Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is a big game with a story that will take most players over 40 hours to fully complete. Luckily, the bulk of Valhalla’s narrative is set in the past and is easy to understand regardless of how familiar you are with the Assassin’s Creed series. But, as with the previous games, there is some modern-day meta-narrative that might be confusing for newcomers or those who haven’t played the last few games recently. Here’s what you need to know.
We will be spoiling Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Origins, and a few other games in the franchise. We will NOT be spoiling anything about Valhalla!
It would take many, many paragraphs to explain everything that’s happened in Assassin’s Creed’s modern-day storyline, but here’s a summary. Long ago, The Order of The Ancients was formed, a group of people who wanted to control humanity and its future. A known as the Hidden Ones formed to try to stop The Order. After centuries of secretive fighting and spying, both groups got some brand changes. The Order became The Templars, and the Hidden Ones became The Assassins.
Fast forward to 2012, when a bartender named Desmond Miles was kidnapped by Abstergo, a corporation created by the evil Templars. He’s forced to use an Animus, a device that lets people experience the DNA memories of folks from history. A lot more stuff happens after this, and he joins the Assassins to help them learn about ancient artifacts and secrets using the Animus. Eventually, Desmond, his father William (the leader of the Assassins!), and Desmond’s friends learn about a giant solar flare that is going to hit the Earth on December 12, 2012. They learn this from the messages from an ancient race of beings, the Isu, that existed before humanity and who were almost wiped out by a similar event hundreds of thousands of years ago. To protect the Earth from future disasters, the Isu created a shield system, which Desmond activated with the help of his friends. Sadly, this killed him, but it did save the world. The Templars, using Abstergo PR, took credit for saving the planet.
In 2017, Layla Hassan heads to Egypt under orders from Abstergo to find an ancient artifact. (The series loves these things.) While there, she uncovers the mummified corpses of Aya and Bayek, two ancient Egyptians who formed what would eventually become the Assassins. Without Abestero’s approval, Layla takes some of their DNA and sticks it in her self-modified, custom-built Animus to prove to the company that she deserves to be more involved with the Animus team. Unfortunately, Abstergo doesn’t handle disobedient employees well, and they send a kill team after her. She survives, using skills she learned from being Bayek in the Animus, and is contacted by William Miles, the father of the Earth-saving Desmond Miles and the leader of The Assassins. He offers her a role with the shadowy group, and she accepts.
About a year later, Layla has quickly risen up the ranks in the Assassin’s Brotherhood, going on missions and leading a small cell of Assassins. During this time she learns about Kassandra, a Spartan mercenary who, long before the Assassins had formed in Egypt, was known to have wielded a powerful ancient artifact, a broken staff that had been fashioned into a dagger. It was created by the Isu and used by Kassandra during her fight against The Order of The Ancients.
By reliving the memories of Kassandra, Layla is able to discover that the mercenary had visited the Isu city of Atlantis, which in turn, reveals the location of this mythical place to Layla and her team. After arriving and doing some more Animus shenanigans, Layla figures out how to open the gateway to the ancient city of Atlantis, which had been sealed by Kassandra using Isu technology and knowledge. However, in a shocking twist, Kassandra appears alive and well at the gateway of Atlantis. She survived all these centuries thanks to the Staff of Hermes Trismegistus, another powerful Isu artifact (I told you they love these things…) that grants whoever holds it immortality and perfect health. Layla and Kassandra have a chat, and Kassandra explains to Layla that neither the Assassins nor the Templars can win, for each balances the other in keeping the world safe. She also reveals that Layla was prophesied as the one to bring balance to the world. She gives up the magical staff and quickly dies in the arms of a stunned Layla. After this, Layla decides to go back into the Animus to learn more about the staff, Kassandra, and the prophecy.
Shortly after Kassandra’s death and after Layla spends more time in her memories, Layla encounters a hologram of Aletheia, an Isu who long ago was one of the leaders of Atlantis. Aletheia was the one who instructed Kassandra to hold onto the staff and to give it to Layla, who she referred to as the “Heir of Memories.” After leaving the Animus, Layla begins hearing Aletheia’s voice from the staff. She instructs Layla to unlock the Great Seal to Atlantis.
During this process, Layla’s behavior changes, becoming more aggressive, and her friends warn her about pushing forward with Aletheia’s instructions. Layla ignores them. Eventually, after a small attack by Abstergo, Layla and her team successfully unlock the Great Seal to Atlantis and inside find a holographic Aletheia, who explains that in the past she had helped Kassandra explore simulations of Atlantis, to help Kassandra learn how to wield the magical staff. Aletheia suggests that Layla relive these memories of Kassandra using the Animus, so she too can learn how to unlock the full power of the staff.
After spending more time with the staff and Kassandra’s Atlantis memories, Layla becomes even more aggressive. Her friend, Victoria, fearful of the changes and aggression, pulls her out of the Animus’ simulation. Out of anger and frustration, Layla accidentally uses the staff to kill Victoria, causing Aletheia to question if Layla was truly the Heir of Memories or if this was all a mistake. Eventually, Layla convinces Aletheia to allow her to continue learning more about the staff, Atlantis, and the Isu, and she goes back into Kassandra’s memories.
Not long after Layla had completed the memories, longtime Abstergo/Templar baddie Osto Berg appears to try to get the staff for Abstergo. (We don’t have enough time to fully explain his whole thing. Short story: He is a long time Templar mercenary who works with them because they helped save his daughter’s life from a deadly disease.) Layla tries to explain how the staff, in the right hands, could help his daughter. Berg grows angry with Layla, and the two tussle, eventually leading to Layla stabbing Berg and leaving him to die. (Or maybe he didn’t die… we aren’t sure yet.) After beating Berg, Layla spends a moment with the body of Victoria, her friend, and then uses her dead friend’s headset to contact the rest of her team and explain what has happened and that she needs to be extracted.
All that leads us to the beginning of Valhalla, where Layla’s old crew has ditched her after she killed Victoria. Now, Layla is working with Desmond’s crew of Assassins to figure out why the Earth is having massive magnetic field problems. Things are getting so bad that satellites are starting to fail, power grids are going down, and the Aurora Borealis is visible around the world, which is pretty, but also not natural.
She still has the staff, but it is now safely locked away in a portable case. Layla and her team have received some odd communications that point towards a dead Viking as the possible solution to the Earth’s problems. So, using her custom Animus, she uses the dead warrior’s DNA and begins exploring the memories of another hero from the past, hoping to find a solution to save the future.
That’s a lot, and it’s really a skimming of what has happened in the last few games. I’ve included a ton of links for those who want to read up on more of the details. But this should be enough to get most players up to speed on the wild and strange modern-day narrative that Assassin’s Creed has been telling for over a decade.
Or you can just ignore that stuff and focus on the standalone stories told in each game’s historical sections. That’s probably the easier way to play these games.
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)