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 an enormous open-world action RPG that casts you as Eivor of the Raven Clan, on a mission to conquer England during the Dark Ages.
There’s a lot to like. The snowy mountains and sparse settlements of Norway serve as an ideal tutorial environment. By the time you load up the longship to settle in a beautifully realized and atmospheric Anglo-Saxon England, you feel like a real Viking raider. The forests of England are teeming with wildlife, and the towns are peppered with Roman ruins. You have to raid monasteries to build your settlement, and you form alliances to spread influence.
Valhalla has several exciting and well-told missions. I’m particularly fond of my time with the sons of Ragnar, and King Oswald as he laid claim to East Anglia. The game’s sound design also deserves plaudits, with a catchy theme and musical cues that draw you into the story and forewarn action.
But what should be a glorious celebration of Viking history and culture is often bogged down by bland and repetitive gameplay. The game also carries too much baggage from Ubisoft’s long-running series—Assassin’s Creed.
Like most open-world games today, Valhalla tries to do far too much, and in the process stretches itself too thin.
The idea that we should accept bugs in open-world games is tenable when the game is truly special, but there’s a lack of polish in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla that hints at a game rushed to capitalize on next-gen console releases.
This particular point might be specific to the PlayStation 5 version of the game, but even months after release, Valhalla is filled with bugs. Visual glitches are common, from missing lip-syncing and ugly clipping to bizarre physics. The sound can be muddy, and characters sometimes talk over one another.
Even basic navigation can be annoying. For instance, pressing X lets you climb over anything, except for the things you inexplicably can’t. There’s a lack of visual clues or logic to inaccessible areas. Swinging and successfully hitting a stationary crate, rock, or pot is often surprisingly tough, and climbing into a high open window is one of the hardest challenges in the game.
I encountered several game-halting progression bugs in various missions, with some non-player characters refusing to talk to me and one who wandered off into the woods after being interrupted during an infuriating escort mission.
It’s difficult 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 designed-by-committee feel, with activities and mechanics that echo better games. Side activities, like fishing, feel distinctly underbaked, and much of the game feels like filler. Paper-thin side missions are little more than momentary diversions, often accompanied by a letter of explanation. Most are predictable, forgettable, and take less than a few minutes.
One mission with warring brothers is solved by setting fire to their disputed barley silo, which also burns down both their homes and bizarrely results in the whole family cheering with joy.
Many of these side missions should never have made it into the final game. It’s also jarring to encounter 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
Valhalla’s gameplay can also drift into repetition. Puzzles and mysteries repeat ad nauseam: You find the hidden entrance, move the shelving unit, shoot the lock. Easy.