When you think back to The Witcher 3
, if you played through everything CD Projekt RED
threw at us, you’ll probably cast your mind to The Bloody Baron
questline, the twisting and turning A Towerful of Mice
with Keira Metz
, dark dealings with Morkvarg
and his maze, and the world’s many tales of Gwent
, as far as memorable legacy components go. Equally, your first jaunt into the luscious world of Toussaint
with the Blood and Wine
expansion and its vampire questline that, in this writer’s opinion, delivered perhaps the greatest vampiric lore ever written across all mediums, might also memorably standout where post-release content is concerned.
It’s the latter quest and playspace that represents the last we’ve seen of The Witcher
in action-RPG videogame form, and is therefore freshest in the mind. If not for the stunning realisation of the land of Toussaint or its heavily matured pacing and writing, then for it’s sense of complete design.
With the entire Toussaint arc, you got a feeling CDPR delivered a crescendo filled with all the positive learnings from the course of the whole of The Witcher 3’s development, while weeding out almost all of its frustrating bits. It really was the most complete version of Geralt’s long walk to retirement the studio could deliver.
With Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
and The Siege of Paris
, the game’s second of the two announced post-release expansions, there is an absolute sense that Ubisoft Montreal
has found what works in Valhalla and delivered upon that expertly. While also serving up an Atlas destination that is halfway caught in time; a transitioning historical playground that is both beautiful and deathly. The plague still exists here, and the land is scarred from humanity’s fruitless battle with it. A fractured society also claws at sustainability amidst the burning cinders -- nestled precariously on a sword edge of deliverance
to a vengeful God, a dancing of thrones and in navigating a world seemingly up for grabs, be it from the plague-addled sewers of Paris
, to the idyllic hamlets that pepper the countryside trying to avoid expanding tumult.
In some ways, The Siege of Paris is Ubi’s attempt at a Blood and Wine crescendo for Valhalla. At least, that might have been the original mandate from within, even if the words “The” and “Witcher” weren’t openly uttered. We now know, of course, that this might not be Eivor
’s final adventure with news of a renewed additional year-long focus on continued support for Valhalla, though no major expansions have been revealed as part of that announcement. Likely due to either Assassin’s Creed Infinity
not being near enough along for an intended 2021 release (or even 2022), or that Ubisoft simply understands the post-content model is a currently exciting one and that Valhalla, being an established playspace and one of the most successful Assassin’s Creed entries in its history, is reason enough for the road ahead. And based on all of that, and our most recent jaunt through Francia
, we couldn’t be any happier.
This is a somewhat belated review, but given the rarity of almost all of the Achievements I unlocked in said jaunt, not everyone has yet sunk their teeth into The Siege of Paris, and equally might still be on the fence at all about ponying up for Valhalla’s full gamut of post-vanilla content. So take this as something of an informed review based on the idea of still chipping away at fully maxing your Eivor to the nth degree from a player who sits comfortably and proudly with close to 300 hours of play-time under his belt.
"It is loosely based on an actual siege from the 9th century and includes the purported ineptitude of the fat King Charles, derided across Francia for being a poor leader more concerned with a hedonistic lifestyle...”
I won’t go into any of the historical components of The Siege of Paris, save to say it is loosely based on an actual siege from the 9th century and includes the purported ineptitude of the fat King Charles
, derided across Francia for being a poor leader more concerned with a hedonistic lifestyle than the wellbeing of the impoverished Francs of his court. As Eivor, and with concern for how this siege will play out and for what it means for Ravensthorpe
first, and England second. You travel to Francia at the reluctant bequest of Sigfred
, where a new thread unravels a land in turmoil and in need of some true-blue Vikingr fixing -- the kind only our enigmatic Eivor can deliver.
Out of the riverside gate, The Siege of Paris is closer to the base game than the previous expansion, Wrath of the Druids. In this way, everything you do inside the new playspace feels like it has weight. Here you’re less of a tourist and more a mogul looking to buy up some land. In Wrath of the Druids, the whole affair felt out of touch akin more to the Vinland
Atlas stop than anywhere else. The Siege of Paris is also infinitely more polished than Druids, which helps, though it’s not without its issues. But I’ll get to those in a moment.
