The streets of Francia's city are burning in Assassin's Creed Valhalla: The Siege of Paris. Flames engulf buildings on either side of me, the ground shakes, fireballs soar across the sky, and the clang of metal can be heard as Frankish soldiers trade blows against the Norse ranks. The siege of the city is well and truly underway. I venture up to rooftops to light some signal fires in the towers above, and can't help but marvel at the view of the destruction and chaos below. Once the braziers are lit, catapults breach the gate to a church courtyard and now it's my time to shine. I need to carry out an infiltration mission, which is essentially a modernized take on the black box-style assassinations first introduced in Assassin's Creed Unity. I'm tasked with getting inside of a church and assassinating a target, and it's up to me to decide how. Of course, I could always just head into the church sword first, but I prefer to take a stealthy approach.
So, with my hood up, I inch closer and look out for opportunities to get close to my quarry without being seen. The courtyard has now become a playground for me to experiment and see how I can put my assassination skills to the test. This infiltration mission, and others like it, are at the heart of what makes the Assassin's Creed Valhalla Siege of Paris DLC so enjoyable. As the second expansion to come to the Viking adventure, Siege of Paris is a little smaller in scale compared to Eivor's journey through Ireland in the Wrath of the Druids DLC, but it certainly still has plenty to offer. Along with the return of black box missions, there's also a wealth of shiny new gear, a new side activity, and lots of battles in store. The land of Francia is ripe for the picking… or the raiding, as the case may be.
Fighting for the Raven Clan
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Just like Wrath of the Druids, this second expansion begins in Ravensthorpe when Toka visits the Raven clan. As the niece of Sigfred, the Viking chieftain of the Elgring clan, Toka tells Eivor of great riches in the land of Francia in the hopes of enticing you to return with her. But of course, there's more to it than plunder and wealth. Toka goes on to reveal that a new power is rising in Franica in King Charles the Fat, who has united the Frankish kingdoms and marched against the Norse villages in the land. Toka warns that it's only a matter of time until Charles comes for England next, and with the Raven Clan's interests in mind, you set sail to try and put a stop to the threat in this land to the south. Once again caught up in the powers at play, Eivor gets pulled into the conflict between Sigfred, Charles the Fat, and Count Odo, the protector of Paris.
Throughout the story of the expansion, it's left up to you to decide what stance you want to take. Are you there solely for the interests of your own clan, or are you also invested in helping Sigfred and Toka, too? Just like the main campaign in Assassin's Creed Valhalla, you'll be presented with different dialogue responses, and the opportunity to make key decisions, to help shape the outcome of the adventure. That freedom to shape the progression of the story also extends to the infiltration missions.
Just like the black box missions in Unity, the infiltration missions in Siege of Paris give you the freedom to explore and build up to an eventual assassination. The infiltration missions present you with multiple different avenues to achieve your goal, and it's left up to you to determine the best course of action. When a mission begins, you can explore the area to follow clues and gather information. By finding useful items and interacting with helpful locals, new opportunities will appear, which can open up the way to some rather memorable assassination sequences. It's so satisfying to play around and experiment to uncover more creative ways of taking out your target.
In a lot of ways, the infiltration missions succeed at pulling you right into your role as Eivor, and they really do make you feel like a master assassin who uses all of the tricks of the trade to their benefit. While you do still have some freedom when it comes to assassinations in the main story campaign of Valhalla, the room to use opportunities to your advantage and pull off unique ways to take out the target makes the infiltration missions so much more satisfying. Experiencing this style of mission in the expansion is a pertinent reminder of just how engrossing black box style assassinations are, and I sincerely hope we see more of them in the future.
Plagued by rats
Just as the infiltration missions immerse you in your role as an assassin, the expansion also effectively draws you into a moment plucked right out of history with the Viking Siege of Paris. Outside of the siege itself, you get to see just how 9th century Francia has been affected by a plague. As I enter the city for the first time, I make my way through the slums, where burned down buildings and doors with big red crosses mark the presence of the affliction. You really get to see first-hand how the city has been hit, with sick people littering the streets – it's clear that the citizens of this place are suffering, but the plague also brings with it the presence of something else. When I venture down to the sewers during my first mission, I come into contact with a swarm of rats who make a sound that makes me feel tangibly itchy when I hear it.
The rodents will attack you if you get too close, and they can really cause some damage if you don't deal with them quickly. To make matters worse, you can't rid yourself of the rats permanently. By swinging your weapon, you can scare them off and send them scurrying away through grates, but they'll come right back if you stick around. On occasion, you can cover the grates with objects nearby to stop them from returning, but for the most part, it's best to find alternative routes to avoid the pesky swarms. Sometimes the rats can also be used to your advantage, with boxes full of swarms that can be unleashed on an unsuspecting enemy so the rodents can do your dirty work for you. As well as rats, you'll also have to contend with some other new enemies, such as heavy cavalry knights who fight on horseback with a spear in tow. These knights are certainly a lot tougher than your average foot soldier, so you'll have to be prepared for quite a fight if you ever run into one.
With a recent update to Assassin's Creed Valhalla introducing one-handed swords, there are several of this new weapon type to get your hands on in Francia, and you'll have ample opportunities to test them out as you progress through each conflict. The map will give you your fill of exploration, with more gear and wealth to find, and plenty of mysteries to uncover. I spend a good amount of time traversing the landscapes of this new setting, which includes some very picturesque spots outside of the streets of Paris.
When you're not dealing with rats, finding swords, and making your way through the main campaign, you can also take on Rebel missions. This new side activity sees you help a rogue band of men and women around Francia who want to fight back against the power of Charles. During these missions, rebel support squads will accompany you to carry out your goal, with either a group of melee or ranged allies. From eliminating an enemy camp to stealing intel and taking out a patrol, all of the rebel assignments are quite straightforward, but some will have fail conditions – such as a patrol reaching its destination. After completing a mission successfully, you'll be rewarded with currency to spend on new gear, cosmetic items, and upgrades for your rebel allies. Doing these side quests will also increase your infamy level, which unlocks more rewards. While the rebel missions can be a little repetitive, the rewards are a good motivator and the upgrades bring an added sense of progression.
The Assassin's Creed Valhalla Siege of Paris expansion is the perfect excuse to get stuck right back into the Viking goodness as Eivor. I enjoy every minute of my time in Francia, and when the adventure comes to a close, I'm left with an overwhelming desire to try out some of the main infiltration missions again to see just how I could do things differently the second time around. It's great to see black box missions make a comeback, and getting caught up in a new conflict brings with it some exciting new challenges to face. From memorable fights to interesting characters, Siege of Paris is a great addition. Oh, and if you love cats as much as I do, you'll be happy to know there are many, many feline friends to pet in Francia... If that doesn't sell you on this DLC, I don't know what will.
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