A Viking Hoard without the Hoarding

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Harumpher

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Hey fellow Duders, I've been trying to get back into writing a bit, and I figured I'd post stuff here if I think it might be relevant. Anyway, here are some thoughts I had about AC Valhalla. Appreciate any comments or feedback. Thanks!

A Viking Hoard Without the Hoarding

By: Andrew Piccininni

Valhalla sheds the clutter of previous Assassins Creed entries, resulting in a more approachable open world.

The last AC game that I truly enjoyed was Black Flag. It was the final game I bought for my PlayStation 3, which I subsequently finished and revisited numerous times despite upgrading consoles to a PS4 shortly thereafter. I had played and finished every one of its predecessors but fell off after Black Flag. I didn’t revisit the franchise again until about a year ago when both Odyssey and Origins went on sale.

The changes made to the games had intrigued me, especially the shift in combat from an Arkham-inspired style, to something more hack-and-slash-y. In addition, setting the games in ancient Egypt and Greece had me doubly invested (my undergrad major was in classics). All signs indicated that these would be right in my wheelhouse, but sadly this was not to be.

My playthroughs of both games ended in strikingly similar fashion. I was invested during the introductions and tutorials, making it to the end of the first act. At this point in both games, the maps open up. And I mean they really open up. This was the beginning of the end.

I found myself spending more time navigating the map and inventory screens than I did exploring the world. During the times that I was exploring, it was to merely start clearing every little icon that appeared. I had a near obsessive-compulsive need to check off all the little side activities and collectibles before I played story missions.

In fact, this is how I have always approached open world games, for better or worse. In Skyrim, for instance, I was entirely over-levelled for most of the story missions as I just started slaying dragons as soon as the game gave me the freedom to do so. Browsing reddit threads and Gamefaqs pages revealed I am not alone in my approach either.

Any time I started up Origins or Odyssey, I would open the map, be immediately bombarded with a slew of icons and would nope out of there pretty quickly. It is not that the gameplay wasn’t fun. The combat felt good and exploring the vibrant environments was genuinely satisfying. It was the other game systems that really bogged things down. The loot and inventory systems were bloated with items. As previously mentioned, the map was a cluttered mess. God forbid you should use your bird, as that would bring up even more icons, this time with both map objectives and resources in the form of wild animals running, flying, and swimming every which way. All of this culminated in a classic case of paralysis by choice. I couldn’t commit to any one direction or task, and my interest in continuing these titles fizzled out pretty quickly.

Cut to present day.

I was one of the lucky few who was able to secure a PS5 during the initial run of pre-orders. Of course with launch games being pretty limited, I had considered Valhalla, initially thinking I would skip it due to my recent past with the series. But shortly after setting up my console, my curiosity got the better of me and before I knew it, the game was downloading.

I approached it with caution, knowing fully that I may be throwing away my $89.99 (Canadian) if I fell into the same pattern that Origins and Odyssey cemented in my brain. Pretty quickly though, my concerns began to whither away. Almost immediately, there were signs that things were different this time.

During an early mission, the game prompted me to use my raven to get an overhead view of the area. I braced myself, getting ready for the inevitable wave of meaningless icons to take up my HUD, but they never came. Instead, I was simply shown a search area in which to find my next objective. No animals I had to hunt for upgrade materials, no moving the cursor around the screen to highlight collectibles, no distractions, no nonsense. This was encouraging.

The next hurdle came when I climbed to the top of a viewpoint to reveal more of the map. This has been an AC staple gameplay loop since the beginning: Climb a mountain or tower or otherwise high point and reveal a chunk of the map along with all the little collectibles and activities that would often spell doom for me as a player.

Lo and behold, when I reached my first viewpoint, I was surprised to see only two new icons pop up on the map, a gold dot and a white dot. The white dots indicate “World Events” which are essentially quick, often funny sidequests, and the gold dots indicate supply caches containing the resources you need to upgrade their equipment and settlement. To my encouragement, the number of these instances seems to be significantly pared down from previous games.

