Technological World for November 18, part 3: Assassin's Creed Valhalla review

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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has some technical glitches but I’m enjoying it anyway.

Ubisoft’s latest entry in its series about the everlasting struggle between liberty and control is Assassins’ Creed Valhalla. Despite some technical issues, the new action adventure role-playing game innovates on the series’ storytelling in interesting ways.

When I start playing a massive open world game like Valhalla, I often ignore the main quest in favour of exploring the world. It’s an opportunity to test the mechanics before my virtual life depends on it and to collect some experience and level-up my character so that I’m more powerful when I begin that narrative run.

Which is how I spent some 10 hours playing the prologue of Assassins’ Creed Valhalla,

I didn’t realize this until after a major plot point occurred and the game’s logo flashed on the screen. On retrospect, there were plenty of cues that I should have been moving the story forward instead of wandering the Norwegian fjords where the game begins. In my defence, I was enjoying my time finding a path to all of the highlighted areas on the map that indicated points of interest.

And while the animation tears far too often – the experience of a misaligned image or part of the image being missing that results from a problem with screen refresh rates – the art is quite stunning when it displays properly. (I’m playing it on a 75-inch Samsung Q60T.)

Needless to say I’m not even close to being finished because I’m the kind of person who spends 10 hours playing the prologue. I suspect I’lll be returning to Norway at some point in the game because there were some side quests that the game told me I wasn’t high enough level to complete.

But I’ve played enough to understand what Ubisoft’s development team, led by the studio in Montreal, is doing in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.

The core Assassin’s Creed games have revolved around the mythology – some of it rooted in history, some an invention of the Western world – of the “hashshashin” and the Templars activity in the Middle East during the Crusades, when the first game was set.

I’m impressed with how seamlessly the Ubisoft narrative team incorporated Norse mythology into the larger Assassin’s Creed storyline here.

Valhalla continues to expand on the game’s mythology by leveraging the historical fact that people from the Middle East traveled to the Norse countries. In the game, your protagonist is introduced to the “Hidden Brotherhood” of assassins by two such visitors.

After the prologue in Norway, the story moves to England, which in this era (873 AD) consists of Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, and Wessex, and it’s here that your version of Eivor – you can choose to play as male or female – becomes steeped in the struggle between the assassins and the Templars.

You’ll be responsible for going on raids to collect resources to built your settlement, and making alliances to strengthen your community in England. I chose to play the raids as opportunities for outright chaotic melee, saving the more typical Assassin’s Creed skulking for other missions, in part because the combat is more satisfying and the parkour navigation more frustrating.

As with previous games in the series, there’s a contemporary side to the story. The plot device created for the Assassin’s Creed games is that memory is encoded into our genetics, and there are machine and artifacts that permit certain people to relive the experiences of their ancestors.

While many fans of the games despise this, I enjoy the meta-narrative that layer on top of it all, and was glad that sequences set in the present day world – in the ecstasy of an apocalypse – occurred early in the game and continues to advance the larger narrative.

The technical issues in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla are frustrating but it’s worth ignoring them so you can appreciate the new context for the Ubisoft series.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is now available for PS4, PS5, Stadia, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Rated mature.

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