Assassin's Creed Valhalla Accessibility
Assassin's Creed Valhalla is an accessibility anomaly. While there are numerous features that will surely benefit physically disabled players, Ubisoft never fully commits to the full inclusion of accessibility options and features, leaving individuals frustrated and exhausted.
Score7.6 out of 10
As a video game journalist who moonlights as a classicist, the Assassin’s Creed franchise holds a special place in my heart. Not only do the games pique both of my interests, they also afford me numerous opportunities to explore historic locations without having to leave my home. The latest iteration scratches my itch to be a fearless Viking warrior, leading me across Norway and Anglo-Saxon England to fight, raid and absorb the histories and cultures of both nations. While I genuinely enjoyed learning of the newest Assassin, Eivor, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla often left me physically exhausted, perplexed, and downright furious at the baffling accessibility features.
Developed by Ubisoft Montréal, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla transports players to the Viking Age, where axes, Norse mythology, and longships reigned supreme. Individuals assume the role of Eivor (with the capability to select their preferred gender), as the warrior seeks to avenge their family’s death while also questing to find new lands to inhabit. My favorite parts of the series have always been the character customization, combat, and discovery, and understanding of mythology and Valhalla is certainly no different. Yet, numerous physical accessibility blunders greatly diminished my immersion and interest in Norse culture.
Like most Ubisoft titles, Valhalla features an extensive control customization system. Unfortunately, not every key or mouse button can be changed, such as the scroll wheel and the ever infamous ‘Escape’ key. Further struggles are presented because Valhalla occasionally seems to forget that it offers the accessibility feature of control customization, as certain menu actions, including confirming new information or reloading a save file after death, are forever bound to the ‘Space Bar’ key.
Boss fights (an issue which will be discussed later), never made me realize how frustrating it is that I cannot reach that specific key. After dying to a particularly difficult enemy more than five times, I simply quit playing for the remainder of the day. Not only did Valhalla continuously mock me for my inability to use that key, but I was also unable to locate the assistance that could stay by my side for more than 10 minutes.
To make matters worse, Valhalla does not allow for new key or button settings to overlap with previous assignments. For example, I initially assigned the aiming key to ‘2,’ but since that already corresponded with an ability, Eivor never once drew their bow while I was pressing the button. This meant that I had to assign unique inputs for EVERY action, which totaled an egregious amount of keys for the PC.
The physical accessibility barriers do not stop there. While Valhalla features the capability to toggle crucial components such as crouching, sprinting and aiming, disabled individuals strangely cannot toggle looting or the incredibly important “Odin Sight,” this iteration’s version of “Eagle Vision.” Before attacking settlements, camps, or exploring cities, Eivor is encouraged to scout the surrounding territory through Sýnin, their trusty Raven companion. To effectively use the bird, players must hold the corresponding key to activate its unique vision.
While airborne, Sýnin can mark enemies, loot, or places of interest that should be explored at a later point. It is entirely feasible to not utilize this feature, but physically disabled players will miss out on stealth opportunities or gear that could eventually change the tide of battle.
To coincide with “Odin Sight,” individuals should be looting enemies and areas throughout the campaign. After all, Vikings were notorious for their raids. Yet, large battles and settlements often featured numerous pieces of gear and loot, each important for upgrading your Assassin or their home settlement.
Rather than include an option that gathers all materials within a radius with just a single button, Valhalla forces players to press the interact key EACH TIME you pick up an item. During one raid, I lost count of the number of times I was forced to rapidly mash the ‘E’ key, further adding on to my already increasing levels of exhaustion.
These issues form the catalyst for my biggest gripe with Valhalla — physically disabled players will suffer from immense strain, leaving them drained. At its core, Valhalla includes accessibility features that are certainly beneficial. Yet, its inability to fully commit to physical accessibility inclusion greatly diminishes its overall ease. For example, Valhalla is a button-mashing simulator. Whether looting, scouting, or fighting, players are repeatedly smashing their fingers on their mouse and keyboard.
After stealthily looting an enemy encampment, I decided to wipe it clean of enemy warriors. While it is possible to have some finesse with combat, most fights boil down to merely smashing the left and right mouse buttons as you attempt to either kill the enemy or eliminate its stamina bar. After collecting a multitude of trinkets, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was seriously mash away at a horde of enemy Vikings. Couple this with a bizarre glitch that caused certain enemies to teleport upwards of 30 feet away, and I found myself desperately screaming for relief after a five-minute engagement.
Now, it should be noted that Valhalla does provide excellent tools that increase its overall ease for physically disabled players. Third-party software, such as virtual keyboards and Tobii Eye Tracker certainly mitigate the number of keys that are necessary. There is even a radial wheel which allows access to numerous features with just the press of a single key. However, the inability to toggle or hold key actions, along with the egregious amount of button mashing remain.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is quite frankly a physical accessibility disappointment. For a studio that regularly champions accessibility features, it is beyond frustrating to see Valhalla never fully commit to a single option. There are moments of brilliance scattered amongst the confusion, making it even more painful to continue playing this otherwise entertaining title. Unfortunately, Valhalla will not be celebrating its success within Odin’s glorious dining halls. Rather, it’s more akin to the charred remains of a freshly pillaged Viking encampment.
A review copy of Assassin's Creed Valhalla was provided by the developer / publisher.