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Wearing its inspiration on its sleeve, Halfway is an XCOM-like. It's a difficult turn based strategy rpg set on a space ship that is mysteriously under attack from uncertain outside forces. You scavenge weapons and ammo, recruit and rescue colorful characters, and face down an ever changing cast of enemies in a fight for your lives.

The game has a wide variety of characters, and genuinely interesting plot. It may play into a number of sci-fi tropes, but I did feel invested in the story and it kept me playing all the way until the end. There was internal conflict in the team as well, with the addition of Dr. Shaffer and Thirteen, though I'm a little upset that nothing came of it in the end.

The pixel art is also pretty darn good, which has become a staple of games published by Chucklefish.

I'm trying to offload the first part of this review with positive things because I did enjoy my time playing Halfway for the most part, and I don't want to seem like I'm dogpiling a 10 year old Indie Dev's first title. If you really really like XCOM, then Halfway is a short 12h experience with cool pixel art graphics and a decent story.

Halfway, to put it nicely, feels like the first draft of a pretty good game. There are creative and mechanical choices that I do not think were thought through or polished at all.

For one, there is a baffling choice to not show how much health an enemy has. You can see a health bar on an enemy, but ONLY if you go and try and attack it. Additionally, it's JUST the health bar - no numerical value. Do you have a weapon that does 6-10 damage in its description and want to know if your character will one shot the enemy? Well then go fuck yourself, that's too much information to display to the player apparently.

There's no loading screens in Halfway. You don't realize just how necessary loading screens are in games until you play a game that doesn't have loading screens. You'll be in a level, click to go to the next level, and you jump straight into a new environment with new music. No fade to black or anything, it's very jarring.

There's no undoing a movement action either. If you miss-click right next to an enemy instead of clicking on them to attack them then your character is about to take a lot of damage and there's not a lot you can do about it.

The game is an RPG but there are really only three stats, Health, Agility, and Aiming. I'm down with this, it's pretty simple! There are stimpacks that you can find in levels that you can use to permanently grant increases to these stats.

However, each character can only use 5 stimpacks before they start to have negative effects from 'overstimming'. I think it's supposed to prevent making one souped up cracked character and just rolling encounters, but by the time we got to end game - it didn't matter because it felt like the only stat that mattered was aiming.

Additionally, how many stims each character has used is not conveyed to the player in the UI, and it really should be.

You know how there's the meme in XCOM where a soldier will have their gun pointed directly at the skull of an enemy and still somehow miss? Pretty funny! Now to ruin it, the meme is born out of the absurdity of it all, and it's absurd because it's something that should not occur, and yet it does.

If you play Halfway you are going to be spending a lot of time experiencing that meme over and over and over again. You'll be spending a lot of turns sitting there taking pot shots at immobile, out-of-cover turrets that regenerate their shields every 4 turns and occasionally resetting because your sniper with a 68% chance to hit missed 6 times in a row and died to retaliation. I had a character with a chain gun have a 50% chance to hit a grunt that was in a wide open space two squares away. There simply has got to be a better way of handling this combat system - I swear to god.

Lastly, I beat the game and there was an actually cool final boss at the end, but I ended up coming away with more questions then answers in the worst kind of way. They never fully explain what exactly was happening to the ship, and after everything I wrote above, I'm starting to wonder if the writers themselves even know the answer. There could be a true ending if you beat every optional mission, but I got sick of doing them right at the end and now I can't go back.

So yeah, that's Halfway. I can't tell if it's a bad good-game, or a good bad-game. I do think, however, it's a good case study in how to and how not to take inspiration from other big titles. It pulls off a lot of good things from XCOM, but it fails to remove a lot of the bad things about XCOM as well. Anyway, it's $13 and it takes 12 hours to beat, so hey at least I got my moneys worth.

This game really feels like it’s outside of Sony’s current comfort zone and I mean that in the best way possible. Hopefully the success of this will make Sony realize that they can stop playing it safe and release more than just third person cinematic blockbuster games

dá pra contar nos dedos de uma mão quantos metroidvanias que se diferenciam saem por ano. desde que joguei Hollow Knight esse gênero passou a ser muito difícil de me agradar. fechei muitos poucos nos últimos 7 anos (sim, fazem 7 anos que saiu Hollow Knight). porém, pra minha surpresa, o jogo que eu hypei desde que vi seu trailer de anúncio há 8 meses na Playstation Showcase do ano passado, saiu e realmente ficou do caralho.

rapaz, só jogando pra entender. acho que vendo o trailer dá pra ter uma ideia mas é simplesmente magnífico ficar perdido nesse mundo. não leiam levianamente a minha comparação disso com Hollow. a sua inspiração continua sendo divina, irreproduzível e superior, porém, não tira em NADA o mérito que conquistaram aqui. uma das estéticas mais maneiras que já vi na minha vida. todas as minhas críticas são irrisórias perto da diversão que tive nisso. minha expressão de maravilhado perdurou a gameplay inteira.

com certeza um dos primeiros bangers indies que tivemos no ano. não apenas isso, como também é o debut da dev Hadoque. mal posso esperar pra ver o que essa rapaziada vai cozinhar no futuro. joguem isso aqui

"Mesmo com todos seus defeitos, imperfeições e períodos de raiva, tive ótimos momentos jogando Ultros. O visual me fez ficar maravilhado, a exploração me divertiu e toda a temática — envolvendo assuntos como vida, morte e meio ambiente — me fez questionar a minha própria vida."

Link para a análise completa
https://www.tecmundo.com.br/voxel/jogos/ultros/analise

It’s been a good long while since I played a 2D Mario that wasn’t just kind of banging my head off the old ones. Even when going for the more old school structure of a world map and individual levels, I’d say I had the most fun with 3D World, so I was perhaps a little apprehensive as to whether or not I’d like Wonder. I loved the style from the previews, but would I like actually playing it? Or would I end up just kind of shrugging and putting it down a few years in like I did with the New Super Mario Brothers games I tried, along with pretty much every 2D Mario except SMB3 and Yoshi’s Island?

Nah this rules I had a great time, even if I didn’t really feel compelled to 100% the whole thing. When it comes to platformers I’m here for a good time and not a long time, and I wasn’t a big fan of what the Special world was putting forward so I decided not to go through the whole thing. I did decide to go back and get some Wonder Seeds I missed, so that’s something!

Movement feels a lot of fun, and I love jumping around and going Wahoo! It just good to platform in this game, man, even removed from any of the Wonder stuff or the power ups. I do understand why people might be a little underwhelmed by the power up selection but I thought they were fine? Elephant is interesting in its weird situational aspects to me. I think having it as a thing that you can use to get water to dried flowers is a neat little puzzle element, though I’ll admit that I might’ve liked a Wario type charge to go along with it.

Wonder effects themselves are a lot of fun as well. There are some duds or repeats but I definitely found myself excited to see what the next level would bring. I find myself reminded of Odyssey’s transformations, where some were just kinda one minor puzzle solution whereas others I could see being refined and developed out into a full game, with the rhythm game wonder effects perhaps being my favorite. I wasn’t necessarily good at it, but I DID think it was very fun. The great music went a long way towards making that work, and it does feel like the devs knew they had something going since they made a badge out of it!

Badges are kinda neat, though I’ll admit that once you have all of them unlocked I feel like there are only a few I thought were worth using over the others, notably Go Fast, Double Jump, and Grappling Hook. (Grappling Hook is my favorite, I was so excited when I unlocked it…) There’s the passive badges too, which make the game a little easier like letting you know where secrets are or giving you a bottomless pit save. And then there are the challenge badges, which are pretty wild. I don’t think I got all of them, but trying to platform while invisible sure is something!!!

I feel like the only thing I really don’t care for is the character selection stuff. I do like the addition of Daisy, but I think it’s a bummer that instead of every character playing their own way you just have Standard Gameplay with different models and Easy Mode, with the Yoshis and Nabbit being consigned to Easy mode. I dunno, I like Yoshi best and I wish I could have seen Elephant Yoshi and Elephant Nabbit. I feel like the badges were probably designed so you could pick your favorite character and play them however you like, but I dunno, I’ve always kind of liked the different play styles the playable characters offer. Also I don’t know why we need two different colored standard Toads outside of them having been included in the New SMBs. Original Toad and Toadette are good by me.

But yeah, shit’s great! I had a WONDERFUL time, and I might consider going back to actually try and get everything at some point maybe? I am also pretty excited to see what they do next. It feels like Mario’s getting to be Weird again and that rules.

Based on a review originally published on Flickering Myth:
https://www.flickeringmyth.com/2019/03/video-game-review-claybook/


Product was received for free


Many of us who couldn’t afford to buy video games back in the day found escapism through other venues: there were those who played sports, those who read, and those who fantasized about being in a fictional world. And then there were those of us who had access to Play-Doh, using it and other forms of modeling clay for all kinds of imaginative hijinx.

