Much like how Assassin’s Creed Valhalla shook things up for the Assassin’s Creed proper formula, Dawn of Ragnarök seeks to expose yet another shade of the long-running open-world series. Taking the core elements of Valhalla and presenting them in a far more fantasy-oriented light that embraces ancient Norse myth much more than its parent game does. Dawn of Ragnarök turns out to be mostly another successful hard left turn for the franchise on the conceptual front. It leaves much of the historical elements of the Viking expansion into Europe behind in favor of a story that more intimately focuses on Havi a.k.a. Odin as he embarks on the journey to rescue his son Baldr from Surtur – leveraging his social capital with the dwarves to do so as they will upgrade his armor, weapons, provide side quests, and exposition. With the mostly solid foundation of Valhalla to stand on, Dawn of Ragnarök ends up delivering a worthy follow-up that brings enough new ideas to the table to make it often feel like a little bit more than a simple expansion to another game – even if some of the series’ notable shortcomings continue to linger within it.
At anywhere from 20ish to closer to 60 hours long depending on how you play, Dawn of Ragnarök is decisively large for an expansion. And with plenty of new ideas woven into the fabric of its host game, Valhalla, the $40 price tag feels pretty fair. There are many full-priced games for sale right now in the same genre that offer similar amounts of content. So the quantity is certainly there for Assassin’s Creed fans who already know what they’re getting into as well as those fans of the older games who have been waiting for something a little more off-the-wall to come out of the franchise before jumping back in. The story also mostly delivers too. With a genuinely fascinating cast of supporting characters with which Havi crosses paths, and dialogue that often feels thoughtfully yet succinctly written, Dawn of Ragnarök’s story is one of the stronger ones I’ve come across in the Assassin’s Creed series.
"With the mostly solid foundation of Valhalla to stand on, Dawn of Ragnarök ends up delivering a worthy follow-up that brings enough new ideas to the table to make it often feel like a little bit more than a simple expansion to another game – even if some of the series’ notable shortcomings continue to linger within it."
The Dwarves in particular seem to have been given special attention and consideration with their diverse personality types and eccentricities. From a withered old stable woman who gripes about how she can only trust animals after her husband left her, to a mine-dwelling dwarf who thinks he can talk to crystals, the game never seems to run out of odd and intriguing characters. Rushing through the game’s various shelters and failing to soak them in will result in you missing a lot of that though, as many of the story-related characters like Frigg, while still well-written, are less interesting on the whole. Havi himself is presented as a flawed misanthrope who needs to learn to reflect on his own personal failings, which does lead to a bit of an arc for his character. It’s enough to push the story forward, but nothing nearly as good happens to or with him as fellow ancient Norse video game protagonists Kratos or Senua. Havi’s one-notedness doesn’t drag the experience down much, but it does create a lower ceiling for its narrative than it could have had.
Among Dawn of Ragnarök’s new ideas are a series of new abilities that include invulnerability to the game’s many pools of lava, an ability to fly around the world as a raven, short-range teleportation and more. Holding down the right trigger still reveals four action abilities like it does in Valhalla, but now it additionally gives you access to these Havi-specific abilities that are triggered by accompanying R2 with the D-pad. These abilities can be found and absorbed from fallen enemies, but also purchased and upgrade-able too. They’re fun to experiment with and can greatly change how you play in an instant. I never felt like I needed to stick to any one of them or avoid any one of them either, which is more than I can say for a lot of similar games.
New weapons and enemy types also fill out the experience well and fundamentally set it apart from Valhalla. Even if you’ve never played the base game, Dawn of Ragnarök has you covered with a generous number of weapons and runes in your inventory and a sizable chunk of already-unlocked abilities ready for you to tinker around with. This not only creates a smooth opportunity for new players to hit the ground running, but also makes sense narratively for where Havi is in his journey when we take control of him. It can feel like a lot is dumped on you at first, but the open-ended nature of the first few hours serves as a great way to acclimate yourself at your own pace – although I do wish it held onto that approach a bit longer, as you will be cluttered up with familiar objectives, waypoints, and other superfluous things before you know it.
"The world in Dawn of Ragnarök is as much of a breeze to explore as you want it to be with its approach to traversal."
The world in Dawn of Ragnarök is as much of a breeze to explore as you want it to be with its approach to traversal. Setting your horse to autonomously take you to your next objective lets you devote more of your attention to scouring your surroundings for resources or some of the game’s many marauding mini-bosses to take down. It’s a bit hand hold-y but you don’t have to do it. Of course, the enthralling raids on enemy encampments are also a thing here, and can be a fun way to spend many hours collecting spoils of war and leveling Havi up even more.
Given that the game is firmly built upon the foundation of Valhalla and its other expansions, it should be no surprise that it looks and runs beautifully on the PS5. While some of the combat – particularly execution animations – are occasionally robbed of their oomph by the less-than-perfect camera and audio randomly cutting out, Dawn of Ragnarök still gets the big picture stuff right with vivid sunsets, gloomy overcasts, and a densely-detailed world all running very smoothly throughout. The favor resolution mode on PS5 does bring out a bit more sharpness and more vibrant effects, but I found the performance mode to be the ideal solution nonetheless as it still looks fantastic and runs consistently smooth. You can’t really go wrong either way, though.
Assassin’s Creed has wisely traveled down an interesting creative corridor with Dawn of Ragnarök. While I suspect they will treat it as a fun diversion rather than a new general direction for the series at large, I still hope that the developer can learn from the successes that are had here and apply them in the future in some way. While it may not be every Assassin’s Creed purist’s cup of tea, I still think that the decision to take this conceptual leap of faith can only help the series going forward as fresh ideas inevitably become harder to come by.
"While it may not be every Assassin’s Creed purist’s cup of tea, I still think that the decision to take this conceptual leap of faith can only help the series going forward as fresh ideas inevitably become harder to come by."
It’s unfortunate that this expansion is held back a bit by main characters who are dry and the combat still suffers from the same nagging camera found in the base game. I would have really liked to have seen those elements brought up a few notches considering how much experience this team has with those things at this point. That said, Dawn of Ragnarök is a passably worthy expansion to Valhalla if nothing else. It feels like more of Valhalla but with a few twists, and that’s basically what any good expansion should be. It also helps that it’s willing to play around with some new ideas, despite not really leaning into that mentality as much as it probably should’ve.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
One of the best settings the Assassin's Creed series has seen; Fun new abilities; Runs great on PS5.
Combat still suffers from notable jank; Important characters aren’t particularly interesting.
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