I was able to clear all those icons quite efficiently, allowing me to proceed with the story, unhindered by my compulsive desire to fulfill everything on screen. Things were looking up.

After my first two nights with the game, I had realized that I spent next to no time in my inventory. In fact, after probably 6 or 7 hours of gameplay, I had accrued just one piece of armor for each slot, and only 3 or 4 weapons. This was a stark comparison to Origins and Odyssey that seemed to award you a new piece of gear for nearly every enemy encounter, forcing you to constantly monitor and maintain your ever-increasing armory.

Without all of this clutter distracting me from actually playing the game, I’ve found that I am far more invested in the character of Eivor and their story (though, not so much the overarching animus story).

Now of course, I’m looking at this game through the shine of a new console which almost assuredly means that I will be less critical of it than if I were playing on my launch PS4. I’ve also only put about 15 hours into the game at this point, so my opinion could change further down the road. Regardless, the changes that Ubisoft implemented this time around, have brought me back to the franchise in a big way, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing how they build upon these systems in future games.

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newhaap

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I'm also enjoying Valhalla much more than the previous two entries.

My favorite AC game is a toss up between Brotherhood and Black Flag, and I think it's because I didn't find a lot that takes away from the immersion in those games.

I liked the Batman style combat and I still think they look good. Valhalla tones down the frantic combat pace and over the top animations from Origins and Odyssey, so I find it more appealing.

In Brotherhood and Black Flag, I also found the flow of the game more natural. I can just go through the game how I thought Ezio / Edward would go through it, and most of the time the side content will just be in that path naturally. Same with Valhalla, which doesn't require you to go all over the place in order to level up from side content and move forward in the story, like Origins / Odyssey did.

The one step back in Valhalla, at least so far, I think is the traversal behavior and animations. I feel like Eivor 'sticks' a lot more to climbing/running paths, which makes changing directions very finnicky and look less natural. I don't think Origins / Odyssey had that problem.

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pnpkp

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Valhalla definitely feels much less overwhelming than Odyssey especially did, but at 60h in and having only finished roughly half the main quests for zones it's looking like really mopping things up might wind up taking me longer than Origins, which was "only" around 90h even with the DLC.

But that's just fine by me since I enjoyed the completely ludicrous maximalism of Odyssey's scope more than either of these other new flavor ACs. The entirely unmanageable flow of loot and map markers for almost 200 hours was really something special and never stopped being fun for me.

And the combat in Odyssey felt much more joyfully out of control. In some part because avoiding lethality was much more feasible and people I'd beaten up at the other end of a big area would frequently rejoin the fray with half their health and get unceremoniously flung to moan in a different corner by something with a lot of knockback in it. Even the fortress assaults in Valhalla, despite being closer in scale and number of enemies to Odyssey pretty clearly don't have the capacity to ever devolve into those beautiful parades of slapstick goofiness I found in Greece.

Even so I must agree there's definitely something to be said for the tighter, cleaner structure and mechanics this time around. The most glaringly "just better" thing is probably assassinations always working (provided you spec for the skill) instead of making you futz around with first shooting bigger enemies in the head with a special bow shot with the special ammo to wear them down just enough to turn them boppable. But even there there's the fact that this time you can't sneakily punch someone out cold instead of your standard murder. It's mostly for my own weirdly specific reasons but I can never quite escape the feeling that there's at least half a step backward for every seemingly unambiguous step forward.

At least Eivor's ability perform a sick piledriver finisher after dropkicking someone in the back is no less absurd than anything in Kassandra's bag of tricks.

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newhaap

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@pnpkp: " But even there there's the fact that this time you can't sneakily punch someone out cold instead of your standard murder"

Oh right! This bugs me too. I can unequip my weapons to fight unarmed, but I can't take out someone stealthily without killing them.

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