The change of direction Assassin’s Creed took between Syndicate and Origins has long divided fans, some of whom aren’t as into open world adventuring as they were the series’ older, sneakier trademarks. If you’re in the latter camp, you might be interested to know that Valhalla’s new expansion Wrath of the Druids has something for you.
Well, two things. The first is the return of the pigeon coop, long gone and dearly missed as a way of being able to fire up a game, grab a cheeky little mission and knock it over in ten minutes without having to bother about story development. While that type of mission never really went away—Reda’s contracts occupied the same space—there are coops all over the place in Valhalla’s Ireland, a lovely throwback to the days of Venice, offering a constant supply of objectives you can enjoy as a distraction to the main quests.
More importantly, though, is that when you’re playing these missions—called Royal Demands—you’re given a number of objectives. There’s a main objective, which is usually kill a guy/guys or steal something, but then there are optional objectives that will earn you bonuses, like not raising the alarm or suffering damage.
Those are called “King’s Pleas”, and Assassin’s Creed veterans will probably know them better as sync bonuses. You don’t need to finish them, but you’re often compelled through completist urges to do it anyway, and sticking to them I think brings back some of that old Assassin’s Creed magic that I think the newer games have sometimes been accused of missing.
A generalised complaint you see levelled against newer Assassin’s Creed games is that they’re missing a lot of the planning and tension that went into older titles, since at the first sign of trouble in a game like Valhalla you can just whip out an enormous magical sword and murder everyone in a matter of minutes.
The return of these bonus objectives throws a handbrake on that kind of carelessness, as every time I found myself playing through a mission that featured them, I felt compelled to stick to them and be as sneaky and as careful as I could. Not for the extra rewards I got for honouring them, just because they were there as a challenge, and going to the extra trouble of pulling them off was usually a more satisfying way of completing a mission than murdering my way through it.
It says a lot about modern Assassin’s Creed mission design (and my own lack of patience) that I needed a reminder like this, and that such a simple system could so drastically change the way I approached Wrath of the Druid’s Royal Demands. It’s basically the game design equivalent of sticking a post-it note on my head that says “remember to sneak, dummy”.
But it works! I’ve had more fun with some of these Royal Demands missions than I have elaborate, explosive main storyline quests, simply because they tug at some old, stealthy muscle memories and have me playing parts of the game in a way that doesn’t just involve riding up to the gates of a fort on my winged horse and screaming “WHO WANTS TO DIE TODAY”.