Assassin's Creed Odyssey: A Celebration of Choice
Sorrosyss, June 15th, 2018
Translated by: Stefania

As a franchise, Assassin's Creed has changed remarkably over the past decade. With each game release, different iterations and refinements have added or taken away elements, with every experiment either being praised or rebuked in kind. I am no stranger to either critical response, as I have always given my honest opinion on where I feel things are, and where they should be going as a fan. That being said, some of the changes being introduced to Odyssey are a welcome positive to me, and many of which are desired features that I have long called for, both on the forums and on ATA.

So let us start with the obvious one. Gender select. As a female gamer, this is a huge deal to me and so very welcome for all female fans. Especially when you look at how far we have come to now. If you think back to prior to the release of Assassin's Creed Unity in 2014, there was a tremendous uproar over the co-operative multiplayer mode not offering the option to play as a female character, especially when previous multiplayer modes had offered them. Now admittedly a lot of the upset was down to the fact that people were not really aware that everyone in game was technically playing Arno (a similar system was successfully used with the character Aiden in Watch Dogs), but the social media storm that followed was primarily a result from some very infamous comments about how animating female characters took a lot more work – which in turn was even more silly when you had a fully animated Elise in the game, but I digress.

In my view, female character representation within the franchise had been very limited to that point. Main female characters were often times merely cliché love interests, or simply killed off as part of the narrative. (Or in the case of Elise, both.) It was a dispiriting time for the franchise, and
whilst some players had been pushing for better female characters against “SJW” calls, this extra level of perceived sexism for Unity by the gaming media was not helping. Many cited the fact that the only female lead Assassin's Creed game was Liberation, and that this itself was only a handheld game and not a main release. Sadly, to date, we still have not had this main female lead release. (But you know, we like to compare Assassin's Creed to Marvel, and it took ten years for them to come up with a female lead movie. So you never know.)

Still, things started to change within the next year after Unity, and it became clear that Ubisoft had taken the vocal criticisms to heart, as in April 2015 we had the release of Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China, starring the fan-favorite Chinese female Assassin Shao Jun. Things did not stop there. October brought us the new Assassin's Creed comic series by Titan Comics, which also starred a female protagonist – Charlotte De La Cruz. Finally, the October 2015 release of Assassin's Creed: Syndicate really shook things up with the first playable female character in a main release, Evie Frye. She was a hugely popular character within the fanbase, and many online polls showed she was much preferred over her brother Jacob, despite being playable for far less of the content.

In 2016, we had Anastasia Nikolaevna in the Russia Chronicles game, as well as the release of the Assassin's Creed movie, which featured two strong female characters in the form of Maria and Sofia Rikkin. Following this, 2017 brought us the much acclaimed release of Assassin's Creed: Origins, which again featured an occasionally playable female character in the form of Aya, but also introduced a new Modern Day female protagonist – Layla Hassan.

Ubisoft was not sitting on its laurels elsewhere though. Nearly every release from 2015 onwards suddenly allowed the ability to play as or create a female character. These included:

  • Rainbow Six Siege
  • The Division
  • Far Cry 5
  • South Park: The Fractured But Whole
  • The Crew 2
  • Steep
  • Ghost Recon: Wildlands
  • For Honor

This new found level of inclusivity in Ubisoft releases was very welcome personally, and it therefore comes with genuine appreciation and gratitude to see my beloved Assassin's Creed, the flagship franchise, finally able to step on board to this new world of gamer choice with Odyssey. The ability to play as either Alexios or Kassandra for the entire game allows us to tailor our experience as we choose, and for players that point blank refuse to play their opposite gender – they now have the choice to not do so. It really is the best of both worlds, and the most efficient option to cater to as large an audience as possible. Some fans may feel having two protagonists will in turn lessen the strength of the quality of their characterisation, but by token can we really say that every sole protagonist was equally amazing? Some were certainly far better than others, so the quality is certainly a point of personal debate. All in all, the gender option empowers the player to experience the narrative in a way that will feel more impactful and meaningful, and having your own gender represented is the first step towards that extra level of immersion.

