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Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Nov. 10, 2020

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PC Review - 'Assassin's Creed Valhalla' Wrath of the Druids DLC

by Andreas Salmen on May 12, 2021 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

Assassin's Creed Valhalla throws players axe-first into ninth-century England, an age of warring kingdoms and Viking conquest. Wars will rage. Kingdoms will fall. This is the age of the Vikings.

Buy Assassin's Creed Valhalla

Assassin's Creed Valhalla had ups and downs for me. On the PC, the game exhibited poor performance, crashes, and a myriad of bugs at launch to sour the experience. When it ran well, it showed glimpses of promising mechanics and efforts to move the series forward, but ultimately, the high runtime and amount of repetitive gameplay didn't do it any favors. Since then, not much has changed. Some bugs have been squashed, but others remain or have been newly introduced. The title pushes in-game cosmetics that are purchased with real money, and that doesn't improve my opinion of it, especially since a ton of grinding is needed to acquire cosmetics without making a purchase. That said, I was genuinely excited for its first proper DLC expansion, Wrath of the Druids, which takes Eivor to the Emerald Isle. While the new map of Ireland is sizable, beautiful to look at, and fun to traverse, the rest of the experience falters under the same mechanics and tropes.

Wrath of the Druids continues a trend of adding content that occurs during the main story of Valhalla, so as long as you have completed the early story arcs in England, you can access the DLC and set off to Ireland from a new trading post in your settlement. It's an entirely closed-off expansion that has no ramifications on the main story, and it's not affected by prior story decisions. Much like the main story, it also means that we shouldn't expect meaningful insights or developments with our bland protagonist, Eivor.

Our adventure begins when Azar, a trader from Dublin, visits our settlement at the behest of the King of Dublin, who eventually turns out to be Eivor's cousin, Barid. We join Azar to back our cousin's quest to stay on his Dublin throne under the soon-to-be High King of all Ireland, Flann Sinna. The story essentially tackles the pagan roots of the country and its increasingly Christian overtaking. While it's an interesting conflict, the story often avoids diving too deep into it and handles it in a very artificial, straightforward manner. It succumbs to telling a tale that is familiar to anyone who finished the main story: Back a king, kill a few opponents, and lay siege to a few castles and outposts.

Compared to many of the smaller stories told in Valhalla, Wrath of the Druids has memorable characters, some of whom exhibit some decent character development over the roughly 10-hour storyline. It's entertaining enough, but I felt that it could've made more out of the story and the topics of Christianity, Druids and Paganism.

The gameplay has largely remained the same, but Wrath of the Druids makes changes to a few of the mechanics, mainly around raids and settlements. Whereas we raided abbeys and outposts to improve our settlement in the main story, we now raid abbeys and outposts to set up a trade network that will eventually boost Dublin's renown. It's an important piece of Barid's plan to continue ruling Dublin.

There are several ringforts located around the isle, which must be captured and restored by Eivor to provide goods for trading. There are four distinct Irish goods, with up to two ringforts for each good. Each fort can be upgraded with additional buildings to boost production or storage, which are financed by our raids. While Wrath of the Druids introduces the trade mechanic anew, the way it works is very similar to the existing settlement and raid system. The goods we produce are given to Azar to trade with different corners of the world, which increases Dublin's renown and lets us acquire exotic gear in the form of new tattoo schemes, weapons, and armor that hail from Egypt or the Byzantine Empire. It's a fun concept and easy to complete while you're playing the main story, and the rewards are a decent payoff.

You may rightfully ask, "But where are the Druids?" They're almost everywhere, it seems. They take part in the story, and although they are not very prominent for much of the game's runtime, you'll encounter quite a few of them in the wild. In addition to improving Dublin's trade renown and ensuring King Flann's seat on the throne, we must uncover a hidden society and execute its members, who are Druids. I had initially hoped the DLC would go the route of interesting Druid boss fights that were in the main story, but the Druids in the DLC aren't different than our prior targets, so they're easy pickings. I accidentally killed two of them while I completed other objectives.

