Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Is Too Damn Long

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Is Too Damn Long
Screenshot: Kotaku
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I finally got around to finishing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla this week. And while I had a great time with the game I also parted ways on a pretty sour note, because like its predecessor, it is just too damn long.

There’s a cynical precision to the way modern Ubisoft games are developed. Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs and Far Cry don’t share so many key systems by accident. The company knows what works in a modern blockbuster video game, has tested those systems to death, and employs them in their games with ruthless abandon.

Because Ubisoft’s games are built on feedback and metrics, then, it’s little surprise that they’re so damn long. There’s a sizeable and vocal bedrock of gamers out there who will place enormous emphasis on a game’s length, as though you can divide a game’s cost by the number of hours you spend playing it and find some kind of value there.

Ubisoft also now have a two-year hap to fill with Assassin’s Creed games, ever since taking the (wise) decision to make these biannual releases from Origins onwards, so if you bought Valhalla in late 2020 and are still playing it in late 2021 (or even early 2022), then that’s mission accomplished for Ubisoft.

I am here to say all of this is bullshit! The length of these recent Assassin’s Creed games sucks, and I hate it. I hate that you have to do the same things over and over again when you’ve already done them over and over again. I hate that there are so many different endings, some more substantive than others. I value my time, and when a game has said and done everything it has to offer I want it to release me from its grip, not hold me down for dozens more hours, just because.

Let’s get this straight before I complain any more: I loved Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, I loved Eivor, and I loved her story of leaving Norway, travelling to England not on some noble quest or divine pilgrimage, but to just wreck shit and have a good time. As I got to around the 60-hour mark in this game, my driving ambition wasn’t to find every little lost trinket that Ubisoft so loves to sprinkle through these worlds, but just to see how this tale of reckless conquest (and love, and tragedy) ended up.

Which I eventually did, and when I got there I enjoyed her happy little ending, but man, it was a slog to get there, and my last 15-20 hours with the game were nowhere near as much fun as the rest. The primary culprit? This is a game whose central focus is conquering the regions of England, and there are just too many of them.

So About That Batshit Ending To Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Between the rideable wolves, anime references, and random American baseball players, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is full of surprises. But the biggest surprise, without question, comes at the end. Two of us (staff writer Ari Notis and weekend editor Zack Zweizen, who also reviewed the game for Kotaku) have finally completed...

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Each one follows roughly the same formula: you walk into Randvi’s map room in your settlement, you give her a smooch, you look at a map and pick a region of England to bring over to your side. This involves travelling there, doing some missions — some killing, some sneaking, some detective work — before moving onto a big siege battle then returning to the map room and doing it all over again.

They start slow, as everything does in Valhalla, but some of these self-contained storylines are the highlight of the game, packing all kinds of intrigue and drama into a punchy, 2-3 hour campaign. After 5-6 of them, I was in love. After 8-10, I’d done enough and wanted to wind things up. After the 13th, boy, that was several conquests too many.

Oh shit here we go again. (Screenshot: Kotaku) Oh shit here we go again. (Screenshot: Kotaku)

I’m not saying this as some jaded games writer, forced to rush through this game to generate content or a review. I was playing Valhalla purely for the love of it, dabbling in it over my Christmas holidays, and I still hated the amount of grind I was being subjected to. Maybe even moreso, since I was doing it in my own time!

The conquests go on for so long that their entire reason for being — to gain allies who will you support you in climactic final battles — has enough time to circle around and play out twice, the first time 2/3 of the way into the game, then again right towards the end, repeating every cliché from “chat with old friends before the battle” to rousing speeches to tragic deaths, as though we’re trapped in a Dark Ages Groundhog Day.

All of this is in pursuit of tying up not one narrative thread but three, which as we’ve discussed previously, sure go some places. The big, main ending of the game, the one that ties up the saga of Eivor and her brother and some Assassins, has as a central component a prop from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey that I, someone who finished that game only two years ago, could barely remember, because it too was Too Damn Long.

It then reintroduces Desmond, formerly the guy from Assassin’s Creed lore, now dead and mercifully relegated to the history books. Or not, since he turns up here again, in a form and talking about stuff that I — again, someone who has finished every single one of these games — could barely recall or understand.

