Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla has pulled off a trick not many open-world games manage
I love open-world games, but as much as I enjoy them, they often require a significant amount of time to be dedicated to them if you want to feel like you’ve made any progress. Even just engaging in side quests tends to lead to multi-layered missions that invariably guide you through paths where you pick up additional quests or encounter distractions.
Between family life, work commitments and a vast amount of games to play, I can’t always commit hours and hours to a single game with any regularity. When I was younger and could spend days engrossed in the sprawling worlds of games like Skyrim and The Witcher, I was able to tackle this steady flow of content with ease. The constant overlapping loop of exploration, discovery, conclusion and reward kept me playing long into the night for “Just one more” quest.
More recently, though, when I finally have a whole evening available to dedicate to a game, I find returning to these worlds leaves me feeling lost, as I trawl through expansive quest lists and map icons as I try to remember what I was in the middle of. Take the Witcher III: I have restarted that game no less than four times. As I pick it up again after a brief hiatus, it feels alien to me. Even with a few hours to invest in it, I never feel like I’m getting anywhere. As good as it is, it feels unmanageable with my current schedule, so much so that I look at it in my list of unfinished games and invariably dismiss it in favour of something easier to pick up and enjoy.
This is where, for me, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla shines. It’s a huge game that I’m around 60 hours into and barely halfway through, but I can pick it up and spend thirty minutes in the world and feel like I’ve made some meaningful progress.
If you haven’t played it or seen much about it, the main quests are divided between regions, with each region having its own story that plays out like an episode of a series, or like a movie from a cinematic universe. Each of these regional stories is divided into chunks, and after each delicious segment, you can take some time out to see the sights, find some collectables or finish some of the numerous mysteries dotted around the world.
Mysteries have replaced more traditional side-quests in Valhalla. They all take place in a small radius around where the quest has been discovered, which makes it easy to pick one up and finish it relatively quickly, without leaving you with a huge to-do list of missions to backtrack over. They don’t have the depth of the side-quests in more traditional RPGs, but the bite-size manageability of them makes me happy to wander round picking them off. If I’m playing late at night and have just finished a more expansive story mission, rather than turn off the game because I’m going to bed soon after, I can quickly clear out a couple of mysteries.
The wealth and artifact collectables are similarly easy to pick off. They are served up as mini-puzzles, usually involving finding a key nearby, working out how to get around an obstacle by finding a secret passage or by using a well-placed arrow to remove a door barrier. They aren’t overly taxing, but it’s still satisfying when you find the solution and get your reward.
In what is a rarity for this type of sprawling open-world adventure, despite the huge volume of content, it all feels easily digestible. If I only have a quick thirty minutes to play something, I usually wouldn’t look twice at RPGs or open-world games, but I know I can put on Valhalla and make tangible progress. You can knock out a few mysteries and find some wealth if you just want (relatively) peaceful game time, or even finish some of the earlier story segments from the regions if you want a bit of narrative and more involved adventuring.
Whatever your mood, and however long you have to play, there’s always something you can do in Valhalla. I can imagine the fairly uninvolved mysteries being unsatisfactory for gamers who like the more meaningful side-quests of games from CDPR or Bethesda, but if you’re like me and can’t commit huge amounts of time to a single game, Valhalla’s approach turns a gigantic game into something you can easily pick-up and play. Whilst I wouldn’t want all games to take this approach, Valhalla perfectly fits my personal situation.
As a side note, AC Valhalla has had a lot of negativity surrounding bugs and glitches, but I’ve been very fortunate to have encountered very few issues in my time with it. I had a couple of mysteries where something went wrong and I couldn’t complete the quest, but I always had a convenient auto-save that plonked me back right before the step that glitched. At its worst, I lost a few minutes of progress.
The only significant issue I have follows on from the recent Yule festival update, whereupon every time I start the game or reload a save Eivor has apparently been pounding the mead while she awaits my return, and is drunk for the first minute or two of gameplay. It’s a minor inconvenience that’s more humorous than annoying, and will no doubt be patched out or removed once the Yule festival ends.
If you haven’t picked up Assassin’s Creed Valhalla yet, it’s easily one of the best games to play on the new generation of consoles, and if you need something to tide you over until the next wave of big titles comes out, Valhalla is a visually spectacular and hugely entertaining romp.