The next step is dialogue options. We have actually seen this once before in the franchise, if you consider the Interrogation functionality introduced in Syndicate, primarily used in the Investigation zones. Here you could choose a dialogue topic, by selecting via a different button press. It was rudimentary, but it was certainly a first pass at the concept. Now with Odyssey, things are taking on an even more real and fundamental application.

I have long held the belief that the Witcher series, the Mass Effect trilogy, and Dragon Age games have been some of the greatest experiments in RPGs. Not only do they allow you to dictate conversations as you please, but also to genuinely impact on the story in a significant fashion. In some cases, literally resolving entire plotlines by two distinctly different results. This gives rise to a massive amount of replay value, and in turn is a great thing that we will be able to explore within Odyssey as well. Being able to express our opinion on a topic, to dictate a course of action, to decide who we desire to romance – these are all expressions of player choice, and very much make the experience so much more personal to you.

Now the obvious counter to this new found freedom of choice from some fans has been citing that the Animus is set, and that you cannot have multiple endings as history cannot be changed. Well.... is that really the case? For example, is the order that you eliminated the members of the Order of the Ancients in Origins canonically correct? How do you know?

I'm not trying to be pedantic, but what we do know first hand is that Abstergo has been manipulating the software to censor data in the past. Take the
story of Assassin's Creed: Liberation. Here we literally have an example of multiple endings already present within the franchise, as it takes some hacking from Erudito to uncover the true reality of what the Animus/Helix simulation had uncovered in the historical past. Even then, you are reliant on the software to “Best Guess” what actually happened. And this is completely true of every piece of lore that happened within the Animus as well. Many characters seen within the simulations may not have ever truly existed, if a software engineer decided to completely fabricate them. It is entirely possible to fake a lot of things in the digital age alas. We honestly do not know the actual truth without actual time travel. And herein is where we bring Layla Hassan into the picture.

Many of us have speculated that her Animus will be able to time travel, and there have been some suggestions along that path from the Isu mechanisms present in Origins. But perhaps we have been looking at it all wrong. Becoming the “Chaos” that the Isu desire her to be, could literally be what they say about “Breaking the Code of Reality”. It is not actual reality. But the simulated reality. The Animus reality. I raised this in a previous article, but Layla's Animus could in theory bend the simulation rules.

As Jonathan Dumont, Creative Director, stated in an interview: "The DNA is old and imprecise, so it offers you the choice to pursue two characters”. We know from the Last Descendants novels that the Animus is capable of Extrapolated Memories, where the machine best guesses scenarios from available data. The less data available, the more fluid the accuracy could become. With that thought in mind, the actual gender of the data subject is completely open to interpretation, as well as their dialogue decisions, whom they interacted with, and finally what their true fate became. It may even provide some explanation as to why we have mythological creatures within the game, as the Animus is attempting to recreate them from purely mythical tales.

As such, here we have an in-lore explanation as to how the options of choice within Odyssey can not only happen, but also how Layla can use her version of the Animus to manipulate the data to try different paths, and to help uncover hidden truths behind the Code that may well lead her to further Pieces of Eden or encounters with the Isu.

Speaking of choices, this is an area that Ubisoft have a lot of options with as well.
I'm not going to sit here and speculate over what those Isu encounters could be too much though. After Origins, I have learned my lesson to temper my expectations when it comes to the level of First Civilization influence on the narrative, but you cannot discount the possible appearance of Eris (Discordia), who famously had an Apple of Eden as mentioned in the glyphs of Assassin's Creed II. Another of course could be Neptune (Poseidon), whom we saw with his Trident on a statue outside of the Monteriggioni mansion. As the beloved deity of Atlantis, it would not be a surprise with all of the water content to the world map to find it as a hidden Isu vault below the sea. His Trident has been covered in the Last Descendants novels though. Origins gave us a glimpse of statues of both Diana and Venus (Aphrodite), the former of which briefly appeared in The Fall comics long ago. If ever there was a game for these lesser known Isu to appear then this would be it. Finally, the Trojan War of mythology heavily involves Juno and Minerva, so a further appearance by both should not be discounted. Perhaps this actually was the Great War of Unification that Consus spoke of, that had originated from a presumed huge divide amongst the Isu. Hephaestus made a great many weapons for this war, so it would not be a surprise to see some new iterations in the Odyssey story either, one of which may well be the Spear wielded by our historical protagonist.