In general, the number of major boss encounters was a letdown. The story is devoid of meaningful and challenging boss fights except in the final battle. There are two bigger boss fights that I won't spoil and I found to be an excellent addition. I had hoped that DLC released six months after the main game would offer a few more challenging encounters for those who have already completed everything else. If you haven't completed the main game, these encounters will be genuinely difficult to beat unless you level up. For the rest, these aren't much of a challenge.

That's something I already criticized the main game for: difficulty, or the lack thereof. The game scales enemy difficulty to your current level, but even then, encounters are never tough. I completed the DLC on the highest difficulty, and some boss encounters didn't take more than a single try. It was a breeze to play through, which didn't make the experience better. The Wrath of the Druids expansion is solid with its new map and 10 hours of content — add a few more hours if you truly want to find everything — but it didn't change enough to engage me over longer stretches of playtime.

Apart from what we've already discussed, the side content is equally lackluster. It would've been great to see some Ireland-specific mystery events (the game's side-quests) to add some depth to the Pagan/Christian conflict or to highlight some interesting fables or folklore. Instead, a huge chunk of the side content involves offer shrines and cairn stone stacking challenges similar to the main game. The more unique mysteries are six challenge shrines where you predominantly fight Druids after inhaling their toxic fumes, which is essentially how the game justifies that you occasionally battle werewolves: hallucinations. Even those are brief combat challenges.

Considering the potential of the setting and story, I was let down by what I actually played. There are still additional artifacts and wealth to collect, along with four new skills, like smoke bomb arrows and commanding Irish Wolfhounds, which are decent additions and add some skill variety. Then again, they are not fundamentally different from existing skills in the game. There are some genuinely interesting gear sets, and the new weapon type, the sichel, is fun to use as a fast and brutal weapon choice that can be dual-wielded, even though there aren't too many sichel weapons in the game.

The DLC also adds "King's Favors" in the form of pigeon coops, which will be familiar to long-time AC fans. These contain little challenges like killing a certain enemy or clearing a camp with optional objectives, such as no unnecessary kills or remaining undetected, for additional rewards that can be boosted with ringfort building upgrades.

Wrath of the Druids has a decent amount of content, so if your 60-hour Valhalla playthrough left you wanting more, this DLC scratches that itch while remaining somewhat familiar in new ways. The best part of the DLC is its new map of Ireland. While it only contains the northwest regions of Ireland, it is very beautiful to traverse, much like England was in the main game. If the recent AC titles have achieved one thing, it's the gorgeous natural landscapes that stretch for miles. Ireland's lush green hills and stony cliffs look impressive, although the environments lack some of the variety of the main game, which is a small gripe given the much smaller map size. The excellent soundtrack has been supplemented with a few new tracks, so you get a pretty great experience in terms of visuals and sound.

An area where the game didn't necessarily improve is its performance. While we did not encounter any performance issues on the PC, we did encounter several crashes to the desktop. Sometimes the game crashed as frequently as every 30 minutes. One of these crashes permanently removed our active gear from our inventory, which required us to reload an earlier save file. On several occasions, we saw NPC companions clipping through the floor when trying to open chests, arrows permanently stuck in the character's hand, certain effect statuses not being removed after fights, and the UI overlapping. Most of these didn't hinder the moment-to-moment gameplay, but they are unwelcome distractions. I am unsure if these will be fixed in a patch after release, but looking at the overall state of Valhalla at the moment, I wouldn't necessarily count on it.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Wrath of the Druids is a solid stand-alone story experience that takes place during Valhalla's storyline. While boasting a decent story, it never breaks the mold of the established formula, feeling more like "yet another kingmaker story" rather than an adventure that lives up to the potential of the setting. It has a few new ideas and spins a few old mechanics into a new form, but at the end of the day, it plays it way too safe, which causes it to feel uninspired. If you loved Valhalla, this DLC will give you more of that, but if you're already fatigued by its repetitive gameplay, Wrath of the Druids won't change that.

Score: 6.8/10

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