Ubisoft’s journey to Valhalla has evolved. With Assassins Creed Valhalla being released on November 10th, we can now witness the hype for the game Ubisoft has built. Since my last blog of Valhalla, we have seen so much more come from the studio and I think that the Creed I know and love will only get better with this latest installment.
I’ve been heavily invested in this series. My journey began with Black flag, following on with Rouge, Unity, Syndicate, Origins and Odyssey. Now I can experience Valhalla. I’ve watched trailers over and over, addicted to the cinematics, music, characters and story. More about this game has been showcased since the original trailer. We now have a female Eivor option in the game, whereby Ubisoft has approached the public with the gender of our protagonist as well as their sexuality. Like the last game we could choose between Alexios or Kassandra as a protagonist while the other would act as an antagonist. This time around we would still have a choice, but the other gender variation would not be present in the game unless you choose to switch. Ubisoft has given us 3 options when it comes to choosing Eivors gender – male, female, or we can let the game choose, changing for each mission. This is like how it worked in Syndicate; you can switch whenever you want but it will choose a gender depending on the mission. Regarding sexuality, Eivor will have the choice to sleep with either Male or Female partners, just how it was in Odyssey. One of the lead producers, Julien Laferriere said that a lot of your choices will affect your Viking settlement so I do wonder if who Eivor takes a romantic interest in will affect their Viking home. Personally, I shall be playing as Female Eivor throughout the entirety of my first playthrough, taking a stealthier and more diplomatic route. I may play as male Eivor on my second playthrough simply to mess around customizing his beard and take a barbaric and conquering route of the story. So, once again Ubisoft is handing so much more control to the player when it comes to our protagonist and really are wanting players to look at our actions and take a second look at our choices as gamers, no matter our morals.
The sexual harassment behind Ubisoft
Despite their apparent forward-thinking Ubisoft have contradicted themselves and have come into some serious trouble with how they treat their employees. In July, female employees of the company came forward and reported cases of sexism and sexual assaults. So much was exposed to the public, men in high places were named and plenty of examples were given about what they had done to women. Homophobia and Racism reports were also shared. New female employees were even warned not to go drinking with certain men; I read an article about what is happening and honestly it seems scary to be a woman working for Ubisoft. Sexism in this industry is a real issue and not acceptable, hostile and fearful environments are being made for women who simply want to work. Ubisoft further contradict themselves by playing a disclaimer at the start every time you load up an assassin’s creed game which reads, ‘Inspired by historical events and characters, this work of fiction was designed, developed and produced by a multicultural team of various beliefs, sexual orientations, and gender identities.’ Ubisoft seems to promote the idea of diversity, and you certainly see it in their games, especially the last couple instalments to the series. But only those seen as superior can bully and assault those who are believed weaker or undesirable, according to those who are seen as superior. The diversity is only there to be bullied and harassed. So, as a company, what are their values?
A lot of the people at Ubisoft who came forward choose to remain anonymous because they still worked at the company and feared losing their jobs. And the stories that are coming from this is honestly creates the idea that the company is led by Men who abuse their power and position. One of the stories that came out about Hascoët was that he was in a meeting with 3 other people. The presenter, who was a female, left the room for a few moments. While she was gone Hascoët took this as an opportunity to play a French song which described sexual acts on a woman who shared the same name as the presenter – this was in front of the other 2 people in the meeting. When she came back, he paused the song and acted like nothing had happened. Hascoët has also repeatedly made explicated comments about many employees, pushed his subordinates to drink heavily, and has even handed people cake which had marijuana in it without their knowledge. As far as I know he is still working at Ubisoft and these complaints have done nothing to his career. These allegations of harassment and abuse go beyond Hascoët and the Paris HQ. Repots have popped up everywhere. Managers would make comments on female bodies, whether they be sexually explicit or aim to be harmful and shaming their female co-workers. An employee at the San Francisco HQ was told to smile more or she would be fired for her attitude. Many off these cases are brushed under the rug and ignored, no matter how often or how persistent they are reported. The Toronto office is just as bad, Maxime Béland, had a history of harassing female workers and touching them inappropriately, but he got away with it because his wife worked at HR, Rima Brek. Women who reported Maxime left HR feeling like they were troublemakers and have only caused problems, which should not be the case if you are reported for sexual assault in a workplace. Maxime has also violently attacked an employee, according to eye witnesses he attacked and choked her at a party. However, he has resigned along with many others, some are on disciplinary leave while Ubisoft investigates the allegations. It’s nice to see something be done about it, it’s a good thing to see Ubisoft face this problem head on and tackle it the way it should be tackled. It’s horrible that instead of these people being called out earlier it has had to wait for it to be revealed to the public eye for them to do something. As a female looking to go into this industry it is honestly a bit frightening to see this; it makes me worry about what other companies are hiding or how it will be in the future.
