Raids along the Seine, laughing in the rain
The bigger Assassin’s Creed games get, the less I like them. I think my main issue arises from them still being called Assassin’s Creed, because outside of some pointy hoods and a lot of stabbing, the modern games are so far removed from that original, almost quaint adventure in Israel over a decade ago, that the connection feels more like an adventure in marketing. The Ezio trilogy, in my opinion, is the peak of the series. The maps were large without requiring you to scroll for six minutes to get across them, the characters were memorable, and you got to kill The Pope, something that surely pleased around half of all players in Glasgow. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s newest expansion, The Siege of Paris, reminds me of those old days, and not just because you spend most of your time cutting the heads off of clergy.
The expansion begins with travellers from Francia arriving at Eivor’s camp. Having developed a reputation as the go-to girl for murdering entire towns worth of people, you’re enlisted by a group of rebels leading a charge against King Charles, a cartoon toad of a monarch whose rule of Francia has left it looking like a high school production of Les Miserables. Once you reach Francia, you soon realise that the group that’ve brought you aboard are less interested in liberating Francia, and more keen on painting the entire thing red using the blood of everything that so much as glances towards them.
Much like a few of the smaller, non-England zones from the original game, Francia is a much more enjoyable open world to explore, because it doesn’t feel insurmountable. I can’t remember the last time I spent this long with a modern Assassin’s Creed game, and didn’t feel the need to fast travel. Instead of missions being a commute away, they’re a short horse-ride. It’s extremely refreshing to play something that feels like it has constraints, and the expansion is much better for it.
The mission structure is fairly standard Assassin’s Creed fare. It’s a lot of going to a location to look for information. And by looking for information, I mean reducing the life expectancy of anyone with a French accent to that of an earthworm. There are several assassination targets that you must take down, and it’s here where Assassin’s Creed takes some inspiration from the latest Hitman games. Assassination opportunities present themselves, for example, finding a specific ritual costume allows you to take part in this ceremony that gets you with stabs reach of the target. They’re exceptionally basic, one of them is literally just shooting the back of a big cross and it’ll crush your target, but it’s a step towards the right direction. There’s also a fair amount of actual stealth involved in later missions, something the series has lacked since it started copying The Witcher 3’s homework.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla remains one of the most unconditionally stunning video games I’ve ever seen. While occasionally the facial animations get a bit strange -NPC children particularly have a bit of gurn about them – the landscapes, towns and cities are just breath-taking. I completely understand why they’ve included modes in the past that just let you walk around and soak up the history. Oftentimes I’d find myself annoyed at having to fight soldiers because I wanted to set up a nice photo as the sun sets. Francia is a contradiction of vast, colourful fields, and slums where the rats are thigh height and you’re wading about in your own shit, just like real Paris.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Valhalla initially, partly due to the time constraints I was under to review the game, and also because I wasn’t invested in the story. With The Siege of Paris, it’s a self contained story, with memorable characters, and a map that isn’t the size of planet earth. I’d recommend anyone who’s been turned off by the recent direction of Assassin’s Creed to give it a try. It’s a return to a style of Assassin’s Creed that I love, and it reminded me of the Ezio trilogy, although that may be because I spent most of the time using his outfit like the big fanboy I am.