Thursday, March 30, 2023

5 ways ‘Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’ fails for greatness

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Tempted by the promise of an epic Viking saga for the ages, a wave of positive reviews and a need for something new to play on my PlayStation 5 (sorry) I bought Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. It’s a huge Open world action RPG that casts you as Eivor of the Raven clan, on a mission to conquer England during the Dark Ages.

There is a lot to like. The snow-capped mountains and sparse settlements of Norway provide an ideal educational environment. The moment you load up the longship to settle into beautifully crafted and atmospheric Anglo-Saxon England, you feel like a true Viking raider. The forests of England are teeming with wildlife and the towns are dotted with Roman ruins. You must attack the monasteries to build your colony and form alliances to spread your influence.

Valhalla has several exciting and well-told missions. I especially love the time I spent with the sons of Ragnar and King Oswald as he claimed East Anglia. The sound design of the game also deserves praise, with an eye-catching theme and musical cues that draw you into the story and prevent the action.

But what should be a glorious celebration of Viking history and culture is often mired in bland, repetitive gameplay. The game is also carrying too much baggage from Ubisoft’s long series –Assassin’s Creed.

Like most open-world games today, Valhalla tries to do too much, and in the process stretches too thin.

It’s Buggy

The idea that we should accept bugs in open world games is tenable when the game is really special, but there is a lack of polish in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla which alludes to a rushed game to capitalize on next-gen console versions.

This particular point could be specific to the Playstation 5 version of the game, but even months after its release, Valhalla is full of bugs. Visual issues are common, from missing lip sync and ugly clipping to bizarre physics. The sound can be cloudy and the characters sometimes talk to each other.

Even basic navigation can be boring. For example, pressing X allows you to climb on anything except things that you inexplicably can’t. There is a lack of visual clues or logic for the inaccessible areas. Swinging and successfully hitting a stationary crate, stone, or pot is often surprisingly difficult, and climbing into an open high window is one of the toughest challenges in the game.

I encountered several progression bugs that were interrupting the game in various missions, with some non-player characters refusing to speak to me and one that got lost in the woods after being interrupted on an infuriating escort mission.

It’s hard to appreciate the beauty of this world when it always takes two or three tries to hit a rock.

All filler, no killer

Valhalla has a committee-designed feel, with activities and mechanics that echo better games. The side activities, like fishing, feel distinctly undercooked and much of the game feels like filling. Paper-thin side missions are little more than momentary hijackings, often accompanied by a letter of explanation. Most are predictable, forgettable, and take less than a few minutes.

A mission with warring brothers is solved by setting fire to their contested barley silo, which also burns their homes and bizarrely draws the whole family into cheers of joy.

Many of these side missions should never have been part of the end game. It’s also shocking to meet a pro-baseball player with a joke Viking name in 9th century England (Otta Sluggasson, if you must know, who is voiced by Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers). These types of things should have been cut, but others could have been combined to create stories with more depth and challenge.

Rinse and repeat

ValhallaThe gameplay of the game can also drift towards repetition. Riddles and mysteries repeat themselves ad nauseam: you find the hidden entrance, move the shelf, pull the lock. Easy.


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