Wrath of the Druids is everything fans of the series could ask for in an expansion and Ubisoft Bordeaux could possibly deliver.
Recently, it’s felt like finding good DLC has been harder than finding a full-fledged four-leaf clover between buggy messes that shouldn’t have been released yet and sloppy quality of life upgrades.
Wrath of the Druids is far from those.
Wrath of the Druids offers more of the same
Wrath of the Druids plays out at whatever stage of the base game you happen, which is great for dodging spoilers and being accessible without the need for heavy grinding or quick progression through the game. On the flip side, the DLC does not scale to your power level, and with every region of the Irish game map set at 50 power level, you will likely find yourself running through the lands of the Irish kings slaughtering all without mercy like Marvel’s Thor chasing the perfect shawarma and coffee, and opposing all who stand in his way. However, I do find that while Irish foot soldiers pose little challenge, members of the new Druid faction can be a little tricky – especially because they’re always ganging up on you.
To start the DLC, you’ll find an exotic merchant named Azar in your port. She seems to know Hytham quite well from the old world. But she tells you she has set up shop in a port city in Ireland where a previously unmentioned member of Eivor’s family is king… well, one of many, many, many kings. This family member requests Eivor’s help. Quite rudely considering he’s been highly unhelpful in your own endeavours through England.
When you arrive in Ireland, you’ll find that the family member king is Barid… or Bar-ith… seriously, this dude is Assassin’s Creed’s version of Aerith. And by that, I mean that some characters call him Ba-rid, and just as many call him Ba-rith. It turns out that since leaving Norway back when you were just a sprout, he went off and became the king of Dublin – an up-and-coming trade port longing to be known as a metropolitan cultural hub. I googled “Is Dublin a metropolitan city?” and all results suggest that came to be.
Ireland is in peril as the North-kingdom run from Ulster, and the South run from Meath are on the brink of war for the right to put a king on the throne of the high king – the king of kings in Ireland.
Eivor must become a champion of Flann Sinna, a real-life high king who ruled when Vikings first made landfall in Ireland and did what they do best – plundered abbeys.
Along the way, and in true Assassin’s Creed reboot fashion, Eivor learns of the existence of a shadow cult called the Children of Danu – a group of nefarious druids out to preserve the druidic ways of the land using a whole heap of poisons and mind-altering fog and even werewolves – OK, they are really just regular dogs vamped up by toxins.
Float like a bee, sting like a druid
Wrath of the Druids introduces… well, it introduces the Druid enemy faction. There’s a whole legion of new opponents that feel similar to how base game baddies play – except for using a heck of a lot more status ailments like poison and burning. They also have their movement, and evasion abilities jacked up so that they are Daughters of Legion levels of slippery! It doesn’t help that many of the time you face them in combat, you do so under the influence, so there’s a fair amount of screen-shake and disorientation.
However, Eivor also gets a few new tricks to silence foes – the smoke bomb arrow, the Irish wolfhound companion and a new run and headbutt skill that screams Kassandra came up with this, didn’t she?! I, for one, am a huge fan of the smoke bomb arrow. It instantly reminded me of the good old days of Assassin’s Creed 2, where so much of my stealthy strategy was to lob a smoke grenade and quickly become a spectre in the smoke, dispatching blades to the stomach. I struggle to describe how satisfied this nostalgic bullet feels to use!
Borrowing from the past, keeping this the same for the future.
Ubisoft Bordeaux isn’t done with reminding you about elements of the past, though.
Azar, the one-eyed emissary who invited you to Ireland, helps Eivor to establish a trade network between Dublin and the wide, wide world. She’ll teach you about a system of settlements across Ireland that provide commodities desired by those in foreign lands, which results in Eivor taking part in several extremely similar quests to revive fallen outposts across the map. Sadly, they become a pretty repetitive series of clear some enemies out of the outpost, find a clue as to where the property deed is, steal the deed and then revitalize the outpost with supplies you got raiding. But your reward for completing these is a pretty compelling friendship with Azar – oh, and some really cool armours and tattoos from a number of old empires across the world. It’s a resource collection system that feels reminiscent of the pirate’s life entries into the franchise paired with the fort-capturing aspects of Assassin’s Creed 3 and Assassins Creed: Rogue. I’ve been having way too much nostalgic fun establishing outposts to really be troubled by how tedious the process is.
In terms of newer nostalgia, Wrath of the Druids‘ Ireland is quite similar to its England. Along with your roughly 15 to 20-hour vacation – possibly quite a bit longer if you’re trying to solve those stupid cairns! If you’re at all like me, you’ve been spending hours running around England – through forests and mountains and across lakes and fields. If that’s the case, Ireland will feel like home to you. There’s a handful of mysteries and riches dotted across the Irish countryside for you to find, as well as many puzzles and challenges of strength.
Overstaying their welcome
I want to end this review with my only major complaint – druids overstay their welcome. While I’m fully invested in the political intrigue of a war between two kingdoms, catching up with a family member and wooing a new love interest in the form of an Irish lass serving as the poet committing the great Flann to history. I can’t help but feel that the druids become a sort of thorn in the crowd. Much of the playthrough time you’ll invest in this DLC becomes slaying cult leaders through the now seemingly series staple of deciphering clues about who the cult member is and running around the map to find those clues.
A large part of story development is now also tied to completing requests from kings of Ireland that as all eye-waveringly similar destroy a camp without taking damage” or “Steal a gem without being seen” affairs. I find myself lusting for missions that feel unique and structured around the actual story playing out.
With that out of the way, Wrath of the Druids is everything I’ve been hoping for! Its story of political intrigue is at times hidden behind repetitive filler. Still, Ubisoft Bordeaux has managed to stay true to the things that made Assassin’s Creed Valhalla enjoyable while also finding several great ways to recall elements of the pre-reboot games that fans will remember being quite enjoyable. In a year when DLCs are constantly being pushed back or released as buggy messes – or both [looking at you Watch Dogs: Legion] – Wrath of the Druids is certified fresh as an Irish spring.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]