Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Wrath of the Druids DLC for PS5. DLC is also on PC, Stadia, PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
With a 70-hour campaign that roughly doubles in length when going for a map-clearing completionist run, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla did not need more content. It was both bursting at the seams with stuff to do and also ironically filled with a ton of dead, empty space. Wrath of the Druids, its first expansion, brings yet another underwhelming green landmass to explore and suffers from a lot of the issues from the main game, but it’s a more digestible portion of a passable RPG.
Smaller country, bigger focus
That presentation is a key part of why this inaugural piece of DLC is better than almost anything else in the core game. Ireland is quite large and comparable to about two or three territories from England and filled its share of bloat; a sad reality for many, many open-world games. And aside from a few spooky, foggy dead areas, it’s still mainly a bunch of unexciting yet beautiful green fields and forests that are as boring to look at as they are to traverse.
However, it’s all significantly more manageable here. A number of activities and secrets litter the map, but not an overwhelming number. There are a few sub-territories, but not literally 17 of them with their own multi-hour narratives and characters that are hard to keep track of. It’s just one main arc with a handful of faces to remember.
Wrath of the Druids succeeds where the main game utterly failed since it is comparatively more focused. Since it’s just one arc, it doesn’t sit alongside a dozen-and-a-half others that all hardly relate to each other or the grander story. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s base campaign was sold as one united whole, but essentially felt like far too many individual expansions with very little linking them all together. Wrath of the Druids is just one story and being a singular piece of DLC yields a sense of completion and cohesion the core game sorely lacked.
Sidelining the titular stars
Presentation is only part of the package as the story itself matters, too. Wrath of the Druids’ title, key art, and trailer all imply that it’s a grand tale of fighting bone-wearing Irish warriors in their native land. But sadly, it’s almost a misnomer since it’s still mainly about helping kings get their business together, which was an old crutch that the core game repeated over and over and over through its many repetitive arcs. The crutch is even worse when Vikings were the very reason many Irish clans banded together in order to face a common enemy; a factoid that Ubisoft admits without a drop of irony on its own blog. Ubisoft is still keen on making the Vikings always seem like the well-meaning good guys who always help and act as peacekeepers when the real history isn’t nearly that simple or kind to them.
King Flann, the amazingly talented singer Ciara, and Eivor’s cousin Bárid are some of the more memorable characters in the game, making Wrath of the Druids one of the better versions of the prevalent “help the kings” plotline. Relegating the cultish druids to the sidelines is a missed opportunity since it would have offered the game a chance to divulge from its usual cup of mead.
These enemies are wildly different from the other factions in the game, which would have offered a more unique tale if it had been centered around them. The bloody, skull-filled tombs and foggy marshes they skulk around in also offer a break from the monotonous forest and forts that the more traditional factions use. Fighting them is also a little different since they utilize poison and mythical beasts as they scream in a foreign tongue.
After lightly flirting with them for hours, the game attempts to integrate them more directly in the final mission, but it’s an absurdly rushed conclusion that starts an interesting thread and prematurely ends it within 15 minutes. Wrath of the Druids abruptly concludes with a storyline that it should have honed in on earlier.
Most of the druid-specific content is locked away in the cult-hunting side activity, which is still one of the best ideas that the series has had yet refuses to fully center around. Hunting cultish druids hasn’t changed much and that extends to almost all of the gameplay. There aren’t any new mechanics, meaning it’s the same RPG with the same combat and the same upgrade loops. It does add a curved sickle sword and a couple of the new abilities to Eivor’s arsenal but one new weapon type, a smoke bomb arrow, and Irish attack dog aren’t enough to change the dynamic either way.
The side activities are also just more of the same missions or slight variations on them. The trippy Trials of Morrigan side activities are basically combat-focused versions of the obtuse Fly Agaric mysteries from the main game. Royal Demands are endlessly spawning simplistic side missions with optional objectives. The trading system is the most fleshed out since it lets the player build out their economy through capturing trading posts. These posts yield different resources that can be traded for foreign gear, which is a solid metagame that makes for a good alternative to upgrading the Raventhorpe settlement. They’re all fairly standard, functional, and comfortable additions, for better and for worse.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Wrath of the Druids DLC Review: The final verdict
Wrath of the Druids has a lot of the same shortcomings as the main game. The story is too concerned with political intrigue that isn’t that intriguing, the landscape is mostly barren greenery that’s unexciting to traverse, and the overall game hardly hovers above the average baseline it rests upon, just to name a few of the overlapping problems. But Wrath of the Druids does leapfrog the base experience because of its relative focus that organically slices off the astounding amount of bloat inherent to a game that large. It doesn’t magically make Assassin’s Creed Valhalla a better game, but it does show that sometimes, a smaller serving can make a huge difference.
GameRevolution reviewed the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Wrath of the Druids DLC on PS5. Code provided by the publisher.