Valhalla has certainly leaned into the open world RPG direction of the series and while it served as a breathe of fresh air when Origins was released, Ubisoft can be accused of falling into the same trap as it did with the older entries – repeating the formula. While to an extent that may be true, the games that have followed this “formula” have generally has excellent stories, compelling characters and combat mechanics that can be challenging without becoming frustrating to be excellent entries into the Assassin’s Creed canon. The latest and last DLC of the Valhalla Season Pass is no exception, with enough of a hint of the old to give one hope that the series will bring back fan favourites.
Eivor has little down time in this world, what with colonising England, investigating cults, and assisting the King of Ireland in Wrath of the Druids to now being asked to travel to Paris to help the Norse Kings conquer France and depose the mad King Charles the Fat. Your introduction to this madness occurs just as before – envoys from France arrive at your settlement and ask you to help them in their struggle. Based on the very real Siege of Paris, a tale from history I only learnt of when reading through the excellent Vertigo Comic Northlanders, Siege adds that typical unknown history element to the real-world tale. Adding that spice to this game is a cult that has stealthily taken control of the Catholic Church in Paris. Cults are the new Templars having made their presence known in all three games to date. We obviously need some sort of ultimate evil to point to instead of the more abstract people can just be awful reality that we live in.
The story is also a bit more complex as the characters Eivor encounters are not as black and white, good, or evil as in the main game or Wrath of the Druids. Each has their own motivations and foibles leading to a more complex drama that plays out and moments that can give the player pause as to what the right course of action is. Charles the Fat is a despot, but the attack on his city and kingdom does put him in a position where survival may just depend on taking a darker turn.
While the story adds to the game and certainly brings a player back, the gameplay mechanics and loop have hardly changed from the base game. Sure there’s new armour and a new weapon to master, the scythe being a fast two-handed blade great for crowd control as well as new runes to discover. But in terms of core gameplay you will be accepting missions from NPCs and will run around completing them to advance the story to its inevitable conclusion.
However, Ubisoft has listened to complaints that the series has strayed from its core premise of stealth and assassination. This game introduces Infiltration missions, missions very similar to the assassination missions from that other Paris set AC game, Unity. Like that game you are tasked with stealthily infiltrating and killing a target and have a couple of options as to how to approach the mission. This is a welcome break from the all-out chaos of modern Assassin’s Creed games. The design of these missions, though, feels as if they were lifted straight from Unity as the routes into the areas are limited and options to assassinate feeling limited. Given the progress we’ve made in the intervening years in design and complexity of mechanics I would’ve expected an evolution rather than an iteration on those missions.
Another mechanic inspired by another game, albeit not an Assassin’s Creed game, are the swarms of rats you will encounter in the sewers of Paris. While immediate comparisons to a Plague Tale Innocence spring to mind, the swarms here are less intelligent and more of an annoyance than a terror. While they will damage you and can certainly kill you can end the threat but in a wholly unsatisfying and ultimately irritating way. Attacking the swarms gives you a brief respite, but you cannot damage or destroy them with your weapons. Instead you must herd them into a sewer grate and block them off to defeat them. Luckily, they are not as plentiful as they are in A Plague Tale.
Visually Paris and the surrounding countryside are stunning but can feel a little too like the lands of England. There are certainly some standout design features such as the areas where the king’s ruthless tactics have blighted the countryside, but overall the lands feel just another part of England whereas Ireland felt distinct, mysterious, and somehow less tamed.
While the base game ran almost perfectly on my gaming PC, Wrath of the Druids was constantly crashing on me. Thankfully whatever bugs and incompatibilities that clashed with my hardware was introduced in the first DLC have been found and squashed in the second as I didn’t experience any crashes this time around. While there was some, though infrequent, framerate drops while playing these weren’t distracting and could be put down to my still powerful though ageing hardware. Afterall my GTX 1080 is around four years and two generations old now.
Siege of Paris at ten hours is a good cap to the Season Pass and will entertain players for the full time it takes to complete. Ubisoft have introduced enough to keep players interested and to whet the appetite for whatever comes next especially of the re-introduction of stealth and assassination is a hint at what is to come.
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