In Assassin's Creed Valhalla (opens in new tab), you will always play as Viking warrior Eivor, but at any point you can select a female or male version of the character. After revealing the female version, Ubisoft clarified that both were canon, and thanks to a brief clip we now have a slightly better idea of how that works.
IGN recently hosted a series of Assassin's Creed Valhalla adverts (opens in new tab) with some comedians and a small amount of game footage, including a snippet from a character selection screen. Access the Animus (opens in new tab) spotted it and shared it on Twitter, leading narrative director Darby McDevitt to clarify a couple of points.
"The Animus will represent the stronger female or male memory-stream, depending on its current strength," the menu tooltip reads. "You may choose another option at any time."
McDevitt explained (opens in new tab) that the Animus decides what Eivor is canon, depending on the strength of the memory. If you stick with the default option, you'll end up playing both characters at different points. Or you can just pick whatever one you want.
This is still, honestly, a bit confusing. I've played every game in the series, but I'm completely lost when it comes to how the Animus works and basically all the modern stuff. I know it doesn't need to use someone's descendent to tap into the past now, so maybe some of the data is coming from other sources aside from genes? Like oral and written histories, perhaps. If that's the case, it might explain changes in gender. Maybe the sources aren't clear, and sometimes the accounts refer to Eivor as female, while in others they're described as male.
It's a pretty convoluted way to not have a female lead, but according to a Bloomberg report from July, minimising female protagonists is something management has pushed for before. Executives, including former chief creative officer Serge Hascoët, allegedly pressured developers into reducing the role of female characters like Syndicate's Evie and, to an even greater extent, Origins' Aya, who was originally meant to be the game's main protagonist.
Odyssey's Kassandra was, according to Ubisoft, the canon protagonist, and you could play the entirety of the game without ever playing as her brother, Alexios. The marketing certainly seemed to favour the male sibling, however, and Hascoët and others apparently said that women leads wouldn't sell, which is why Alexios was eventually added to the game; initially Kassandra was the sole lead.
The bulk of the work on Valhalla was done before the wave of firings and resignations that occurred in the aftermath of revelations about Ubisoft's toxic culture, so the fingerprints of people accused of homophobia, sexism and harassment may still linger.