Developed and published by Second Order, Claybook aims to bring back that old-school wonder for kids who had fun making crazy things from such mushy compounds. Question is, how well does it do it? The short answer is not the best due to an entirely different gameplan from the developers, though that doesn’t make it bad.

See, contrary to what it looks like, Claybook isn’t interested in occupying the sandbox (err claybox?) genre, its contents more akin to a Monkey Ball-esque platformer wherein players are tasked with guiding shapes through various courses for the sake of an extraneous objective. I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed by the choice (after all, it would’ve been cool to have a platformer built around manually designing items ala Green Lantern); however, in reviewing what Claybook is actually about, I can’t say its a bad concept, so much as it lacks proper execution. See, there’s no story to speak of, so it really needed solid gameplay to succeed, and that just wasn’t the case here. You move around with the joystick and have several options: drill forward or underneath, transfer control over to an adjacent piece, and rewind time with the intent of creating a doppelganger to help subvert obstacles.

It’s relatively barebones compared to the many power-ups of say the Mario games, and unfortunately, even the “unique” endgoals aren’t exactly fleshed out by the devs. Most levels entail you having to fill up pits with liquid, hit random checkpoints, absorb certain materials, or leave behind shadow clones in specially-marked areas; and while some of these can make for some cool challenges, the tasks do eventually get repetitive. There was also this annoying hitch that happened frequently wherein a ball-shaped figure I was operating would go into an arc rotation whenever I tried to dig forward through a wall, the resistance propping up as though I was on an invisible ramp; however, I am willing to accept possible user error for that mishap.
Claybook’s main saving grace is its art style and physics engine. No matter their design intent, the team at Second Order was evidently fascinated by the texture, look, and feel of Play-Doh, and so they’ve managed to develop a beautiful-looking material that somehow feels as soft, malleable, and playful as its real-life counterpart. But it’s not just the movement: one of the game’s biggest accomplishments is how colors daub over each other whenever you move through areas with different hues, making the endeavor feel realistic in its composition and mobility.

Sadly, those compliments don’t extend to the kid in the background. To elucidate, Second Order made the strange decision to add this child character who you’re technically playing as- he has a controller with a joystick that moves when you move yours (although he doesn’t press any buttons when you do). I say it’s strange because it was truly unnecessary: the kid has no impact on the title and the lack of a narrative means there’s no meta-commentary here the way The LEGO Movies had with their live action portions.

Regardless, I would’ve had no problem with him existing were it not for the fact that he seems to be made of the same doughy-material that the putty board is, this facet ultimately rendering him as very uncanny-looking. Combine this with those scarily large eyes, and you can be sure I worked hard to avoid him throughout my gametime.

He doesn’t speak either due to Claybook's lack of voice acting, leaving the audio design to fall into two categories: sound effects and music. The SFX was minimal given the conservative gameplay, but what is there is appropriate enough. Your churning has a nice squish to it, and classic platforming noises hit your ears a-dozen whenever you do something progressive like completing a mini-objective or beating an entire level. Second Order could have added some naturalism to the soundscape, like a waterfall tone whenever you cause a leak in a liquid cylinder, but that definitely would’ve been at odds with the graphics.
Music, on the other hand, is severely lacking. I heard the same three or so tunes on repeat, no matter what world I was on; a big disappointment from whoever the composer was.

Having reviewed Claybook for the Nintendo Switch, there is an important caveat worth mentioning, and that is that the game is surprisingly better played when handheld than docked, at least for me. My theory is this has to do with it not having to render as big a space as possible while portable, though I understand the experience could’ve been subjective.

It took me about 3-4 hours to complete all of Claybook’s stars/worlds, and at $15.00 MSRP, that falls significantly under my $1.00: 30 minute gameplay ratio. That being said, Claybook offers a mode where you can create your own courses, giving it a bit of Mario Maker or Minecraft’s replayability. Because of this, you also have the option to play other users’ levels, so that can definitely bump up your time with it depending on each person’s individual interest in doing so.

As such, make the decision to purchase Claybook on your own. It’s a platformer that doesn’t quite live up to its potential; however, it’s also gorgeous and feels like you’re using real plasticine. Quid pro quo Clarice.
Pros:
+Magnificent physics
+Wonderful doughy tactility
+Bright colors

Cons:
-Not much platforming variety
-Creepy kid in the back
-Little music

This is a standard review of the vanilla Valhalla game. For a comprehensive breakdown of the title as a whole, please see:
https://backloggd.com/u/RedBackLoggd/review/1368458/


For the first DLC, Wrath of the Druids, please see: https://backloggd.com/u/RedBackLoggd/review/1368450/

For the second DLC, The Siege of Paris, please see: https://backloggd.com/u/RedBackLoggd/review/1368452/

For the third DLC, Dawn of Ragnarök, please see: https://backloggd.com/u/RedBackLoggd/review/1368455/

For the final story DLC, The Last Chapter, please see: https://backloggd.com/u/RedBackLoggd/review/1368457/

In a lot of ways, it’s hard not to see Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as the video game equivalent of The Rise of Skywalker. Both were the final entries in a sequel trilogy attempting to conclude said trilogy’s story whilst redressing complaints fans had had towards their immediate predecessor. With Skywalker, that was of course The Last Jedi, while here it’s AC Odyssey and so, to give some brief thoughts on that game to indicate my originating mindset, I overall enjoyed it and believe it to be a worthy entry of the franchise. While I’ve been with this series since ACII, I do not hold a purist attitude towards the RPG or Ancient (both misnomers FYI+) or whatever you want to call it trio that sprung from the ashes of Unity and Syndicate’s fiscal failures.

That said, there were decisions I definitely did not agree with, but, even if I shared all the views of those pre-Origins detractors, the reality is Ubisoft would not have had to listen to us. Both Origins and Odyssey were, by all reported measures, huge successes, especially in comparison to Rogue, Unity, and Syndicate, and that lucrativeness tends to result in minority criticisms getting ignored, no matter how valid they are.

Yet, to my delight. Ubisoft did the opposite.

I know it’s become popular in casual discourse to trash Ubisoft, however, in this particular area at least, they deserve immense praise for willingly listening to EVERY part of their fanbase WITHOUT needing an external incentive to do so. What do I mean by this? When you look at other properties that have adapted criticism from a sect of their audience, it’s always been due to a financial dip: WWII and Modern Warfare came about because of diminished sales from Infinite Warfare; the aforementioned Rise of Skywalker from Last Jedi making ~$700 million less than Force Awakens; Breath of the Wild from Skyward Sword selling half as many units as Twilight Princess, etc…etc…

In AC’s case, those critiques largely concerned the removal and/or diminishment of social stealth, one-hit KO assassinations, the modern-day, parkour, and Assassins, as well as the inclusion of level-gating, extraneous loot, and repetitive side activities. And guys, it honestly warms my heart to say that Valhalla literally addresses 90% of these. If you were following the development of the game from the get-go this may not have come as a surprise: like I stated earlier, Valhalla was marketed as the end of an era, and to commemorate the occasion, Ubisoft brought back key personnel who had had prior involvement with some of the most popular releases of the OG era, including Creative Director Ashraif Ismail (Black Flag), writer Darby McDevitt (Revelations, Black Flag), composer Jesper Kyd (the Ezio Collection), and many others I’m sure played a large role behind-the-scenes. During the marketing phase, McDevitt asserted the game would act as a “capper” for events of yore, and while Ismail was canned for an adultery scandal, the hype nonetheless soared as demos showcased classic AC gameplay.

Of course, Valhalla couldn’t be a complete return-to-form. The large successes of Origins and Odyssey proved the profitableness of the RPG formula (plus the introduction of numerous new fans), and so the question that remains is how well does the game balance the two systems? Well, if you’ve been on any forums, you’ve no doubt heard a medley of opinions ranging from good to bad, but, as I’m with the former camp, I hope my review does a solid job elucidating why you should agree as well.

Odyssey’s present-day left things on an unstable note. Layla had been granted more screen time and characterization at the expense of her morality: in her quest to understand the Staff of Hermes Trismegistus, she killed a fellow cell member whilst sparing the life of recent antagonist Otso Berg (whose fate is not ascertained). It’s no secret Layla was never really investable as a protagonist- her inclusion in Origins felt misplaced and intrusive, and having her meddle with Isu Artifacts in Odyssey like an idiot didn’t do much to mend that. As such, there was a lot of pressure on Darby to succeed on several fronts where previous writers had failed: resolve Layla’s qualms, wrap-up her storyline, and, most importantly, make her likable. To do this, McDevitt and his team implemented two initiatives that are honestly quite genius in retrospect. The first is a minor retcon wherein it turns out Layla was being cognitively-influenced by the Caduceus to act out aggressively -- not only did this harken back to Desmond’s stabbing of Lucy in Brotherhood, but it also gave Layla a bit of a Greek tragedy overlay wherein she was being manipulated by the Gods to do their bidding. Victimhood is often a surefire method of garnering immediate sympathy, and I can definitely say I actually felt for Layla whenever she reflected on what transpired before.

