I love open-world video games, but they don't need to be as big as the real world. Last week, Ubisoft Middle East head of communications Malek Teffaha tweeted about the rough size of the upcoming Assassin's Creed Valhalla. "It won't be the longest or biggest game in the series. They addressed criticism on this one," tweeted Teffaha in Arabic (translated by VG247 and later confirmed by IGN). The tweet has been removed since, but I still applaud that sentiment.
I really enjoyed Assassin's Creed Odyssey. As an evolution of the RPG-style Assassin's Creed, it's a winner. But for me, Odyssey is the mountain that's too high to summit completely. Finishing the main story campaign took me around 70 hours of play, and that only covered 60% of the full world map. It was almost like there was still a whole other game out there, waiting for me.
I applaud the effort to make the game really feel like the Odyssey it draws its name from. Ubisoft's artists and designers did a great job with the world overall; I can distinctly remember looking down on Athens, Sparta, the dense forests of Phokis, and the snow capped peaks of Lakonia. But I can't get through it all. I recently started playing Odyssey on PC again, and upon opening the world map, I just sighed to myself.
It makes Odyssey the odd one out in my Assassin's Creed gaming history. Usually, I'm amazingly fastidious when it comes to playing open-world games. I move from location to location, finishing every bit of exploration, combat, and collecting that available before moving out. I've cleaned out Assassin's Creed 2, Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, and Assassin's Creed Origins, and on and on down the line. It's like breathing. I don't even think about it. But I can't do that with Odyssey.
I'm not alone in this estimation. Other players have noted how absolutely huge Odyssey is. "I've platinumed the game on PS4 and completed all the DLC and still have not explored everywhere. It's massive," said Reddit user Rgcazo.
"My play clock for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is at 149 hours, 9 minutes, and 45 seconds. My quest log shows I have 28 active, unfinished quests. My map shows there are 10 more I haven't even started, many of which may well trigger new quests to pop up on the map," wrote Kotaku's Stephen Totilo. "I will reach the end. I’ve had a fun journey. But when I do reach that ending, I'll be ready for a break. With a double-length Assassin's Creed nearly done, I'm fine with 2019 being a new Assassin's Creed skip year. And when the series comes back, presumably in 2020, if they want to make the next game a tad shorter, I won't complain."
Finding the right size for a game is an art. Even with the most engaging combat and exploration, there comes a point when your soul gets tired. Over on HowLongtoBeat.com, the first two Assassin's Creed games have an average of around 15 to 20 hours for the main story, and 30 to 40 hours for a completionist play. Contrast that with Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which has 40 hours for the main story and a whopping 125 hours for a completionist run. And that honestly feels like they're underselling it.
Assassin's Creed Origins was the sweet spot for me. Its version of Egypt was big, but it felt like a cohesive world, and its wide variety of cities and landmarks gave it plenty of flavor. Alexandria, Memphis, and Cyrene all provided unique spins on civilization, while the land itself shifted from harsh deserts to oasis-style port cities and lush green hills. Origins is big enough that you can explore and get lost, but you can also hold the full scope of the map in your mind. It's an important reminder that Ubisoft should take care to provide just enough game world to really sell the feeling of each region, as opposed to trying to accurately recreate each individual landmass.
I don't see "smaller" as a knock against Valhalla. Instead I see it as a chance to provide a bit more focus. With a smaller region, Ubisoft can really get in there and provide contrast. It can make sure that not only are the major cities and landmarks distinct and majestic, but also the places in-between. These spaces should hide interesting puzzles and moments for unique gameplay, but the developers should not be afraid of wide open spaces of nothing either. The mostly empty and hostile White Desert of Assassin's Creed Origins made the cities that the people of Egypt did establish seem that much more meaningful.
Given that Valhalla is being made by Ubisoft Montreal, the team behind Assassin's Creed Origins and Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, I have high hopes for the world it's building. More focused open worlds are what I'm looking for; expansive places that still deliver new sights, gameplay opportunities, and story themes. Make the land matter, as opposed to just making land.
If Ubisoft can do that, then Valhalla will be an odyssey worth taking.