It's hard to understate just how huge the last couple of Assassin's Creed games have been. Though the mysteries managed to shake up the moment to moment gameplay of Assassin's Creed Valhalla, it really has to justify adding more to what it already has. Dawn of Ragnarok is both a justification and an indictment of the very formula it lays upon.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok draws comparisons to the base games in many ways but the first is the initial simplicity of the story. Playing as Odin, you witness the kidnapping of your son to the immortal fire giant Surtr and, after narrowly avoiding death, you are sent on a mission that is part rescue and part revenge.
Given Odin gives visions to Eivor at the start of Valhalla, playing as Eivor living through Odin's eye provides a nice parallel, enlightening a little of the story we already know. You have to live a little of his life to understand your own. In doing so, you are sent to the land of Svartalfheim.
This gives you a brand new location with a handful of new provinces to explore and more than 20 new mysteries to figure out. It holds your hand quite a lot at the start but lets you free after a while, with almost all of the game's new tools at hand.
Perhaps the most noticeable of these are the powers granted by your Hugr-Rip. You can steal the powers from dead foes and use them for yourself in a similar fashion to the way you use your abilities. You charge up a meter and use one bar from it to activate the ability of your choice. With the ability to run through fire or even fly, this sounds like a great idea but becomes limited very quickly.
Dawn of Ragnarok only features five powers and, with an upgraded Hugr-Rip, you can only access two at a time. Switching to more requires taking it from a dead body and losing your old one until you find it again. Whilst this shakes up gameplay initially, it leaves exploration feeling a little tedious after a few hours.
In this same sense, even the new enemies feel a little limited. They've been given a new coat of paint but their moves feel very similar to all those enemies you takedown in the base game. The areas they reside in are much more interesting though, being designed to contrast against the new powers in interesting ways.
In this sense, exploration occasionally feels like TT Games' LEGO titles. You feel like you're swapping out parts looking for the right power to get into a new area - knowing you may just have to come back later to mop them all up.
Whilst the story is pretty simple, Dawn of Ragnarok's characterisation is strong, capturing something I really enjoyed in the base game. Although you occasionally do some fairly predictable things, the way people react feels organic and rather heartfelt.
For every moment I felt a little underwhelmed, I was left with a smile. You have to go into different regions, gaining allies, taking down baddies and peeling away at the impenetrable force surrounding Surtr.
Fundamentally, through Odin's eyes, Eivor has to understand what it means to let go and when you must use your own strength for the greater good. Although simple, it touched on some themes that actively add to the base game in great ways.
I said this DLC has a strong focus on characterisation and this applies to Eivor themself. They must learn that, sometimes, to free yourself from that which binds you, you have to let yourself loose. Struggling against the tide will only leave you tired when you actually need your strength.
In this sense, I couldn't help but reflect on Assassin's Creed itself through this lens. Although Origins did a lot to shake up the formula and there's plenty to love in Assassin's Creed Valhalla, this DLC has largely left me accepting what may be the best ultimate fate for the series.
Even with all these new ideas, I couldn't help but feel a little tired once I reached the end of this DLC. Dawn of Ragnarok is a valiant attempt to revitalise a formula in need of a bigger change.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok - Verdict
Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok is a really solid attempt to move the game away from the base experience whilst maintaining a solid throughline to the whole thing. The new setting adds something interesting to your exploration and the addition of powers makes you rethink traversal and combat.
That being said, it doesn't do enough to not feel like another 20 to 40 hours of the game we played one and a half years ago. The powers grow a little stale, the shine wears off and you soon realise things haven't changed as much as you would have hoped. Dawn of Ragnarok talks at length about what it means to let go and maybe Assassin's Creed should listen to itself a little more.
RealSport Rating: 3.5 Stars (out of 5)
We reviewed Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Dawn of Ragnarok on PS5 & Review Code was provided by Ubisoft.
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