The second is bringing back Shaun & Rebecca, two characters I’ve always referred to as the C-3PO and R2-D2 of the franchise due to their buddy relationship and longstanding presence in the games. Layla’s colleagues from Origins and Odyssey weren’t bad by any means, however there’s no denying they lacked the chemistry, humor, and three-dimensionality that Desmond’s group had, which was always going to be detrimental given the short amount of time the MD had to make an impression. That McDevitt naturally inserts Layla into this pre-established duo without breaking up their camaraderie is admirable on its own merits, however, it’s the throwback feel he manages to evoke from assembling them together that deserves real praise. It’s hard to describe, but I honestly couldn’t help feeling nostalgic seeing Layla interact with the two; it brought to mind those times from ACII and Brotherhood wherein you were pulled out of the Animus and had a chance to catch-up with the rest of the gang, usually hearing some hilarious dialogue in the process.

McDevitt further fixes the MD by bringing back its grandiose scope via the inclusion of a new planetary threat. To give some background information for you newbies, after haphazardly wrapping up the original storyline with ACIII, Ubisoft had no idea what to do next in the 21st century: they saw the appeal of the series was in its historical escapades, yet knew the framing device of the MD/Animus was too integral to remove. I fleshed out my thoughts on the decision surrounding Desmond’s fate in my ACIII retrospective, but that notwithstanding, the fallout from it was degrading the modern Brotherhood to essentially glorified treasure hunters over the time-traveling rebels Desmond and co. occupied. In Valhalla, the world-ending stakes are back, and while having yet another Earth-threatening plot device seems lazy ala Force Awakens rehashing the Death Star, there’s more to it than meets the eye (as you’ll see later when you play the game).

The diminishment of the Brotherhood in Origins and Odyssey was, as stated earlier, a major point of contention with fans (understandable - a series called Assassin’s Creed should focus on the Assassins). Luckily I absolutely loved what McDevitt and co. did with them in Valhalla. My favorite AC opening behind Origins’ has always been Black Flag’s due to it showcasing the Assassins as they would appear to an outsider: brooding, stoic, and containing an aura of mystery, and you get that tenfold here with Basim and his acolyte Hytham- he joined Sigurd on his worldly journeys for reasons that don’t seem convincing. From closely advising Sigurd to gifting Eivor the Hidden Blade (amidst protests from Hytham), it’s blatantly clear that Basim is using the Vikings for some greater purpose, and these ulterior motives underlying his actions highlight a secondary facet worth noting - the respect for lore past.

By all accounts, ever since Corey May and Patrice Desilets left Ubisoft, there has not been a real loremaster at the company, leading to artifact inconsistencies (i.e., the Precursor Boxes), mass proliferation of Pieces of Eden, and the admonishment of Assassin morale. While the first two can at least be explained away under some retcon, it’s the latter that has always affected me because a nicety from ACI through Brotherhood was the Assassins retaining a degree of ethical clarity. Yes, they were effectively terrorists, and yes the Templars had a greyness around their own actions, but there was never any doubt that the Assassins were the preferred solution.

Starting with Revelations, things started to tiptoe into an ends justify the means subset that seemed unstable in comparison to before: you had Assassins committing mass murder (Revelations), Assassins working with pirates (Black Flag), Assassins doing favors for imperialists and pedophiles (Unity), and Assassins launching gang wars in the open streets (Syndicate). I do like a good many of those games, however there’s no denying that, by becoming entrenched in sequelitis, Ubisoft missed the mark on the core tenets of the brotherhood.

At the outset, Valhalla had a chance of falling into this same trap. After all, this is a game about bloodthirsty vikings who burn monasteries and want to subjugate England, and having a sect dedicated to the preservation of free will allying themselves with such sordid peoples would’ve come across as odd at best. Thankfully, while Hytham (based on later convos) genuinely believes Eivor’s Clan to be honorable compared to the Order of the Ancients, Basim holding alternative plans gives a valid reason for the Hidden Ones putting aside their moral compass in aiding the Drengr.

Tutorials are interwoven organically into Valhalla’s intro as well (an impressive feat considering these games are meant to appeal to newcomers), which brings us to the gameplay. Assassin’s Creed has always been built on three pillars: combat, stealth, and parkour. Since Unity, there have been multiple attempts at revamping the combat mechanics of the series, and when it came time for the RPG trilogy, an even greater shift was made from paired animations to hitbox- no longer were you worrying about constant counters from enemies, it was now about evading strikes and knocking their health bar down. In Origins, this worked out like standard fencing: the goal was to keep your distance and jab when your opponent left himself open. In Odyssey, courtesy of the (dumb) removal of shields and increased emphasis on abilities, a more hack-and-slash schematic was implemented wherein the goal was to now pummel-and-dodge until your adrenaline meter built-up, allowing a massive attack.

In Valhalla, it’s about overpowering your adversaries through strategic maneuvers, from breaking defenses via heavy blows to shattering exposed weak points with arrows. However, to prevent players from spamming heavy strikes (or endlessly dodge-rolling like before), a stamina meter has been implemented that depletes the more you do either move. The only way to rejuvenate it is to either take a breather or successfully gore a thug with a light attack, meaning you now have an incentive to use lighter strikes over heavier ones besides their superior speed. Abilities are back (much more-grounded this time around), and similar to Odyssey, there is an encouragement on growing your stamina to utilize them in a hairy situation; however, they’re never necessary for succeeding, turning them into a tool more than anything (and yes, that’s a good thing).

Of the three games’ combat systems, I probably had the most fun with Valhalla’s- not only do you have a good balance between light/heavy/parrying/dodge, but the bosses, in particular, come from the Dark Souls school of requiring smarts over simple lacerations. That said, there are two big flaws: one, regular enemies (which make up most encounters) become quite easy to chop down once your power level is sufficiently high (to be fair, I suppose that’s a standard for most RPGs), and two, there isn’t a cap on archery -- it’s so easy to simply gain some distance and spam arrows/longe range abilities in the middle of a fight, meaning tougher archetypes like the Goliaths, Zealots and majority of minibosses are rendered less effective. Having bowing deplete stamina instead of rejuvenating it would’ve resolved this easily.

When it comes to stealth, it should be noted that, upon release, Valhalla had a broken apparatus apparently akin to ACIII’s. In the months following, two patches were sent-out that, based on my experience, have alleviated those qualms, though from what I understand, the patches were either never released to PC ports or were ultimately ineffective. So Master Race adherents, please keep that in mind.

For fellow console peasants, stealth is pretty fun. In the wild, you’ve got heaps of grass patches to skulk around in, whistle, and snipe from afar. One change I appreciated is hitting an enemy amongst a group doesn’t immediately highlight your presence like it did in Origins, so long as you get back into cover. The largest drawback to the stealth is that, going off what I stated earlier, tools have been completely replaced with abilities- if you want to poison someone, set something ablaze, distract with your raven, or place a far-off explosive, you’re going to have to waste stamina doing it, which takes away from the Assassin portion for sure.

As noted in the introduction, Valhalla made waves for two things: bringing back the one-hit KO Hidden Blade (accomplished via a minigame or menu change if you’re a scrub), as well as social stealth. This might be controversial to say, however I genuinely think this version of social stealth is the third best in the franchise behind Brotherhood and Syndicate, even being utilized better than the entirety of the Kenway Saga. You’ll frequently enter cities and communities dubbed “mistrust zones” which Eivor will cloak himself in, but that cloak doesn’t make you invisible unless you happen to find some monks. It’s a lot like ACI in that, one, you can’t blend in with everyone, and two, that guards have detection meters that set-off depending on how close you are to them/if you’re acting out-of-line: walk like a normal human being (helped by the garment deliberately slowing your speed) and they won’t pay you much attention; dart or climb about and you’ll get some stares. Blending activities are strewn throughout these scapes to allow in-plain-sight hiding as soldiers walk by you, and plenty of drunks somber about to manipulate as distractions. The one thing that would’ve really improved Valhalla is if they added more assassination takedowns. Maybe I’m spoiled by ACIII and Unity, which had these in abundance, but it gets kind of tiring seeing Eivor perform the same 2-3 knifings every murder. Considering all the distinct hiding spots, it would’ve been cool to be able to do a unique takedown in place of a standard stab.

