If you’re a member of Team Xbox, writes Frew Murdoch, you would have loved rAge Expo 2018. rAge is South Africa’s biggest annual video gaming, computer, technology and geek culture exhibition, and this year, Xbox was a star of the show.
Without a doubt, Xbox dominated rAge as one of the most memorable stands with the largest floor space and most games available to play. Xbox pulled out all the stops and even had a McLaren on display to promote the new Forza Horizon 4.
They organised an impressive Fortnite festival with roughly 40 Fortnite gamers arranged into rows facing two broadcast screens on a large central pillar. Running alongside the Fortnite festival were two long rectangular stands which were divided into several testing stations for the demos of the latest in Xbox One games.
It was at one of these demo stations that I discovered the title that takes the number one spot on my gaming wish list: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
A bit of background
I’ve been a fan of the Assassin’s Creed saga since Assassin’s Creed II came out on Xbox 360 in 2009. If you’re not familiar with the Assassin’s Creed story, here’s a brief synopsis. The Assassin’s Creed series focuses on the struggle between two conflicting orders, the Assassins and the Templars.
The Assassins look to protect free will, while the Templars feel that humans must be controlled, and strive for order. This conflict in ideologies has led to the ongoing secret war between the two orders, which has stretched over the course of history, back to ancient times. This is where the latest installment in the saga, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey comes in.
Ubisoft Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is available to play on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Microsoft Windows and the game moves between two timelines – as it does in most of the Assassin’s Creed games. The timeline in the past is set in 431 BCE recounting the hidden history of the Peloponnesian War, fought between the city-states of ancient Greece, whereas the modern-day timeline follows Layla Hassan, who was introduced in the previous installment of Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Creed Origins. The setting of ancient Greece was a huge drawcard for me as I grew up loving the legends and stories of Greek mythology. With this passion underlying my excitement, I didn’t hesitate to get in the queue to test out the game. What I found absolutely blew my mind.
Assassin’s Creed Gameplay
Starting the game, I found myself watching a cinematic sequence showing King Leonidas of Sparta as he looks over a cliff at the ocean below and converses with fellow warrior, Dienekes. The vibrant colours of this sequence struck me. It seemed to allude to the magnificence of the Gods. The red of King Leonidas’ cape and of Dienekes’ headdress were eye-catching and the detail of their armour was incredible. I could even clearly see the veins and rippling muscles of the king’s arms, and the shimmers as light reflected off his helmet. The sequence continues with the king leading the Spartans in an attack against the Persians and ends with some impressive spear work and killing by the king. This is where the player gameplay began – in the middle of a war.
The developers threw players straight into the deep end. As you run around a war scene with your Spartan army fighting Persians left, right and centre, brief tutorial subtitles appear on screen guiding you as to how to attack and parry. Your aim is to use these moves to kill as many Persians as you can, ranging from the easier-to-kill soldiers to the large brutes who require a bit more dodging and more powerful, charged-up attacks. After you’ve killed enough Persians, the cinematic sequence continues and we see a close up of the Spear of Leonidas.
Following the closure of this scene, the gamer gets to choose between one of two protagonists. For the first time in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, you can choose which hero to play throughout this epic journey, Alexios or Kassandra. Definitely, a bonus of the game.
I chose Kassandra, and was pleasantly surprised and pleased to see that I could create my own personal and unique story. I had to think and make decisions and choices, and these decisions have consequences later on in the game. Another surprising factor was the introduction of dialogue choices. In cinematic sequences, I could choose how I want to respond, shaping my story. I could choose to respond to other characters in a firm and “cut-the-bull” way, or I could respond with compassion and kindness. These approaches result in changes in the outcome of the story. Who doesn’t like to be the main player in their own story?
This gaming experience got me eager to buy the game and find out more about the grand-scale action-packed odyssey created for us by Ubisoft.
Fortuitously, rAge Expo had lined up a presentation about the title featuring Assassin’s Creed Odyssey scriptwriter, Daniel Bingham. Bingham flew in from overseas to speak about the launch of Ubisoft’s creation, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: A bit about the storytelling process
As a child, Bingham loved videogames and also loved telling stories. He studied film writing at university and later was inspired by the game, The Last of Us, which had elaborate storytelling and unheard-of character development. For Bingham, this game planted the idea that video games were the perfect medium through which to tell stories. After graduation, Bingham hopped on board with the Assassin’s Creed team and helped to create the latest installment of the franchise.
With the storytelling process having been complicated by dialogue and player selection in the latest game, the audience were interested to know how difficult it is to write and account for these different branches and directions of the game.
“I had to relearn how to write essentially,” Bingham explained. “You tell a story, or write a story, and it always has a beginning, middle and end but now, it’s an open world. You can complete the quest before you even meet the quest giver.
“I had to learn how to inject the player, you guys, into the story. I was told from the very beginning by the creative director that we don’t want players to sit back and listen to the story…We wanted to put the story in the hands of the player so that you could participate.”
Bingham continued by saying that they didn’t want players to just have choices between angry reactions or neutral replies. Players can flirt, lie, do things out of the goodness of their hearts, or do things for money – the world is at their feet. This variety of actions and possible paths brings to my mind the Fable II and Fable III games where players were also given free will to commit either heroic deeds or villainous acts, yet Assassin’s Creed Odyssey seems to have taken the concept of free will to another level by exploring and allowing for the grey area between good and bad.
In addition to the player choice impacting on the storytelling process, the rich history of ancient Greece also contributed to the grandness of the game. The writers had to remain true to the history of those times, which meant the undertaking of an extensive research process. Bingham described how the team regularly consulted an onboard historian, watched documentaries and read up on all they could on the era to help inform the writing and storytelling process. The whole team consulted historic sources to prepare. Every character created in the game was shaped by these historic sources.
“In Assassin’s Creed, we like to put players right in pivotal moments in history where they get to meet amazing historical figures. You get to debate philosophy with Socrates, you get to talk medicine with Hippocrates [believed to be the Father of Medicine],” exclaimed Bingham.
This combination of fact and fiction, and the wealth of history interwoven with the fantastic is what makes Assassin’s Creed Odyssey a must-play in my books. Bingham reinforced my belief when he painted this story for the audience in response to the question of why gamers should play the game:
“Imagine you’re on your ship, the Adrestia, which is named after the Goddess of vengeance. You’re sailing with Barnabus. He’s telling you all kinds of crazy tales about the sea. You’ve got your crew who you’ve recruited throughout the world on your ship with their special skills and abilities, and then all of a sudden, you get rammed by an Athenian boat. You light your arrows on fire, your fire arrows light their ship on fire and then you get to board their ship, bring your crew with you and then you get to Sparta kick an Athenian off the boat into the water… And while you watch him try and swim back to his ship, you get to watch as a shark comes and eats him,” enthused Bingham.
Sounds like a great reason to me! The detail, history and storytelling interlaced with the beautiful colours, details and imagery of the game makes for a beautiful depiction of ancient Greece while catering to our imaginations by allowing for free will and player choices within the game. This is a game for the newbies and established gamers alike.
By Frew Murdoch