What works here is the lay of the land. The map itself is small in comparison to England, but it’s filled with things to do. The game-world -- and game itself -- still suffers from map-time versus real-time discovery, in that points of interest are immediately highlighted after each synchronisation point, and therefore delivered as a checklist of things to tick off and set direct waypoints to. The knock on being, discovery from foot or horseback is largely diminished. And when things aren’t highlighted due to their proximity to any given synchronisation point, you can very comfortably guess from the map where something of interest is likely going to be, based on the map drawing. It’s an area of the new open-world action-RPG tilt of the series Ubisoft needs to get better at, and while we’re not asking for the game(s) to be Red Dead
or even Skyrim
-like, we are asking that more care be taken when coupling visual POIs, discovery loops (read: synchronisation points), and the idea of exploration that leads to emergent gameplay.
In each expanded piece of Assassin’s Creed fare, we tend to see Ubisoft playing with new ideas. The studios themselves often talk about these proof of concept components, and how they fit in development of the series. It makes sense to throw them into the smaller portions of the base game, to get critical feedback and see how they function in the wild. In Wrath of the Druids
it was through Trade Posts, and in The Siege of Paris it’s in bolstering the land’s rebellion by way of Rebel Missions.
Rebel Missions are binary side events, at best, and grindy paths to Achievement at worst. You gain notoriety based on completion of them, and are rewarded with currency to upgrade the meta game in equally binary fashion. You can choose Solo missions or Missions with accompanying rebels, and keeping them alive nets you a larger reward. This is probably the biggest challenge embedded in the system as your co-rebels are pretty bad at fighting. I chose to keep them all Ranged as it meant I could pretty much stealth each encampment of its stronger archetypes while they struck from afar. So shit are they though, some still managed to die.
The other big addition, which you’ll ceremoniously play with beyond the lands of Francia, is the “Plague of Rats
” Ability. Basically, shoot an arrow at the ground or into a baddie, and you’ll summon a swarm of plague-ridden rats that devour enemies in the vicinity quickly. It’s a bit cheap, really, but super-fun if I’m being honest. It’s also not a new ability to gaming, but *kind of* works here given the timeline context of things.
"This is also tied to dubbed “Assassination Events” -- markered moments that allow for a dramatic kill. Having Hitman-esque options is less freeform than normal, but it fills the game with unique branches...”
Finally, arguably the most enjoyable aspect of The Siege of Paris is in the refined assassinations setup. New ways to assassinate holed-up targets, either through gained information after speaking with locals, or by exploring different ways to breach heavily guarded or fortified areas. This is also tied to dubbed “Assassination Events” -- markered moments that allow for a dramatic kill. Having Hitman
options is less freeform than normal, but it fills the game with unique branches, and is actually a welcome break from a barrage kill or a straight up death from above option because you climbed a bit. It needs to be explored more, but is definitely a teaser of potential down the track.
On the whole, the story attached to The Siege of Paris, albeit with some lite decision-making and a few variations on rollout, doesn’t quite peak as high as Wrath of the Druids, but is still engaging nonetheless. It’s certainly the most stable I’ve seen the whole game, and is as pretty as ever, but in using The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine as a point of comparison earlier, it misses the same mark as that final dolling of content. It’s out, however, might be in that it isn’t the last major chunk of story-driven content we see, and there’s a lot of meat here to get into -- especially if you’re still not a fully maxed Eivor. With hours upon hours of loot to find, areas to clear of activities and a playspace to learn plenty of peripheral history about.
The Siege of Paris is better than Wrath of the Druids, but fails to wholly expand upon the base game. It’s introduced elements feel like feelers, rather than complete implementation of new systems, and it actually could have been longer. Moreover, neither of the game’s key expansions feel like they impact Ravensthorpe or indeed, even England
, enough given how much effort and investment is involved in them. It might be wishful think, but in all we’re looking at a series that still relies too heavily on repetitive gameplay loops and lacks dynamism and game-world feedback on your conquest of it. Still, after having spoken to the team at Ubisoft Montreal in-depth about all things Valhalla, we’re optimistic about the extended future of Valhalla and potential new content, and if not here, then what everything will mean in Infinity.