Parkour is, sadly, pretty garbage. It’s no secret Ubisoft moved to an inferior system in Origins out of a desire to emphasize open world exploration over traversable cities, but with Valhalla, it’s bizarre because they’ve actually reverted to the old design style, yet complimented it with what is arguably the worst parkour in the history of the franchise. See, places like Lunden, Jorvik, and Wincestre are built like classic AC metropolises, with interconnected buildings and direct pathways for Eivor to dash about on, and when it’s working right the traceuring (horizontal-wise at least) is smooth. But they’ve made this weird push-button assignment that both feels needlessly complicated and prevents you from mastering progressment the way you could in past AC games -- you click the joystick to run, push the joystick to freerun, hold A to parkour/climb/auto-leap short distances, and double tap A to jump. Perhaps they were attempting to emulate the Ezio versions, which had dedicated digital prompts for jumping, running, and parkour (compared to the Kenway Saga, wherein things were simplified to two buttons), however, there were only three there compared to the four here, and it was also more ergonomic (clicking the joystick in Valhalla just isn’t as functional as pressing a tab).

Still, I would’ve been able to tolerate this had the parkour algorithm been consistent with what it recognizes as pure freerun vs. ascension, but you’ll often find yourself accidentally clambering-up columns or other installations that you would’ve thought traversable with the standard A button.

Vertical movement is worse. Once Eivor has begun his shimmying he turns into glue, unable to detach, drop down, or manually climb-leap to the top (an inconsistent one technically exists, but you’ll see why it’s inconsistent when you play). Your sole recourse is to either finish your trek or auto-descent netherward until you’re within range for a drop-off. Valhalla, to its credit, does retain the side lunge from Unity, as well as a standard back eject (the latter only if you have another structure in range), and I did appreciate them giving Eivor’s model weight akin to Arno, but these are ultimately small potatoes against an inherently-downgraded system.

Besides the pillars, a semi-staple of the series sees its resuscitation in Valhalla: the settlement. To elucidate the history for you newbies, settlements have been a recurrent aspect of AC, albeit one not as stringent as hardcore fans would lead you to believe. Yes, every AC game save Origins featured a home base of some type, but the vast majority were never used for anything substantive: Alamut Castle was a simple set with nothing inside; the Villa Auditore a glorified armory; Tiber Island a place only for Assassin ceremonies; Black Flag’s Great Inagua and Rogue’s Fort Arsenal utterly meaningless; Revelations’s bureaus, Unity’s Cafe Theater, Syndicate’s Train a spawn point for missions; and the Adrestia just a ship.

You’ll notice I omitted one entry, and that was of course the Davenport Homestead from ACIII. It was the first time an Assassin HQ actually felt like a real, lived-in place: you had tons of NPCs, plenty of missions/optional dialogue based around their presence, in-game challenges, and an economic boon via trade convoys. It formulated a template I’m saddened none of its sequels expanded upon.

Well, on the plus side Ravensthorpe is a valiant attempt at crafting a meaningful estate, even if it never reaches its greatest potential. It combines the renovation system from Brotherhood, civilian presence of ACIII, and mission generating of the Cafe Theater into a single hacienda. You start and finish all your story missions here, construct/upgrade new buildings to unlock sidequests, and can even activate a feast buff to temporarily boost your attributes. Despite these facets, I can’t say I got particularly attached to Ravensthorpe, and that has to do with a couple of reasons: one, because it’s more of a springboard for your adventures, you don’t spend much time in the actual area; and two, it ails from Unity problem of repetitive AI. What I mean is, every time you enter the place, you’ll see the exact same animations play-out: the same kids running up to you, the same crew members marching from the docks, the same animals lolling about, etc….and that’s ultimately immersion-killing. As much as people hate the Almanac of the Common Man from ACIII, it at least underlined an amazing feat from that game, which was the radiant-esque AI of the homesteaders, and I wish a similar coding had been programmed here.

Anyway, it’s high time we spoke on the story. Valhalla’s main campaign may be confusing to some because it adopts a method of storytelling new to the AC franchise (and mainstream titles as a whole): arcs. Prior games operated on a modus I refer to as “Acts” which, to quote my ACII review, are similar to Arcs in that they’re set around a new threat, but differ in terms of not being standalone. That’s not to say that Valhalla’s arcs are completely unrelated to the other (in fact, several continue/reference events from prior ones); however, they definitively have a beginning, middle, and end, allowing you to complete them without feeling like you’re ending on a cliffhanger. The process generally follows as depicted: Eivor will consult Sigurd’s wife Randvi about a territory, learn of its predicaments/politics, pledge to obtain their allegiance, resolve whatever qualms exist, and then return and confirm with Randvi that the deed is done. Rinse and repeat.

Now, this format has led to accusations that Valhalla is full of filler, and it’s one of those things I both agree and disagree with, though even my agreements are laced with provisos. If we were to condense the arcs under themes, Valhalla has four overarching storylines: Kingmaker, Order of the Ancients, Asgard, and Sigurd. Kingmaker has you running all over England forging those aforestated alliances, Order eliminating members of the proto-Templars, Asgard reliving memories of the Norse Gods (more on that later), and Sigurd’s a combination of all three, albeit one which trails continuously throughout Valhalla’s runtime.

In fictional storytelling, especially AAA releases, audiences are used to conventional chronicling wherein event A goes to B to C to D ad nauseam. Because of this mindset, it’s my theory that conventional gamers appropriated the Sigurd thread as Valhalla’s primary campaign, and I don’t blame them: Sigurd was a major figure in the intro and the whole reason Eivor departed to England in the first place. Eivor’s purpose is to serve his adopted sibling, and given the recurring nature of the man in the story, at first glance it would appear Ubisoft agreed.

However, upon closer inspection, I do think Valhalla is more experimental than that given that progressment, even in Sigurd’s sections, is primarily reliant on the formation of those dutiful liaisons since Eivor utilizes them to aid his sibling (more on that later). The reason I consider this approach experimental is because, in mainstream releases, you usually get the opposite. Think about it: in other games, the A plot is a singular strand which lasts uninterrupted whilst side content occupies shorter bursts of self-contained tales; in Valhalla, though, the self-contained tales pull double-duty as autonomous contes AND building blocks for the development of Eivor and Sigurd’s relationship.

But that begs the earlier inquiry of is this filler? If the player has to do these elongated set pieces to advance the A plot, did Valhalla’s writers fall prey to the scourge of shōnen anime? Again, not to dodge the question, but the answer is somewhere in the middle. For me, if I’m going to label something as filler, it needs to contain two components: one, have no importance to the macro, and two, not be referenced in postliminary scenarios. I theorize the reason critics have championed this accusation is because Valhalla’s non-Sigurd arcs are largely deficient in the latter, which is what most people look for when gauging continuity. However, it is not zero sum, and, more importantly, contains the former in spades. We’ve already established that Sigurd’s storyline, itself, is not completely independent due to it being tied to the Raven Clan’s confederacies/the brothers’ connections to the Old Gods. As such, by having dedicated individualized chapters to both those threads, you avoid falling into filler territory by my definition.

Still, I am sympathetic to the quibbles, and definitely agree that more connecting tissue should’ve been implemented to guide players from arc-to-arc, and I honestly feel these problems derive from Valhalla’s wish to be open-ended. This is a game that wants you to do certain beats in a certain order whilst concurrently providing a freedomic approach towards said objectives a la A Link to the Past. Unfortunately, in a story-driven enterprise with recurrent characters, you can’t exactly have that because it interrupts the flow, which is the dilemma gamers no doubt faced here. Thus, to alleviate this for future players, my suggestion is to do what I did, which is, well, role-play. Imagine why Eivor would want to embark on Y next as opposed to Z. Trust me when I say it’ll go a long way towards making your experience a lot more enjoyable. Valhalla is a ROLE-PLAYING game, so technically such a tactic isn’t out of the left field. However, I understand this isn’t a legitimate answer to the qualm of the arcs not being strongly-tied together, which is why I said the answer is ultimately muddled.

Tl;dr, I don’t think the absence of narratorial links make the non-Sigurd arcs filler, but it definitely hurts the pacing unless you do some imagineatory gymnastics on your part.

With regards to the quality of the story itself, I did enjoy the majority of arcs, but I can’t deny Valhalla falls very hard in terms of concocting satisfying finales for the bulk of its aforementioned story threads: of them, only the MD and Order of the Ancients get fulfilling conclusions, while the Sigurd, Kingmaker, and Asgard slices are left wholly anticlimactic, and it’s a shame, because if they had nailed those sections, this might have gone down as my favorite AC: the breaks between arcs allow you to pace yourself at will, the world gorgeous (more on that later), and the side activities enjoyable.

