Wrath of the Druids and Bloodlines: Ubisoft Post-Launch Content

Last year Ubisoft was in a strange situation (weren’t we all?) where they had a bunch of delayed games hitting the market more or less at the same time. Fenyx Rising, Watch Dogs Legion and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla all launched in something like a two month span. That’s a LOT of open world to cover.

I’ve so far bounced off Fenyx, but I played Legion & Valhalla to completion of their storylines. They were both OK. I mean, I enjoyed them enough to finish them.

Time passed, and both games got DLC expansions. Bloodlines for Watch Dogs and Wrath of the Druids for Valhalla. I played through both of those too, and in both cases I liked the DLC much more than I liked the base game.

Bloodlines brings back familiar characters from the first two games in the series. Aiden Pearce was the protagonist in Watch Dogs 1, and Wrench was a main NPC in Watch Dogs 2. Instead of the ‘recruit anyone’ gimmick of the main game, you play the DLC as Pearce and Wrench. This makes for a more compelling narrative (presumably it’s a lot easier to write a story when you know which characters are going to be in it) and WAY better voice acting. Bloodlines kind of redeems the main game in a lot of ways.

Wrath of the Druids keeps you playing Eivor, your character from the main game, and instead gives you a new area to explore. You’re in Ireland helping High King Flann try to unite the realm. He’s being thwarted by a sect of druids, who take on the role of the shadowy cabal usually occupied by Templars or Order of the Ancients in AC games. The DLC also adds some new game systems, including some very light strategy/economic game aspects, and one very charming new NPC in the form of Ciara, a poetess voiced (and sung) by Julie Fowlis, who is a Scottish singer.

Have a listen:

Damn I loved Wrath of the Druids, though every time Ciara started to sing I’d stop playing just to listen.

So to finally get to the point, I wonder why in both these cases the DLC are so much stronger than the main game, at least narratively speaking. Was it that the teams had more time to devote to the storylines, or was it just because they weren’t trying to fill 100 hours of content?

Today the second DLC for Valhalla, The Siege of Paris, launches, and I’m really interested to see if it is as good as these other two DLCs have been. (There’s more Watch Dogs Legion DLC coming too, I think.) Maybe Ubisoft would be better served to just release anthology titles with lots of shorter storylines rather than trying to make one story that struggles to hold the player’s attention for 100+ hours?

Have gamers stopped hating Ubisoft?

I never planned it, but I guess I’ve become an Ubisoft fan, just based on the games I wind up playing a lot of. In 2017 I played to completion every major Assassin’s Creed game aside from the original. I also played through Far Cry 4 and quite a bit of The Division and Ghost Recon Wildlands. And this year I’ve finished up Far Cry Primal (to the point of getting the Platinum trophy on PS4) and I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Origins since launch. Last time I checked I’ve put 40 hours into that game without touching any of the DLC. I’m still really enjoying my time in Egypt with Bayek.

For a long time Ubisoft was up there on the “hated publishers” list with EA, but I don’t seem to hear as much vile directed at them lately. I wonder if they’ve managed to get off the list somehow? Or maybe I’m just not visiting the right (wrong?) sub-reddits/social media spaces.

I think that a lot of their problems originally stemmed from buggy releases, and they’ve definitely improved there. I think perhaps Assassin’s Creed Unity was their low spot (though to their credit, by the time I got around to playing, it ran fine). What’s weird, though, is most of their games have micro-transactions but they don’t draw a lot of ire for them. I’ll never understand why the mob will fault one game for some issue and give another game a pass for the same issue.

Now I’m not saying everyone suddenly loves Ubi games. They tend to be huge sprawling open world games (most of them, anyway) with more to do than is feasible for most gamers. These are games that tend to drive completionists crazy. I learned, during my AC sprint, that the games are designed to offer more than anyone needs to do. The idea (I mean, I haven’t talked to the designers, I’m assuming here) is to give the gamer a buffet of choices and let them pick and choose the activities they enjoy and ignore the ones they don’t. There’s enough content to earn/unlock/levelup everything multiple times in most Ubi games…they don’t intend for you to do everything.

