The history of gender in the Assassin’s Creed series has always been a challenging one. For several years, the series has featured only male protagonists and the only leading women were featured in very small spin-offs such as Assassins Creed Liberation, released on the PS Vita in 2012. This led to criticism from many of the female Assassin’s Creed fanbase, as well all players in general. Questions were raised like “Why is there no female lead in an Assassin’s Creed game?”, “Can women not be assassin’s?”, and of course ”What is the issue Ubisoft?”
In response, Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, a game where players were able to play between two siblings Jacob or Evie Frye. These two individuals each had different abilities and storylines during the narrative; however, players needed to play as both characters at different times in the game in order to progress through the story. While this was a positive move in the right direction, it left some fans feeling that Evie Frye was just tacked on in order to quell the concerns noted by those out there. Personally, I really enjoyed playing as Evie, she was a strong and vocal character. While I can see the criticisms of having to play as both a male and female lead overall, I am of the opinion that this was a positive move.
The idea of a playable female character was expanded in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which again features two siblings, Alexio’s and Kassandra. The main difference here is that you could play as one or the other as the main character throughout the whole story, not having to switch between the two characters as you did in Syndicate. In Odyssey, once you choose your character you are in their shoes for the entire game, while the other sibling’s role is one where they become your nemesis throughout the story. It was in 2018, the year this game was released, that Ubisoft finally took a ‘leap’ in trying to appease fans and provide players with a choice in who they wanted as a lead character. It also allowed them to grow the franchise. I won’t lie though, there were still many fans who questioned the need to have such a choice as they didn’t see why there was a problem with a male only lead character. And while, having the two siblings as playable characters is a start and moving to having a forced choice between the two in Odyssey, it still leaves players wondering if there will ever be a female only protagonist in Assassin’s Creed?
When Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was finally announced in April 2020 the game showcased both a female and male character! This was in contrast to what was originally thought as trailers and gameplay snippets showcased a male Viking for the majority and left fans asking for more of the female Viking. Later, Ubisoft confirmed that there would be both a female and male protagonist in this new game.
And on November 10, 2020 – Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was released.
In Valhalla, Ubisoft takes an interesting approach to gender-based characters this time around. There is only one lead in the game (gone is the sibling route) and this lead can be either male or female, named Eivor. This is another huge step in the right direction of female lead representation, and I am here for it.
While Eivor can be played as either a male and female, there is differentiation between the story or character gameplay mechanics; however, it is the female version that stands out by far. She is everything we would like to see in an Assassin’s Creed game. She is a leader not just a mercenary and she takes her values extremely seriously. She’s an outspoken and driven protagonist that doesn’t fall victim to the typical humor or looks stereotypes. While the male version of Eivor is all those things as well, the difference is that we have seen this type of character many, many times before. Male protagonists, especially in the Assassin’s Creed world, are typically done this way and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These are great characters, but the difference is that we now have a female character that is just as strong, just as brave and just as loyal as their male counterparts.
This adds a very important and in-depth layer to the game. So, when Lady Eivor does things such as discovering and removing a traitor from her camp or confronts someone – these are made all the more powerful coming from a female who is just not fighting against but also fighting an extremely masculine society. You just do not get that when you play as the male counterpart.
Another extremely important factor that I want to mention is the fact that Eivor’s gender is never taken into consideration, and in one way this is a positive thing given there is not a big deal made over her gender; however, it would have been nice on occasion to reference how she is in the position she is in while battling in what seems to be a very masculine world. I do note though that either one of these points could also backfire in the fact that female Eivor’s character development would focus solely on her gender not her story. While on the flip side, having no mention of her gender allows players to be empowered by the fact that a female is doing all these things amongst being a lone wolf of sorts. I do think that the approach that Ubisoft took was a unique one allowing players to focus on the story and the character instead of the two genders. There is room for improvement and highlighting the different struggles that each gender would have to take in this Viking world (or any world created) would have been even more “icing on the cake”.
However, I forgot to mention that fact that players can “toggle” between genders, which is an unusual choice as I cannot think of a game that does this. The choice was most likely made when Odyssey received criticisms for having to reset the entire game when players found out they would prefer to play as Kassandra over Alexio – but this is just a thought. I still stand by the fact that the female Eivor is and should be the main playable character. Ubisoft has gone through a lot of controversy in the past few years. If it requires fans to speak up for the company to finally realize a female protagonist with her own role and story in a game series like Assassin’s Creed is VERY important – hopefully they finally start to take note, embrace this notion, and continue to improve in this area..
Having a female protagonist as strong as Eivor without having to focus on her gender allows for players to connect with her actions and reasons behind them. It allows players to connect with the situations and use their own perspective on the fact that this is a strong female in this world. Understanding that this is a complex problem that Ubisoft must deal with, I think there has been a slow progression towards female leads in the Assassin’s Creed series and I cannot wait to see where we go next. My hope is that Ubisoft realizes that having only a female protagonist can and will sell.