I give movies 20 minutes to grab my attention before I call it quits. TV shows, two episodes. Books … well I usually open the book in the store, read a few pages, and decide within 60 seconds. Time is money, and also, books cost money, sorry. There are millions of lifetimes worth of entertainment at our fingertips, with new material releasing daily to compete for our attention, so why is the video game community so obsessed with the idea that we need to sink dozens of hours into a game before deciding to move on? Especially if it’s The Witcher 3!
But as much as I wanted to love it, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla isn’t for me.
I picked up Valhalla because cool Viking sh*t totally is for me and, make no mistake, Valhalla is chock full of it. I got to swing a battle axe around, raid monasteries, and get my face tatted. Plus, I got to do all the typical Assassin’s Creed stuff like sneak around, climb some buildings, and explore. It’s a gargantuan open world filled with battles, secrets, and Viking conquests that felt well-tailored to my progress throughout my playtime at first.
Without spoiling anything: Valhalla starts you off in a fantastic tutorial section where you learn the basics of the game and begin to unfold the story. Then after 3-5 hours, depending on how many side-quests and exploring you want to do, it thrusts you out of that area and into a large open world where you are expected to spend the majority of the game. It’s at this point that the main connections to the AC franchise get made, the quest-load thickens, and all the “RPG stuff” gets dropped in your lap, which is expected. And from a graphics and scope standpoint, it’s pretty awe-inspiring. So what gives?
For me, when I made it into the mid-game, Valhalla stopped feeling rewarding. The cool Viking stuff began to feel repetitive, the exploration felt tedious, and the Assassin’s Creed storyline stuff felt tacked-on. The game begins to ask you to commit a lot of time and trust into seeing things through, like traveling a great distance or finishing a questline. When you arrive at the place or accomplish the task, however, it doesn’t seem to change much in the game at large. In my opinion, the most important thing to nail in an “action role-playing game” is the skill-development aspect. Valhalla opts for what seems like a comprehensive skill-tree model, but upon closer inspection, it reveals itself to be random-feeling with most of its attainable “skills” being percentage-increasing, passive attributes. The stuff that isn’t passive (like the ability to stomp stunned enemies) either proves incredibly useful to the point of monopolizing my fighting style or kitschy to the point of uselessness. This ripples out to combat, which starts to feel stale after a while. That is kind of a big deal for a Viking game. For all intents and purposes, I’m here to lob heads with a great ax.
I’m also here for the loot. I have a compulsion to gaze in every nook and cranny, check in every drawer, and explore every cave behind a waterfall. Valhalla actually does a good job of providing plenty of areas to discover, but each time I found myself off the beaten path, I managed to uncover a bug that soured the experience. While I imagine most of these will be patched out going forward, for the time being, their frequency definitely spoiled my desire to get lost now and again. On more than one occasion I encountered a broken quest. There were a few times I found myself literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. And one instance, in particular, the grand offender, I slid through a hole in the wall, found a secret chest, and discovered that I couldn’t slide back out. I know there’s bound to be issues with a title this big so close to launch and I have a deep respect for developers and QC’ers alike. But truthfully, I turned off the game at this moment without resolving the problem. I was pretty frustrated.
What is a big deal to me might not be a big deal to you, as Valhalla has plenty of other things going on outside of the combat. There’s plenty of that aforementioned “RPG stuff” like item acquisition, settlement management, and distracting side quests. While all of that is super appealing to me, and at this point expected in an Assassin’s Creed title, I just honestly lost faith that it would feel rewarding after the 60-80 hours it takes to complete the game because of the lack of excitement I got from the skill-development, combat, and exploration. Of course, most RPG and story elements don’t pay off until much later in the game by design, but usually in these types of games, it’s the stuff that’s designed to be rapidly developing that will carry you to the major goalposts. The time between goalposts might not be too important for diehard fans of the series, but for me, they’re a large part of the equation.
So, after giving the beginnings of the mid-game a chance to see where things went, I decided that Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla wasn’t my cup of mead. Some might say I didn’t give it a fair shot, but how do you define a fair shot anyway? What rules do I abide by? Have I no shame? I think why the gaming community has these dramatically skewed rules by which to judge a video game is because video games, even within the same genre, are dramatically different from one another. But for games from a well-established series that unapologetically has entries that don’t stray too far from the formula like Assassin’s Creed, you don’t have to give them the Witcher 3 treatment to have an understanding of the full scope of what the game has to offer.
For people who absolutely love the Assassin’s Creed series, this tends to be a really good thing. You can jump in and feel instantly at ease. For some, it’s a welcome home parade that happens every two years. But for me, I felt like I had seen the beginning and end of the parts of the game that were most appealing to me in picking up Valhalla in the first place. I couldn’t imagine that combat was suddenly going to get better and all the bugs would suddenly go away. And in case you were wondering, I played 47 hours of The Witcher 3 before deciding it wasn’t for me. I can’t begin to tell you why. I only gave the show one episode, though. The Assassin’s Creed movie? It’s … on my list.