Between the rideable wolves, anime references, and random American baseball players, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is full of surprises. But the biggest surprise, without question, comes at the end. Two of us (staff writer Ari Notis and weekend editor Zack Zweizen, who also reviewed the game for Kotaku) have finally completed the main narrative of Ubisoft’s latest mega-game. We couldn’t help but talk it out.
Ari Notis: Zack, my fellow viking in arms! By now, we’ve both completed the Hordafylke region of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which, for all intents and purposes, is the final narratively consequential act of the game. I have but one question: What in Helheim just happened?
Zack Zwiezen: It’s uh...a wild and strange ending, isn’t it? And I guess we should give a heads up: We are totally going to spoil this game’s ending and all the stuff connected to it. If you haven’t yet, go finish the game first and then come back. It should only take you around 50 to 70 hours or so.
Ari: That’s if you sprint. My endgame hour count was more than 82 hours!
Zack: True! Regardless, beat the game and come back here afterwards. Now, about that ending…
Zack: Wow. Bonkers shit. And what’s even more wild is that Ubisoft just assumes you’ve played a bunch of the previous games and understand what’s going on. I forget, Ari, are you a big Assassin’s Creed fan? Or is this one of your first *raises eyebrows* STABS at the series.
Ari: I’m ignoring that pun and telling you that I’ve played every mainline game, and made it to the credits for all but Odyssey. So, definitely a fan, but not quite a diehard. How about you? With due respect to Stephen (sorry, boss!), you’re Kotaku’s in-house Assassin’s Creed expert, right?
Zack: Don’t say that too loudly or it might stick. But yes, I’ve been a big fan of the series since the first game and have played all the games, even some of the mobile spin-offs and side games. Yet even I wasn’t prepared for how wild the ending of this game is and what happens. Assassin’s Creed games have often ended with modern day shenanigans and sci-fi action, but this is the most batshit ending yet.
Ari: It’s utterly batshit! Okay, let me see if I have this right, because there are two interwoven storylines, and both of them are bananas. On the one hand, you have Sigurd and Eivor heading back to Norway, where they uncover an Isu temple, plug themselves into a Matrix-style machine (which looks super painful, by the way), and then reappear in… actual Valhalla? Odin’s Hall? Is it the real place or a simulation?
Zack: It’s a simulation of a past super civilization’s world, from what I understand. That sentence, I swear, makes sense. So yeah, Sigurd, Eivor’s brother goes mad and eventually drags you, along with Basim, to a strange cave in Norway, where you open up a large Isu temple that is buried underground and in there is a strange machine that works similarly to the Animus, allowing you to connect to a shared simulation. (It also looks a lot like the Animus seen in the Assassin’s Creed movie... oddly enough.)
Ari: Wait, did Sigurd invite Basim the whole time? That tripped me up, too—like, where the hell did he come from? Did he take his own boat? Was it a surprise attack? Surely, Eivor would’ve noticed some weird guy with a limp beard riding on her longship for weeks.
Zack: I assume he invited Basim? Or maybe Basim knew where he was going. Point is, he’s there and he fights you, Eivor, and is really mad at you. The reason is, because.. oh boy, I’m worried this isn’t making any sense as we explain it all. So here’s the big twist that isn’t actually revealed in the ending of the game, but instead revealed at the end of the Asgard questline and through a secret video you can unlock by completing environmental puzzles. A lot of the main characters in this game—like Eivor, Basim and Sigurd—are reincarnated Isu from a LONG, LONG time ago. And Basim, who is actually Loki, is not happy with you, Eivorr, who is actually Odin. But she doesn’t know that right away. Oh, and Sigurd is Tyr.
Zack: So Basim, who spends the majority of this game with Sigurd, telling him secrets and warping his mind, is actually Loki from the long-ago past, now back and getting revenge with a master plan to ultimately return and get up to no good.
Ari: Was that in the Valka questline that sends you to Asgard? I skipped that one in order to prioritize some other stuff, like the Animus Anomalies, which show that video you mentioned.
Zack: Yes. I too skipped that for a long time to finish the game. Turns out, it’s important. Wait! Did you not know this? I bet that video you get for beating all the puzzles was even more confusing!
