There is no doubt that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is one of the most in-depth and well-received entries in the franchise, even as people are finding out the strange and crazy details in the games story, but more on that later. We here at SKNR know that the game has been out for a while, but our review was focused on the Stadia version, which didn’t go quite as expected. I am here to share my impression of the game, which is overall very good, and also how it runs on the Stadia service, especially as many might be eying it as the way of playing the newly released Cyberpunk 2077 from CD Project Red.
So, for those that don’t know the inner workings of Stadia, let me break down the simple version. Essentially instead of having the necessary hardware and specs to run a game on your machine, you are basically streaming the game to your computer and playing with their own Stadia controller or any other controller available (I am sure there are compatibility issues with some controllers, but I have yet to run into any during my testing). Keyboards can also be used on PC. But not just your computer, you can also play on a mobile phone or tablet (recently iOS was added to this list). You can use any controller that can connect to your phone. You can also play on your TV with Chromecast. For this method, you can only use the Stadia controller as it can connect directly to the Google Stadia servers via wifi. The controller can also be used in this manner with the other methods of play. The important thing to note here is that you can only play in 4K quality on the Chromecast. The best you can get on any other device, including your PC, is 1080p. This is a major piece to understand as we discuss my experience, and as you contemplate purchasing a game on the service.
Being the AAA blockbuster that Valhalla is supposed to be, of course I wanted to play this game in 4K on my big screen. So I plug in the Chromecast, fire up the controller, and set on my way. Now, some of the issues I am about to describe have been experienced by me prior to Valhalla, but don’t blame me for expecting different this time. There was a controller update between the last time I had the issue and this time. I thought it had been resolved. I am playing for about 10 minutes when, just like clockwork, the issues begin. Suddenly, there are input delays from anywhere between 1 and 3 seconds, sometimes longer. I move Eivor to the left, and it happens moments later on screen. The input lag just keeps getting worse and worse, and then eventually I have a message saying there are connection issues. However, when I press the button to go to the Stadia menu there was no lag at all. Not only that, but it just makes no sense that I would be having connection issues on my end. With a high-quality modem, router, and mesh network throughout my home, I have never had any connection issues with any of my other devices. And as I said, pulling up the menu, or navigating the home screen on Stadia shows no issues.
The thing is, at least for me, this issue isn’t new. I experienced it with The Avengers and Watch Dogs: Legion earlier this year and for other games in the past as well. Truth be told, I really like Stadia. I think it is a great concept, and with the issues that Cyberpunk has been having, it is poised to take a good foothold in the gaming arena. I would play it all the time, if not for this issue. I am fortunate enough to have each console and a mid-range gaming PC, so I have the equipment to game how I want to. But having the ability to play titles like Valhalla or Watch Dogs: Legion on my tablet or phone is amazing. But having my options always limited to 1080p in this day and age because of issues with their controller preventing me from playing on the Chromecast is just demoralizing.
SKNR has tried to contact Google about the issue, but it has lead us nowhere. I was contemplating purchasing Cyberpunk from Google just to get another pro kit and see if I have the issue with a second controller. But that went away quickly, and I wasn’t 100% sure how the quality would be.
Onto Valhalla itself. Despite a downgraded experience in 1080p, the game was a delight to play. There honestly isn’t anything that I can add that you haven’t read in any other reviews. The story is promising, there are rideable wolves, many anime references, the occasional baseball player, the gameplay and mechanics can be hit and miss, and it’s a crazy messed up Assassin’s Creed plot line (more on that later). One of the improvements I liked this time around was the ability to choose game difficulty in combat, exploration, and stealth separate from each other. This is a good mechanic that I hope to see in future games because there are people out there who, like me, may be good at certain aspects of games, but not others. I can only see this giving a better player experience when available.
But, what I really would like to talk about is the insane ending of the game. Now credit goes where credit is due, and I wouldn’t have learned about some of this if not for Ari Notis and Zack Zwiezen with their piece on Kotaku. I still went through the motions to get the experience in game, though. Also, the world we live in requires the following notice:
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So, there’s a lot going on here. A quick breakdown of what I am getting at first. The mad Sigurd drags Eivor and Basim to Norway, where they uncover an Isu temple where they find a machine they can plug into (which looks strikingly similar to the Animus seen in the Assassin’s Creed film). When they do plug in, they appear to arrive in Odin’s Hall in actual Valhalla. As it turns out, this is just a simulation of a past super civilization. The weird thing is that none of this is even revealed in the main storyline, but through the Valka questline that sends you to Asgard by completing environmental puzzles to unlock a hidden video. It turns out that most of, if not all, the characters in Valhalla are actually, and get this, reincarnated Isu. So basically, Basim is Loki, Eivor is Odin, and SIgurd is Tur. So Basim/Loki has actually been warping the mind of Sigurd/Tyr. When you see it from this perspective, it actually makes a little more sense.
It was a weird choice by Ubisoft to bury two key events for the ending in optional questlines. There are things at the end of the game that I had some confusion on, but it was cleared up when I discovgerd all of this. But, it only gets weirder from here. While some may think now that all the times Odin popped up in game pushing you to do bad is just Eivor’s inner psyche, but it could be more than that. Remember you are inside an Animus. It could be just the Animus’s way of dealing with the Isu DNA and two separate sets of memory.
Now, let’s come back to the modern day with Layla and her team of Assassins. They have found the temple, which is important because they need to stop that powerful Precursor machine he turned on at the end of ACIII. Turns out the Precursors and the Isu are one in the same, and this machine is now destroying the world with strong magnetic forces. The staff Layla got from Kassandra at the end of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey will protect her from the dangers of the temple left by the machine. But she has to be holding it. In order to turn off the machine that Basim has been connected to for centuries, she must go inside. And as she does, she drops the staff. But she makes it in, and arrives in the same simulation of Odin’s Hall Eivor saw. She comes into contact with The Reader, who is none other than Desmond! He has been in there for 8 years and has become a new person, sort of. It’s Basim just tricking her at the time, but she will now be stuck in the Grey, like Desmond. Because as far as we can tell, there is no getting out.
Things are still unclear about how Basim got the ball rolling on all of this. But it turns out that he was somehow able to use the internet and satellites to get the attention of the Assassins. He needed a person and the staff so he could leave the simulation and lured them there with the prospect of saving the world. The other big WTF moment here is her entering the Grey allowed him to leave, get the staff and de-age himself. The team gets a false message from Layla about what she is doing, and Basim plugs into the Animus. And you are now playing as Basim inside the Animus.
So who knows what he is up to. I am sure we will get more answers in future DLC, but I doubt we will get anything substantial until the next game. This weird, batshit crazy ending has brought some new life to Assassin’s Creed for me. It was nice to see throwbacks to the original trilogy, including a direct reference to ACII. Your mileage may vary on Stadia, but if you haven’t picked up on any platform already, you should. Especially with the deals going on right now.
4 stars out of 5