The history of the Viking invasion of England is filled to the brim with tales of violence and discovery. The old sagas have mystified the imaginations of historians and storytellers ever since. As such, the assets that Ubisoft had to play with in their latest game was immense. It would be hard to argue that they didn’t provide players with their money’s worth. However, is Assassin’s Creed Valhalla too long? Examining the structure and content of the game, we shall determine whether the immense undertaking the game provided was justified.
Narrative length is a difficult balancing act for most game developers. It is increasingly difficult to satisfy everyone when their particular preferences vary so wildly. Some players desire short yet concise stories that put maximum effort into every moment. Spider-Man: Miles Morales by Insomniac is a game that operated on this premise. However, there were some that were dissatisfied by the short story. Ubisoft went in the complete opposite direction with their latest game, opting for a roughly 60-hour experience. This is certainly a satisfying amount of content for players willing to invest that much time in this Viking adventure. On the other hand, many gamers simply don’t have enough free time to dedicate to such an undertaking. Players with only a few hours to spare per day are possibly looking at a game that will take weeks to complete.
The issue with Valhalla’s approach to its story is that none of it is optional. Each story arc in the game must be completed to progress through to the main story. Many of the arcs, while well written and interesting, feel like filler. These would have been welcome missions to complete at the player’s own pace, but they lock the main story behind them. Unlike Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the order of the multiple endings is set. Whilst the world is filled with little events, there are no side quests. That said, it could be argued the side quests were simply stretched out into mandatory story content. After the intrigue of the core story is dangled in front of the player, it is suddenly barricaded behind filler. In regards to whether the story of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is too long, its hard to argue that it is not.
The Power Level System
One of the features the game heavily pushed as an improvement was its new Power system. It was regularly reported this would remove the need for grinding, reducing the strict level requirements of Odyssey. The game is certainly more lenient in that regard, allowing Eivor to be more under-levelled before it becomes too challenging. However, it would be a lie to act like this eliminates the need for grinding. Progressing through the story in order will make you the appropriate level, yet the map is littered with Power inconsistencies. It is very easy to suddenly trespass into an area that drastically jumps in difficulty. While not always impossible, its clearly not how the world was intended to be explored. As a result, it puts the entire experience on rails.
For example, players can explore a point of interest and see another just across the river, such as a monastery. Whilst they have no issue with encounters on one side of the river, simply crossing it puts them out of their depth. The monastery can easily scale to have a 100 Power jump or more. It breaks immersion when the only thing preventing fluid exploration is a number above enemies’ heads. However, that usually happens in areas already stated to be above your level. What’s worse is when you discover a mystery that exceeds the recommended area level. Legendary Animals or Zealots, often possess Power levels significantly higher than the area they reside in. This destroys the players exploration as it demands they leave and return later. In this regard, the Power system unfortunately extends the experience, ensuring that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is too long.
The game’s map is something players raised concerns over before the game’s release. Whilst some feared it being technically smaller than Odyssey’s, others were relieved to have less water. Whilst the Greek Islands were filled with discoveries, players had to sail long stretches of uneventful seas to get there. Any encounters they did have were often unwelcome, such as attacks from pirates or shark infested ruins. By contrast, despite the longship’s usefulness, the landmass of England is easily traversed on foot. This provides more regular encounters with points of interest. The only complications are the previously mentioned recommended Power levels. Even so, each section is filled with artefacts, mysteries and wealth. This provides a lot of content across its 5 different maps, including England, Norway, Vinland and the two mythical settings. Planned DLC also seems to bring even more in the form of Ireland and Paris.
This can seem like a lot, and if players simply saw the map covered in markers, they might be overwhelmed. However, unlike the story content, most of this stuff is entirely optional. Always having something new to discover should you seek it out is a welcome addition to any game. So long as the game doesn’t demand players engage with everything it has to offer, the size doesn’t become cumbersome. Where its size might become more problematic is largely dependant on the console it is being played on. PS5 and Xbox series X have incredibly fast load times, allowing players to fast travel with ease. However, PS4 and Xbox One require much lengthier waits, and so the map size can become tedious. This is especially true when it demands so many return trips to previous areas.
Is It Justified?
A game providing over 100 hours of content is not inherently a problem. Most players are happy to have an abundance of things to engage with, but only when they have the choice. Gamers don’t appreciate the core experience being dragged out. A fundamental idea of game design is to allow players to feel they got as much out of it as they needed, regardless of playtime. When asked whether Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is too long, it depends on the player. However, the fact that the game gambles on people’s commitment is reason to suggests it’s unjustified. Players might be unable or unwilling to fully complete the game, as life or other games eventually interfere. In many ways, a game’s core experience determines whether players stick around for the endgame. Valhalla stumbles by exhausting players before that final stage, making them either quit prematurely or ignore the additional content.