The problem of expanding a game in the Assassin’s Creed series, at this point, is that usually the base game is already so fully stuffed with stuff that it’s difficult to really see obvious places to go. Of the criticisms you could offer for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, a lack of content was not one of them.
But that’s not the only thing that you run into as, if not a problem, at least a concern. Any decent DLC has to provide a reason for Eivor to get invested and try out new things, but it also has to be integrated into the game somewhat. It shouldn’t be a cavalcade of broken extra-powerful stuff to replace existing endgame kit, but it also shouldn’t be irrelevant to players who have already beaten the base game ages ago. So how do you ensure that everything is still relevant, fun, and interesting no matter where you are in the game while also providing some interesting rewards and a reason to explore the new region?
That’s the core design going in to Wrath of the Druids. It has a fine line to walk. Is it worth your time if you already own Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla on one of its existing platforms (including PlayStation 4, the platform we played this on) when it goes live on May 13th? Well, that’s the whole purpose of this review.
Shipping off to Dublin
The DLC starts off innocuous enough, with Eivor receiving an emissary who claims that an Irish king has reached out to her. (Or him, I suppose, but I’m going to be using ‘her’ because personal experience.) After a quick mission to deal with a trade blockade making the trip to and from Ireland difficult, it turns out that the king in question is her cousin Barid, the current king of Dublin, one of the many little kingdoms all across Ireland under the reign of a soon-to-be-crowned High King Flann.
Of course, no sooner do you get there than you run into certain troubles. For one thing, Barid has lost some of his particular Norse spirit in the midst of trying to turn Dublin into a proper trading hub, something that his teenage son is quick to clash with him over. Moreover, King Flann has a particular beef with Barid that is going to be an uphill battle to deal with, and there are also some disgruntled folks angry that Barid’s in charge in the first place.
In other words, it’s a fine mess that Eivor is plopped in the middle of, and the best way to resolve all of that is to sneak around and kill a whole lot of people, because this is an Assassin’s Creed game. Much like in the base game, the core of the experience is focused around creating compelling characters with personalities that wind up not being quite outsized but consistently have an easy handle to give you access. Barid is a man trying to compensate for perceived bloodthirst going too far in the other direction; Azar is a perpetually snarky busybody who genuinely needs Barid to be successful; Ciara is a troublemaker who genuinely cares about the office she holds. They’re fun to hang out with, and since you’ll be hanging out with all of them a lot, it’s a good time.
It also creates a good reason why Eivor’s actions here matter and why she ought to care while also giving a good separation between the two parts of the game. Ireland’s trade is important, and having it as an ally will help her; plus, her cousin is sitting on the throne. But the problem can’t be solved by moving her own people into Dublin or anything like that, and it’s not going to help with the immediate alliances and struggles in Britain.
The Riches of the Emerald Isle
Size-wise, Ireland feels like it’s around half the size of England, so closer to the Norse areas from the base game. That’s still plenty of space to pack in treasures, enemies, and new mechanics for Eivor to interact with, starting first and foremost with trading posts.
Ireland, rather than using the supplies you obtain in England, uses an entirely different sort of supplies obtained by raiding monasteries in the country. (You can’t have this game without monasteries to raid. It’d be wrong.) However, they’re not used to build up Dublin or anything. Instead, you use them to build up the various trading posts that are scattered around the Irish countryside. Once you claim these posts by clearing out the enemies that occupy them and finding the deed to the post, you can start building structures that funnel more resources to Azar in four distinct categories.
Azar, meanwhile, allows you to use those resources to complete various trading contracts, which in turn gets you more stuff, builds up Dublin’s reputation, and generally forms the core gameplay loop of the Emerald Isle. Clear trading posts, get resources coming in, use them to unlock new stuff.
Beyond that… well, it’s a map in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. This means almost entirely what you would think it means. The whole thing is pegged at Power 55, which is near the beginning of the game but not quite at it; however, the maps scale according to your power, so even a maxed-out Eivor will still find stuff worth grabbing here. And of course there are new unique skills, new unique gear pieces to upgrade and such, new treasures to find, landmarks to get…
There’s oddly not much to say about the core gameplay that hasn’t already been said, of course. You can go read my review of the base game. It’s good, Viking fun. This is a map full of new stuff to do what you’ve already been doing elsewhere, or stuff to seek out when you’ve already sought out all of the other stuff out there. It is, in short, exactly what you’d want from a DLC. It’s more stuff.
Green Hills and Soft Grass
Graphically, Ireland manages to look distinct from England chiefly due to the greenery. Obviously, England is already pretty lush in Valhalla, but Ireland definitely lives up to its name as the Emerald Isle. It also has far fewer Roman structures lying around and far more druidic ones, which… well, let’s just say it makes sense.
I certainly cannot speak to the accuracy of the layout historically, but this series has always treated historical accuracy with more of a loose nod and a shrug anyway, so I don’t think it’s worth getting hung up on by any stretch of the imagination.
Beyond that… well, it’s still the same gorgeous game with the same excellent sound effects, music, graphical design, and so forth. There’s not much that has changed other than a new map that feels distinct. And that’s enough, really.
Erin go Bragh
If for whatever reason you really didn’t care for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, this is not the expansion that is going to change your mind. However, it’s hard not to rate it highly despite that fact. If you already own and enjoy the game, it’s easily worth the asking price and delivers a nice meaty slab of content with motive and entertainment to be had whether you’re just starting the game, you’ve beaten the whole thing and explored every nook and cranny, or you’re somewhere between those two extremes.
In summary, Wrath of the Druids is more Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. And considering how darn good the base game is, the DLC being more besides is exactly what it should be and a whole lot of fun.
Review copy provided by Ubisoft for PS4. All screenshots courtesy of Ubisoft.