Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the first game in the franchise to tell its story in more of a loop, where you’re returning to your settlement after every mission in order to pick the next one. As a result, its story is divided into individual two- to three-hour chunks. Valhalla isn’t one long adventure like the previous games, it’s individual stories that ultimately add up to one final conclusion.
“This inspiration came from the Viking sagas themselves–the sagas of the Icelanders,” Assassin’s Creed Valhalla narrative director Darby McDevitt told me. “The sagas are not told like the typical hero’s journey that you get in most Western literature–a three-act structure, a rise and fall, the call to action, and then the refusal of the call. The sagas are actually more episodic moments in a character’s history. And you follow them through a long period of their life. It typically follows them from birth to death, but it’s not about having a single driving plot. They feel more like life. How life really is, which is just a series of character building incidences that orbit some themes.”
I’ve actually seen this first-hand. I played through one of Valhalla’s more combat-focused sagas back in July, and then a completely different one in a recent six-hour hands-on. Neither one made reference to the other. They were each self-contained stories that had their own beginning, middle, and end. The only commonality is protagonist Eivor, and I did notice that how I played the character (in regards to dialogue options) in that first saga informed my decisions in the second. So my Eivor was evolving, but the two different sagas could have easily been played in any order and it wouldn’t have drastically altered my understanding of either one.
“[Valhalla] has a thin through line–there’s definitely an emotional through line,” McDevitt said. “But what we’re more interested in is saying, ‘Here’s a little two-hour experience and here’s another little two-hour experience,’ and they’re all self-contained. And then they’re going to stack on top of each other so that the themes that we’re slowly building have more resonance, more and more. And I think actually, for a player of video games, having these two- or three-hour bite sized chunks is actually cool because you’re not going to be 40 hours into this game thinking, ‘Hey, I want the story to wrap up. It’s been a long time.'”
McDevitt added that he hopes that by dividing Valhalla’s story into these self-contained segments, it makes it easier to finish the whole game. As Assassin’s Creed fans will tell you, the most recent games have been getting fairly long–the last game, 2018’s Odyssey, clocked in at 50 hours (and that’s just the campaign; that’s not even counting the extremely lengthy six follow-up DLC expansions). With Valhalla, the idea seems to be the hope that players will find dozens of two-hour stories to be easier to ultimately finish than one giant story.
“Like I said, we’re playing a longer game here–there is an undercurrent,” McDevitt added. “But we’re hoping that these more bite-sized things carry you forward in a unique way.”
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