Since its debut in 2007, the Assassin’s Creed series has continued to innovate with each new installment. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood added multiplayer to the previously single player-exclusive experience, while Assassin’s Creed Unity included a number of co-op missions for players to tackle together. Starting with Assassin’s Creed Origins, the series took a heavy turn towards role-playing systems such as experience points and loot drops.
Perhaps the greatest innovation in the series so far was featured in the latest release, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. In Odyssey players are able to choose between two different playable protagonists, the brother-sister duo of Alexios or Kassandra. Whichever character the player chooses will be their playable character for the entire game, while the sibling plays a role in the story as a NPC. Both characters are functionally identical, with no gameplay differences and few story differences existing between the two. This was a dramatic change to the Assassin’s Creed formula, because previous games contained no such options.
This game-changing role-playing element also makes Odyssey the first major Assassin’s Creed title to (potentially) feature a female main character. The portable spin-off titles Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China also featured female main characters and Assassin’s Creed Origins included specific missions played as a woman. However, none of these games are considered major entries in the series. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate came close by featuring two playable main characters, the sibling duo of Jacob and Evie Frye, but it is impossible to play the entire game as Evie because some missions can only be completed by Jacob.
For fans of the series, the option to play as Kassandra for the entirety of Odyssey was a very welcome breath of fresh air. This inclusion grants players more choice in how they experience the game’s story, as romances and story beats play out slightly differently between the two. Kassandra was generally preferred over Alexios by fans and the game’s creative director Jonathan Dumont confirmed that he considers Kassandra the canon protagonist of the game.
The recently announced Assassin’s Creed Valhalla promises to continue the trend started by Odyssey, allowing players to choose their character’s gender. Unlike Odyssey where players chose between two distinct characters, however, the main character of Valhalla will always be the Viking warrior Eivor. This means the character’s gender will once again have no impact on gameplay and little, if any, impact on the game’s story.
Including multiple gender options in Odyssey was a huge step forward for a series that had included primarily male playable characters in its major entries and it is a change that should continue into future installments. Players should no longer be forced to play as a male Assassin when Odyssey and Valhalla have given them the option to choose whichever gender they prefer.
Changes in the story’s tone, which occur naturally with the change in character gender, may also reveal previously untouchable nuances in the series’ historical settings. While the narrative should never dramatically change based on gender options, small differences or alternative perspectives could help to immerse the player and ground the story in historical truth.
Romance options, which are likely to continue appearing in future games, could also be drastically expanded given multiple gender options. The ability for players to engage in a variety of different romances, either straight or queer, adds even more player freedom to Assassin’s Creed.
Some controversy was generated by one of Odyssey’s expansions, titled Shadow Heritage, for initially forcing the player character into a heterosexual relationship regardless of the player’s previous romance choices. A patch eventually changed the story to be slightly less problematic, but Valhalla and future installments should take measures to ensure that each player’s preferences can be consistently expressed throughout the entire game.
While it has not yet been revealed how Valhalla’s gender options will fit with the franchise’s pseudo-historical premise, there are plenty of ways to justify the customization. The Animus, which acts as the series’ answer to most of its gameplay features such as menus or map boundaries, could be a simple answer. A glitch in the Animus that makes Eivor’s gender uncertain, or even a feature added to increase connection to Eivor, would be a serviceable in-game way to explain this important real-world inclusion.
Now that Odyssey has opened the door for gender choice, all future Assassin’s Creed games should also be committed to including these options. Increasing inclusivity will bring in a broader audience and increase players’ feelings of choice and freedom. Adding nuances to the game’s setting through subtle differences between each gender’s experience in the game could add a lot to the franchise’s commitment to recreating the past.
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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s gender options added a lot of player freedom. Future games, like Valhalla, should continue to push this new status quo.