It’s a mess, and it reminded me instantly of similar mistakes Star Wars has made recently, where major plot points have been made with superfans in mind, leaving the average viewer in the dark. From Solo’s weird Darth Maul ending that I had to Google in the cinema to The Mandalorian’s recent obsession with Clone Wars callbacks, is it so hard to craft a story that can tell itself, without relying on me knowing an entire Wiki page off by heart?

That’s a problem Assassin’s Creed has had for years now, though. There’s a small but passionate number of fans who are very into the game’s central story, of a Creed vs Knights Templar stoush that plays out in the present day, but also harks back to a lot of weird alien shit that happened a long time ago. Then there’s…everyone else, who just want to go back in time and murder dudes, and see references to the main story as an interruption.

The absolute last person I wanted to see at the end of this game was Desmond. Go away! (Screenshot: Kotaku) The absolute last person I wanted to see at the end of this game was Desmond. Go away! (Screenshot: Kotaku)

Rather than picking one of these approaches and just running with it, Ubisoft continues to straddle the fence, not by adjusting the game’s writing or plot, but by simply splitting the games into multiple plotlines. Sounds great on paper, but boy, they just can’t get the balance right. Valhalla could have been a lot shorter, and better for it, if it had just seen Eivor’s story through from start to finish. Tell one story, tell it well then exit the stage.

If you’re the type of person I mentioned above that sees time spent as a means of gauging value, you might be wondering where the problem is with a game that’s too long. But you can definitely have too much of a good thing. I like ice cream, but I’m not going to eat it for every meal of the week. And I like 40-60 hours of quality stealth stabbery, but asking me stretch that same stuff out for another 20 hours — the length of many good games in their own right! — is too much.

It turns stuff I was enjoying into a hassle. Sucks the joy out of the game. I’ve got other things to do with my life.

Plus dragging things out is so unlike Eivor! She is one of, if not the most direct Assassin’s Creed protagonists we’ve ever had, fiercely practical and to-the-point. A game true to Eivor should have wrapped up in 40 hours and been happy with it, leaving the scavenger hunt and deep lore stuff to be found later by dorks while she rides off to crush horns of ale.

I wish Gunnar's wedding, which brings together old friends, ties together some earlier storylines and concludes your own romantic adventure, should have been the end of things. Kiss, roll credits.  (Screenshot: Kotaku) I wish Gunnar's wedding, which brings together old friends, ties together some earlier storylines and concludes your own romantic adventure, should have been the end of things. Kiss, roll credits. (Screenshot: Kotaku)

Ultimately, Valhalla’s length added a little despair to my final thoughts on the game. The bloat created grind, which diluted the whole experience, and often felt like it was keeping my attention solely through brute force and checklists. It left me parting with a game I LOVED on less than lovely terms, which was a damn shame.

I like stabbing. But not when there’s too much stabbing.

I only have so much room in my heart — and my schedule, and my attention span — so I’m asking, please, whenever the next Assassin’s Creed game is released, can we wrap things up at a more reasonable pace?

Comments

  • // as though you can divide a game’s cost by the number of hours you spend playing it and find some kind of value there. //
    This is a bullshit take.

    Many people apply a cost / hour ratio to many things, and for a damn good reason. Because it works.

    • Yeah, with ~280 hours of Cyberpunk before I 100%’d it that would definitely be more than my moneys worth. The playtime to cost model is definitely a good way of looking at it. Although I have had some fantastic several hour experiences, even at pricey amounts.

      On that note… Desmond back? That instantly has my interest, and hoping for a faster end to EGS exclusivity (simply because I have all the Ass Creed games on Steam). The ending of 3 left such a foul taste in my mouth that I haven’t been able to bring myself to play any of the later ones.

      • eh he and layla are now part of the animus, basically he stopped the earth from getting fucked up but apprently this has butterfly effected to cause an even bigger fuck up so he and layla basically physcially dead, but now conciously exist in the animus looking for the perfect timeline where everything goes rights

        AKA ubisoft pulling an Endgame

        • Clearly things have moved on a fair bit if they’re able to actually affect anything through the use of the animus rather than using it for detective work.

