Review: Assassin's Creed: Valhalla - The Siege of Paris
It’s hard to review major DLC for the Assassin’s Creed games. I noted this back when I was reviewing the first piece of major post-launch DLC for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, since on a simple level you have the fundamental problem of taking a very big game and giving you more stuff to do in it. How bad can it be, ultimately? It’s more stuff! Stuff is fun.
Obviously, that first expansion was one that I rather liked. I felt like Ireland twisted and changed the core formula of Valhalla enough to be an engaging expansion even without fundamentally rewriting the basic concepts. And now, far faster than it seems like we should be here, we’re into Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla – The Siege of Paris, the second major DLC for the game.
No prizes are awarded for guessing where you’re going as a result.
However, I feel a comparison is apt. Because while the first DLC was an example of how to add more to the game and make it feel better, The Siege of Paris feels like perhaps the worse possible option for adding more into the game. It’s definitely not a bad addition, but it’s sure not something I would point to as justification for the praise that the base game earns.
The Siege of Paris releases August 12th, 2021 on every platform that Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is available on. The PlayStation 4 version was played for this review.
It’s Pronounced “Pah-ree”
The basic assumption of Siege of Paris is that it is fundamentally a story about Eivor, rightly, trying not to get involved with a conflict that the Raven Clan doesn’t really need to get involved with. Toka of the Elgring Clan arrives at Ravensthorpe promising plunder and glory in the siege of Paris, but she also can’t help but confess to a bigger problem; Charles the Fat, the man sitting on the French throne, is making war against the Norse villages and people and wants nothing more than to wipe them out. Eivor comes to Francia not for plunder so much as to broker a deal to avoid having Charles move on to England as her clan consolidates its holdings.
Unfortunately, it becomes very clear right away that the problem is not nearly as simple as all that. Keeping with the smart writing that has been a hallmark of this particular title, Sigfred, the head of the clan, is portrayed as very much wanting a war with Charles that will lead to him getting the revenge he so dearly seeks. And Charles, for his part, seems utterly convinced of his own righteousness and is equally unwilling to negotiate with Eivor or Sigfred.
It’s an interesting situation because it thrusts Eivor into the position of peacemaker for two factions who both want to slaughter the other one, and she’s continually reminded that this trip was also primarily to help Sigfred’s clan in their goals. The result is that it captures a sense of not having any entirely friendly faces in the area aside from the French resistance that Eivor is helping… and even that is a purely mercenary relationship, as neither Eivor nor her primary contact (Pierre) have much faith in that particular organization’s ability to succeed.
The result is that in many ways, right from the start, Francia feels like a losing proposition for all sides. And yet you also understand why Eivor is sticking around and continuing to work with these stubborn and intractable people. It’s to the game’s credit that the writing for this installment feels entirely up to par, creating a well-rounded collection of characters who all want the same basic thing (continued existence and safety) but see one another as obstacles to that particular goal.
And that’s without getting into the creepy pain cult that seems to have sprung up in the heart of Francia…
It is, in short, still a good story. Whatever else you can say about this particular expansion, it’s clear that the writing is still up to par and the characters still leap out as being fun to play off and interact with. That’s very much to the game’s credit.
It’s The Name of the Game
So here’s what might be the weirdest take of this entire review: the biggest problem with this DLC is that it makes Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla too much of an Assassin’s Creed game. Wait, don’t leave, I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.
One of the reasons I rated Valhalla so highly to begin with is that while it still had the basic structure of an Assassin’s Creed game, in some ways it also felt like a take that could completely do away with all of the familiar markers if you wanted to. The game was actually built from the outset to reward charging in and slaughtering every single enemy you saw as if that was just a perfectly normal way of playing the game. In many ways, it was more of a Viking game that happened to be an Assassin’s Creed title rather than an Assassin’s Creed game set with Norse characters.
Unfortunately, Siege of Paris doesn’t do this. The main centerpiece of this particular DLC is more elaborate assassination missions. In general, sneaking around and knifing people precisely has a much greater priority in this particular bit of expansion content. Part of that is down to me being a bit under-leveled for the content, but a bigger part of it is just that the design is far more tuned to having you sneak around and quietly shiv people rather than getting into knock-down fights right off.
That doesn’t mean that it’s bad, but it does mean that one of the fun elements of the game is almost immediately stripped away. Rather than this being an add-on wherein you can choose how you want to approach the content, it’s one wherein you are very much intended to take things on as a stealthy assassin and trying to get into straight-up fights will be more likely to get you killed. It’s just more irritating than fun.
The other two big additions have a similar problem. Rat swarms are a neat idea as an environmental hazard but wind up being mostly annoying to deal with (especially having just seen The Suicide Squad and thus mentally placing rats as adorable friends rather than vicious heel-nipping problems). The idea of raising your infamy level to unlock new stuff is nice for Resistance missions, but the actual missions themselves are basically just the same old gameplay gussied up very slightly with an added report-for-reward element. Not tremendously compelling.
It’s not awful by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, Valhalla is a good game anyhow. But it’s certainly not something that adds on and refines what made the original so much fun. It’s more… acceptable than anything, even if I respect that the effort was made.
It’s Green, It’s Diseased, It’s Besieged
It doesn’t help that for the most part, Francia doesn’t feel like it has a particularly different visual character than Ireland or England. Both of those regions were decidedly different in looks despite being composed primarily of light woodlands and softly rolling hills covered in grass. But Francia… well, it has some fire-ravaged parts that look a bit different, and it looks atmospheric at night, but it lacks much in the way of huge visual cues that immediately make it feel like a different place compared to its predecessors. A bit disappointing, that.
As always, the sound design is top-notch and the game still does fundamentally look gorgeous. Certainly there are setpieces that feel different and more striking at a glance, but they’re not what you’ll be experiencing for the vast majority of your playtime in Francia.
Oh, and the new gear looks nice. I’d be remiss not to mention that. It might seem superfluous, but getting to play dress-up in this game is fun and I like it, however silly that might be.
Ultimately, I didn’t like Siege of Paris all that much… compared to the core game or its first expansion, anyhow. It feels, in many ways, like it was conceived and put into practice as a way to give Eivor something new to do, but it doesn’t really break any new ground compared to that. It’s like eating nothing but bread at dinner; it’ll fill you up, but it doesn’t exactly delight the senses in a new way.
None of that is to say that it’s bad, though, because… well, as I mentioned before and bears repeating, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is a good game. A bad slice of content for the game is still pretty good. It deserves a high score because compared to an awful lot of games, it’s still delivering what it sets out to be effectively and giving you fun new weapons, areas, and armor to use as you clear through a new set of quests. I didn’t dislike it!
But it’s not all that novel. If you already don’t like the game, this isn’t going to improve your estimation of it much. And while it’s solid enough filler, it’s still just filler for the main game.
Product provided by Ubisoft for PS4. All screenshots courtesy of Ubisoft.