Ubisoft hosted a livestream where host and producer Youssef Maguid and PR intern Ellie Vengala sat down with Assassin’s Creed Valhalla narrative director Darby McDevitt to talk about the game’s ending. The conversation was full of fascinating insight into the design decisions behind many of the major storytelling moments in Valhalla, including the tidbit that the game’s major final reveal actually wasn’t a part of the original plan for the game.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but major spoilers for Valhalla follow. If you haven’t yet picked up the game and beaten it, you should. In GameSpot’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla review, I said, “Despite its strong connection to past games, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is more than capable of standing on its own. It takes a little while to build momentum, but when it hits its stride, Valhalla is a confident Assassin’s Creed title that takes a few narrative risks which, as a whole, pay off.”
So onto the spoilers. Turns out, Valhalla originally didn’t end with the modern day protagonist becoming Basim. “Later in production–I remember [the game director] saying, ‘What if we switched to him as the modern day protagonist?'” McDevitt said during the livestream. “And that became an interesting idea because the original idea was that once Layla is gone, maybe you go back and you play as Shaun or Rebecca and you get to choose, you get to swap back-and-forth and play as them.”
McDevitt adds that, in the original story, Basim remained an enigmatic force. You had no idea if he would be a good guy or a villain. Ismail deposited that it would be more intriguing to surprise players by making Basim into the new modern day protagonist, giving the player just a hint to his motivations in the final moments of Valhalla’s modern day storyline. According to McDevitt, the process of coming up with the idea for the new ending and then actually designing and implementing it took “about a year.”
Also during the livestream, McDevitt refers to Eivor with she/her pronouns, reinforcing the implications of the game’s ending: Eivor is canonically a woman. “Male Eivor” is just Havi, the male Isu who is later reborn as Eivor, a woman. And to that point, Darby talks about how he originally had two working theories for how to allow players to play as both a man and a woman in Valhalla.
“The first idea I pitched was we could do a dual protagonist where the protagonist is a male viking and the female version is actually Layla projecting herself onto the avatar, which we kind of did in AC1,” McDevitt said. “Altair and Desmond look exactly the same, but we didn’t do that for Ezio and Connor–Ezio looks a little different from Desmond, and Connor looks very different. So because of those early games, there was this idea that you could just project your own avatar.”
He continued: “And the second one I pitched was that we could do a Sage, where you are the reincarnation of Aita, so you’re a female viking but you’re also the reincarnation of Aita so you can switch to also look like Aita.” The team at Ubisoft mulled over both pitches, ultimately deciding that Valhalla should pursue the second one, though with the tweak that Eivor is a Sage of Odin, not Aita.
Also throughout the livestream, McDevitt regularly details how Valhalla is designed to tie together the Assassin’s Creed franchise, pointing out ways in which the game makes reference to the original Assassin’s Creed, II, Revelations, III, IV: Black Flag, Origins, and Odyssey. With Valhalla’s story occurring so close to that of the original Assassin’s Creed, Valhalla references that one the most.
“We set a goal at the beginning: Let’s tie things together as much as we can,” McDevitt said. “All the cities in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla are direct homages to the cities in AC1, down to the characters you kill, the assassination set-up, everything. We did a one-to-one homage. And that’s an idea we actually had, one that I pitched on Origins but never got made. Cause we were pitching Origins as a refreshing of the brand, and I thought it would be fun to refresh the brand with a homage to AC1. But that didn’t get done, so we revived the idea here and it worked out.”
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is available for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, PC, and Stadia. The game is scheduled to get two large post-launch DLC in 2021, the first of which, Wrath of the Druids, is set to release in spring.
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