          • either eay its just ubisoft trying to justify the modern day shit because they never planned for the series to become a franchise.

          • In some of the older games, they’ve shown the historical protagonist trigger recordings of first civilisation members who then go on to have two way conversations with the present day protagonist (all while the historical protagonist only hears one half of the conversation).

            At the time I’d sort of put this down as perfect prediction of future events, but at least in Odyssey they started planting the seeds that reality itself is some kind of simulation, and that communicating through time and all the ancient artefacts are evidence of the first civ’s ability to manipulate this simulation.

            There’s also prior cases of people’s consciousness being trapped in the Animus after death with Subject 16 in AC: Revelations.

      • Ok, now I understand better why some people don’t like ACIII! I really enjoyed it, but I already knew that Desmond wasn’t the modern day character for the later games, so the ending didn’t come as a surprise to me.

    • I kind of agree with Luke here. I’ll grant you that if you spend $70 on a game and manage to finish it in 3 hours you’d be right to be pissed. But is a game that takes you 200 hours to complete offering ten times the value of a game that takes 20 hours? I’d argue that could only be true if an hour of each game is of similar quality.

      I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve enjoyed the recent Assassin’s Creed games I’ve played, which does not yet include Valhalla. It hasn’t been because they are long though.

      As an example, each side mission of GTA5 was essentially unique in terms of mechanics and storyline. In contrast modern Assassin’s Creed games generally have a smaller set of side mission types that are then replicated over the map (e.g. assassinate the commander of this fort, steal the treasure from this camp, etc). They may play a bit different due to different geography, but often involve the same strategies. There’s very little reward in the way of story for completing each individual mission, although there might be something for completing every mission of a particular type.

      I’d tend to say hours spent playing side missions in GTA5 are higher quality than the similar hours playing cookie cutter side missions in an AC game.

      • I wouldn’t even say thats a Modern Assassin’s Creed thing, since going back to Brotherhood and likely before it was very much rinse an repeat with the tower defences, assassinations et al.

      • I would much rather play the 20 hour title. I have a full time job so my time is more valuable to me than the $50 I’ll spend on a title. I rarely, if ever, want to play the same game for months and months at a time. For something like Assassins Creed there’s no reason the main story couldn’t be told in 20 hours and the rest moved to side quest for those that want to chase that content. Many RPGs have similar structures.

        I’d rather explore other titles than play the same one myself for 300 hours. I understand why some people however like to commit to a single title for years on end, it’s just not for me.

  • Some game-makers are clearly frustrated and wish they were making movies (David Cage), but maybe for the creators of Valhalla it’s less movies that they want to make and more books?

  • I’ve played nothing but Assassin’s Creed games since April last year (haven’t played Valhalla yet), and for me it’s not just about quantity of AC game, but quality. The early games had a tonne of collection side quests that were literally just run around the map and find all the feathers, helix fragments etc, which I didn’t do much of because I found it boring. Origins is a much larger game, but it’s full of interesting side missions with actual stories and characters. I happily play 100 hours + if the content is good, but if it’s not I’ll finish with the main storyline and move on. The nice thing about AC games is that you can often skip the bits you don’t like.

    • Valhalla really benefited from learning from games like Witcher 3 and… dare I say Genshin Impact? In that pretty much every mini-quest has a unique story to it, which really helps add some smoke and mirrors. They’ve clearly put a lot of human effort into these instead of letting an algorithm do it like Odyssey clearly did for its ‘random encounters’. Being non-repeatable and unique really shows off the fact that they’re hand-crafted, and it really takes away from the impression of ‘busywork’.

      I get where the author is coming from though, in that there is just so much of it. There are dozens of zones, and each zone has dozens of these short-story/vignette mini-quests. If you do ANYTHING in high enough volume, it can all start to look the same. I know when I was speaking to literally a hundred people a day, every day, in a call centre, their unique individual personal stories blurred together into easily-identified archetypes and tropes.