I’d actually like to speak on the Order of the Ancients subplot, both because it relates to the overarching Assassin/Templar conflict of the series, and because it’s something you should complete after beating the other threads (lest you risk incurring a bug). Valhalla semi-models this questline after the Cult of Kosmos from Odyssey wherein you have to hunt down members across England. Odyssey had 42 individuals: here you’ve got 45, divided into 15 zealots, 29 adherents, and 1 Grand Maegester. In Odyssey, I found the cult system to be rather basic, consisting of you doing very arbitrary tasks that somehow added up to uncovering a persona’s identity, and unfortunately that same framework has been carried over to Valhalla (a shame considering a mini-sleuth subplot involving actual detective work could be intriguing if Ubisoft ever dedicated more time to fleshing out the parameters).

Alas, we have to deal with the reality in our stead, and the system here has, at least, been slightly improved upon. For starters, 13 of the members are encountered during the various arcs, and no clues are required to deduce the Zealots, meaning only 16 have to be tracked down separately. Secondly, there are three checkboxes per member, compared to Odyssey where it was around 5 (IIRC), making it much easier to finish (England being smaller than Europe doesn’t hurt either). Finally, and this is admittedly more of an aesthetic change than anything, but every single Order individual (including the Zealots) has a Confession scene, which, at least for me, gave an extra incentive to hunt them down. Confessions have of course been a tradition of the series (save Unity and Odyssey), and while the non-story members don’t have the same production value as their narratorial counterparts, it was still nice being able to witness an inner dialogue between them and Eivor.

Years after the base game came out, Ubisoft finally sent everyone The Last Chapter, a free DLC meant to provide proper closure to Eivor’s storyline (that was personally overseen by Darby compared to the other expansions). Obviously see my link at the top of this review to hear my comprehensive thoughts, but in short I’ll say it’s fine for what it was -- a free low-budget expansion cobbled together by Ubisoft to officially cap Valhalla’s years of post-launch support (more on that later). It addresses several problems I had with the finales, but also leaves a lot to be desired.

As you have all of England at your fingertips, so too are you provided hours-upon-hours of excursions to partake in. First up is your conventional treasure hunting that has accompanied AC games since the flags of yesteryear: Valhalla has notably done away with the looter shooter schematic of Origins and Odyssey in favor of unique outfits and weapons. Upgrading these requires resources, from precious metals to your standard materials, and all three caches are located in chests peppered across the map. One of the more unique things Valhalla does is hide these crates behind obstacles, requiring you to solve a mini-puzzle of sorts to acquire them. Now, I’ve heard a lot of complaints regarding this system, stating that it adds unnecessary redundancy to the scavenging, and I generally disagree. For starters, it makes sense that goodies would actually be hidden (and beats the post-ACII system of simply placing guards everywhere). Secondly, while some of them are needlessly elongated in the sense that the solution is to simply dart around the side of the building ala TLOU2, the majority are actually pretty dang clever and require proper reconnaissance. They do get repetitive in the sense that the same barrier schemes are redone ad nauseam (i.e., the same bars, same explodable walls, etc…), but because it isn’t necessary to constantly upgrade armor the way it was in the prior RPG games (more on that later), you never have to force yourself to find them anyway.

Artifacts are the second type of collectible and they’re generally unconcealed compared to treasure, though a number of pieces do lie behind similar barricades. There are five variants: hoard maps, which display chests in the vicinity; Roman masks, which can be traded in for settlement cosmetics; flying tattoo papers, which, like the Almanac Pages and shanties from prior entries, need to be chased down a parkour course; Rigsogur Fragments, or generic lore entries, and finally Cursed Sites, the most disappointing substance in the game. At first glance they seem cool- you enter an area, hear some rumblings, and finally your screen gets all shadowy like the Black Suit shimmering in Spider-Man 3. You’re told the place is haunted and asked to end the curse; sounds thrilling right? Well, you’ll quickly realize that nothing bad happens while you’re on this hallowed ground, the sensorial stimuli being surface-level effects and the grand solution merely to destroy a single relic. A letdown for sure.

Overall, the artifacts are fine. Minus the R Fragments and Cursed Sites, I appreciated how each of them actually provided some tangible benefit to the player (a significant upgrade from previous games’ odds-and-ends that relied more-so on intrinsic motivation). Nonetheless, it’s the “Mysteries” you’ll be spending most of your time finishing, and I do have to commend Ubisoft here for trying to variegate these activities. Not since ACIII has an Assassin’s Creed title cooked-up such a batch of diverse side content, and given the sheer amount of time you’ll be spending in the game, they clearly planned things out well. That said, the quality is up for debate, with a number of these excursions privy to debate amongst the AC fan base (World Events and Cairns being the most notorious), so plot your expectations accordingly.

Helping with the pacing of side activities is the fact that Valhalla does away with the conventional confetti system that’s blotted Ubisoft minimaps since the days of Brotherhood, replacing them with light orbs: blue for mysteries, gold for loot, and white for artifacts. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like such a change would matter since the undertakings are unveiled upon entering their vicinity anyway, but you’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes to not be distracted by a minimap. This is the first AC game I played without one, and I found the experience to be so beneficial I hope future entries never revert to the old style.

Besides the above, Valhalla has a plethora of extra stuff to partake in, beginning with Raids. Raids are basically the epitome of the Viking fantasy, involving you reliving the infamous Lindisfarne Tragedy on repeat as you and your crew attack coastal monasteries for resources. Given that few settlement constructions are required for story progression, you’re basically allowed to conduct these at your own volition, which goes a ways away towards making them fun since they’re never needed for grinding purposes. What I really appreciated was how they don’t fully whitewash what you’re doing- yeah, you can’t kill civilians (which I liken to Achilles sparing the Trojan Priests in Troy) and there’s certainly no carrying back citizens to the longship for enslavement; however, you are explicitly a menace. People run around screaming, huts are set ablaze, all wealth is sacked -- when all’s said and done, it’s clear this place has been ruined for the foreseeable future. Gameplay-wise, I wish the developers had implemented some form of strategy as, while entertaining, they’re pretty blatantly easy due to your crew being unable to die (when struck down, you merely have to hold down a button to “revive” them, allowing infinite hounding of stronger guards). A system wherein you could allocate who attacks where and force a retreat if too many of your guys were wounded would’ve done wonders.

Orlog, a dice minigame, gained a notable amount of traction following Valhalla’s release (to the point of inspiring a real-life tie-in), and though it has innumerable enthusiasts, unfortunately I don’t count myself among them. I’m generally a big fan of dice games in titles (Liar’s Dice in RDR, Dice Poker in The Witcher 1), but my problem with Orlog is that it’s unchallenging. You’re given arguably the best Totem from the get-go ala Thor’s Strike, and the only legitimate tactic forward is to build-up tokens to unleash your God Favor. Sure, the occasional wrench is thrown at you, but 9 times out of 10, you’ll have the advantage over your opponent courtesy of Thor’s Strike being OP. If they had introduced variations like being able to call God Favors without sacrificing pawns (that had consequences), then things may have gotten spiced up, but as it stands, the game gets repetitive due to every competitor’s strategy being indifferent from the other.

That said, I’ll take Orlog any day of the week over drinking contests wherein you literally press one prompt on repeat with the intermittent joystick toggle to prevent stumbling. Utterly banal (it’s telling that Watch_Dogs of all releases had a better drinking game) and thankfully unmarked for completionists to avoid. And on the topic of banality, we’ve got a continuation of the lame hunting system this series had literally failed to innovate on since ACIII. If anything, it’s been made grindier here since you cannot purchase animal parts from stores anymore, nor swing your sword from horseback (Eivor instead kicks and punches), the latter preventing you from mass killing prey during chasedowns.

Accompanying this is fishing, which is a barren hodgepodge of boring mechanics: you throw your bait out, wait for a nibble, and then mash A to reel it in. You’re technically given the option to use a bow-and-arrow, but it’s evident the developers wanted you to wield the rod due to a number of reasons: Synin doesn’t recover your arrows, Odin’s Sight marks fish for a measly five seconds, and discharging a bolt scares away the other water critters. Outside of size, there’s no way of telling what kind of fish you’re getting either, meaning the endeavor isn’t even a reliable source of income.

Contrary to popular belief, there are side missions, and while the bulk were added post-release, they're still a welcome addition (I further anticipate readers of this review will be engaging with the Complete Edition of Valhalla that includes all extra content). Most of the quests are initiated from Ravensthorpe and involve either members of your Clan or outsiders requesting Eivor’s aide. They’re a lot like Odyssey’s in that YMMV, but they do exist and offer their own elongated narratives; plus, I can personally vouch that two of the more popular ones, Beowulf and the crossover with Odyssey, are excellent.