Ubisoft / Rino (YouTube)
Ari: It was! I was beyond lost. I mean, between the Asgard quest and the Animus puzzles, those are two key events for the ending. Curious choice on Ubisoft’s part to bury them in optional activities... Anyway, we have three reincarnated deities (fine, Isu). That clarifies a bunch of the ending for me, but I’m still confused about the Eivor-Odin thing. So, all of those times Odin pops up during the main game, where he’s all like, “Do the bad thing, bad things feel good,” is that actually Eivor’s deep-rooted psyche talking?
Zack: It’s weirder! Remember, we are in the Animus, so maybe Eivorr talking to Odin is actually the Animus dealing with Isu DNA and two separate memories and trying to put it all together.
Ari: Yoooo that’s such a cool idea! My mind right now is basically that one famous GIF of the dude with the glasses with explosions going off in the background.
Zack: Anyway, so Eivor beats Basim and he gets connected into the strange machine and you talk to Sigurd about all this crazy shit. At that point he either stays or leaves, but who cares about that. (I do enjoy the narrative, but we are here to talk about the batshit wild ending to the modern day stuff.)
Ari: Yeah, I’m assuming that result is based on the choices you make throughout the game, but Sigurd sucks, so who cares if he stays or goes.
Zack: True. So anyway, fast-forward to the modern day story. Now Layla and her team of Assassins have found the location of the big temple. This is important because, well, the world is about to be destroyed by a giant magnetic force that is out of control. And that happened back at the end of Assassin’s Creed III. Desmond, remember him? He activated a powerful machine created by the Isu, back when Ubisoft didn’t call them the Isu, and in the process he both saved the world from a giant solar flare and seemingly died. That machine is still on, and the magnetic force it is generating is destroying the world. So you and your team head to where Basim is hanging around, to stop it and save the planet.
Ari: They were called Precursors back then, right? We’re talking about the same ancient beings here?
Zack: Yes. Turns out, Precursors is sort of a generic word and it seems they wanted to do something different. Or maybe some writers at Ubisoft got tired of misspelling it and went with Isu. I get it. Spelling is hard. The problem is the machine and the temple are filled with dangerous radiation caused by magnetic energy or whatever. I don’t know. Isu science stuff. The point is, the whole temple is too dangerous to enter. It would kill you in moments. Unless you had a special Isu staff that could keep you alive and protect you from all bodily harm...Ari, do you know of anyone who has a staff like that?
Ari: Layla! And here’s where the game kind of lost me, probably because, as mentioned, I didn’t actually finish Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Wasn’t that staff Kassandra’s? How’d Layla get her hands on it?
Zack: Oh Ari... so... The ending of Odyssey has Kassandra appearing, alive, and giving the staff to Layla. For folks, like Ari, who need a refresher on all of this, I wrote up a nice post going over all of this with links and screenshots!
Zack: So Layla is possession of a cool staff that, if you hold it, you can’t die. This is important: the holding part. Trust me. Layla uses this staff to survive going into the temple and turning off the machine. But, to do so, she has to go inside the strange, ancient Animus thing, the same one Basim has been connected to for a few centuries now. In the process she... drops the fucking staff. Oops!
Ari: An exercise in clumsiness, truly. And while she’s in there, she sees the same Valhalla simulation Eivor saw, tries to venture into the main hall (for bottomless mead, presumably), can’t enter, turns around, and meets some Full Metal Alchemist-looking entity named The Reader. And then the game pulls an Avengers Infinity War, right, with all those billions of possibilities. What’s up with that? Also, was that Nolan North’s voice I heard?
Zack: That was Desmond! *DRAMATIC MUSIC*
Ari: What?! How is that possible?
Zack: Alright, so, if you go back and watch the ending of Assassin’s Creed III, you might notice something familiar (see this video, at 14:17). Compare it to the orb in Valhalla (in this video, around 25:00).
Ari: Those are identical!
Zack: BINGO BANGO! Basim is tricking her right now. There is no getting out of this, at least I don’t think so. She will be stuck in the Grey, just like Desmond. He’s been in there for eight years or so and has sort of become someone else.
Ari: So, by interacting with that, Layla has condemned herself to eternity in whatever void Desmond (gonna be hard for me to come to terms with the fact that he’s “alive”) has been stuck in. That must’ve been Basim’s plan all along, but it’s another thing that tripped me up. He mentions to Layla that he’s the one who handed over info about Eivor’s grave, which kickstarts the whole game. Can you explain that one? Was that another side activity I missed?