      So even though the content is very good by comparison to the rest of the series, I suspect there is, at play, a personal degree of tolerance for the amount of it. I only stopped playing Valhalla when Cyberpunk came out, which I then put 150+ hours into, but I’m definitely going back to do more.

  • Couldn’t agree more.

    I took a while to get into AC:V, more than I took with Origins and Odyssey (I could never get into the earlier titles… Black Flag was as close as I got but I always found myself bored by the repetition… but then these later titles are no less repetitive so maybe it’s just me who’s changed), but I’m loving… and kinda ready for it to be done.

    I tend to focus on one game at a time; if I have more I just get depressed that I don’t have enough time to devote to them all.

    That being said, I’ve grabbed a couple of other games from the PS Store Jan sale, for when I was done with AC:V… and I’m wishing it’d hurry up a bit now.

    I’m a completist when it doesn’t take too much effort, so while I don’t often Platinum a game, with the AC titles it’s easy enough to collect *everything* if you feel like devoting the time, and for me I’ll feel like I haven’t really *finished* it if I haven’t done that… so I’m 100%ing each territory I visit, before moving onto the next, and going in skill-rating-recommendation-order.

    I’m currently 120hrs in, and I’ve just pledged to Jorvik, so I’ve still got Eurvicscire, Jorvik, Glowecestrescire, Snothinghamscire, Wincestre, Hordafylke, Hamtunscire, and whatever else is done in Asgard/Jotunheim after your first visit to Jotunheim (completed both in terms of collectibles except for that rather high level thing in Jotunheim)…

    … so I’ve probably got another good 40 hours at least ha.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if I happen to end up with most of the trophies just by playing through to the end in that way (Platinum’d Ghost of Tsushima without *any* effort beyond just completing the story and collecting everything), however once I finish the main story I find I lose interest in side quests, which is why I’m completing each territory before the next, to squeeze as much value out of it as possible (yes I kinda do place value on length, especially if I’ve bought the game at full price, but agree this one is just *too* long) and am just ready to get on to the next title, and that’ll definitely be the case here.

    • Its pretty crazy thinking about how long it will take to collect everything. I finished the game in about 120 hours and have so many things left to collect.

      I also agree that the last 2 assassins creeds games were better and much more enticing from the start. I do really like AC:V but it felt like a slight step backwards after, what I believe to be the best AC game, Odyssey.

      • I really liked Odyssey, so when Fenyx was announced I was fairly happy to get more Odyssey with basically flying and Zelda puzzles.

        • I feel like Fenyx was really overshadowed by other games, and some of Ubisoft’s marketing certainly didn’t help the case.

          It was actually a much better game than I ever expected it to be. An incredibly solid title honestly.

          • Yep looking forward to that one! Almost certainly the next title I buy (got a few already lined up from the Jan PS Store sale, but after they’re done); after the massive AC:V it should be a welcome change to have one a little more restrained in scope.

          • It’s the most fun I’ve had from an Ubisoft title in a long while. I enjoyed Odyssey, but Fenyx feels better balanced to me overall. It’s definitely a solid game, even if it isn’t particularly original, the execution makes up for it big time.

  • I didnt find the story or the land too long (large) but I found the supporting systems like combat and loot wasnt diverse or deep enough to help keep my interests, sometimes. While the last game pushed these things too far, about half way through this I was desperately wanting its systems back.

  • Most games are too damn long. I’m happy to play a game for 500 hours if it has 500 hours of great content, but most games are at least 40% filler that just wastes my time before I can get to the next good part. Meaning I rarely even see the end credits nowadays – I just play until the filler starts to annoy me and then quit.

  • All 3 of the last AC games have been way too large.

    Sure the prior games had plenty of collectibles but their side missions had stories and were more interesting. The new games basically replace the few hundred collectibles with camps and in Valhalla bring back a collectible.
    At least those games were restricted to a city or 2, where you’d learner the locations and how to effectively parkour through the city or when you needed to fast travel. The new ones are so much bigger and massively blown up so that everywhere you go is different, but looks and feels the same.

    The older games at least had good movement and even though people got bored with the combat, I can confidently say Unity had a far FAAAAARRRR better combat system than the new trilogy.

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