Post Script

How ea­gles, tow­ers and photo ed­i­tors point to a kinder, less suf­fo­cat­ing open world


One As­sas­sin’s Creed sta­ple Ubisoft has sought to down­play in re­cent years is the syn­chro­ni­sa­tion tower. Once upon a time, you’d scale these to clear the map’s fog of war and high­light nearby mis­sions on the HUD, in a re­cur­rent act of con­quest by which ‘liv­ing, breath­ing’ ex­oti­cised worlds are re­vealed for piles of dis­pos­able re­sources. Syn­chro­ni­sa­tion points still ex­ist in Odyssey, but they are rel­a­tively mod­est in stature and now serve only as fast-travel points that grad­u­ally en­hance the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of your ea­gle ally, Ikaros.

Their map-re­veal­ing prop­er­ties aside, the old tow­ers were a means of ris­ing above a realm of ex­haust­ing busy­work in which you were un­der con­stant sur­veil­lance. While stand­ing on a syn­chro­ni­sa­tion point in, say, As­sas­sin’s Creed II, you are tem­po­rar­ily free of the swirling, watch­ful NPC crowds, the en­velop­ing seethe of icons and way­points, the con­tex­tual HUD’s in­vi­ta­tions to steal from or kill the peo­ple at your el­bow. The tow­ers were, in a way, at­tempts to tran­scend the game’s struc­ture from within – ac­cord­ing to series co-cre­ator Pa­trice Désilets, they were in­spired by a wish to blur the di­vide be­tween avatar and player in the act of es­cap­ing up­ward.

As in Ori­gins, Odyssey’s ea­gle com­pan­ion is ef­fec­tively the gate­way to an en­tirely dif­fer­ent game, a leisurely un­wind­ing of the land­scape in a sound­less calm. The ea­gle is tech­ni­cally just a tac­ti­cal aid through which to size up an area’s lay­out and high­light en­e­mies, but you can fly any dis­tance from your char­ac­ter with no penalty, and in a world newly en­cum­bered with lev­el­ling thresh­olds, the temp­ta­tion to head for the hori­zon is hard to re­sist.

With no mis­sions to dis­tract you, you’re free to cre­ate your own fun: work­ing out the ex­act height at which the game ceases to ren­der pedes­tri­ans or pots, for ex­am­ple. The ea­gle be­comes a cu­ri­ous means of op­er­at­ing upon the sim­u­la­tion, peel­ing apart lay­ers of die­ge­sis and mime­sis. It also makes more ob­vi­ous Odyssey’s deft com­pro­mises be­tween ar­chae­ol­ogy and game de­sign, the shoring of the ru­ins of Korinth, Athens and Ar­gos against the fa­mil­iar Ubi­world frame­work of for­ti­fied tac­ti­cal puz­zle-boxes. Many of Ubisoft’s other open-world games of­fer their own equiv­a­lents. Ghost Re­con: Wild­lands has its drones, for ex­am­ple – a more lim­ited and clin­i­cal in­stru­ment of re­con­nais­sance, but one whose very lim­i­ta­tions can be provoca­tive. Videogame ar­chi­tec­ture web­site Hetero­topias has de­voted a pho­to­graph es­say to the sim­u­lated break­down of the drone feed at max­i­mum range, turn­ing this into a visual cri­tique of the game’s im­pe­ri­al­ist ten­den­cies.

What the ea­gle does for Odyssey at the level of city walls and moun­tain ranges, the game’s photo editor does at the level of the street cor­ner. Strip­ping away the UI, it al­lows you to zoom, tilt and edit the view as you see fit – a re­prieve from the bom­bard­ment of cues, re­source in­di­ca­tors and ob­jec­tive mark­ers, and an op­por­tu­nity to in­ves­ti­gate de­tails that the game’s pri­mary verbs (killing peo­ple or rob­bing them) en­cour­age you to dis­re­gard. It makes the pop­u­la­tion seem a lit­tle more hu­man. Towns­folk typ­i­cally look to­ward the player’s char­ac­ter en masse as you ap­proach, like pos­sessed vil­lagers in some back­woods ’60s hor­ror film. Care of the photo editor, you are able to watch them with­out be­ing stared at in turn, pick­ing up on de­tails like the worn clay bowl held in a guard cap­tain’s fin­gers.

De­tach­ing cam­era from player avatar also helps re­veal Kassandra and Alex­ios for the sleep­less preda­tors they are, each stand­ing by de­fault with one foot for­ward, tor­sos tilted ag­gres­sively, al­ways on the brink of launch­ing them­selves up a wall or into a combo. These al­ter­na­tive ways of see­ing the world sug­gest a series that is, on some level, strain­ing to over­come the dead­en­ing bru­tal­ity of its own core mech­a­nisms, and find other ways of en­gag­ing with, and liv­ing within, the ma­jes­tic land­scapes it cre­ates for you.

Naval bat­tles are much as in pre­vi­ous games – you brace to min­imise dam­age, ram into op­po­nents to cre­ate weak points and pep­per tar­gets with ar­rows be­fore board­ing them

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