arc, Conquer of England Arc. There were a lot of Arc's but none of them really felt like they received a proper ending. Like you beat this game. Now have fun running around England and reaping your rewards and discovering the secrets you have yet to uncover.

 

I also really don’t like the fact they nerfed the bird. He used to be majestic and grand. A flying eagle that was a warrior and could help attack your prey. Now it's just a flying periscope. They did you wrong crow.

 

It's not all doom and gloom though. The moment to moment game play is tremendously fun. Combat is as visceral as ever. Eivor has enough fatalities and brutalities to make a Mortal Kombat fighter blush.

 

The new point of interest location system on the map worked out really well for me. You could always look out into the horizon and see that there was plenty to do.

Valhalla is also a great Tomb Raider hunting down Britain artifacts. You'll know them on the map because their markers look like Tomb Stones but the puzzles these contain are fun and engaging and different then most of the puzzles you'll find in villages or outposts.

 

The world that was built for AC: Valhalla was also beautiful with little secrets sprinkled everywhere to find. On top of one hill I ran into a town that had fallen prey to a cult and there were burning man symbols everywhere littered with corpses and bad juju symbols.

 

There is a huge amount of content in this game and that's wonderful. You without a doubt get your money's worth. This isn't a case of the developer being lazy, This is not an inconsequential amount of content Ubisoft has delivered. This is thousands of people hours of work we are talking about. They did not take the easy way out. They've just over encumbered themselves by trying to consistently outdo themselves.

 

I'd like for the next game in the franchise to take a step back and put the order back as a primary focus of the story. I think it's great Ubisoft has put less and less emphasis on the modern day storyline tied to the animus because frankly at this point I don't think 99% of the people even care. I know I don't. While assassin’s creed origins was not the first game in the series it was in effect a soft reboot for the franchise and a fresh place for new players to jump in as the game switched focus from adventure to full fledged open world RPG. Over the next two games the developers began to weave a story of benevolent assassins pushing back against the order. But they still pulled in context from the current time via the animus. This most recent addition the animus could’ve just been left out. It's another arc that just abruptly ends. I keep expecting to see my modern day player character but she hasn't made an appearance in a long time.

 

Keep the combat, keep the order, tighten up the story, and you'll have a better game.

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