Assassin's Creed Valhalla Dawn of Ragnarok is a strange game to approach for a review. On the one hand, Ubisoft is pushing it as a separate product, with its own RRP and box art. On the other, it's clearly an expansion for 2020's AC Valhalla, and more specifically the Asgard sections featuring Havi (Odin).
It harkens back to AC Freedom Cry, in that while it may feature a separate map and storyline to its main game component, there's the nagging feeling that the whole thing could have likely been included as DLC. Where Freedom Cry triumphed was in its protagonist and plot, which isn't something I can say about Dawn of Ragnarok.
Unless you were itching for more Havi, and yet more hours clearing camps, ticking off Synchronisation Points, and spamming your detective vision–there's very little to justify the price of admission.
The Silver Cost
Price point is never a fun topic to broach when thinking about a new game launch, but I think it's important to touch on here. In the UK, the RRP for Dawn of Ragnarok is £34.99 (£32.99 on most stores), and even owners of the AC Valhalla Season Pass will have to fork out. To justify this, Dawn of Ragnarok has been treated as a complete experience, even though you will need Valhalla to play it. The developer has touted 35 hours of play time, and while I have no doubt you could spend at least that much time clearing Dawn of Ragnarok's sprawling map, the vast majority of content is almost identical to stuff you've done before in Valhalla. This feels very much like a 2010 approach to an expansion and is frankly pretty hard to recommend when games like The Witcher 3 offered far deeper extras for free five years ago.
The main story only ran me around 12 hours, and in that time I barely felt any draw towards side content. This is because, upon entry into Dawn of Ragnarok, I was already 50 or so levels over the recommended power level. Loot never seemed to match the kit that I'd brought with me, and earning skill points to fill out a tree that I'd already completed a bunch of times already offered very little incentive to explore. Dawn of Ragnarok has the unenviable position of expanding upon a game that offers upwards of 200 hours of play, but it's still disappointing to find little challenge or proper endgame content in an expansion to an almost two-year-old game.
So who exactly is Dawn of Ragnarok for? Well, if you enjoyed Valhalla's brief jaunt into Norse God mythology, this is basically just more of that. You play as Havi, the gruff, ever-brooding warrior as he tracks down his son. You see, he's been kidnapped by Surtr, a fire-demon with a penchant for stealing life force, and an army of lava-spewing kin at his disposal. You'll fight each of these bosses in similar-looking fire arenas, dodging similar fire attacks and beating down similarly hulking health bars. For all of the places Dawn of Ragnarok could have gone with its new full-fantasy setting, fire-dudes with fire swords is a very uninspired one indeed.
Ragnarok is Coming
Dawn of Ragnarok takes place before the events depicted in Valhalla, specifically in the days leading up to where we find Havi bracing for Ragnarok. There's a huge map to explore, filled with all of the distractions you'd expect from a Ubisoft open world. There are giant floating crystals up in the sky, mountains of gold ore rising from the ground, and Dwarven fortresses hidden away in dense forests. Even with these fantastical elements, Dawn of Ragnarok's world doesn't feel especially different from the main game. Enemies have been reskinned, Raids play out almost identically to the ones with Eivor (in fact, your raiding crew carries over from Valhalla), and aside from the odd mythological beast, it's mostly business as usual as you explore.
It's a shame that such a huge expansion focuses on Havi. I missed my Eivor for pretty much the entire runtime and found no real comfort in the gruff exposition frequently spouted by the God of Ravens. Of course, these are essentially the same characters (though don't ask me to explain how), but after 150 hours of building my character in Valhalla, I felt very little connection to Odin. Luckily, all gear that you've earned in the base game carries over, meaning that you can at least roleplay a bit as the warrior you've helped shape over the course of Valhalla.
Is This Just Fantasy?
One of the main things that Dawn of Ragnarok is aiming to do is expand the Assassin's Creed franchise fully into the fantasy realm. It's been increasingly obvious over the past few games that Ubisoft intends to blur the line between old-school and a new action-focused RPG series, and adding in more and more fantasy elements has been a big part of that. Problem is, once you strip Assassin's Creed of its grounding in historical settings, and of its wacky but novel sci-fi lore, you're left with a very average ARPG that fails to measure up to its peers. To really make Dawn of Ragnarok carve out a place of its own, it really needed to fully embrace its fantasy setting. Unfortunately, what I've played is a half-measure.
For those wanting more of Havi, there are at least a few new features that help make gameplay feel distinct from AC Valhalla. The first is the Hugr-Rip, a sort of relic that allows Havi to pull the life force from enemies. Doing so imbues him with their powers. One gives you the ability to walk across lava, all the while disguised as an enemy. Another allows you to shapeshift into a bird, which you can use to traverse great distances and assassinate from way up high. These new powers expand upon elements already present in Assassin's Creed but do add a layer of depth to encounters. One power in particular lets you resurrect fallen enemies as your own soldiers, leading to big battles where you fight with your own army of the dead.
There are also Dwarven Shelters to be found across the open world, each home to its own collection of merchants and side quests. The dwarves are a lot of fun in Dawn of Ragnarok, though are generally a pretty tame interpretation of the bulky, ale-drinking people of legend. Havi begrudgingly allies with the dwarves in their fight against a common enemy, raising an interesting dynamic between a God and a group that he respects very little. Aside from a couple of great world events, the quests you'll take on at the Dwarven Shelters are what you'd expect. Fetch quests, following NPCs as they walk slowly from checkpoint to checkpoint, you know the drill. And I suppose that's what's so disappointing about Dawn of Ragnarok, that after hundreds of hours in AC Valhalla, it mostly just offers more of the same. More raids, more loot, more content.
I have no doubt that Dawn of Ragnarok will be enjoyable for some. In truth, however, it only takes a hesitant half-step towards offering a full fantasy experience, and in not committing fully, it ends up being a shallow expansion that does little to justify its price point or its existence. I'm not sure who these Assassin's Creed fans are, the ones clamouring for a full-fledged fantasy RPG, with monsters and lighting boat cosmetics and new skins for their warbird, but clearly, Ubisoft is hoping to capture that market. If anything, Dawn of Ragnarok has made me realise that I'd much rather be fist-fighting the Pope, than taking down a fire demon with eyes made of lava.
Reviewed on PS5. A code provided by the publisher.