Assassin’s Creed: Dawn of Ragnarok on PlayStation 5
There can be little doubt that the success of Assassin’s Creed games is largely driven by the appeal of its historical setting, and after years of its audience pining for a Viking-era title, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has indeed proved hugely popular. It recorded the series’ biggest launch to date, and it’s gone on to provide a platform for nearly 18 months of post-launch content, from freebee seasonal updates to robust campaign expansions. Earlier this month, Dawn of Ragnarok marked the biggest and boldest yet, a 30+ hour mythological storyline set in an enormous new open-world environment.
Much like the Isu storylines of Odyssey’s campaign expansions, Dawn of Ragnarok delivers the sort of fantasy thrill-ride that should appeal in particular to enthusiasts of all things Vikingdom. It’s a journey to the heart of Norse mythology in a story that draws on its most famous source material: the coming of an apocalyptic battle between its most fabled characters, which picks up right where the original game left off.
On paper, that all sounds very exciting, but the trouble for me personally, and something that I think is very important to declare here early, is that I never really connected with Odin/Havi’s story in the first place. I always found there to be a bit of a disconnect between what was going on in the main story with Eivor –the character I actually care about– and Havi, the secondary protagonist the game desperately wanted me to be interested in. It’s clear that Ubisoft’s intention was to create a kind of two-games-in-one effect with both storylines running in parallel, but that never really worked for me. Dawn of Ragnarok, then, had its work cut out to get me invested early in what was going on.
Frustratingly, the actual intrigue of the story is teed up quite well in the early segments of the expansion, but then the snail’s pace at which it’s then followed up stalled my interest. Bizarrely, Dawn of Ragnarok’s opening quest is to traipse around its (beautiful) sandbox finding dwarven shelters, which is both boring and annoyingly finicky given that they’re all hidden in maze-like caves. The rest of the more exciting parts of the narrative that follow are often either side of monotonous questing that constantly asks you to go here and there as the plot slowly eeks out.
The branching dialog and narrative choice structure that has defined Assassin’s Creed’s modern RPG design for years now isn’t really present in Dawn of Ragnarok, either. On the one hand, it’s perhaps typical of DLC expansions that its story structure isn’t quite as robust as the mainline package, but it does surprise me somewhat given that this is a $40 DLC that falls outside the season pass.
I think questing in Dawn of Ragnarok feels all the staler given the fact that the interactive elements of their design are so painfully derivative of everything we’ve seen in Valhalla and its expansions since launch — the light beam puzzles, the pushing and pulling of boxes and crates, and even the avoiding of voracious rats from The Siege of Paris. I would have liked to have seen a bit more from the invention from the development team here in helping to set apart Dawn of Ragnarok from what had come before. After all, again, this is premium content, and it’s supposed to be the biggest and best expansion of Valhalla yet.
I feel like I’m battering Dawn of Ragnarok here, but there’s actually plenty here that I’m sure fans of Valhalla, and especially Norse mythology, will enjoy. For starters, and as I alluded to before, the open world itself is drop-dead gorgeous. I’d actually forgotten just how pretty Valhalla is as a game, and after 30 hours of playing FromSoftware’s Elden Ring, I’m reminded that Ubisoft is many steps ahead in terms of production value. Svartalfheim, one of the Nine Realms of Norse mythology that serves as Dawn of Ragnarok’s location, is a fantasy environment accented by vivid colors that pop from behind triumphant Norse statues and impossibly spectacular geography. I thoroughly enjoyed navigating it from a sight-seeing perspective.
It has to be said, however, that almost all of what you’re doing in Svartalfheim outside the main and side quests is exactly the same as what you would do in the base Valhalla experience: searching for treasure highlighted on the map by golden orbs, which are either upgrade materials, new gear or abilities. Viking ships raids return here, too.
The moment-to-moment gameplay has at least been enhanced from the base game, though, thanks to a new ability that allows Havi to absorb the Hugr of Svaltehim and channel it into magical energy. This adds an interesting layer to combat and traversal; for example, one sees him transform into his raven to surprise attack enemies, while another allows him to walk on lava to access hidden areas. There’s a new polearm weapon type, too, called Atgeir, which is fun to wield but feels familiar in that it’s reminiscent of similar arms from the base game. It’s not as unique as I’d hoped or had been led to believe during a preview event.
I think the familiarity of the entire experience, in general, is a key takeaway for me after having played Dawn of Ragnarok. It’s more of the same, which is an issue that I seem to find myself repeating every time I play and then review a Valhalla expansion. The difference this time, of course, and which I have already mentioned, is that this is a $40 premium DLC that perhaps should have much greater depth beyond just more story and more content.
Dawn of Ragnarok might be Valhalla’s largest campaign expansion by scale, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much The Wrath of the Druids and even The Siege of Paris. Unless you’re a hardcore Valhalla fan or someone who is particularly enamored with finding a collecting the (admittedly cool-looking) new armor sets, wait for this one to go on sale to satiate your craving to plunder.
- Some new mechanics add another layer to combat and traversal, all be they few in number.
- Beautiful new sandbox to explore.
- One or two interesting story beats throughout the narrative.
- Repetitive questing either side of a slow-moving plot.
- Not enough innovation from the base game to make it worth the asking price.
March 10, 2022