“Am I pissed, or does the All Father stand before me?
” - A son of Ivaldi
As the first major DLC for Year 2 of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla
’s post-launch life, Dawn of Ragnarök
promised much during its announcement month, and via developer access
in its continued build-up. The picture we’d painted of the Ubisoft Sofia
-developed expansion was of a near standalone affair built off the solid -- if aged -- foundations of Valhalla proper, only in this instance we’re no longer exploring deep-seeded pagan roots in the celtic
bogswell of the increasingly God-fearing Christian shift in Ireland
, nor the viking influence on Francia
and its disruption of the machinations of Charles the III
, otherwise known as The Fat King
No, instead in Dawn of Ragnarök, as its title suggests, we are back in Valhalla as The All Father
. He is drawn into an invasion of the Dwarven realm, Svartalfheim
, by the combined forces of the Fire Giants of Muspelheim
and the Ice Giants of Jotunheim
, who each seek to subjugate the tinkerous Dwarves, and lay claim to the realm and its mineral riches, as their collective own. There are also secrets beneath the ground in Svartalfheim, which helps build on the mystery behind this invasion, representing at least one part of the carrot being dangled before you.
The other is that Havi initially casts about for his son, Baldr
, who has been taken by the unkillable giant, Sutr
. Baldr’s mother, Frigg
, insists upon Odin
he join her in seeking out their lovechild, despite the pair no longer seeing eye to eye (heh). And thus begins your
"In our Svartalfheim sojourn we’ll learn tales of the trickster Loki, bear witness the lineage of the dwarf blacksmith, Ivaldi, and relish the myriad magics that permeate the Nine Realms...”
Like the previous expansion-level DLCs for Valhalla, Dawn of Ragnarök is a lengthy affair filled mostly with narrative beats lifted from this series’ anchor point -- the Viking sagas. It’s the deepest exploration of Norse
myth across the entire journey, and in my opinion its strongest component. In our Svartalfheim sojourn we’ll learn tales of the trickster Loki
, bear witness the lineage of the dwarf blacksmith, Ivaldi
, and relish the myriad magics that permeate the Nine Realms. And we do all this through the eye
of Odin, whose uncouth manner and tone belie his station, but reverberate the Viking way.
It’s the meanest differentiator between this and all other content before it, and while the base game featured ventures into Valhalla, in Dawn of Ragnarök the experience is presented in a newer light. Greater power, more to explore and a deeper narrative written exclusively for this expansion allows the elevated Viking setting to breathe in new ways. It’s not as massive a departure as some of that would have you believe, at least not in the early throes, but it is fresh, and in a game that is now in its second year of life with an already decent array of content and updates behind it, that’s a challenge well met. Especially given the repetitive nature of some aspects of the core Assassin’s Creed Valhalla experience.
Of the new here, Havi has the Hugr-Rip -- a Dwarven-forged gift to the Aesir that allows him to activate a new power absorbed from enemies in the world. You can have two active powers ‘loaded’ onto (into?) it, with any subsequent powers requiring absorption first, and then to fully replace any one of the two active powers. At first this idea seemed good in that it required a bit of forethought on what style of play you’d likely be using it for in any given venture, but after a while it didn’t sit well. Firstly because the most significant power you’ll use is Power of Muspelheim, and even then it’s not about blending in with the firey invaders, which is one of that power’s perks, and just more about being able to walk on lava which is its other.
"There’s plenty of missed opportunity riddled throughout the experience for use and promotion of Hugr-Rip...”
Most of the other powers feel more like conveniences than game-changing additions, and overall there’s much to be said about how their place in the game has been underutilised from a ‘forced’ sense. Clearly the studio(s) wanted player-choice to be at the fore of how any one particular playstyle worked with quests and level design, but there’s plenty of missed opportunity riddled throughout the experience for use and promotion of Hugr-Rip. And in addition, even the perceived ‘challenge’ of keeping the Hugr meter full wasn’t really a challenge at all, as the game constantly offers you refill points, while killing enemies also helped keep the tank forever full.
It all just felt a bit simple.
In fact, in leveraging my own experience, and in starting the expansion at a Power level of 475, I found the default setup too easy. You can tinker with all of this now, of course, and scale the world and difficulty to suit your needs, but the game sets you off almost on the assumption you’re entirely new to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. And while its recommended Power Level upon starting is around 340, even that seems alarmingly out of whack. If anything, there should be a much larger barrier to entry here, to push players to experience all the content before it. And sure that might seem in antithesis to the current trend of accessibility, but this is
, and I’d rather Ubisoft didn’t make ass-making assumptions, and just gate the experience as reward for investment or make it a proper standalone releases if accessibility was the goal.
"By all accounts he should be hard, but in my first encounter I had him on his knees inside 30 seconds...”
This is equally amplified with the idea you’re taking on Sutr, who is both unkillable and a giant. So by all accounts he should be hard, but in my first encounter I had him on his knees inside 30 seconds before the game triggered a cutscene featuring me beaten by him and shackled, which given my power and how quickly I initially dispatched him, left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Again I need to reiterate that you can go in and up the challenge yourself, but from a default level in how I came into the expansion, it all felt a bit mismanaged.
Still, the true strength of Dawn of Ragnarök is your journey as The All Father into another realm, and Ubisoft can smile quietly that they took us there before Santa Monica Studios will with God of War Ragnarök, so there’s some cheeky bragging rights there. In terms of how they’ve crafted the world though, I’d be lying if I said I thought it was the best representation of the Dwarven realm. Too much of it feels like base components of Valhalla proper (as in the game, not the afterlife) rehashed, and it’s all a bit too sparse for mine. Still, when the team goes all out on architecture and godly-slash-otherworldly design, the game is stunning and delivers exactly what we’re after, but these places and moments within the game feel too few and far between. Moreover, the discovery gameplay setup of looking for hidden Dwarven shelters is in line with the ease of the game mentioned above, and really doesn’t represent much of a challenge at all.
So what you’re left with here is an expansion that presents an excellent spin on the sagas featuring the immutable, fate-defying Odin as your lead. Eivor’s presence here isn’t overly felt outside of the obvious and obligatory Ravensthorpe connections, leaving this as something very close to a standalone experience, which in my opinion it would have been better served being, rather than as a true continuation of Eivor’s English conquest and settlement. The lauded gameplay shifts are fun to play with, but I didn’t find them overtly required, and I certainly didn’t need to shift my Valhalla playstyle too much, which is something I was looking forward to.
Dawn of Ragnarök could have given us new items in shops, different resources to gather and craft with (though you can upgrade gear to a new tier, which is a nice addition) and more fun with its economy. And while there are differences to what we’ve already played through in the base game and its other two expansions, they don’t make the experience different enough. That said, however, the story here can’t be faulted, nor the treatment of the sagas and history of the Vikings and Norse myth, which is Dawn of Ragnarök’s best element.
: This review was written from played copies of both the PC
version of the game, as well as Xbox
utilising a Samsung 75" 8K QN900 Neo
panel and Samsung HW Q800T 3.1 Soundbar
as the console review experience.