DLC REVIEW: ‘Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’ – “River Raids” (XSX)

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River Raids Assassin's Creed Valhalla - But Why Tho?

Believe it or not, winter is beginning to thaw, at least in the free Assassin’s Creed Valhalla “River Raids” updated. The second free content update for the game from Ubisoft, it continues the current Yule Season seasonal content with a new permanent and replayable game mode, River Raids. Expanding upon existing mechanics, Eivor can build the new River Raids hub and the accompanying Jomsviking hall at Ravensthorpe. Players can then begin a new questline with Vagn, a raid captain who has landed upon your village to simply share in the bounty of his many conquests. It’s kind of suspicious at first, but Eivor immediately chooses to trust him and welcome him to Ravensthorpe, and you know what? I’m all for it. Good on Eivor for breaking the Viking stereotypes of axe first questions later.

Vagn will essentially offer to take you on a raid with his own crew to prove to you there are hidden river passages throughout Britain that are filled with riches. Not just any riches, though. He has heard rumors about a particular treasure, the armor, and weaponry of Saint George, that have been hidden in military encampments and monasteries along these rivers. Of course, it is now incumbent upon the player to uncover this mystery and find the pieces of Saint George’s armor.

The River Raids game is essentially separate from everything else. Your treaties so far mean nothing because you will be venturing out to Wales; the cargo you accumulate is “foreign” and can only be used to shop with Vagn himself for special ship cosmetics, cargo upgrades, and Jomsviking hall upgrades. And the difficulty of the enemies scales differently, too, regardless of your level. The overall notion is the same as ever. You row your ship up and down rivers to find raid spots, initiate a landing party, sack the area for loot, and do it over again. But several new pieces help make raids much more interesting than they were in the base game.

For starters, your Jomsviking aren’t meaningless NPCs anymore. You have a crew of 8, plus yourself, who constitute your party. If they take too much damage, they’ll have to either recover themselves with rations you pillage from chests on your raids, be revived by you with your own rations, or they’ll be down for the count. They don’t die, which honestly, weird choice; they’ll just be unavailable to raid for a River Raids round or two. This actually adds a sense of accountability for the first time. You can’t let all your Jomsviking bleed out because you need them to open heavy doors and chests on your raids. So you have to plan out your raiding path accordingly to procure rations from smaller settlements before taking on bigger ones. And your crew will actually be challenged. They may be useful in battle, but they’re vulnerable too. If you leave them alone by running off too far, they’ll surely suffer for it. I appreciate that this mode actually makes you think about your raids rather than just being rinse and repeat bits you can do on your own.

And it’s kind of epic when your crew runs off your ship and gets back on again. There’s a weird thing, though, either a glitch or a strange intention, where some of your normal crew just sits on the boat when you get off and awkwardly never join the raids or anything. Another odd graphical glitch I encountered was any time I rowed through reeds, and they just clipped right through the boat. It was awkward, but at least the world is still as gorgeous as ever.

Unfortunately, that beauty is curtailed a bit by the total repetitiveness of the assets along the river. There came a point where the settlements I raided were made of the exact same buildings with the same interiors, and upon resisting them to search for loot or clues I missed, I could no longer tell which places I had visited and when. The names of probably three-quarters of the settlements are also painfully generic, making it even harder to distinguish between locations. I know this is just bonus-free content, but it’s hard to excuse totally.

Another mechanic that gets more use is the ship itself. Your River Raids ship is actually a separate ship from your normal one, so you can deck it out with your same set of cosmetics you’ve unlocked but do it differently. You can unlock three new skills that pertain to your ship, including a rather useful shields-up command. As you raid and plunder, a bar fills that alerts locals to your presence and increases the defenses along the river and the difficulty of enemies you’ll encounter. The river defenses include traps meant to slow you down and have arrows shot at your crew. They’re honestly more of an inconvenience than a menace, but they do make you risk your Jomsviking taking damage. And it’s just nice to see something new. When the defenses have gotten high, and you’ve filled your cargo hold, you’ll want to end your raid and switch rivers to get that bar back down.

Spending so much time with the boat, though, has shown me just how rough using it can be. I found myself often getting banked on sharp turns and then proceeded to have trouble getting out of the bank either because it was just straight up stuck or because turning is very finicky. Sometimes I would be trying to reverse, but I would rowing in the wrong direction, or vice-versa. The auto-navigate often helped, but even that would get me stuck in river banks when the turns were too sharp, or the place I was navigated to was on higher ground, so the map marker wasn’t actually where the spot was to initiate the raid.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla

The new mode also finally makes some amount of use out of the fact that you can hire other players’ Jomsvikings to join your crew. It’s always been in the game, but not something worth paying much attention to. Now, since you need to either replenish your crew or hire higher-level members frequently, you’ll likely encounter this more. I just wish there was a way to search for a friend’s Jomsviking so you can specifically hire them and fight beside them, or let them die on purpose if you fancy.

Of course, the big question is whether it’s worth redownloading Assassin’s Creed Valhalla just to play the River Raids update. The answer is yes and no. Should you rush to give it a go if you’ve already stepped away and are waiting for the larger paid DLC to arrive. Probably not. Is it worth diving into before the big DLC comes? I would say definitely. The Saint George armor set is possibly the coolest one in the game, surpassing even Thor’s armor, especially if you fully upgrade each of the pieces since they do have cosmetic improvements in addition to stats.

Vagn is also, I think, one of the best character designs in the game so far. Most of the people you meet outside of your settlement kind of just have generic clothes, and nobody is especially distinguishable from one another. I hate that half of the men in the game have the exact same hair noticeably as one another, including among the main allies you meet. Vagn has a set of armor and body type that are completely unique and clearly indicates that he is not from around here, which fits perfectly with the story he weaves upon arrival. He has me a tad suspicious based on some of his dialogue and potential relationships with other settlement members. Still, I am willing to bet we’ll see more of Vagn and his River Raids in the future, given how huge his map is and how only 3 rivers are playable at this time.

Lastly, I truly appreciate how Assassins’ Creed Valhalla illustrates the racial and cultural diversity of the Vikings. Vagn is Black and not the only Black character in the game. And the way that every time Eivor encounters Black vikings, there’s never for a second a question over where they came from, how can they be trusted, or anything of the sort. They’re just as much viking as Eivor is, and that’s that. It’s the same feeling I got at the onset of the base game when you learn that Sigurd has been adventuring in Constantinople and has brought back allies with him. There’s an assumption usually in popular depictions of vikings that they were all white and homogenous. But that was never the case historically, and I very much appreciate that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla showcases this reality in such a natural and unceremonious way.

The River Raids update for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a fun twist on the raiding mechanic that, honestly, I wish had been part of the game from the start. It freshens up a part of the game I found got dull quickly and offers a nice reward for your participation. I wish there were achievements tied to the new mode, like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey did with all of its free content, as I believe that would offer extra incentive to jump back into the game, but alas. It becomes repetitive too after a time, but it’s fun, expansive, and free, so certainly jump in and get to raiding.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and the River Raids update is available now on Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and Google Stadia.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla - "River Raids" Update
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

The River Raids update for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a fun twist on the raiding mechanic that, honestly, I wish had been part of the game from the start. It freshens up a part of the game I found got dull quickly and offers a nice reward for your participation. I wish there were achievements tied to the new mode, like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey did with all of its free content, as I believe that would offer extra incentive to jump back into the game, but alas. It becomes repetitive too after a time, but it’s fun, expansive, and free, so certainly jump in and get to raiding.