Assassin's Creed Valhalla Dawn Of Ragnarok Review: "A Mythical Romp That Stays In Its Lane"
Once a humble historical sci-fi series, the Assassin's Creed franchise has certainly expanded its horizons. With each new entry, the settings grew larger and it's premise all the more unbelievable - and yes we realise this is a franchise that was based around a creed that descended from Adam and Eve themselves. However, despite Vahalla receiving the mythical treatment with its Norse-centric Dawn of Ragnarok, all the Frost Giants, magical realms, and even the Lord of Asgard himself couldn't stop this meaty DLC from feeling all too safe.
A Grand Adventure
Troubled by Visions of Odin, Eivor delves into a dream state allowing them to live out the portion of the life of the almighty Aesir. This begins with tragedy as Odin, known here as Havi, is left for dead by the hands of Surtr, an evil Muspel God, that has kidnapped his son Baldr, and killed the mother of their child, Frigg.
This leads Havi to the Dwarven realm of Svartalfheim, a region speckled with gold mountains, bustling woodlands, and ice-capped dams. On your quest for revenge you must navigate this new region, making new and unlikely alliances, to bring down the all-powerful Surtr. This concept on its own - a God chasing down another God in a mythical realm - might seem like an exciting and new concept for the series, but in fact, that is where the differences end.
Immediately, you will fall back into the typical onslaught of Ubi-isms, with vantage points to climb, camps to capture, materials to collect, and mystery sites to clear out. If you have put any time into the latest run of Assassin's Creed games, namely, Origins, Odyssey, or Valhalla, you will feel right at home in Dawn of Ragnarok. We imagine that this will be the perfect getaway for some seasoned AC fans, who have maxed out Eivor back in England, Ireland, and France, and are just looking for a new area to explore and content to comb through. If that is you, then you will be happy to know that Dawn of Ragnarok comes stacked with an easy 30 plus hours of content.
Hacking Through The Mythology
Admittedly, while much of what Dawn of Ragnarok has to offer will be recognisable, it does have a few tricks up its sleeves. For one, the Muspels and Frost Giants are new enemy types that offer plenty of gameplay challenges. The Muspels in particular can at times be quite the challenge with their fiery abilities that lay a heavy punch. With different ability types mashing together, it is easy enough to be thrown off and meet an untimely demise, which ultimately made combat encounters increasingly engaging.
This deepens somewhat more with the introduction of the Hugr-Rip. This device allows you to consume the abilities of your foes, whether that's the ability to teleport to set destinations or walk on lava unphased. With only two equipable at any one time it's fun to plan ahead on the skills most likely to be used, and as you become more familiar with the systems the gameplay experience diversified further.
These come to a head with the addictively difficult boss battles. Whether it was additional backup or a powerful healing ability, each boss came with their own gameplay puzzle to solve, making them engaging and immensely satisfying to defeat.
Between boss battles, the story carries along quite nicely, with an eclectic series of icons from across Norse mythology. Furthermore, the story brings some punch, as suspected safe characters turn up dead and the narrative course ultimately readjusts as a result. While it isn't "sit on the edge of your seat" stuff, it did raise the occasional eyebrow and birth the urge to carry on for that one more mission.
Most interesting of all is the central character of Havi. This literal God is approachable yet direct, and at times the hints of godliness would slip through, whether it be through a passing remark or demeaning tone. You are never quite sure if Havi genuinely cares about the characters he is helping, or if they are merely pawns in the plans to save their son. We'd be suspect to go for the latter, but having the uncertainty of its central character's morality was a nice twist that helped further immerse us in their story.
A Dull Fantasy
The biggest let down, however, was Svartalfheim itself. 9th century England worked so well in the base game because you could feel the history through every hill and every riverside. Littered with Roman ruins it was a genuine delight to come across another maze of a keep, or the remnants of a longstanding colosseum. However, despite being far older, that history was practically absent in Dawn of Ragnarok.
Yes, the map does still have landmarks of Norse history, which will see Havi recount an old tale which would include the likes of Thor and Loki, but these felt few and far between at times, and rarely do you feel compelled to deviate from the beaten path.
And while you may be riding on the back of a moose through golden valleys, as molten rocks float above, Svartalfheim lacked a level of fantasy. Sure, on a surface level it often looks beautiful with the mist sitting low amidst the trees in a forest, while the sun rises in the horizon, but by and large, the map is very dull.
Dotted with camps, structures, and small villages, everything between those settings feels empty and at times, devoid of life. This really is the biggest issue with Dawn of Ragnarok, as without the need to be curious or explorative,it's only worth traversing the land to capture each vantage point and fast travel everywhere needed thereafter.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok surely is an ambitious expansion, and for those that are looking for it, it provides an often engaging collective of content to sift your way through, buffing out your character with imaginative gear and mythically enhanced weapons. Put together with its new power sets and enemy types, fun boss fights, and a relatively engaging story, Dawn Of Ragnarok is worth checking out. However, beyond its layers of content and amicable entertainment levels, this is a mythical romp that sadly stays in its lane, and shirks its evolutionary responsibilities that previous entries have carried on so well.
Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by the publisher.