Regarding post-launch content, Valhalla was Ubisoft’s first attempt at turning Assassin’s Creed into a live service game. Numerous free updates were thrown in to keep players engaged in the hopes of coaxing them into purchasing MTXs. Unfortunately, the non-permanent ones have long been removed, meaning I cannot speak on such activities as the holiday festivals. The additions that have remained, though, I will gladly describe, commencing with Tombs of the Fallen. These are five vaults to excavate at your discretion, and while we’ve had tombs in the franchise before, this marks the first time they’re puzzle oriented. I haven’t found all of them at the time of this review’s publication, but the ones I did were definitely fun - nothing too challenging, but miles above the versions we got in the Tomb Raider reboot.

Next-up are River Raids. As the name suggests, they’re basically a mode built around the monastery blitzes from the base game, featuring multiple rivers full of goodies to reap: villages have rations to heal your crew, military posts supplies, and forts/monasteries unique loot. Some changes were implemented to no doubt address criticisms of the vanilla version and make the ordeal a bit more tactical. For example, your crew members (called Jomsvikings), can go down permanently if you don’t revive them with rations, and continuously attacking the same area increases local defenses. River Raids are fine enough, but the problem is not enough was done to diversify things- you’re ultimately conducting the same types of assaults ad nauseam, with the same configuration of posts. And once you scavenge the special drops, there’s no real reason to continue forward with the process unless you’re one of those completionists who wants all the new items in the new store (which, lo and behold, require a special currency you can ONLY earn from River Raiding!). If that weren’t enough, be warned that there is a grindy aspect courtesy of the developers requiring you to upgrade your Longship’s hold to increase its capacity. Several other pet peeves of mine include the broken stealth, emptying of your ration pouch each time you launch a raid, and the inability to uncover a location’s identity unless you leave your ship to walk within its radius (sailing by the harbor should’ve been more than enough!).

Last is The Forgotten Saga, a roguelite mode set in the past wherein you control Havi attempting to rescue his son Baldr from the Goddess Hel. Again, I haven’t done much of it at the time of this review, but what I did play was actually pretty enjoyable. The realms are beautifully-designed, each run is different courtesy of the RNG items, and you do feel like you’re getting stronger. The option to stealth your way through certain parts with the one-hit KO assassination significantly aids in the completion of areas, and combined with there being an actual Isu story, I’d say it’s worth attempting. Just keep in mind that it’s still fundamentally the same gameplay loop as the River Raids in that you’re either fighting or killing.

It’s time to address the technical facets of Valhalla. The first thing I texted my brother when I booted up this game was how it might be the best-looking title I’ve ever played, and I proudly stand by that claim over 60 hours later. The new Ubisoft Anvil engine has completely done away with texture streaming, giving you fully-furnished environments from the get-go no matter where you travel, and trust me when I say that that’s a noteworthy facet considering the diversity and seamlessness of the world. This is the first AC game to indulge in the biome schematic, and while I’ve never considered such biogeographical units necessary for free roam variation, I can’t deny it prevents a sense of déjà vu during your many excursions across England. The frigid mountains of Northumbria, seasonal spice of Mercia, mistiness of East Anglia, and springtime tide of Wessex all converge into a community worth touring. This is probably my favorite map in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and considering the prior beauties, I don’t say that lightly. From the desolate Roman ruins and mythical structures to the sights of warfare and working-class hobbles, there’s a real feeling of a past life wherever you amble, and such vibes go a long way towards maintaining an immersive bubble- you’re just another part in a long history overlaying this land.

For those who don’t know, Odyssey and Valhalla employed an algorithm to render body and countenance expressions so that Ubisoft didn’t have to spend money on motion capture for every cutscene. That’s perfectly fine, and I don’t condemn them for it- it’s an expensive procedure, other companies have employed similar tactics, and if it works out it works out. And contrary to public opinion, I actually do think it’s worked out for the most part- minus Eivor feeling the constant need to cross his arms every minute, his movements never feel unnatural (Valhalla’s regression to “talking heads”, on the other hand, is a point of contention, but more on that later).

Character models are a bit of a step down from Odyssey- I didn’t detect as much detail in Valhalla’s physiognomies as I did in its predecessor’s, though thankfully that’s made up for by the lack of stilty-ness that rendered Odyssey’s figures uncanny at times. Cheekbones and eyebrows, in particular, move a lot more naturally, even as you slather them with body paint. It’s the textiles, however, that deserve the most praise as the precision that has gone into their assemblage is a sight to behold. Leather, cloth, fur, it matters not -- all look intricately stitched as they fold around Eivor’s chassis. I was especially impressed anytime light refracted off metallic pieces, providing an authentic sheen that shifts with your movements accordingly.

The lighting overlay, in general, is fantastic, being another rendition of the dynamic system Origins pioneered. I’ve always been a sucker for the sight of streaming sunshine through forested enclaves, and as you can imagine, Valhalla has that in abundance. Combined with the day/night positioning of the sun and varied environmental hues, and you get a motley of aesthetics that ayont the worlds. Unfortunately, there are some downsides to this refulgence, specifically the game’s indulgence in filters. These were clearly done in a bid to either amplify the lambency or diminish overcasting, but the end result can’t help but make certain areas appear artificially lit. In snowy scapes, for example, you get a white cover; foggy ones blue; fiery ones red; and underwater light blue. I feel the game would’ve been better off utilizing a more natural source for the majority of its lighting during these parts, though YMMV.

Besides that, there were a number of defects I encountered playing on my Xbox Series X: clipping between sheathed weapons and clothing (predominantly on horseback), draw distance generation issues for foliage and flora; occasional framerate drops; bird wings lagging while synchronizing, Eivor getting stuck during parkour animations; and your classic AC pathfinding quandaries with NPCs. Nothing is game-breaking, but it’s evident this was a title held back by its dual-gen release, and should be approached accordingly.

Other miscellaneous graphical plights include the lack of footprints when trudging in frost, shoddy animations for animal finishers (good concept, but should’ve been axed since they weren’t ready), comically-exaggerated splash effects, rainfall being surface-level impact points over a genuine environmental component, and fire looking incredibly dated (your torch is fine enough, but set a blaze or bushfire and you’ll witness combustion that wouldn’t look out-of-place in the original Gothic).

Performance aside, I think my biggest problem with Valhalla’s presentation is its reversion to the “talking heads” dilemma that plagued Unity through Origins. Talking heads, to elucidate, is a term my boy GManLives coined in his Skyrim review, referring to a lack of cinematicity during dialogue. You know, those instances wherein your character and another are technically having a conversation, but don’t appear to be engaged with the other due to the placement of the camera. Yeah, they’re standing opposite the other, however, you inherently lose interest since they’re not framed in a way that conveys they’re the centerpiece of attention. It solely happens in non-mocapped scenes in which the developers simply had the actors record the lines and processed their bustle through an animation algorithm, which, to reiterate, would’ve been fine had they preserved some sense of dynamism in the convos. But no, you often have to move the camera yourself to better enunciate things. If Valhalla had come out after Origins, it wouldn’t have been all bad given the precedent; unfortunately, Odyssey actually alleviated this by adopting a Mass Effect-framing, and while you do get that in the story, the vast majority of your side content is hampered by talking heads.

Further infringing the side stuff is the voice acting. I don’t know what it is about the English accent, but everytime Ubisoft has utilized it for generic civilians, it always sounds mediocre, as though they hired low-effort thespians to save money, and that continues to be the case here. To avoid an absolute, of course not everyone sounds bad, but it’s saying something when Oblivion and its cast of three had better portrayals than the more eclectic assembly here (you even get this recurring mismatch wherein an older-sounding lady voices younger lasses).

Thankfully, the main line is great, with Magnus Bruun and Carlo Rota, in particular, giving standout performances as Eivor and Basim respectively. I was really impressed with Bruun’s ability to distinguish between Eivor and Odin, lacing them with a masterfully concurrent similarity and dissimilarity. With regards to his female counterpart, Cecilie Stenspil, the parts I’ve heard on YouTube indicate her to be terrific as well, and anyone who claims she’s significantly inferior to Magnus is lying- your choice should come down purely to gender preference. That said, there was one person I wasn’t a big fan of, and that was Gudmundr Thorvaldsson as Sigurd. His acting itself is top-notch, but all too often his timbre came across as garbled.

The SFX has its pros and cons. On the plus side, this is the first time I was able to distinguish individualized beats for right & left footsteps in an AC Game, and considering the sheer amount of traveling you’ll be doing, it’s quite splendid to hear (expressly for horses!). Valhalla is also the first AC title to exhibit dismemberment and decapitation, and discerning such grisly cleavings via standard combat executions never gets old. The splintering of castle doors, clinking of loose metal on garments, bending of air around Sýnin and more are all signs of polished handiwork from Ubisoft’s artisans.