Once I understood and embraced that, I started to really love these games.

Ubi seems to be doing a good job in the “games as service” space, too. They’re willing to stick with games over the long haul, improving and expanding on them. This seems to have started with Rainbow Six Siege, which didn’t make much of a splash when it launched at the end of 2015, but here we are in 2018 and it is still getting regular updates and has quite a loyal following. The Division is another example of a game that Ubi has continued to refine and improve upon. For Honor is an example of a game that is still a work-in-progress; it didn’t do well at launch last year, and while they’ve continued to work on it, it still hasn’t gotten to where it’s drawing people back large numbers of players yet. SThey haven’t abandoned it but it remains to be seen if they can turn that one around.

“Games as service” is not a term most gamers seem to embrace, but somehow Ubi seems to be making it work. It probably helps that a lot of the improvements are free. I’m not sure if Ubi is making revenue on the microtransactions I mentioned or if it’s just long-tail sales as word of mouth brings new players to the games (they still sell DLC for newer games but I think for the older titles all the upgrades are free). Or maybe they’re just taking short-term loses as a trade-off for improving their reputation.

Whatever the case, I’m digging Ubi games lately. I’m looking forward to Far Cry 5 next month and I hope they keep releasing DLC for Assassin’s Creed Origins.

Spartacus Legends

legends_logo_215x120Spartacus Legends is a free-to-play fighting game from Ubisoft that hit XBLA and PSN recently. It’s based on the Starz gladiator series. Already all kinds of alarm bells should be going off in your head, right? A F2P game based on a TV show!? Yegads.

I’m not sure why I downloaded it but I did and tonight I fired it up and surprise! It’s actually not too bad. The core here is a gladiator fighting game, with all the gore you’d expect, plus plenty of salty language just in case we were confused about whether or not a game where you can slice your enemy’s face off their head is meant for children.

The fighting engine… well listen, I’m not a fighting game guy. I can’t remember combos and when I can remember them I don’t have the dexterity to pull them off. But I can play Spartacus Legends, which probably means if you’re serious about fighting games than this is going to be way too basic for you. But for this kind of game/audience, going a bit more casual was probably the right move. Your face buttons are light attack, heavy attack, a block breaker and a grab. Left shoulder button is block, right shoulder button, along with analog stick, let’s you roll. There are combos here if you can figure them out. I felt like after a while my fingers had figured out a few without my brain really parsing what they were.

What I like about Spartacus Legends is the strategy/rpg wrapper around the fighting game. You’re trying to build up your stable of gladiators to make your house/school/ludus famous once again. You start with one poor bastard armed with a piece of junk sword, a busted up shield and a loin cloth. As you win fights you’ll gain both coin and fame. You use coin to buy better armor and weapons, additional gladiators and cells for them to sleep in (more cells = more potential gladiators).

As you gain fame, you (you as in the faceless guy/gal running the ludus) can access more and more lucrative (and dangerous) venues to have your gladiators fight in. I just dipped my toe in the second area after an evening’s play. Early battles are non-lethal (through the magic of Hollywood I guess) but as you advance the “Lethality Meter” increases. It’s probably going to suck when one of my favorite gladiators gets killed. 🙁

Your gladiators also earn Perks for winning battles. One of the earliest for instance is “Hard Headed” which gives that Gladiator +10 defense.

Of course things get expensive pretty fast, and that’s where the F2P stuff comes in. Instead of earning coin you can just buy it with real money. Gold coins, in particular, are pretty hard to earn and some of the better gear can only be purchased with gold coins. Also each Gladiator has a finite number of Perk Slots (1 to start) and replacing a Perk with a new one costs Gold coins.

There’s an Online Battle component that I stayed far away from. With a game where real $$ can get you the best gear I don’t want to have anything to do with PvP. But if you stick to the PvE side of the game, you can have a pretty good time without spending any money. I may buy some Gold Coins just to support Ubisoft if I play for much longer.

Spartacus Legends isn’t going to win any game of the year awards or anything, but it’s worth downloading some evening when you just feel like something a little different. And gory. And foul-mouthed.