There's been a fair amount of criticism about Assassin's Creed Valhalla simply being too big. The world is unarguably enormous and takes a monumental amount of time to truly explore in its entirety. I would know, it took me around 80 hours to clear just the base game's map. But, even this wasn't enough content to chew through as Ubisoft has since brought a few different expansions, each adding hours of more content, and taking the Viking protagonist Eivor to Ireland, France, and now the mythical realm of Svartalfheim to set out on a new adventure revolving around the famed Norse god Odin.
This expansion is different to Wrath of the Druids and The Siege of Paris as it forsakes the more historical tales in favour of an adaptation of mythological lore. It tells the story of Odin relentlessly pursuing the fire giant Surtr, who has recently captured the Lord of Asgard's son Baldr, and began a conquest of the glorious dwarven realm of Svartalfheim, turning the picturesque landscape into a world ravaged by war on the hunt of a powerful relic. It's a storyline that is separate from anything prior in the Assassin's Creed Valhalla saga, as it tells a tale with familiarity, but without the necessity of experiencing anything beforehand (even the story arcs in Asgard and Jotunheim) to be able to jump in.
With this being the case, Svartalfheim acts similarly to Ireland and France, and is a completely separate open world, with its own missions, side quests, collectibles, points of interest, and even enemies. What this essentially means is that Ubisoft has brought an expansion that adds another 15-20 hours of content to play through, assuming you, like myself, are a completionist and like to see every point of interest completed. But, what I will say, is that this open world doesn't feel as exciting to explore as previous worlds. I say this as there are fewer World Events, no legendary creatures, in fact there are very few mini-bosses to take on in the realm itself. It's very much a world that expects you to travel to question marks and unidentified symbols to loot a chest or pick up an item, and that's a style of design that does become quite tiresome after a few hours.
Thankfully, the narrative itself is better. The storyline is filled with intrigue and emotionally complex situations and dives into the relationships between the Aesir, the Dwarves, the Muspels, and the Jotunns, all of whom share a side in this brutal and savage war that lacks any kind of remorse. Similarly, Ubisoft Sofia has done a fantastic job at creating one of the more memorable regions of Assassin's Creed Valhalla, as Svartalfheim is stunning. The realm's towering golden peaks and lush forests are polarised by streams of lava harkening from the fiery land of Muspelheim. And to cap it all off, you have the legions of Muspels parading around the world, just waiting to come across an unfortunate Dwarf survivor. In this way, the world makes up for its dull explorative systems.
On the topic of Muspels, this new enemy faction is nothing to sneer at. Ubisoft Sofia has served up quite the complex array of foes to face, be it archers, berserkers, brutes, and even a new type, Flame Keepers, who can resurrect fallen Muspels and bring them back to the fight. You will need to take your time and prioritise targets as the Muspels are as deadly and savage as they are hot to the touch, something which is only elevated by the fact that each enemy can wield various weapon types and can even empower one another through war cries and roars.
To offset the new challenge these chaps pose, Ubisoft has expanded on how far you can upgrade gear, with the introduction of the all-new Divine quality, which will allow weapons to hit harder and make armour more resilient. It's helpful and assuming you explore, you'll find plenty of the necessary resources to be able to upgrade various pieces of gear over the course of the expansion. But, this isn't the primary feature that Ubisoft has brought to the table to help you chew through the Muspel hordes, as that instead revolves around the new set of abilities coming from the Hugr-Rip system.
This is a gauntlet that, simply put, allows you to steal the life essence from defeated enemies and creatures, to then repurpose it as a fuel for a few transformative abilities that bring certain benefits. For example, Power of Muspelheim allows you to turn into a Muspel to blend in and also walk across lava without being burnt. Likewise, Power of Jotunheim turns Havi into a Jotunn, and allows you to teleport around the battlefield by firing arrows into World Knots (essentially glowing magical targets). They're all helpful and beneficial in their own way, but the way that they are implemented makes them more of a novelty at times than a major point in the expansion.
I say this because when you aren't chewing through Muspels, getting Hugr isn't always the easiest. Add to this the fact you can only carry two powers (three when you upgrade the gauntlet enough), you will have to be a little thoughtful about which abilities you take with you, as they are often vital to completing activities in the world. In fact, over my time playing, I found very few reasons to keep Power of Rebirth and Power of Winter on me, as only the former was used in one open world activity.
And this about sums up the Dawn of Ragnarök expansion for me. Assassin's Creed Valhalla fans looking for new ways to become immersed in this world will find enjoyment in what Svartalfheim serves up. But, those who are hoping for something more will be disappointed as if anything, this expansion proves that Ubisoft cannot keep chucking massive open world expansions with uninspiring points of interest out, and expecting fans to just eat it up. Because it's becoming exhausting.