“They are heartless, godless barbarians. They murder and kill blindly. They scar the lands of England. Lands they will never defend, never love. The time has come to speak to them in a language they will understand.”
These words echo across the opening scenes of the debut trailer for the latest installment in the Assassin’s Creed series, Valhalla. Spoken by a fictional version of Alfred The Great, an Anglo-Saxon king best known for his efforts to defend the ‘lands of England’ from widespread Viking invasions in the 9th century, this declaration of war contrasts sharply with the scenes of Viking compassion, paternity, and mercy that play beneath it.
As the trailer closes on a bloody clash between the two armies, Eivor unsheathes his hidden blade and reveals his association to the series’ titular Assassin’s and turns his attention to a surprised and an almost undoubtedly Templar-associated King Alfred.
Among the things the Assassin’s Creed franchise has become known for is the tendency by Ubisoft to apply contemporary social and political themes to these historical settings. If one was in fact transgender in Victorian England, it’s doubtful that one could openly display their transgender status as nonchalantly and undisturbed as Ned Wynert does in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate.
While society has come a long way in terms of education equality, the alteration of historical art pieces in Assassin’s Creed: Origins doesn’t erase the patriarchal focus of Ancient Egypt hierarchies. With rare exception, the Mohawk people of North America were primarily allied with the British, and not the Americans as depicted in Assassin’s Creed III.
And therein lies the double-bladed axe of Valhalla: placing the game in 9th century Europe puts Ubisoft in the unenviable place of facing critical backlash no matter which approach they take to the game’s setting.
Historical purists will be quick to leap on any anachronism no matter how small, such as a theoretical appearance of a black Viking or another tired reference to President Trump’s now famous ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign slogan.
While some of the Viking’s “rape, pillage, and plunder” reputation may have been partially inflated by King Alfred through the use of propaganda and historical revisionism, but any attempt to depict the Vikings as anything less than the brutal battlefield berserkers they were would be a disingenuous representation of the mighty Scandinavian warriors.
When the topic of women in the era is broached, will Ubisoft sidestep it completely or show the Viking tradition of forcibly removing women from their homelands as prizes of conquest?
Conversely, the performatively progressive who are always quick to identify even the most minute connections between hobby enjoyment and Nazis will almost surely find a multitude of easily exploitable angles from which to attack the game: Why focus on these Norse warriors whose religion and iconography have been disgustingly co-opted by white supremacists? Why is the setting exclusively Anglo-Saxon? Why is the protagonist yet another ‘gruff white dude’? Why aren’t there MORE black Vikings and elite female warriors?
In fact, it would not be surprising if audiences face some, if not all, of these potential ‘nontroversies’ upon the game’s release simply due to the perpetually unsatisfied and superiority obsessed nature of this subset of fans.
Will Valhalla’s gameplay be good? At this point, it probably doesn’t matter, as previous entries have proven that Ubisoft long abandoned gameplay mechanics to focus on ‘socially acceptable’ narrative storytelling.
The double-bladed ax of social justice theory-based agenda pushing cuts both ways, and between the easily connectable links to white supremacy and the heightened sensitivity of players to egregiously obvious attempts at sociopolitical grandstanding, Ubisoft should be preparing itself to wander into a chaotic wave of backlash reminiscent of the bloody battleground seen in the trailer cinematic.