Sadly, these are partly counterbalanced by deficiencies, beginning with the sheer amount of rehashed dins from the prior RPG games: shattering pots, dragging barricades, crunching snow, whistling, stock animal growls, sail unmasting, fire burning, and others I’m sure I’m missing were blatantly transposed from Origins and Odyssey. And look, I know there’s only so much differentiation you can do with certain noises, but my point is that no initiative was made to even change them-up. Then again, maybe that was for the better as some of the fresh inclusions were not that good. For example, looting massive chests and completing raids produces this hooting that literally sounds like the chorus from Who Let the Dogs Out on steroids. Opening those coffers, in general, never feels invigorating courtesy of the lid removal having a generic sliding sound that’s not even properly-synchronized. Over and above that, atmospheric conditions are significantly diminished by ear: minus scripted sequences, elements like wind, snowfall, conflagrations, and rain come off as unnaturally-muted, which does hurt their visceralness. Like most AAA releases, Valhalla doesn’t feature any aural blemishes that’ll take you out of the game, but it definitely wasn’t as fortitive as it should have been.

I wish I could say the music atones for things, yet this was another area of disappointment for me. As you guys know, Valhalla marks Jesper Kyd’s grand return to the franchise after nine years, and there’s a reason that news generated a ton of hype: the Ezio scores are regarded as a high water mark for the series and his magnum opus as a whole. But it wasn’t just Jesper’s homecoming that was noteworthy: Sarah Schachner, who weaved the wonderful Origins OST, was announced as a co-composer, meaning nothing short of a masterpiece was expected from the duo.

Unfortunately, while you’ll no doubt find many fans who enjoyed their collaboration on Valhalla, I couldn’t help but feel letdown. The issue is Dark Age settings are inherently associated with symphonic orchestras: we’ve all listened to medieval tracks tinged with flute harmonies, brass fanfare, and of course string solos, and the fact of the matter is that none of those matched up with either musician’s prior arrangements (Jesper’s specialty being synths, Schachner’s electric instruments). Now of course, these are artists with longstanding resumes, and it’s very possible they’ve written music reminiscent of the Middle Age period that I’m simply not aware of but, regardless, their work in Valhalla felt very unnatural and subsequently non-enticing, often engaging in these heavy vocal and French Horn melodies, the former of which should’ve been up Jesper’s alley given his previous experience with choral music, but that ends up faltering due to it not resembling either monophonic chants or his famous carols. Nothing builds up to anything, instead occupying background harmonies that momentarily add a new leitmotif before returning to the shadows (the worst offender of this being the Raid strain, which sounds more like the accompaniment for a group of friars going horse cart racing than the bloody scene of their land being pillaged). Viewpoint tunes are a significant drop from Odyssey; the main theme is so forgettable, I literally had to look it up prior to typing this sentence (an absolute crime for an AC game); and, worst of all, Jesper’s revised version Ezio’s Family (aided by Einar Selvik) is relegated to the freakin’ credits, which, for the record, are a menu option and not mandatory). It’s really sad that Unity incorporated it better than its own maestro.

Obviously, not everything is dispiriting- some of the ambient tracks auxiliary to exploration are top notch, the Ravensthorpe theme is fantastic, and the shanties from your crewmen are the best the franchise has seen (though I suspect these were more Selvik’s creation). But considering everybody’s past body of work, Valhalla truly is a damp squib in this department. Reportedly, gamers were experiencing sound bugs that outright suppressed the music, and it pains me to say that those folks didn’t miss out on much.

On the note (no pun intended) of shanties, I’ll briefly go over the naval component of Valhalla as, unlike Black Flag, Rogue, and Odyssey, it’s not about maritime combat; theoretically, the purpose of the longboat is to merely transport you and your horde from place-to-place. However, the fact of the matter is you have mounts that do the exact same thing (aided by them being able to swim), making this apparent reasoning all but naught.

No, the sole intention behind the longboat was clearly to allow players to relive the Viking fantasy of coastal assaults, and the reality is that’s very shallow as, once you’re done plundering the abbeys, there is no other grounds for its existence. Sure, you can call your crew against the occasional camp scattered along the seaboard, but 9 times out of 10 it’s usually quicker to just solo it yourself. And listen, I would have no problem with this being a simple option for players, but the reason I’m complaining is because all those waterways they sculpted into the map make ground-based traversal between regions unnecessarily hamperful. While it’s not extraneous by any means, having to waste time paddling across tributaries whilst tracking down an orb gets tiring -- it reminded me too much of Venice from ACII, which suffered from similar qualms. I get that these rivers are probably historically accurate, but adding more bridges would’ve gone a long way towards making the amphibious transition more palatable. And speaking of bridges, I absolutely hate this instance during sailing wherein, everytime your boat approaches an overpass, your crew has to waste time slowing down and collapsing the mast (often causing it to clip with your tailpiece)- why not avoid the whole shebang and just make the structures taller? They already took a ton of creative liberty with the art assets anyway (as AskHistorians astutely assessed). And for those few of you who insist on traveling by sea, be prepared to get stuck on shorelines frequently (especially during turns) as your crew of @ssholes berate you.

The last major gameplay element is, of course, the skill tree, and it’s pretty bog standard insofar as RPGs go. Instead of levelling-up, you’re granted two points you can invest into one of three branching nodes representing combat, stealth, and archery, and thanks to the level cap not increasing between levels the way it typically does in other RPGs, you’re actually able to gather points at a reasonable pace without having to grind. In addition, Valhalla does away with Odyssey’s convoluted damage system in favor of consolidating everything into a singular “power level” that increases by two every time you invest in a slot, making it an enjoyable framework.

Now, I understand, there are some downsides to this more simplistic approach, mainly that gear boosts and builds don’t matter, but given that AC was never a hardcore role-playing series to begin with, I honestly didn’t mind the “return to roots” format, and it’s not like you’re less-incentivized to go loot scouring (avatar customization is an aesthetics-first enterprise after all).

Look, despite my intermittent rants, Valhalla actually ranks in my top 5 AC games of all time. It does a lot right for the franchise in terms of pioneering a better open world format, implementing balanced RPG mechanics, and (it goes without saying) fixing the modern-day after six entries of scattershot mediocrity. Eivor is another great protagonist, and given the sheer amount of hours of time you’ll be spending with him/her, it’s reassuring to know Ubisoft succeeded on this front. Yes there are a few botherations in the gameplay and narrative design you’ll have to contend with should you decide to embark on a long journey with the Vikingr, but as long as you know what you’re getting into, you’ll ultimately enjoy the ride. After 191 hours, I was saddened to be leaving Eivor and company behind, and you don’t experience that if the endeavor wasn’t worthwhile.


Notes
+The RPG elements began with Unity’s character customization/skillpoint acquisition and was further evolved in Syndicate outright having a leveling system. And both Egypt and England were not in their “ancient” status by historical standards.

-You’ve probably heard that Valhalla doesn’t have cloth physics, and the answer is both yes and no: there are animations for when you’re moving, but absolutely none for the elements (wind, in particular).

Man, what a ride. I wasn't planning on writing anything about it at first since all I had to say was mostly negatives that I considered to be minor flaws, but this game is great. Really, really great. Sons of Liberty was an interesting game with interesting ideas and themes to explore, so maybe in comparison Snake Eater might look like a simpler game in that regard, as it's a story about a guy who sneaks into enemy territory to eliminate a team of highly skilled warriors with a lot of double-crosses in-between and… look, this is the second Metal Gear game I've played this far, but as far as I'm concerned most of them are about a guy sneaking an enemy fortress, eliminating wacky ass bosses and destroying the respective Metal Gear, so it's not like this is the most original idea ever created. I mean, all of Kojima’s work is derived from other works (you guys ain't convincing me Snatcher and Policenauts aren't blatant rip-offs of Blade Runner and Lethal Weapon respectively), and Snake Eater is no different, as this is pretty much inspired by Rambo, and in particular James Bond films but lacking the extreme misogyny.

I much prefer the stealth system in this one as it's actual stealth and not so reliant on trial and error as the previous game was. Playing this in its original form with the bird-view camera overcomplicates the game as the environments are more open and you need to watch out your surroundings, so I am thankful for getting my hands on an original copy of the Subsistence rerelease, which came with a fully controllable third person camera that made things much less tedious. Enemies' camouflage blends with the jungle and they become much more threatening than the guy-who-spots-you-from-the-floor-above-that-you-couldn’t-see enemies the previous game had. You can also wear plenty of camouflages, of course, to blend in with the foliage and go unnoticed, but going to the pause menu to change camos on the fly kills the pace of stealth a lot. Spending a few seconds to check what camo suits better for the occasion every 5 minutes or so is tiring, it would be better if switching between camos took a few seconds for Snake to change clothes so it became less frequent and made the act of choosing one over another a much more meaningful and strategic decision. But still, this is a minor gripe. The overall impression I'm left with is that this is the better stealth system, as it relies less on pattern seeking and trial and error and more on the player's skill and creativity to sneak around.

