Ubisoft games are notorious for having maps that are cluttered with tasks and objectives, overwhelming the screen. Whilst the main campaign experience has always been the draw for the series, the open-world tasks have usually alienated players. It’s a formula that’s been omnipresent in most Ubisoft open-world action games.
Thankfully, after what happened with Breakpoint and the culture within Ubisoft in general, they brought a few of their properties back to the drawing board to prevent them from feeling too similar to each other.
Valhalla seems to be one of the steps in the right direction, giving you a more interesting open-world to explore where discovery is key. It follows off on Odyssey’s introduced exploration setting that allows you to select how much of a guide you want from the systems to discover places or quest objectives but makes it even more discovery-based.
Side-quests Are Discovered
Unlike the previous Assassins Creed games, there aren’t any exclamation marks dotting your map, adding a side-quest entry to a separate task list. This sort of approach usually made side-quests feel like they were some sort of checklists you had to complete. When mixed with a levelling system, this meant you were hoarding these until you could complete them, or were glorified kill or fetch quests.
Valhalla thankfully delivers a radical change with this system, taking out the side-quest sub-menu entirely. The side-quests in Valhalla are more like events that you run across, each with their own stories and objectives. Based on your exploration settings, you do get a marker on the map highlighting points of interests, but you never really know what you’ll find there.
One of the first side-quests you will most likely run into deals with suitors trying to find a women’s comb in the hopes of wooing her. All the quest giver tells you is that it’s nearby. This was a refreshing experience which made me look around the world more, and made the whole experience more memorable.
Most side-quests play out similar to this, and I was always looking for the next point of interest to see what surprises the game might have in store for me. It actively made me want to explore the world and take in all the stories it had to offer.
Adrenaline Abilities Are Now Found In The World
In the recent Assassins Creed games, adrenaline abilities were powerful moves that could easily change the tide of a battle, and with the right combo could make you an uber-force.
These abilities were locked behind skill trees in both Odyssey and Origins, and you had to invest enough points in a specific branch to unlock them. However, Valhalla seems to learn from games like Skyrim, where the best abilities have to be found in the world, in forms of books.
As mentioned before, the game shows you points of interest on a map, with different colours alluding to what it might be. The gold ones are usually for armours and other prized items, and those are what you want to be looking out for.
By making abilities something you find in the world, I was incentivised both intrinsically and extrinsically to go out and explore before following the main missions, as it would make me more adept.
Combat Loot is More Meaningful
Odyssey was all about the loot, whether it be weapons or armour you found. There were tons of it, generated with various perks and modifiers, dropping left and right from every kill and reward. Now mind you, I loved how well it worked in Odyssey, and the perks, as well as the cosmetic design, was meaningful enough that I was always looking forward to more loot.
In fact, Odyssey is my most played game for that reason, and part of me was really hoping for more of the same. Thankfully, similar to the abilities, the loot has been made much more meaningful by not making it as prevalent.
Similar to armours and abilities, these can be found in chests and gold locations around the map. Because there isn’t a plethora of loot to be found everywhere, whatever you do find feels more rewarding.
There were elements of this present in Odyssey as well, as there were some unique weapons that were only found in the world which came with unparalleled perks. One such weapon was Posiden’s Trident whose perk would let you breathe underwater indefinitely. So, there were still some rewarding aspects to it, but due to how many weapons your enemies were dropping, it did get overwhelming a bit.
This is not the case with Valhalla, and weapon rewards feel more meaningful overall, and you are more incentivised to go find them in the world.
Most Items Are Gated Behind Interesting Environmental Puzzles
Finding the aforementioned items around the map isn’t just a straightforward task of finding a chest somewhere and opening it like Odyssey but is instead, more involving.
These aren’t really difficult or anything, but do require you to think a bit. Some will be based on clues you find on nearby notes whilst others favour platforming, by locking items in a seemingly unreachable place. A bit of this is similar to how Breath of the Wild approaches some of its loot, making you play around with the environment to reach them.
As examples, one of the clue based items you can find early on in-game will seemingly be locked behind a barrier in someone’s house. Reading a nearby note nudges you towards what fire can do. Based on this info, I equipped an arrow and held it over a fire source to light it up, before shooting it onto the flammable roof of the house, whose flames blew up the obstruction in the house, allowing me to get through.
The platforming ones, on the other hand, are signified in interesting ways! During the beginning bit of the game, I was looking around the game’s world when a branch sticking out of a wall caught my eye. Above it was an opening to a small cave of sorts, which immediately made me want to reach it.
Not to mention, there was a slope nearby, and I was quickly able to make the connection between it and the branch. I had to basically slide down the slope and time my jump to be able to grab onto the branch. When I entered the cave, I was able to find a chest with a brand new armour!
Overall, Valhalla really rewards your curiosity, which is the best way to approach open-world games. Furthermore, with the above changes, everything feels more rewarding compared to Ubisoft’s previous collect-a-thons.
It helps that Valhalla looks absolutely gorgeous with interesting landmarks that quickly draw your attention. I have been playing lots of Valhalla, but have barely made any story progress due to just how interesting the world is.