Silencing Female roles in Assassins creed
The debate has affected the game. For years Serge Hascoët, one of Ubisoft’s chief creative officers, has purposely pushed down female roles in game. Which is disappointing because the game should have gone in completely different ways. For example, in assassin’s creed Origins, our male protagonist, Bayek, was meant to either die or get severely injured early during the narrative. After his death or Injury, the role of protagonist would have been handed over to his wife, Aya. In my opinion I would have much preferred this version of the game, Aya’s character seemed much more developed, from mourning mother, to a diplomat for cleopatra, to a leader of the Creed, her story seemed much more interesting than Bayeks. Do not get me wrong, I very much enjoyed Bayeks character, but after a certain time his story felt like it just came to a halt and his drive for revenge seemed almost repetitive with every assassination target. It is the same for Odyssey, Alexios was meant to be the antagonist while Kassandra would be the protagonist. But Hascoët wanted a male protagonist and after fighting for Kassandra’s role players were allowed a choice – not that I’m complaining about the choice. However, Alexios voice acting felt flat in some scenes. His voice actor, Michael Antonakos, is talented but it started to slip later in the game. But Kassandra was still a good antagonist.
In syndicate, you could play as both Evie and Jacob, however more of the spot light fell upon Jacob in favour of a dominant male role. Evie’s character became secondary; another role pushed to the side. Jacobs role seemed to be there just for comedy. Evie was much more serious in her role to protect London, but Jacob felt like he was chasing childish games and not taking his profession seriously. I certainly enjoyed Jacobs character and his play style but the fact that so much of the spotlight was on him and not equal between them both seems unfair, especially since both characters had potential. The creators in this game have to claw and fight just so the female roles we see in these games can just exist, if they didn’t who knows how many iconic female characters would not exist? Editorial departments told those working on the story of the game for years that the protagonist must be a ‘straight white alpha male’.
The truth around female roles
Ubisoft literally said, ‘Women don’t sell.’
This is a complete lie. Horizon: Zero Dawn had a lead female protagonist, it sold over 10 Million copies in February 2019 which made it one of the best-selling PS4 game, and its sequel will be coming to next gen consoles. The Tomb Raider series, with Lara Croft as the main protagonist, has had over 75 million units sold. The last of us part 2 broke PS4 records with over 4 Million copies sold in its launching month, it is also the highest game with the 100% completion rate. These are only a few examples, but these games draw obvious scrutiny of Ubisoft’s stance.
The fans however have also hit back at Ubisoft. A lot of the games focus on the idea of brotherhood, but fans have created a sisterhood, creating their own iconic logo to support female Ubisoft developers and tackling sexism in the gaming community. The logo is based on the character Aya, or Amunet which she becomes known by after creating the assassin’s creed. The logo is the classic assassin’s creed crest on a purple background, a black snake is present coiling around the assassins’ crest. Ubisoft has recognized this and have put it into Valhalla – a tattoo both female and male Eivor can have. Players can also find the sister hood logo hidden in the 3 major cities that we will get to see in assassin’s creed Valhalla. The sisterhood does not want to boycott Ubisoft but instead raise awareness about the sexism in the studio and support female developers.
Reviews and hope for Valhalla
Valhalla has come out as well as the reviews, and like everything it is mixed. Googles audience rating summary is 3.8. With a lot of reviewers giving the game 5 stars or 1 star. Everyone does seem to agree that the game feels clunky in its controls, like how it is with every game that is first released, and it is a little buggy. But that will probably be fixed up with a patch on the way. Those who gave it a 1-star review seem to be meeting with a lot of issues, the game crashes or they simply don’t like how the game looks. The 5 star reviews promote the game as one of the best instalments of the series so far, and that the systems in the game are interesting and work. The 5 star reviews do acknowledge the fact that the game is buggy and needs fixing. As interesting as I find the range in opinion, I do want to make my own judgment as soon as I grab a copy.
Yet the game has finally been released despite all this, with it also being compatible with next gen consoles. I’ve been exited for so long and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy – hopefully around Christmas. In the meantime, I do want to avoid as many spoilers as possible, so that when the time comes for my first play though of Valhalla I’m hoping that my expectations are exceeded, and that this new addition to the series also adds and expands on what previous games have done well. The characters that feature in games are what make the experience expectational to me; characters have always been my focus when it comes to story driven games. With Valhalla, I can now drive a dedicated leader and their settlement to hopefully a proper place to call home. I will be keeping a close eye on any developments on Valhalla and I certainly will be counting down to the moment my Valhalla story can begin.