By Adele Chapline Smith | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Anglo-Saxon England in the ninth century provides the backdrop for “Assassin’s Creed Valhalla” (Ubisoft).
This latest iteration of a notorious franchise somewhat offsets the bloody mayhem characteristic of the series with respectable values. Better yet, both violent and sexual content can be turned off via the settings. Still, if that option isn’t chosen, much graphic material awaits.
Gamers take on the persona of Norwegian warrior Eivor, who can be played either as a man (voice of Magnus Bruun) or a woman (voice of Cecilie Stenspil). With battling clans devastating Norway — Eivor is brutally orphaned at the hands of warlord Kjotve the Cruel (voice of Bjorn Bengtsson) — Eivor and an adoptive older brother, Sigurd (voice of Gudmundur Thorvaldsson), set off for England.
There, they hope to imitate some of the Danes and Norse who have preceded them by establishing their own kingdom. This ambition, however, draws the siblings into a preview of the ongoing struggle that shapes all the franchise’s titles, that between the Assassin Brotherhood and the Templars.
Thus Eivor and Sigurd are accompanied on their journey by two foreigners who claim to be members of “the Hidden Ones” — a forerunner of the Brotherhood. And, once in England, the four newcomers work together to dismantle the hold exerted over the country by the Order of the Ancients, a precursor of the Templars.
Taught from a young age to defend the weak and helpless, Eivor embodies loyalty and honor. Yet such chivalry as Eivor demonstrates is exercised amid splattering blood and screams of pain as gamers employ swords, axes, bows and even siege weapons to slaughter their enemies.
Sexual elements are more restrained. One mission involves a brothel, but any sexual activity is suggested rather than depicted.
Faithful gamers will be glad to note that the anti-Christian animus found in many earlier “Assassin’s Creed” titles is absent here. In fact, references to religion, whether Christian or pagan, are minimal, though the monks who occasionally appear are kept immune from harm or death.
Given that the game’s events take place in the late 800s, however, its designers make a historical error by assuming that all their Viking characters would still be pagans. In fact, Christianity had already made considerable headway among the Vikings by then and one of their major leaders, Guthrum, the future king of East Anglia, would shortly be baptized.
Playable on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Google Stadia, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.
The game contains considerable gory combat violence, drug use, brief upper female nudity, implied sexual activity and occasional rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, games whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is M — mature.
Smith reviews video games for Catholic News Service.