The most recent example that makes me pose the question is Assassin's Creed Valhalla. I really like the game, as I did Odyssey. There is a ton of talk about what people do and don't like about this series, how it's changed over the years, and I don't really want to revisit that topic. Suffice it to say that some people like this type of game, some don't, and I'm not arguing about how good the core gameplay is, I feel like you can take it or leave it.
But as much as I've enjoyed this game, I'm about 70 hours in and feel like I'm only halfway through the game. There is just so much to do. And that's normally a great thing! For $60 or $70 a game, people want lots of content, and I think that's okay. In fact I think a lot of areas of the game are under utilized, as there are several different regions you visit in the game, some of which I would have liked to spend more time in! As much as people complain about games like this having filler, it's not like there's a simple inverse correlation between quantity and quality, where you can just make the game half as long but twice as good. Hell, I love games like Persona 5 that get lots of praise, but you're also doing the same repetitive tasks for a hundred hours in that game as well. I don't think there's anything wrong with either of these. I'm not talking about increasing the (subjective) quality of the content, but I'm wondering if there's a better way to deliver all this content to the player.
The main problem for me is that I end up not caring about the "main story", and with it the main characters, after so much time without any development to them. There have been many conversations on "ludonarrative dissonance" and how it applies to tackling content in a game, but for example in AC Valhalla I don't think this specifically is an issue with regards to realism, as the over-arching storyline (no spoilers) is one that could easily take years and years in "real life". It's not about it not working for the story, it's about it not working for me caring about any single narrative for that long with that much time in between each piece of progression.
And for a lot of the content this works fine. The world is split into different regions, and within these regions are small story arcs that don't take too long. But there's still the "main" narrative that just seems to get lost after dozens of hours without it moving along. A lot of games like this somewhat "solve" this issue by having the post-game, where you can do all of the side content even after you finish the main story. But for me this doesn't quite solve the issue, as I usually either stop caring about the game after finishing the main story, or the content just doesn't feel like it matters anymore due to the way the story is told. In other words too much of the game revolves around the "main" story, which makes the other content feel pointless.
Do you think games like this should be more episodic, and sometimes ditch the concept of a "main" story altogether? Should there be more games where you play as multiple characters instead of a single one? Should the "main" storyline wrap up in say 20 hours, with the rest of the content specifically crafted to be "post-game" content and therefore feel more relevant? Or is this not a problem for most people at all and I just need to deal with it?
Honestly, this isn't something where I feel like I have the right answer. I'd like to hear from other people, and this could entirely just be a "me" problem.
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