Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, released earlier this week, has some wild, strange, and magical elements in it. But while it might contain witches and impossible future technology, I draw the line at a specific inclusion. I won’t ride the giant wolf, Ubisoft. I won’t do it.
In Valhalla, players have access to a horse, allowing them to travel around the world quickly. But players who purchased the Ultimate Edition get a bunch of bonuses. Most of these cosmetics aren’t that exciting, with one exception. If you are willing and able to drop $120 on Valhalla, Ubisoft will reward you with a giant wolf that can replace your horse. The keyword in that last sentence is “can.” You see, you have a choice to use the giant wolf as your mount, and last time I looked this isn’t World of Warcraft or some fantasy RPG. This is Assassin’s Creed. This is history…sort of.
I’ll admit, that the Assassin’s Creed franchise has always included some strange and ahistorical elements. Even the first game had futuristic artifacts with powers so advanced they seemed magical. Later games have continued to add more strange artifacts and even legendary creatures, like cyclopes (yes, that is the plural of “cyclops”). So it might seem peculiar that I draw the line here, at big wolves. And sure, my colleague Ari, along with many others online, have all decided to use the wolf as their mount. But, I’m not alone on team #AntiBigWolf. My boss, Kotaku’s Editor In Chief, is also choosing to abstain from riding the big dog.
This might seem like a weird line in the sand, but hear me out. The thing is, even as the franchise has added more mystical and fantastical bits and bobs, I’ve always been able to figure out a way to make it work in my head. Sure, in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey you can fight a minotaur. But maybe that was just a story that was told so much it became a memory. Remember, the way these games work is through the Animus, itself a bizarre piece of science that is more magical than logical. The Animus uses DNA from past people to present users with their DNA memories. (It doesn’t really make sense.) Memories aren’t perfect. In fact, in this latest game, you can choose between a male or female Eivor because the Animus doesn’t actually know the historical Eivor’s sex. So a myth someone heard their whole lives, something that might have appeared in their dreams even, could contaminate their DNA memory.
But a big wolf that someone rode for years, using it to help fight wars and save people, something thousands of other people saw, seems too much of a stretch. The Animus might not be perfect, but it’s not that bad at getting the facts right.
And even outside the lore implications of using a giant wolf, I just feel strange picking it. Eivor is often written as a real person, with hopes, dreams, desires, and fears. Her crew is similar, with their own problems, loves, and goals. These feel like real people. I care about this world and these folks. The idea of shoving a giant wolf in there seems wrong like I’m spoiling a great movie. It would be as if someone added a giant rabbit into some scenes in Gladiator. It would spoil the whole thing and make you go “Wait, why is there a giant rabbit in this scene?” Or at least it would make me think that.
Now, if you don’t mind sticking odd, out-of-place elements into a game, then be my guest. Pick the wolf as your mount and enjoy it. I hope you have a great time. But just know that any time I see screenshots of people using the wolf I shake my head a bit.