The new best Asssassin’s Creed game is also our Best RPG of 2020. We’ll be updating our GOTY 2020 hub with new awards and personal picks throughout December.
Steven Messner: Valhalla was a bit of a surprise to me, honestly. I expected it to be pretty good, but I had no idea that Ubisoft’s next Assassin’s Creed was going to be such a powerful and memorable adventure. What matters here are the little details—the numerous ways Ubisoft listened to feedback from Odyssey to make Valhalla a much more inviting RPG. Level-gating is gone, the open-world doesn’t feel like a checklist of boring activities, and the combat has been refined to include more depth and strategy (and a hell of a lot more gore).
It’s also the first time an Assassin’s Creed story really gripped me from beginning to end. Odyssey’s storytelling was often clunky and a little obtuse, but Valhalla does a fantastic job of exploring Eivor’s relationship with her adoptive brother Sigurd while questioning the traditions of Norse culture with a surprising amount of nuance. Hell, even the modern-day meta-narrative is interesting again. While the series’ transition into a big, meaty RPG has been a little clumsy, Valhalla makes it all worth it.
James Davenport: I knew Valhalla was something special when, as part of a sidequest, I pulled an axe out of a viking’s skull. Important note: he was alive and talking to me, asking if I could help with his little problem. The guy collapsed and died immediately of course, and a little XP notification popped up to let me know the quest was done with. That was it. Stumble into a dying man, pull out the painful jewelry. Quest complete. In another I told a girl clinging onto a false symbol—the last leaf hanging from a tree—that it doesn’t mean her father was still alive. So I told her to move on, then shot the leaf down. Dick move, but I’m a realist. Quest complete.
Valhalla is riddled with these odd encounters rather than the usual convoluted sidequests. It’s more Red Dead than Elder Scrolls, imbuing the old English setting with a sense of life beyond the main conflict. For the first time in a while, a Ubisoft open world doesn’t feel like a checklist—it feels like a world.
Andy Kelly: It’s wild to see an Assassin’s Creed game win RPG of the year, but Ubisoft has really transformed this series. The journey from Origins, through Odyssey, to Valhalla has been an interesting one, and I really think the developer has really nailed what they want this series to be. Which is: The Witcher 3, but historical. This is a supremely rewarding RPG, particularly in how it keeps the content of its sidequests a secret until you decide to travel there and find out.
You never know what kind of fresh madness you’ll stumble into, or the eccentric characters you’ll meet. A satisfying sense of discovery is important to any open world RPG, and Valhalla really nails it. Eivor is also one of the series’ best protagonists, both a bloodthirsty warrior and a charming goof. She’s maybe a little too nice for a viking, but these games are always best with a charismatic lead.