What do you do when you launch an Assassin’s Creed game, include the option for your customers to pay $10 to level up faster, draw all kinds of negative reactions—many of them suspicious, wary—and then launch a new Assassin’s Creed two years later? Launch with that controversial paid booster again? Not quite. If you’re publisher Ubisoft, you leave out your $10 XP booster at first (hooray!), then add it a month after release (hmmm).
Yesterday, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s online store saw the addition of two premium boosters. For $10, players can permanently supercharge their character’s experience-point gain by 50%. They can pay another $10 to do the same for how much in-game currency they earn, or buy a $15 bundle that lets them do both.
Gaining XP in Valhalla allows players to earn points that they can spend on improving their character’s offensive and defensive stats, as well as on perks that make their character more powerful.
Two year’s ago, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s designers denied that the boosters influenced the design of their game, saying they didn’t throttle the speed at which your character became stronger in order to drive people toward buying the booster.
Today, a Ubisoft rep said the same about Valhalla’s booster: “The XP boosters did not influence the game’s design.”
It’s plausible that Valhalla’s designers calculated the rate at which characters would improve in the game without factoring in any paid boosters. Character advancement in Valhalla is constant, as players climb hundreds of levels in quest after quest.
It was also plausible for Odyssey, as it was possible for players to comfortably improve their character without paying for boosters by playing the game with an omnivorous appetite for main quests and side-quests. If players focused more on main quests, the power climb was far tougher.
Odyssey’s developers had to deal with, at the very least, the appearance of potentially throttled progression, because that $10 booster went on sale at the same time as the $60 game. Who could fully rule out the idea that the game was being sold with a hidden cost, like a supposedly free mobile game that moves too slowly unless you pay?
Last spring, Kotaku asked the creative director of Valhalla about the potential for an XP booster. He dodged, saying he and the team had re-thought progression in the next game to keep players from feeling like areas they wanted to explore were inaccessible to them. Then came launch and no booster. Lesson learned?
Well, it seems a lesson of sorts was learned. Another big publisher, Activision, has regularly been adding microtransactions to Call of Duty games after release, past when their games are reviewed. Valhalla did launch with some microtransactions—for special outfits and helpful maps—but those notorious boosters were held back until now.
The fact that people have been happily advancing through Valhalla for a month supports the idea that the game wasn’t designed to make people feel like they need an XP booster. There haven’t been many complaints that the game is too arduous to advance through, that it leaves its player character too weak. The complaint, if any, is that there’s so much to do in its world that the game might be too large, which is a different sort of problem.
The presence of any microtransaction is nevertheless always a prompt to wonder. They draw suspicion even if it might not be warranted and in that regard do a game’s creators a disservice that must be part of the equation, alongside the convenience it may afford wealthier players and the profits it’ll bring the company. Is it worth it?