Assassin's Creed Valhalla

I love Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but I’m finding its quirkiness to be less and less charming the deeper I get into the game. One of the major points of frustration (aside from the horrific cairn challenges and game-breaking bugs) is that the controls are sloppy and unwieldly.

The thing is, Valhalla is able to mask this fact most of the time. When you’re climbing up fortress walls or roaming around the massive world, you don’t even notice that something’s amiss. But as soon as you attempt one of the Animus Anomalies, the weakness of the control scheme becomes painfully obvious — and I really do mean painfully.

The Animus Anomalies have you controlling everybody’s least favorite Assassin’s Creed protagonist, Layla Hassan, while navigating puzzle-platformer segments that almost look like they came out of a 3D Mario game. The premise is alright, and visually, the contrast between the Tron-like platforms and Medieval England is striking. But in practice, these are nothing more than exercises in extreme frustration.

The game asks you to perform precision jumps, some of which add an element of timing. When you try to jump to a platform that’s straight ahead, only to have Layla snap to some climbable object off to your left, your sense of direction gets completely thrown off and you end up missing the jump. Or, when you’re trying to outrun a moving barrier, only to snap to a ledge instead of jumping over it, you’ll get mowed down, forced to restart the segment.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla

The controls are simply not precise enough to require these sorts of maneuvers. The thing is, there are only a few places in the game where you’ll even notice this. Aside from the Animus Anomalies, this problem only really crops up during the tattoo paper chases and occasionally during stealth sequences (when you attempt to sneak through a window and end up jumping over it, for example).

I’ve completed all ten Animus Anomalies in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and the reward is a cinematic that you really, really need to watch (it bridges Eivor’s Asgard and Jotunheim visions with the rest of the story in a really satisfying manner). Thank the gods that there are only ten of these anomalies to complete, because any more than that and I might have actually given up on it. I was at the end of my rope by the time I’d completed the tenth.

I stand by my assessment that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was one of the best games of 2020. It’s really, really playable, and the basic gameplay loop is very addictive. That being said, I think the Animus Anomalies only serve to underscore how sloppy the game’s controls actually are. I would say they add nothing meaningful to the game, but that’s not true — the cinematic is critical to the game’s plot. However, the road to unlocking the cinematic is paved with frustration, which tarnishes what’s otherwise a really shiny part of the game’s story.

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