We published the first part of a review of Assassin’s Creed: Origins in our last week’s blog, and the Nile Scribes have reinvited Emily Hotton to tell us about one of the more unique elements of the game, the Discovery Tour, which was unveiled by Ubisoft only a few months ago.
Guest Scribe: Emily Hotton
In the first part of my game review, I wrote about the parts of the main storyline and general gameplay of Assassin’s Creed: Origins that I had enjoyed immensely. However, the indisputable highlight of the game came in the form of a free feature, which was added in an automatic update on February 20, 2018: the Discovery Tour mode. The Discovery Tour allows you to explore the playable map of Origins without combat and with the aid of 75 narrated walking tours. These tours – under such categories as Egypt or Alexandria – guide you from station to station, while the narrator delves into the topic of choice for anywhere between five to twenty-five minutes. Usually, images of art, models, and archaeological reports from museums and libraries (these are cited at the top for reference) supplement each station.
First Tour: Alexandria
The first tour is the technical “tutorial” of the feature. The player is guided through the massive, Hellenistic city of Alexandria, while the game informs you about the technicalities of the planning and excavation of the city named after Alexander the Great. After this short tour, the player is immediately given free reign of the 74 remaining tours and 25 playable characters, which include figures such as Cleopatra VII, Julius Caesar, and Ptolemy XIII. It is worthy to note that all Bayek’s parkouring and gymnastic powers from the main game are transferred to these characters, which is quite amusing, when you elect to climb to the top of Khufu’s great pyramid (which you shouldn’t do in real life) as a six-year-old girl (just because you can).
Daily Life & Pyramids
Once released from the mandatory tutorial, I immediately jumped into the Daily Life and Pyramids categories. These tours take place across the playable map, from the grand pyramids of Giza to small agricultural outposts along the streams of the Nile Delta. I particularly enjoyed the Daily Life tours. The study and presentation of ancient Egypt in popular media usually emphasises only a small portion of the history and culture – the lives of the royalty and elite classes. While I am also a fan of pharaohs and their queens (I did extensive research on royal women and the concept of divine queenship, myself), too often the common people and every day topics are overlooked.
Bread and Beer – ancient Egypt’s staples
The Bread and Beer tour (bread and beer, made from barley or emmer wheat, were the staples of the ancient Egyptian diet) was supplemented with a plethora of images, models, and artefacts. Not only was it fascinating to see a rendering of what an ancient Egyptian brewery and bakery could look like, and how they may have operated, the tour itself was very informative. It gave great insight into the lengths the developers went to depict as accurate a portrayal of ancient Egyptian life as possible.
For example, the developers portrayed how sand inevitably made its way into food by adding toothache animations (as the sand would prematurely wear down their teeth) and by showing commoners brushing sand off themselves. These small, insignificant details would be missed by most players as they dash around Egypt dishing out their vigilante justice, and yet were still conceptualised and added by the developers nevertheless. To me, this shows their dedication and passion for the material.
Isis or Iset – Greek or Egyptian?
Another topic the developers skirted around quite obviously was the name of the prominent and well-known goddess Isis. Rather than calling her by her most widely-used designation today, they instead opt to call her Iset—her Egyptian name. Isis was a very prominent goddess early on in Egyptian history, the wife of Osiris, and the mother of Horus. She was a central figure in the three-part story of the Osirian Myth, which chronicles an ancient struggle for power over Egypt between Seth, the god of chaos, and his nephew, and the ultimate victor, Horus, the god of kingship. She became known as Isis during the Hellenistic era, and we continue to use the Greek form of her name today, something that is true of many other Egyptian kings and deities, such as Cheops or Anubis. While I understand why they decided to to call her Iset rather than Isis, she was called Isis long before the troubles of the modern world.
In the many tours I completed, I found no obvious discrepancies or issues with the content. I did, however, notice how very carefully the developers were when describing all subjects. Much of what is known of ancient Egyptian history and culture has been pieced together over the course of the last two hundred years or so; much remains speculative. The narrators were very careful in this sense. One example comes to mind, when touring Khufu’s funerary complex in Giza. While passing the three satellite pyramids of the queens, Queen Hetepheres, Khufu’s mother, is described as someone “who is believed to be Khufu’s mother” though this is something that is largely accepted by the Egyptology community. I imagine they opted to avoid scrutiny of any kind and threw “allegedly” in wherever they deemed necessary, and their caution was an admirable choice.
Though the tours themselves, the content, and their execution are fantastic, the most amazing part of the Discovery Tour is the evident passion and dedication the developers had towards their project. They consulted an army of Egyptologists to perfect every detail, and while the main plot is somewhat fantastical, the reality they poured into their depiction of everyday life and the history of ancient Egypt is outstanding. And, never before have I seen a video game go so above and beyond as to create a non-combat, free-play version of their game just for educational purposes.
When I first started the Discovery Tour, read the above screenshot, and perused the menu of tours, I admittedly got a little emotional. I had an indescribable sense of gratitude and love – gratitude that I could walk through the pyramids, the temples, the fields of reeds, and the arable soil of the black lands (even as a game character) in my own living room. Gratitude that something so near and dear to my heart, my passion, was the subject of their breathtaking adaptation. And gratitude that people like me, who have loved and studied ancient Egypt, have brought this adaptation out to the contemporary audience to display its true greatness for all to see.
Emily Hotton has a Master of Arts in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations from the University of Toronto. She works in Student Life at the University of Toronto, is an avid video game player, and has volunteered at the Royal Ontario Museum. In 2016, she presented her research paper, “Divine Queenships and its Development in Dynasty I-VI” at the NMCGSA’s 20th Annual Graduate Students’ Symposium.