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I've never been a massive fan of the Assassin's Creed games. I dunno if that means I have to hand in my gamer card or not, but that's just how it's always been. We've never quite seen eye to eye, you know? I totally understand the love for stealth-action/open-world RPG shenanigans, but it's never really been for me.
Don't get me wrong, I've put in shifts over the years to try and see what all the fuss was about. I loved so much of Assassin's Creed II and put a ton of time into Black Flag, Origins, and Odyssey... but I'd still end up losing interest around halfway through, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content left to see, and yet somehow simultaneously feeling that I'd experienced everything each game had to offer.
I was so desperate to see the end of credits of at least one Assassin's Creed game in my life that I tried to get through Odyssey roughly three times over the last few years. That was probably a mistake, seeing as the ancient Greece adventure is an overwhelming unit of a game that keeps shoveling extra helpings of content down your gullet like a concerned nan on Boxing Day.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally rolled credits on Assassin's Creed Valhalla after 60 hours of playtime. I was genuinely shocked to not only have finished my first ever Assassin's Creed game, but to have savoured every moment, from the wintry prologue all the way through the blood-soaked finale.
And when I say I "finished" Ubisoft's latest instalment, by the way, I mean I polished everything off. I wiped out every last member of the Order of Ancients, saw the secret ending, and combed every inch of the map for secrets and quests. Hell, I even beat some of the hardest bosses in the game and picked up the full Thor armour set, along with Mjolnir itself (one of the coolest in-game rewards I've seen in years, by the way).
Basically, I can't get enough of Assassin's Creed Valhalla and I've been having a good old think about why it is this game hit for me when its predecessors didn't. Someone on the GAMINGbible team mentioned back when the game launched last month that it feels a lot more like a Fable game in its sense of humour than an Assassin's Creed title, and I think that's such a big part of the reason it managed to pull me in and never let go.
This is a viking tale that's not afraid to get incredibly serious when it needs to, yes, but it's also a game with such a big heart that's capable of such whimsy. I spent my fair share of time crushing skulls and raiding monasteries (shout out to my catholic gran), but it was the moments in between doing the stereotypical viking stuff that stuck with me.
I've written before about how there's a real playfulness to the game's many sidequests. Running through the fields off my tits chasing deer after accidentally huffing some drugs in a cave. Feeding an old woman eggs until she does a massive fart. Tricking a man who believes covering himself in shit will protect him from enemies into having a bath.
One of my favourite things about Valhalla is that you never know what strange story or task the next NPC is going to have for you, but they're so often genuinely funny. The way in which you find and engage with these quests is inspired too, taking more from the immersive environmental storytelling of games like Breath Of The Wild and Red Dead Redemption 2, leaving the rigid open-world formula of previous Assassin's Creed games behind in a big way. Valhalla is a game that took so many more risks than I was expecting it to, and I adore it for that.
Then there's the Ravensthorpe settlement itself, which serves as a constantly evolving hub area that gives you roots in the game's open-world, a place to return to at pivotal moments in the story, and - most crucially of all - a reason to care about why you're doing what you're doing beyond the fact that it's because the game told you to. I love everyone in my scrappy little community, from Gunmar the Blacksmith to Hunwald, a dude who looks alarmingly like an ancient precursor to Lewis Capaldi.
Finally, and perhaps most predictably, the game is absolutely bloody beautiful. I started my adventure on PlayStation 4 before jumping over to the PS5, but it's a genuine sight on either console. Watching the setting sun shimmer playfully on the surface of the water as I make my way through the English countryside to the familiar hills, huts, and faces of my home in Ravensthorpe never got old, to extent that I would rarely fast travel across the country unless I was particularly pushed for time.
All in all, Assassin's Creed Valhalla is a game that allowed me to take my time, and gave me so much more than any of its predecessors ever did as a result. If you're like me, and have never been particularly fussed about Assassin's Creed, I'd urge you to give Valhalla a go over Christmas. I can almost guarantee you won't regret it.
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