Wrath of the Druids is a decent expansion for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla with some enjoyable qualities, though it resists being too exciting and feels more like a harmless time-filler than a meaningful addition to the series.
Hey, that Valhalla game was pretty good, right? Nothing mind-blowing, a couple of beaks in the chicken bucket here and there, but it still cut a decent line between the RPG elements of the more recent entries and the older, stealthier gameplay of the pre-Origins era.
Well, now there’s more, as the Wrath of the Druids DLC, first of the Season Pass instalments, opts to whisk Eivor away to Ireland. Eivor is contacted by Barid, his/her cousin and the new king of Dublin, to help him secure power over an unruly city and earn favour with the top King of Ireland, Flann. Unfortunately, Flann has upset the local contingent of maniac druids by being too buddy-buddy with the Christians, and so the least subtle assassin in history must uncover and dismantle an insidious plot to discredit the new alliance and drag Ireland into war.
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If it sounds like this narrative is a little more focused on politics than character stuff, then help yourself to a deep-fried chicken beak as a reward for your perspicacity. The characters we get are pleasant - if a little one-note - but the threat posed by the druids is urgent enough that nobody has too much time to build character when they’re constantly checking their sandwiches for extra hemlock. And because this is its own mission line that could be happening at any point comparative to the main plot of Valhalla, characters from England are carefully and disappointingly absent.
Honestly, I feel the main failing of this campaign is the druids themselves. They’re a slightly annoying bunch to fight, fond of poisons and hallucinogenic gas that makes the screen wobble about, and accompanied by monsters with a penchant for unblockable attacks. And while (some of) Valhalla’s villains had a degree of complexity, the druids are all so determinedly evil they might as well be interns for the Legion of Doom. Sure, the game tries to make a point about the evisceration of their ancient culture in the name of colonialist Christian progress - a very valid point - but then you walk into a blood-smeared cave with captured innocents screaming to be saved from ritual sacrifice, and you can’t help but feel like the morality isn’t so grey after all.
In terms of gameplay, it’s basically more AC Valhalla, with all the perks and pitfalls that implies. Ireland is a whole new area that’s roughly the same size as the Norway map, and you roam about completing quests, side-quests, committing hideous acts of violence because a friend asked you to, while occasionally taking a break to try and sleep with one of the NPCs. And for those of you who completed the campaign and got all the late-game weapons as I did, it is all a bit easy. I found myself having to ratchet up the difficulty, and even then I never died, so for all their dark magic and wobbly gas, the druids are struggling to put up the same kind of fight that the Templars managed back in England.
Dublin Your Profits
But the DLC recognises the need for a gimmick, and this time it's trading. You can start a little drip-feed of new resources and currencies by clearing out trading posts, then head back to Dublin and exchange all of it for items you can actually use. Harmless enough as USPs go, though it seems a bit like going the long way round. Why not just reward us then-and-there for clearing out the posts, rather than adding a twenty-minute delay and a mandatory trip back to the main city?
And the trading post missions themselves have a level of weirdness to them. OK, you storm in and kill everything that doesn’t immediately celebrate your arrival - sure, that’s standard Assassin’s Creed procedure - but then you have to go and track down the deed of ownership in another location altogether before the outpost is officially yours. Why? The people you murder are all bandits who moved in without permission, and even then Eivor is claiming this ruined shack on behalf of the local king, literally the highest authority in the land. I doubt anybody was going to object to the heavily-armed, royally-endorsed mega-viking sitting down in the middle of a ruined shack and shouting “this is mine now.” You don’t really need the paperwork on top of that.
These are absolutely all nitpicks though, as Wrath of the Druids ultimately ends up becoming just a second helping of Valhalla. And Valhalla is still good, for all the occasional messiness and fumbling of tone. Bashing some poor guard to death with Mjolnir or bisecting a druid with a well-thrown axe still has some flavour to it, and it’s been just long enough since the core game’s release that it felt nice to come back.
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Though all that being said, the game has a slight problem with bugs and glitches, much like Valhalla did on release. Eivor’s latest Isu power seemed to be teleporting three feet to the left with no prompting from me, and occasionally the map would let me fast travel to a point I hadn’t even unlocked yet, a uniquely laissez-faire attitude to design.
None of it’s a dealbreaker though, and while Wrath of the Druids isn’t Assassin’s Creed at its most exciting, it’s certainly passable in a month as quiet as this. Burn a weekend burning druids and make the most of it all, before waiting to see when they'll get back to the actual plot. Seriously, I need closure on that ending, Ubisoft.
Review copy provided by the publisher
Reviewed on PlayStation 5