The survival element, while an interesting novelty when looked in retrospect, is mostly OK, not bad nor particularly good. Serviceable for what the game wants, which is being a power fantasy and overcoming adversity. Animals lurked everywhere I went so even if some food I carried on me got rotten, I could just look out for more food nearby (and the Calorie Mates and Ramen, best foods in the game, never rot so I had a big reserve of both), and the medical treatments you can apply to wounds would benefit more if you couldn't just hit the pause button and heal whenever you felt like, making engaging in combat more risky than it is. The combat itself is improved from the previous game with the addition of CQC and a much more useful arsenal of weapons and tools. Unlike the previous game, using stuff like thermal vision goggles is not just a gimmick used for a couple of set-pieces but a useful piece of technology to walk around the jungle and avoid enemies. The environment is full of traps and whatnot so being careful and methodical is highly encouraged to avoid landmines, spike traps and holes on the floor. The jungle is hostile and it's represented very well, not by the local wildlife, as animals are just walking around waiting to be hunted, but by how the environment can disguise anything.

The story is nothing short of amazing. It ties some loose ends from Sons of Liberty as well as doing some callbacks to previous games because this is a prequel to set how everything began. The fights against the Cobras, even if they didn't have much build-up beyond someone telling one of them to go after you in one cutscene, were memorable to say the least. The game doesn't point to them as “the bad guys” and is somewhat empathetic to them in a way, something that makes sense after one revelation you get later in the game. It's never clear who are the bad guys and who are the good guys and the line between good and bad blurs a lot to give away the message about the pointlessness of war and does it in a more mature way that just saying something as banal as “MAYBE I'm not the good guy?” as most anti-war narratives (not only games) do.

Sons of Liberty was an interesting game that had a bunch of things good and a bunch of things bad, exactly like this one, and I like it due to it being a somewhat simpler game to play. Snake Eater attempts a lot of new stuff with interesting additions and overhauls a lot of elements from the last game, and I like it because of how it expands on all the previously built systems while adding new mechanics. Both are amazing games in their own way anyhow, and wouldn't exactly say one is better than the other. I believe a good way to measure if I liked a piece of media or not is to think if what I experienced from it will still remain on me long after I finished playing, and both games are incredible adventures to remember.

(Quick side note here: there's a character that looks like Raiden and has Raiden on his name but isn't Raiden that you can beat up and/or kill as a main objective, something that feels disrespectful towards the previous game. Much more disrespectful is the fact that there's a video you can watch on the secret teather that features Raiden getting beaten up repeatedly and sexually harassed just for the sake of it. This feels REALLY out of place, and kinda homophobic.)

Mildly fun for a bit but gets repetitive too quickly due to how little content their is. PS+ giving this for free is the only reason to play cause it's so filled to the brim with overpriced microtransactions. This is a good example of potential lost to greed. This game could turn into something great with the right direction but ultimately I'm expecting it to stay the same until eventually it gets shut down cause no one is going to buy a $40 skin in a game that's already pay to play and has minimalistic content.

When it comes to any genre of video game, there are plenty of different ways you can label specific games to be found within said genre. There is the most popular of the bunch, which is usually the most successful and recognizable out of all of the games in the genre, there’s the direct competitor, which is usually pitted against the most popular game when brought up in conversation, and of course, there are the many, many imitators that exist out there, who try to recapture and replicate what made the most popular product work to begin with, but most of the time, they fall flat on their face. But then, out of all of those, there is an outlier: one who, rather then trying to directly compete with the big boys, they instead aim to make fun of them instead, while also attempting to make a worthwhile product in the process. In terms of the fighting genre from the early 90’s, this game in question would come to be known as ClayFighter.

I myself had never played ClayFighter before, nor any of its sequels, but I have always wanted to, not because I thought it would be the best game ever made, but just because of how goofy it was. This game was made primarily to be a parody of Street Fighter, and you can definitely see it, not just in terms of the goofy character design and art style, but also with several elements that can be found within the game, which makes it more appealing to someone like me, who loves products like this that simply don’t give a shit. So, I decided to give it a shot, and not gonna lie, I actually ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would, and that is mainly due to the art style and goofiness of it all. Would I say it is a good game though? Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhh… kinda? It is definitely not gonna outshine any of the other fighters that was released around this time, but for what it is, it is fun and silly enough to where I didn’t necessarily care about
any of the problems that it does carry.

The story is about as goofy as you would hope for, where a meteor ends up crashing into this random circus, with the clay-goo from the meteor infecting all of the circus attractions and mutating them into the fighters of the game, and instead of trying to fix themselves or figure out what the hell is going on, they decide to compete for the title of the King of the Circus……….. honestly, it’s a 10/10 premise, nothing more to say. The graphics are… interesting, to say the least, with all of the characters being animated entirely using claymation, with plenty of goofy environments present to also have them fight in, and while it is definitely dated and ugly in several areas, I can’t help but find it more strangely charming rather then hideous, the music is also fitting goofy for the type of game this is, but I can’t really say that it is all that good, as it is mostly just forgettable, the control is what you would expect from a fighter, and it is pretty stiff as a whole, which did kinda drag this down, but I wouldn’t say it ruined the game for me, and the gameplay is exactly what you would expect from this type of game, limited only to its basic functions, which may or may not be bad depending on who you ask.

The game is a 2D fighter, where you take control of one eight different goofy fighters, take on many different opponents throughout plenty of different environments throughout the land, throw out plenty of kicks, punches, and special attacks against opponents to drain their health to zero, properly defend yourself whenever your opponent manages to get the upper hand on you, and stand out on top amongst the rest as the best piece of living clay to have ever roamed the Earth. As a whole, it is all pretty basic, which does kinda suck, as I will get into later, but there are several things that definitely makes up for this (for the most part): the presentation and characters.

This game tries to be more humorous rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say it is flat out hilarious, or even all too funny, I would say that it was funny and goofy enough to where it definitely worked out in that regard. Most of this comes from the characters that you play as and fight throughout the game, which are some of the goofiest characters that I have ever seen in any fighting game. The main character is literally just Frosty the Snowman if he was an asshole, which is who I stuck to playing as the whole time, and as for all of the opponents, you have this crazy-ass clown who I love to beat the fuck out of, an spooky ghost with a pumpkin on his head, an opera singer dressed up like a viking, an Elvis impersonator that didn’t die on the toilet, and even just a blob with eyeballs. Sure, they aren’t the most bizarre characters you could see in a video game, but all of them being put together in this one game just makes it that much more appealing, in the most “what-the-fuck” way it could. Hell, even the final boss of the game is goofy as hell, with him not only being named “N. Boss”, but with him also being a circle made of gray balls with eyes. Again, how can you not love that?

If you don’t end up loving that though, then there isn’t really much else here for you to love instead. This is the most basic type of fighting game that you can find, with you just fighting many different opponents all in a row, taking on a final boss, and then that’s where the game ends. Literally, it just ends, there’s no ending sequence for each of the characters, it just cuts to credits, which does kinda suck. Not to mention, there are no additional bonus stages, other unique modes, cutscenes, or anything of the sort, which does make it less appealing to choose over any other fighter of the time. Also, there are times where you will have to refight opponents, and you all know how much I LOVE doing that in video games. In addition to this, the fighting itself isn’t necessarily the best. Yes, it does function, and it is certainly better then, say, Doomsday Warrior, but it does feel pretty stiff, and there aren’t any flashy combos or unique special moves that you can pull off that would make it stand out. Really, the only thing that the game has going for it is, again, the goofy characters you play as and the silly environments you fight in, which does work for me, but I can definitely see how it wouldn’t for many others.

Overall, despite how bare-bones, clunky, and basic the game as a whole is, I did end up really liking ClayFighter at the end of the day, primarily because of the silly nature of the game, and the unique presentation that you don’t particularly see from games of this era, making it a good enough game in my eyes. I will probably never play it again after this, but I am glad that I decided to check it out after all this time, and I do look forward to playing the sequels at some point in the future. I would recommend it for those who enjoy 2D fighters, as well as those who just enjoy laughing at stupid shit, because one way or another, this could definitely be stupid enough to satisfy your tastes. Before I go through, I would like to briefly go over the Tournament Edition of this game, as I won’t be doing a separate review for that one. This is basically an updated version of the game that fixes several glitches present in the main game, as well as adding several new features like more options, more versus mode, and more stage backgrounds. It is basically a better version of this game, but it doesn’t add quite enough to make me wanna cover it in a separate review. Besides, after covering fifty different versions of Street Fighter II at this point, I need a break from fighting game updates as is.

Game #475