GameplayTo be honest, I didn't expect much from Assassin's Creed Valhalla—I assumed it would just be a rehash of the usual Ubisoft open-world game, for 2020, maybe similar to how Watch Dogs: Legion wasn't that impressive. I have to admit I was wrong. A lot of small things have changed for the better to make the game more RPG-like without dumbing it down. Actually, they corrected many things I didn't like in Odyssey. For example, the amount of gear you find is greatly reduced, which makes it less of a loot spam fest. There are still plenty of drops that support all kinds of fighting styles, be it two-handed, shield, dual-wield, etc. I also like that the character won't automatically heal up after a few seconds—a first in Assassin's Creed. This is slightly annoying when traveling the world, though, because you can't craft healing potions and can carry only a few. You have to stop and pick herbs to heal up from time to time, which breaks the flow of immersion typical to Assassin's Creed. I'm sure a lot of players will still like this change.
How many arrows you can carry is limited, too, which is extremely annoying at the start; if you like to snipe enemies to thin the herd, you'll be out of ammo way too quickly. Obviously, this is to make the game a bit more of a challenge because decent aiming skills with lots of arrows equals easy mode. While the basic fighting mechanics are still the same as in other AC titles, combat feels more fluid, and more varied. On top of the usual attacks, you now get additional abilities you have to discover in the world to greatly enhance your combat portfolio—think WOW skills. While the general location of those abilities is indicated on the map, finding them isn't so easy. Once you're on-site, you're faced with a puzzle challenge to reach your prize. These puzzles are a mix of platforming, switches, pathfinding—an interesting optional activity that's still meaningful.
In addition to those equippable abilities you get a large skill tree you unlock as you gain levels. Big kudos to Ubisoft for giving us infinite skill resets at any time to check out all the various options and their playstyles. For an Assassin's Creed game, the skill tree is huge, with several branches—very nice, I like it. Another novelty is the addition of stamina, which prevents infinite dodging. Stamina recovers from attacks, so an aggressive playstyle is still the way to go, this is not Dark Souls. Your gear can be upgraded in several ways, including runes. There's no crafting, but I didn't miss that aspect in Assassin's Creed Valhalla; there's just the right amount of gear to not make this Borderlands, yet keep you interested in optimizing your loadout.
The story is told perfectly through outstanding animation and voice acting, but isn't much to write home about. While there haven't been many games in the Viking era, the general story arc has been done before, several times. Still, there's a few surprises, and I feel like I'll finish Valhalla for the story, and to learn what combat styles the skill tree offers. The story does drag on a bit from time to time, but a lot of dialog can be skipped, line by line with the space bar, which is good.
Overall, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a much better choice than Watch Dogs: Legion if you're looking for an open-world RPG to keep you busy for the coming weeks. Ubisoft did a great job keeping the basic Assassin's Creed vibe, while improving on design elements that bring the game closer to modern RPGs and still keeping the title accessible. Would I buy it? Definitely.
PC Port / Tech / Graphics / PerformanceAssassin's Creed Valhalla has the most impressive graphics I've seen in a long time. This is what I expect from next-gen. While Watch Dogs: Legion disappointed me big time and still had enormous hardware requirements, Valhalla looks much better and is more optimized. The vast landscapes of Northern Europe are rendered so beautifully and in a near-perfect color palette that goes very well with the Assassin's Creed art style.
Geometry and textures for both characters, the terrain, and all objects in the world is outstanding, there are no obvious low-poly models that distract from the experience. Actually, I'm very impressed by the work of the level designers. Everything is modeled with love to detail, and you can see this in all of the 100+ screenshots in this article. Valhalla does not support raytracing, but the lighting and shadow effects are close enough to what raytracing promises. I've stopped several times to appreciate the great-looking dynamic shadows and realistic lighting, thinking to myself that this looks like RTX without the performance hit. Sure, most of these effects are pre-created by artists, but does it really matter if it improves the gaming experience significantly?
My only criticism graphics wise stems down to the prerecorded video cutscenes, which are of very low quality and actually look worse than PC gameplay. I guess they were made for consoles and nobody bothered to record them in the best quality possible. There are only few of them as most cutscenes are rendered in real-time, so it's not a huge deal.
Hardware requirements are definitely high, no doubt, but you're getting a lot of eye candy in return. For 1080p Full HD 60 FPS gaming you need a Radeon RX 5600 XT or RTX 2070—not unreasonable. Fluid 1440p is in reach with Radeon RX 5700 XT, or RTX 2080, but you'll have to sacrifice one or two ultra settings to get to 60 FPS. I found the game very playable at 40–50 FPS by the way. It seems the level of detail gets dialed down a little bit during fighting, which I would have never noticed hadn't I looked at my screenshots—great idea to ensure FPS are high enough during combat. For 4K60, not even the mighty RTX 3090 is fast enough, but it's kinda close with 54.6 FPS.
Taking a closer look at the individual cards, we see that the game is very well optimized for all AMD GPUs: Polaris, Vega, and RDNA are all doing relatively better than their NVIDIA counterparts. On the NVIDIA side we see Turing slightly ahead of Ampere and Pascal, but the differences are small. I picked a custom test scene for all our performance testing. While an integrated benchmark is available, and it does a somewhat decent job in reporting what to expect, I prefer actual gameplay to give you a more realistic result. The benchmark stutters a lot, an issue not present in actual gameplay. In the game, depending on the area, the differences in framerates can be huge. Indoors, you might easily go above 70 FPS, whereas certain open-world scenes drop you to around 40 FPS. Our benchmark scene represents a "demanding" scenario, not a worst case.
Both AMD and NVIDIA have released game-ready drivers for Assassin's Creed Valhalla, which we installed. We also used the latest patches, which fix several bugs and improve performance. Looking at the good results of AMD graphics cards, I get a feeling that Valhalla, which is a AAA launch title for the upcoming consoles, was heavily optimized for the AMD RDNA2 graphics architecture, which positively affects the AMD optimization level on PC, too. Another possibility is that AMD invested some resources into its optimization, working directly with the developer—a big bold AMD Ryzen logo is shown in the title screens. Either way, additional optimization is always welcome.
I encountered a few minor bugs, one crash, but nothing game-breaking. From time to time, I felt like there could have been a little bit more polish and QA testing, but overall, the state of the game is better than many other titles in recent history. Keyboard controls are fine—if you've played Assassin's Creed before, you'll feel right at home. Everything can be remapped anyway, so no problems here.
It's good to see decent VRAM use at the highest settings—we measured 5–6 GB depending on the resolution. Good, modern graphics card have plenty of memory, so there is no reason not to push up the requirements. The benchmarks show that cards with 3 GB and 4 GB take a massive performance hit, which isn't unexpected. If you have one of these cards, dial back texture settings one notch and you'll be fine. What's more important is that high-end PCs have the option to run at significantly better fidelity than consoles.