For the last few Assassin’s Creed entries, Ubisoft has used its downloadable content packs packs to expand on the main games’ narrative, offer new items for players to kit themselves out with, and drive revenue for the open-world assassination franchise.
Wrath of the Druids, the first new DLC for Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, whisks players’ viking main character Eivor off to the emerald shores of Ireland, where they witness the coronation of High King Flann Sinna and get caught up in a semi-literal game of thrones.
On the design side, Valhalla fills out its open world not with the world events that marked much of the main game, but a self-contained trading economy that rewards players with treasure. Players capture forts and pillage DLC-unique resources to trade with Azar, a Persian merchant responsible for ferrying players to the Emerald Isle.
(Side note, Azar adds an interesting narrative wrinkle to the Ireland-focused content pack. She doesn’t just hail from Iran, her customers are Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern rulers who reward players with items from themed around that region, making Wrath of the Druids a surprisingly multicultural endeavor).
It’s neat to see how Ubisoft this economic system to help add meat to a standalone area. For some details on its creation and design, we pinged Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla content director Stephane Boudon for a quick Q&A about the goals and design of Wrath of the Druids’ trading system.
You can find his responses in the exchange below:
Gamasutra: Wrath of the Druids has a new siloed economy system where players capture trade posts and build them up to start gathering resources that unlock new upgrades. Can you explain why the team wanted to build this new system instead of just feeding more loot into the larger game economy of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla?
Stephane Boudon: Like any ideas during the conception of the expansion, it came with a strong intention at first, we wanted to highlight the reach and the expansion of Dublin trading. We immediately saw the opportunity to bring exotic rewards for the player to discover a brand-new variety of gear and cosmetics through this overseas trading.
Then, we built the system accordingly, defining all the new specific parameters and the new flow we wanted. This system had to be self-contained in Ireland as we are a non-mandatory expansion that must be accessible early on in progression
We had already thought at some point in conception about using Ring Forts in the expansion because of their iconicity. While we were developing the trading post system, it became obvious for us that they should be part of this new loop.
This new economy system involves some different interaction points for the player -- trade posts are built, then players visit chests to gather resources that accumulate while they’re away. What was the process behind this interaction?
We wanted a specific pacing that accompanies you all along your journey in Ireland. That’s why we created this new rhythm, in an active way first: when you are on the field claiming ringforts, doing raids and building trade post; and then in a more on-going way: when your resources gather themselves and await you to be sold in Dublin.
We also made sure to perfectly balance this new system according to the duration of this expansion, we didn’t want players to feel that their experience felt like a grind because of it.
This new trading system and the many other services we gathered in Dublin are here to make you feel at home, a bit like your new settlement in Ireland where you can pass by and upgrade your gear, equip your new cosmetics and sell your Irish resources.
This system also leads to new loot being available out in the Wrath of the Druids game world. Depending on where the player is in the game and what their goals are, they’re still trying to gather loot for their settlement or upgrading weapons -- how did you balance those larger game world goals against the internal system of Wrath of the Druids?
Good question! Because Wrath of the Druids is available very early in the adventure, we had to deal with a variety of player progression levels. That’s why we decided to have level scaling for the enemies you will encounter and adapt the expansion to the different profiles of player. However, your gear, your skills and your abilities will always make a great difference in fight.
For the loot, we decided to go with a dynamic solution as well. For instance, you will always find the ingots corresponding to your current progression to continue your weapons upgrade.
Playing Wrath of the Druids, I was reminded about how the Vinland area of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla had its own self-contained economy that fueled a very different game experience -- did any lessons from developing that zone transfer over to the DLC?
Totally agree with you, Vinland is a very unique experience. It was designed by Singapore team (kudos to them) to bring a breath of fresh air in this massive game that is Valhalla and it works beautifully. To explore Vinland as Eivor, players experience a temporary reboot of the gear, and a specific economy.
In a way, we can say we did a bit of that with the trading loop as a self-contained system in Wrath of the Druids. But Eivor’s visit to Ireland is different than when Eivor arrives in Vinland – Vinland was specifically built to be a self-contained survival loop where Eivor arrives with very little gear, while Eivor is called to Ireland and journeys with usual gear. So for us it made a lot of sense that playing Wrath of the Druids would build on the progression of each player’s Eivor.
Going forward with Assassin’s Creed DLC plans, are there any more plans for these self-contained economic systems, and what does the team thinks works well about them?
At this stage, it’s too soon to talk about the future! But we value a lot these new self-contained systems, they help us to refresh the player experience and propose new ways of progression while giving us the liberty to bound them to our world and our story with accuracy and authenticity.
For more on the making of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, you can check out our Q&A with narrative director Darby McDevitt on the inception of “World Events.”