Anyway, ultimately though - yes, one version of events would have been correct canonically, but I'm not sure it is that important in the grand scheme of things if it gets the Present Day to where it needs to be, and ultimately opens up history to a whole new level of immersive storytelling. This time you will get to choose the path of the story, rather than everything being set and linear. And honestly, that's going to feel so fresh and exciting as an Assassin's Creed experience. This embrace of some of the more intricate RPG mechanics of the genre will add a great layer of depth to the series, and I cannot wait to see how this all plays it as you have to live with the narrative decisions that you make. If nothing else, it will make the replay value of the game even more enticing.

Frankly, I am supremely impressed by Ubisoft for attempting to push the franchise in this bold and intricate RPG direction. Player choice and inclusivity should always be celebrated, and according to many surveys it is something that players firmly want to see more of in the products that they buy.

Elsewhere in the gaming industry, I was actually very encouraged by what I saw recently in the Battlefield V announcement that involved adding female characters to that franchise. EA/Dice stood fast on the small but vocal criticism, and repeatedly stated that player choice is how things are going to be going forwards – as the number of female gamers continues to rise. I feel this is the best approach for Ubisoft too. If these kind of options, such as gender select, become the normality instead of the exception, then acceptance will surely come faster to the majority.

Ultimately, for every single sexist/misogynist/racist that threatens to walk away from a franchise, hopefully there will be multiple newer (and female) fans to replace them. Inclusion is also a good business practice at the end of the day. Case in point, I have never played a Battlefield game in my life. But the recent focus on female characters makes me feel like it as an IP that I can identify my gender within, and be welcomed into it. As such I may well consider buying Battlefield V. Assassin's Creed following this positive industry example can be no bad thing in my mind.

That being said, Ubisoft would be advised to review their marketing for Odyssey. For example, the vast majority of the officially released screenshots were of purely Alexios, with Kassandra somewhat absent by comparison. Plus fans have noticed that the main game cover only depicts Alexios too. This is a somewhat disappointing way to acknowledge the gender choice present in the game, especially when Syndicate had both of its protagonists on its cover.

Ultimately, we will see how this grand Odyssey experiment pans out with the release. Many are cautious that we are again entering a period with no actual Assassins, but we shall see where the story takes us. I believe even Ubisoft knows that Odyssey's sales will struggle going up against a juggernaut like Red Dead Redemption 2 in October, so it would be foolhardy to instantly assume the changes made are what would be to blame for any sales drop versus Origin's retail success. Franchise fatigue is often cited by many fans as well, being that we only ended Origins' post release
content a matter of months ago. But certainly the feedback they on the new choice functionalities will be fed into the usual post game surveys. I happen to believe this will prove extremely popular amongst the casual fanbase.

As a final thought, for the next release they could even take the customization of the historical protagonist even further. Mass Effect had a 'default' appearance for the main character Shepard, and this was what was used throughout marketing. But in the end players again had the choice to create a character as a reflection of themselves with a full on customization option. For Assassin's Creed, what your avatar actually appears as within the simulation makes no difference if only you – the player – perceive it. We have several examples of this already too, such as the way you could play as Desmond or Raiden with skins in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, or the multiple Avatar characters usable in the multiplayer modes. If we can ultimately reflect our gender, race, and sexuality onto the game character that represents us, then there can be no stronger level of immersion to the storytelling. Through the power of choice, Odyssey is a strong step towards this reality - and I am most thankful for this new creative direction.

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