Zack: That... I don’t know. It appears he was able to use the internet and satellites to send out a signal that would get the attention of the Assassins. He needed Layla and the staff, so he could leave the simulation he was stuck in and come out to the real world. So he lured her to him with a solution to save the world. Now how did her entering the Grey (the digital purgatory Desmond is in) magically free him? I don’t know. But that’s the other big WTF moment in this game. Basim leaves the simulation in the modern day and grabs the staff, which de-ages him and makes him healthy and alive. And then he heads back to the team, Layla sends them a message going, “Yo, I’m in here trying to help this dude figure out some shit about how to save the world from future disasters, don’t worry. I’m dead basically, but don’t worry. Peace!” Finally, he plugs into the Animus and, from then on, you play as BASIM, not Layla, inside the Animus.
Ari: And that’s more or less the end of the main story. There’s technically another region you can tackle, Hamtunscire, but it’s at Power Level 340 (far higher than the 280-290ish you beat the game at). Further, from what I understand, it’s totally optional. You mentioned to me that you beat it. I have not. Am I missing anything there, any climactic events or essential plot twists I need to know?
Zack: No. Nothing happens. You beat it, wrap up a few loose threads, some folks die, and then the game goes, “Nice job taking over England.”
Ari: If history’s any indication, beating England is a breeze, so, yeah, that sounds boring. Okay. Basim. Kind of a dick! I can’t figure out what he’s up to, if he’s a good guy, a bad guy, or if—as the series has been not-so-subtly hinting at for several games now—everyone falls into a moral gray area. All we know is that he wants to talk to William Miles, Desmond’s Clooney-esque father, and hop into the Animus…for some reason. Does Basim say what he’s looking for?
Zack: So we don’t know for sure yet. I bet the next Assassin’s Creed game or DLC might fill us in. Overall, what’s crazy to me is just how much of this goes underexplained, with Ubisoft assuming folks have played all the games. There’s even a direct Assassin’s Creed II reference in Valhalla’s Asgard scene. If you haven’t played Assassin’s Creed II or forgot about that weird scene where the Isu talk to Desmond through the Animus, you won’t get the reference at all. And Ubisoft is just, like, “Yeah, sure, whatever! Moving on.” It’s a mess. But I love it all! I don’t understand folks who want the modern day stuff removed from these games.
Ari: It’s a really strange choice! And even if everyone who played this game also played every other game—and all the mobile games, and read all the comics, and engaged with the entire extended canon—we’re talking about a decade of media here. It’s easy to forget all of the little things that Ubisoft references in Valhalla. The modern day stuff is fantastic. I just wish it made more sense! For instance, this paradox, which you might be better suited to answer, since you completed Hamtunscire. When you’re in the Animus as Basim, can you technically run into Basim as Eivor being controlled by Basim?
Zack: No. Because Basim is trapped in the temple at that point. You can, however, still do the Animus Anomalies as Basim, who has some cryptic comments about it all.
Ari: Oh, duh, I didn’t consider Basim’s poor fate. Phew! My brain probably couldn’t handle yet another twist like that.
Zack: Ultimately, I’m excited about the future of Assassin’s Creed after this batshit wild ending! Will be playing as Basim moving forward for the next few games? How will that change up the series? What are his plans? Will Desmond and Layla be back again? Will we finally learn Axehead real name? Probably not that last one, but I think, for how wild this ending is, it hooked me and I’m ready to move forward. Maybe we won’t have to wait long? The DLC could move things forward, which is what happened in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. How do you feel about the ending and what could be coming in the future?
Ari: To be honest, at first, I thought it was just a bit too out there. But then you clarified and contextualized a bunch of the more batshit stuff, and now I’m of the mind that, wait, it’s really quite brilliant. And beyond that, I’m looking forward to what the DLC—whatever it may be—will hold. That’s a sentence I never, ever, ever thought I’d type in my life. Kudos, Valhalla!
Zack: Yeah! This ending works much better if you spend hours thinking about it, reading the Assassin’s Creed wiki, and talking to someone else. So, it’s not a GOOD ending, per se. But it’s memorable and fun. And yeah, I’m excited for DLC. What a world! So maybe we will do this again in a few months after some of the DLC comes out and we’ve had some time to play it and see what’s up. Until then, I’ve got some treasure chests to unlock. Just crossed 100 hours. This game will never end. We are trapped, like Desmond. But at least we have a fun game to play instead of a dour eternity watching a dumb glowing tree and numbers.