Warning: This article contains spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
The seemingly simple act of choosing the gender of Assassin Creed Valhalla‘s protagonist, Eivor, has proven to be a surprising source of controversy in recent months.
While some of that controversy has been fueled by the misogynistic concerns of the Gamergate crowd, the more fascinating story in this instance is a debate over whether the male or female version of Eivor is the canonical way to play the game.
To be honest, I thought that this debate was settled months ago when Ubisoft revealed in July that you’d be able to change Eivor’s gender at any time and that it would be “the same story of the character—whatever options your character decides.” That seemed to suggest that Valhalla would differ from Odyssey which let you choose your character’s gender but ultimately presented slightly altered experiences (one of which seemed to be canonical) based on your choice.
However, early Assassin’s Creed Valhalla players have already discovered a surprising third choice available to players from the outset: “Let the Animus Choose.”
While Ubisoft had previously stated that Valhalla would offer such an option, what really caught people’s attention is when they realized that the game actually seems to default to that selection. Valhalla narrative director Darby McDevitt only furthered the mystery of the third option when he explained via Twitter just how the game decides whether or not you play the male or female version of Eivor when you opt for that selection:
All of that information left fans with suddenly much more complicated questions regarding whether or not “Male Eivor,” “Female Eivor,” or “Let the Animus Choose” is the canonical way to play the game.
The answer to that question is equally complicated, but early spoilers and our reviewer’s own experience with the game strongly seem to suggest that the “Let the Animus Choose” option is not only the narratively concise way to play the game but that the details of how that option works slightly contradict Ubisoft’s previous statement that Valhalla offers a “separate, but equal” narrative experience for both female and male Eivor.
To be clear, this subject is open to both the interpretations of the player and ambiguities built into the story. However, a very, very basic interpretation of the game’s story that seems to be the most popular at the moment strongly suggests that the female Eivor avatar more closely resembles the physical representation of the character as they were born and that Eivor is a Sage for the Norse God Odin (who appears in the game during certain sequences and resembles the male version of Eivor for those who chose the “Let the Animus Choose” option). In other words, some are making the argument that the male version of Eivor is really the embodiment of Odin’s spirit which resides in the female version of Eivor.
Others have presented slightly different interpretations of that concept. For instance, it’s been suggested that both the male and female avatars of Eivor are canonical and that the differences in how they appear can be attributed to differences in the memories of those who encountered them.
What makes this whole story so fascinating is that the “Animus” option doesn’t just randomly swap between the male and female versions of Eivor (or choose one at random for you to play the game as) but instead chooses to showcase each version of the character at specific points in the game. While you can change your character’s gender at any point, it feels somewhat telling that indicating you are indifferent to the topic presents you with a specific (perhaps “intended”) narrative.
The entire situation is further complicated by Ubisoft’s recent scandals (which included Valhalla director Ashraf Ismail leaving the company) and Ubisoft’s rocky past in regards to incorporating female protagonists into the Assassin’s Creed series. We’ve gone from the company claiming it would be too difficult to add gender choices to the game, to offering slightly different experiences based on your gender choice, to offering a universal experience based on your gender choice as well as an altered experience based on your decision to not specifically make a choice.
Again, it’s all very complicated. At the end of the day, Eivor’s gender in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla still seems to be very much your choice. The best qualities of the game will still be available to you regardless of your decision. That’s a notable improvement from what the series used to be, but as long as Ubisoft continues to suggest that there is a canonical way to play the game based on your choice, you’re probably going to have arguably unnecessary confusion regarding whether or not there is a “right” decision.