DLC REVIEW: “Wrath of the Druids” is DLC Gold (XSX)

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Wrath of the Druids - But Why Tho?

“Wrath of the Druids” is the first major DLC for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, developed and published by Ubisoft. A trader from the faraway kingdom of Persia has landed in Ravensthorpe with a message for Eivor from a familiar king in Ireland. Setting sail to meet the king, Eivor quickly finds themself entangled in a top-tier plot and world. Considering the mediocre to poor showing of Valhalla’s DLC to date and how much I enjoyed the majority of the DLC in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, I wasn’t sure what exactly to anticipate from Wrath of the Druids. Fortunately, I quite enjoyed “Wrath of the Druids” on just about all accounts, from the visuals and world to the plot to the new mechanics introduced.

Visually, Ireland is stunning. It’s perhaps the most beautiful photorealistic video game world I have played in. And most impressively, it is distinctively not England. My biggest initial fear was that the new map, not sprawling by any means but not too small either, would be sparse and repetitive, as the locales for the “River Raids” DLC were. But Ireland is luscious and rugged.

The environment itself is just vastly different from England. Where England had the occasional mountain or rock formation throughout, the flatlands between were vast. In Ireland, massive plateaus, peaks, cliffs, and waterfalls abound and are stunning from every angle. The grass is distinctively a different color, and the wild flora different from that of England. There’s moss on the rockfaces that admittedly looks a bit textureless, but it is there and impressive nonetheless. Occasionally, the lighting in certain areas or upon entering buildings or caves was maladaptive, but the rainbows are frequently seen across the sky more than make up for it.

Like England, Ireland is a land of small kingdoms and factions vying for power against each other, with each other, and everything in between. After Eivor is summoned to Ireland with a welcome bit of surprise news from the King of Dublin, the player quickly finds themselves playing the familiar role of kingmaker, diplomat, warrior, and lover. You’ll be wedged between the dreams and follies of the new High King Flann Sinna and the petty gripes of petty kings, as well as between the imposition of the Christian Church and the will of the indigenous Druids. In real life, this time period in the last 9th century is filled with mystery, chiefly surrounding who the Druids were, given they left no written record. So “Wrath of the Druids” takes some creative license in both characterization and plot details. But ultimately, it renders one of the most well-crafted and succinct Assassin’s Creed stories of late.

In the name of avoiding spoilers, I will reveal minimal details, but what I love about the plot of “Wrath of the Druids”—aside from the fact that I could actually follow it for once since it is linear, succinct, and involves only so many characters—is that, unlike the main game’s plot, it definitively takes a moral stance. Of course, I have no qualms with the open-ended nature of the main story or that of previous entries in the series. Moral grey areas are a fine enough mode of storytelling and reality of life. But at its root, the Assassin’s Creed as a franchise has always been about the triumph of free will over determinism.

Unlike during their exploits with King Aelfred, this time, Eivor has a very clear stance on the way kings should treat their subjects and the rights of all their subjects to be treated equally and fairly. And Eivor acts upon it. It’s refreshing to have a clear-cut ending that doesn’t make me go, “was everything I just did for 100 hours for nothing?”

Wrath of the Druids Irish Rainbow - But Why Tho?My only complaint about the plot is that the Druids did not feel fleshed out or incorporated well early enough. I know that we know so little about the Druids in real life, but I wish the game gave us more time to understand them before any antagonistic plotlines went forward. I also clearly spent too much time exploring too fast because I quickly uncovered various encounters, and otherwise, that did not have the proper context from the main questline. I wish that certain items and encounters would have been untriggerable until after reaching certain plot points. This may have resolved my pacing complaint altogether.

The new DLC brings with it a few new mechanics. There are a few new passive and active skills. The passive skills are very useful—several different types of stun-preventers. The active skills though, I never used beyond testing them out. They include a different kind of attack dog and a headbutt move are different aesthetics to already existing active skills ultimately. There is also a whole load of new armor sets, weapons, tattoos, and settlement and longship decorations. Many of them are ultimately just cosmetic or offer slight variations in gameplay, but what I do appreciate about them is that they offer connections to previous Assassin’s Creed games while serving a narrative purpose. The armor sets and decorations, for example, belong to Egyptian sets and Byzantian-Greek sets. But they are also tied to the DLC’s new trading post system.

You’ll encounter trading posts throughout Ireland that you will need to wipe clean of enemies, find the deed to, and construct with supplies acquired from raids and errands for local kings. This will allow you to amass different luxurious goods from across the known world. In practice,  they are really just a currency that you’ll use to trade with Azar, Dublin’s economic chief, in essentially a minigame designed to keep you exploring in exchange for the aforementioned armors. The minigame itself is not nearly as complex as previous franchise entries’ trading systems where you controlled ships and sent them on missions to build your wealth. But it does help illustrate Dublin and Ireland as a cosmopolitan international hub.

I already appreciated this in the base game because characters came from disparate parts of the world and helped illustrate 9th Century Danes as the explorers and traders they were known to be. Popular depictions of Vikings often limit them to unintelligent brutes when in reality, they had dealings, relationships, and kindships with people from across Europe, the Near East, and Africa. By making the principal trader once again from outside of Northern Europe, in this case Persia, and putting a major emphasis on global trade, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as a whole continues to do a good job diversifying its cast and exemplifying the true expanse of Norse relationships and being.

The trade post system itself, admittedly, feels like it is lacking. While I enjoyed the side quests involved and appreciated some of the rewards, it was odd being a Viking who needed to find the deed to land to lay claim to it, and the whole system comes up just short, feeling like it needed one more layer of complexity to make it fully satisfying. The same can be said of the Royal Demands, the repetitive set of missions to assassinate or steal things for small rewards and the favor of the region’s royalty. It got old very quickly, and I never found it worth repeating infinitely as the game would allow me otherwise.

There are a couple of small improvements over the base game. For starters, those who have been struggling to have revenge missions trigger may be glad to know that I had three triggers in my 15 or so hours of gameplay, compared to zero ever triggering in my nearly 100 hours in the base game. I also found that many of the enemy encounters felt fresh again compared to both the base game and some of the early DLC. I only wish there had been more mysteries to uncover and Irish lore to encounter. There is plenty, but I enjoyed the new land so much I just wanted even more. Unfortunately, many of the graphical errors, clipping troubles, and randomly triggered infinite controller vibration issues persist as of writing this review. But none of them was game-breaking by any means and did not distract from the grandeur of Ireland as a whole.

“Wrath of the Druids” is an excellent DLC. It does everything right in setting the new locale apart from its neighbor to the east while delivering a strong new plot and set of characters. Not every new mechanic feels fully realized, but for what they do offer, I enjoyed them and particularly enjoyed the way they played into the greater mythos and context of the game as a whole. If the remainder of Assassin’s Creed Valhall‘s major DLC—and future Assassin’s Creed stories, for that matter—follow suit, I’ll be very glad for it.

The “Wrath of the Druids” DLC will be available on May 13th for Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and Google Stadia.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla - "Wrath of the Druids"
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

“Wrath of the Druids” is an excellent DLC. It does everything right in setting the new locale apart from its neighbor to the east while delivering a strong new plot and set of characters. Not every new mechanic feels fully realized, but for what they do offer, I enjoyed them and particularly enjoyed the way they played into the greater mythos and context of the game as a whole. If the remainder of Assassin’s Creed Valhall‘s major DLC—and future Assassin’s Creed stories, for that matter—follow suit, I’ll be very glad for it.