Assassin’s Creed Valhalla first impressions: Vast potential marred by performance issues

For a game that was advanced (albeit only by a week), Assassin’s Creed Valhalla — the 12th major instalment in the Ubisoft series that kicked off back in 2007 — could have surely used some more time in the studios.

The open would action-adventure RPG follows two critically acclaimed titles in the series — Origins (2017) and Odyssey (2018) — and aims to further expand on the changing landscape of the franchise. That, combined with the story being set in the backdrop of the Viking invasion of Britain, the game presents a promising proposition. However, in it’s present shape and form, it comes off as an enjoyable mess at its best, and a frustratingly disjointed experience as its worst.

Before getting any further though, let me reiterate that (as the headline suggests) this is not a review of the entire game, but only the initial impressions from the opening hours of the same. That being said, while some of the issues might possibly be fixed in the coming days, there are others more fundamental ones which work against the game. But all is not doom and gloom. Every now and then, the game offers genuine moments of surprise and glimmers of what a fully fleshed out version of it might look like if all the elements came together in just the right way.

 Assassins Creed Valhalla first impressions: Vast potential marred by performance issues

Screengrab from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Set in the late 800s AD, you play as Eivor (the player can choose the character to be a male or a female, and change at any point in the game), a rather too-up-for-action Viking who starts off wanting to avenge a personal loss. The opening sequence kicks off flaunting some gorgeous graphics and indoor setting, but the performance issues are immediately noticeable. Although you can do little more than walk in a straight line in the particular sequence, the game keeps freezing as it loads in the background, and one begins to suspect if this was indeed not designed with the next generation of consoles in mind.

Beyond the said opening sequence, the graphics (somewhat expectantly) drop dramatically and you are introduced to one of the most jarring aspects of the gameplay – the extensive texture pop ins, not to mention the blank loading screens that seemingly show up at random even when you are simply trying to interact with NPCs in the open world. Planning to ride your horse fast? Well, better prepare yourself for frame freezes and mid-flight loading.

Screengrab from Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Screengrab from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

It does not help that the said protagonist of the game is one of the blandest characters I’ve come across in a recent AAA game, and the main story so far (yes, so far and without giving anything away here) seem to have been put together using a generic cliché generator. There is no depth to speak of and noting to get you invested or hooked. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that things might turn at some point (which they might as well, going ahead). Another thing that throws you off is the voice acting, especially that of the protagonist. Not I do not suggest or expect every character in a Norse setting to sound like Christopher Judge, but at times it feels like the voice actor was not even aware of the setting of the game or the different scenario playing out. Yet another reoccurring issue is how the audio cuts off mid-sentence while someone is speaking. An all round mess.

Screengrab from Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Screengrab from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

As to what you can do in the game, there’s plenty. While the character customisation, weapons and skills upgrade are pretty standard affairs, you can engage in raiding settlements across the map – a twist on your usual smash and grab jobs. You can scout the map via you raven, flying across the open land, spying on enemy territories and looking for treasures. You can also take on adventures (aka side quests) along the way. I did try and couple, but as luck would have it, they turned out to be as interesting and unpredictable as watching grass grow (but there are plenty more to come, so hey).

The stealth play and parkour, the two staples of the franchise, are still perhaps the most fun elements of the game. The open combat, both melee and range, are satisfying as well, with the game provides players a number of choice on how to wield and use multiple weapons. Things do get a bit murky when you are up against a number of enemies, as well as when you are raiding with your clan. See, your clan is pretty much useless. They barely engage in combat and at times will even run past stationery enemies for you to take care of each and every them. But overall, once you get a hang of things, there is enough variety to keep you busy.

Screengrab from Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Screengrab from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

As I mentioned in the beginning, the game also presents you with moments of inspiration. Be it the ice giving way under your feet, or enemies kicking mud at you mid-combat, or some unsuspecting animal attacking you (although I did get chased by a bear across the map for 15 or so minutes which again pointed to an unpolished product). You can also engage in activities like hunting or a drinking game, or my favourite, flyting. The scenery itself can make you stop in your tracks, but alas, the pervading bugginess of it all mars much that has potential.

The open world Assassin’s Creed games are notoriously long, so I’m hardly writing this one off. Although what the game desperately needs at the moment is some heavy patching and performance upgrades. Valhalla undoubtedly has flair, but in its current state it’s difficult to recommend someone to spend dozens of hours with it. With an ungodly number of major game releases lined up, Ubisoft needs to get things moving pronto, or risk losing the franchise’s hard fought reputation of recent years.

Game being reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. Review code provided by the publisher.