Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey takes players to the beautiful, lush landscapes of the Greek islands. We spoke with Dan Bingham, scriptwriter, to find out what to expect from the latest game from Ubisoft Quebec.
It’s easy to lose count of how many Assassin’s Creed games have been released into the wild across all formats – this one is the 11th main console entry in the franchise. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey lets players take on the role of either Alexios or Kassandra in Ancient Greece, siding with either the Spartans or the Athenians. Ancient Greece, alongside Rome and Egypt (explored in last year’s acclaimed Assassin’s Creed: Origins) have long become speculated eras for the series to visit. To date the console games have explored the Third Crusade, Renaissance Italy, the American and French Revolutions, pirates and even Britain’s 19th century Industrial Revolution. But with so much political intrigue, deceit, usurpation and powermongering in the world of the Ancient civilisations, the many poleis or states of Ancient Greece and its rich tapestries of mythology seem a perfect fit for the game. But with approximately 350 years of history to choose from, how did the team select the period the game is set in?
“As with every Assassin’s Creed title, we wanted to send our players to a pivotal point in human history, while bringing a beautiful world to life for them to explore and get lost in,” offers Dan Bingham. “We also wanted the best possible setting to tell the story of how the First Civilization bloodline would eventually spark the conflict between order and free will. This made Ancient Greece, specifically 431 BCE, the perfect setting for Odyssey. It was a time of conflict on all fronts: you had mortals in conflict with the gods; the rise of rational thinking vs. mythology; democracy vs. tyranny; and of course it was smack in the middle of the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens.
“During this time, much of Greece was a battlefield, providing players with incredibly fun gameplay opportunities, but it was also one of the most beautiful locations in the world, offering players a wide variety of environments to explore.”
As with all Assassin’s Creed games, the fiction intertwines with historical events and figures of the period: some drawn from more academic sources to add credence to plot lines, while others are familiar as household names. Odyssey is no different and there are instantly recognisable names (if not faces) that players will come across in their journey.
“What Assassin’s Creed story would be complete without the historical figures who helped shape the world in which we live today? Ancient Greece and the Golden Age of Athens was no exception, as it hosted influential figures likes Pericles, the bold general who took the first steps towards democracy. Hippocrates, who laid the foundations of modern medicine. And of course Socrates, whose rational thinking would change the world, even if he did make people want to punch him in the face.”
Greek mythology is a set of stories based around the gods, rituals and mythical beasts that the Ancient Greeks told, and it continues to intrigue scholars to this day. Its influence is far reaching across film, literature and indeed video games; God of War Spartan: Total Warrior, Zeus: Master of Olympus and Altered Beast to name a few.
If you caught the Odyssey gameplay from Germany’s Gamescom back in August, you’ll have noticed a certain serpent-headed mistress in the fray, and Bingham assures us she won’t be the only mythologic presence making her mark in Greece.
“Myths and monsters definitely influenced the imaginations of Greeks at the time, and we wanted to bring some of these myths to life in a way that grounded them within the world of Assassin’s Creed. If you watched our Gamescom walkthrough video you’d have got a sense of how we’ve handled this by bringing Medusa to life.”
Though Bingham joined the project once work had begun on the game, he tells us that early in development, teams were dispatched to Greece to capture the aesthetic and architecture with film and photography, and were also briefed on Ancient Greece by experts in order to conduct proper research for the setting of the game.
“They were guided by specialists where they became acquainted with the topography and history of some of Greece’s most remarkable sites. Then they strengthened their knowledge with research carried out by various archaeological schools who conducted excavations.”
When Bingham did eventually come on board he threw himself in the deep end, absorbing as much information as he could as quickly as he could. “I got my hands on as much contemporary and ancient books as I could. My first month on the project was being a sponge for all things Ancient Greece, reading everything I could, watching documentaries, all before writing a single word of dialogue.”
The game’s two playable characters, Kassandra and Alexios, are Spartans by birth, but have no allegiances to the cause. This allows players to choose for themselves, and directly impact specific questlines.
“They have built a life for themselves as a mercenary, which allows the player to fight alongside Athenians or Spartans. When a military general offers drachmae (Greek money) for their sword, they are free to say yes or no.”
Finally, as the scriptwriter on the game, Bingham made it his mission to ensure that he went to every length possible to get the most authentic Ancient Greek experience for the players of the game; and this even included humour.
“[Our historian is] Stephanie-Anne Ruatta; she has a PHD in Classics with a specialisation in Ancient History. I consulted with her on every single quest I wrote, making sure my stories were as authentically steeped in Greek history as possible. As a former standup comedian, it was definitely an eye-opening experience to have my jokes fact-checked by a historian.”