Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the latest entry in the long-running series, takes place in 873 AD, a time when Vikings sailed longboats wielding axes and shields. The opening puts you in the shoes of protagonist Eivor during a childhood memory. Other games have started with a similar concept, but Valhalla does an incredible job at capitalizing. Here, I’ll go over the reasons why this introduction is one of the best I’ve ever played, but be warned, spoilers abound!
The fondness the adults show towards our protagonist is quickly made apparent in my early interactions. As a young Viking child, I am met with kindness and smiles all around. The dynamic between my light-hearted father and me solidifies the mood of a happy, wholesome childhood, complete with two loving parents. The sacredness of this dynamic foreshadows the heartbreak both the hero and player will experience when such blissful sanctity is destroyed.
As young Eivor, I first find myself entrusted with a wholesome task. To compliment my father’s lively toast, I will present the king a gift. I make my way through the party filled with my tipsy, dancing, and merry elders. Along this path, I meet with my supportive and loving father, the proud and kind blacksmith who inscribed the gift, the king’s teasing son Sigurd, and my own smiling mother.
Idun Mealor Olsen is credited by IMDB as the voice of young Eivor, and she does an excellent job. To the king, I deliver my rehearsed line in a cute and squeaky voice, saying, “King… May, our clans be forever bonded in friendship and love.” After this, my father lifts me up and leads the clan in a joyous song. Truly, I am an innocent child amongst a loving family, and it clearly shows.
There’s no denying that where Valhalla succeeds in establishing connections the player cares about, other games easily come up short. I recently played about a third of Assassin’s Creed III, and was disappointed by the fact that, as Connor’s mother passed away, I felt very little.
This was because the game took a very different route than Valhalla. That is, AC III told a story which spanned from before Connor’s birth to many years after the death of Connor’s mother. The better entry, however, initially focused on a single scene and single reality in introducing you to its protagonist. This reality was peaceful and ideal, and was notably untainted by demands you learn several game mechanics as it played out.
A TURN FOR THE WORST
When playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance, I felt much less heartbroken at the sight of Henry’s parents being murdered, simply because my most recent interactions with them were unremarkable and unmemorable, and their deaths were carried without hesitation and without an offer of hope by the enemy.
The succeeding event in Valhalla, however, is more than just a witnessed death; it is a betrayal, a dashing of hope, and not only a slaughtering of Eivor’s mother, but a death delivered upon her turned back.
The festivities, predictably but just as unfortunately, are broken by an enemy invasion, and into the combat my father and mother charge. Following and faced by the enemy, I am protected by my axe-wielding mother. Her power and bravery are awe-inspiring.
She places me atop a horse and tells me to race away, but I refuse. I drag a sword along with the snow; it’s far too heavy for my little arms, but I try to help. The struggle of wanting to help but being helplessly incapable permeates the scene with desperation.
The king’s son takes me back towards the horse, but not before I see the enemy take my mother hostage, an axe hovering near her throat. The suspense of her being held hostage gives me hope that she may survive. This makes what happens next all the more brutal.
My father surrenders in light of the enemy’s promise that his clan shall be spared. As my mother runs toward his corpse, an axe penetrates her back, and the enemy immediately betrays his promise. Whereas the enemies who killed Henry’s parents did so with a lack of morality, the killers here murdered with not only a lack of morality, but a brazen abundance of amorality.
As I, in real life, watch the next scene unfold, I can’t help but imagine what on earth a child could be thinking in this situation. A new witness to these deaths, what does Eivor think during this struggle against the cracking ice beneath and the wild predator which slowly ensues?
As the king’s son and I escape the arcs of flaming arrows, we, along with our horse, are flung over a cliff onto an ice field. I see the horse collapse into the crackling ice and cold water. I struggle towards my father’s axe, helplessly whimpering as a wolf begins its hunt, with me as its target. The wolf bites Eivor, this perfectly portrayed, innocent child, in the throat, forever branding them with the nickname “Wolf-Kissed.”
This introduction makes you feel several things, first the joy and love around you, then the despair and desperation which take over. From the love of Eivor’s parents to the fear of an icy death, I felt it all. The success of this is in no short part due to the purposeful writing and excellently realistic animation, graphics and lighting of each scene. These are the reasons why Assassin’s Creed Valhalla‘s introduction is one of the best ever.