As I’ve established here on this website, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla has basically been my go-to PlayStation 5 game over the past week, despite having never played a game in the series before launch day, November 12. If that wasn’t odd enough, I’ve put about 30 hours in and am still not sure how much I actually like the game beyond my never ending quest to bang it out viking style with any willing man I can find. That’s largely because I’m not an open world fan, and despite 30 hours, it still feels like this game will, exhaustingly enough, always have something else for me to do every time I clear one thing off the map. But I think I’m finally starting to wrap my head around what it is that compels me beyond the promise of romance in a Bioware-less time: I really, really love its protagonist Eivor Varinsdottir.
I’m playing as male Eivor in my playthrough, so I’ll be referring to him with those pronouns, but keep in mind Eivor can be a woman, or you can pick a third option that swaps between them (it’s probably explained by the end).
In a way, Eivor’s story is probably the perfect entry point for someone like me. I knew the broad strokes of Assassin’s Creed’s overarching story, including the whole Animus virtual reality and bloodlines nonsense that was the key to it all back in the day. Most of this I understood from watching my brother play the original game and up to the Ezio days, but as he dropped off the series at that time, all my tangible knowledge of it did too. But what makes Eivor an interesting starting point to me is that he isn’t (as far as I’ve gotten, at least) involved with the assassins and templar conflict on a personal level. It’s going on in the background, but Eivor has his own life going on that overlaps with a story he is only tangentially related to. In a way, he feels like an allegory to my own experience with Assassin’s Creed, and it makes the 13 years of history more palatable, rather than overwhelming.
This is also good because it means I don’t have to be invested in the ongoing present day story that involves virtual reality, a god villain that was killed off unceremoniously in a comic book, and I don’t have to be constantly mourning the death of original protagonist Desmond Miles and being extremely annoyed at the unsubtle way he was dissected to be used to make video games. Yes, all of that shit is canon. And honestly, if I’d gotten into Assassin’s Creed when it began, it sounds like it would have been just enough of my shit that I would have gotten into it, but now that I know it’s not really going anywhere, there’s no sense in worrying about it now. My number one gripe with video game storytelling is a lack of direction in the overarching story, which has probably not been more succinctly captured with a video game franchise than Assassin’s Creed. As such, Valhalla and Eivor being mostly separated from the wheel-spinning plot of Assassin’s Creed at large makes his struggles easier to relate to from the outset, and it’s helped me really get into my character’s head as if I’m in the Animus myself.
And Eivor is just such a lovable doofus I can’t help but love him. As the second in command to his step-brother Sigurd, Eivor is a fiercely loyal and caring figure in his settlement at Ravensthorpe. For all the violence he enacts, he is a big softy when it comes to the people he cares about. I’ve played a ton of side quests that involve helping animals, children, and locals of Ravensthorpe that show a tenderness under his gruff exterior that has kept me grounded as everyone else speaks of godhood and centuries-long conflicts between assassins and templars.
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One of my favorite quests in Valhalla so far was the one that gave me an ability called “Man’s Best Friend,” which allows me to sic an attack wolf on my enemies. It started out when I was coming back home to Ravensthorpe to report an alliance I’d secured for our settlement, only to be called upon by a small child who said his friends were in trouble just on the outskirts of town. I followed him to an abandoned hunter’s house, where they revealed they’d tricked me because they could hear a dog whimpering inside to be free. Eivor is frustrated at their deception, but is swayed by their childlike optimism. I got in, released the wolf from its cage, and then when I was escorting the children back home, we were attacked by a pack of wolves. Eivor fights to protect the children, only for our new wolf friend to come in and help out. She’s become quite attached to Eivor and the kids and wants to stick around. One of the little tikes suggests she be named “Dwolfg,” to represent that she’s a wolf but also loyal like a dog, and in the face of all that childlike wonder I couldn’t imagine Eivor turning that idea down. So now Dwolfg is my best friend in a fight.
This is just a microcosm of a person who just puts himself out there and even puts his life on the line to be of service to the people around him. Whether it be running into a burning building to rescue a dog (that was actually a fox), accidentally getting high off mushrooms and dealing with a bad trip as he tries to help the settlement’s hunter Petra find her missing brother on the outskirts of town, or comforting Tove when she returns to Ravensthorpe to find her mentor has passed on and it’s up to her to take on the role of tattooist for the community. There are even points where he’s not actively doing anything, but still carries an air of a proud and protective big brother, like when he stands in the back of the chapel as a king he helped become a more competent leader is getting married, smirking proudly but also seeming like he’s ready to square up if a hostile force tries to impede upon the ceremony.
All the little moments of compassion and loyalty that Eivor exudes have made him feel like a lovable teddy bear of a person, even in the midst of a game that is violent, messy, and constantly showing major crimes of a time in human history. He struggles as he watches his brother slowly descend into powerlust, as he realizes that his desire to protect his people is slowly becoming at odds with Sigurd’s delusions of grandeur, which seem to be sewn by the same assassins this series is centered on. He’s been told by a vision and a seer that he is destined to betray his brother, who he has pledged his loyalty to, and watching his faith in those he has viewed as near perfect slowly unravel is a heartbreaking thing to watch, and maybe proves that same compassion and loyalty that makes him great could actually be blind optimism. But I hope that warmth doesn’t leave him after all is said and done, because it’s my favorite thing about him right now.
Eivor has given me a center in a game that should, by all accounts, feel like it’s constantly on the verge of leaving me behind. There’s 13 years of a franchise’s history surrounding everything I’m doing in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, but as long as I keep my eyes focused on a man just trying to do right by those he cares about, I think I can stay on the right track.