After playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’ Discovery Tour for a while, I went for a long walk and I began to daydream.
My fancies were about the beauty and wonder of the ancient Greece I’d encountered in Ubisoft’s new release; an educational addition to its historical combat game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. It seemed to me that the game had succeeded, because it inspired me to spend time thinking about history and my place in it, as opposed to merely taking on board a little more information about that particular world.
I wondered what it would be like if our society decided to dedicate a tiny proportion of its wealth to creating more and better products like Discovery Tour. What might our children become, if we encouraged them (and ourselves) to spend time deep inside the lessons of history, science, ethics and humanity, instead of skating above them aboard textbooks?
Education is often, unfortunately, a bit of a chore. Books (a format that I revere) must work very hard to grab the attention of today’s reader. But games like Discovery Tour aren’t merely picturesque diversions about the ways of people who are long dead. They are joyful journeys into useful knowledge.
Any child let loose on this game for a few hours is going to come away with as solid an understanding of ancient Greece as might be gained from an expensive semester in university. This is the magic of walking through a colorful world, seeing what we believe history was like in action. These lessons aren’t so much “learned” as inhaled.
Of course, we’ve had educational games for decades. But they are often poorly funded, and of dubious entertainment value. The difference with Discovery Tour is that it is built on a lavishly budgeted videogame, in which the world of ancient Greece was superbly researched, written, painted, animated and populated.
This is much, much more than a set of interactive index cards, interspersed with images and voice-overs. It’s a look at a real world where people walk around, dogs bark, buskers play songs, birds flutter about, the wind troubles trees, waves sing along sandy beaches.
This living version of ancient Greece is smaller than the real thing, but it includes a sense of the place, its landmarks, and a series of teachers ready to walk me through its mysteries.
I take on the role of a character from the original game. The default is the original game’s misthios Kassandra, but I unlock new characters as I travel the world. I find myself most comfortable in the guise of the child Phoebe.
She can run, climb, ride a horse and sail around Greece, which encompasses many islands of startling variety, as well as disparate locations including cities, temples, islands, quarries, ports, forests and mountains. I am free to poke around to my heart’s content. Or I can choose to be immediately transported to famous locations, like the Acropolis.
At these locations, Phoebe meets a guide, who is generally a famous person from that time. My guide for a tour of the Acropolis is Aspasia, the wily partner of Athenian leader Pericles. After an introduction, Aspasia invites me to follow a pathway, with various stops along the way, where I gaze up at statues and buildings, as they likely looked 23 centuries ago. These stops trigger short vignettes that explain the thing I’m looking at. I’m also offered optional extra information in the form of text and images.
At the end of the tour, Aspasia greets me again. I can ask her to quiz me on the information I’ve learned. The quizzes are appropriately straightforward, aimed at students of all ages.
Discovery Tour isn’t merely interested in the great buildings of the past. I can also tour a family home. I can familiarize myself with the economic management of Athens’ port Piraeus. I can hang out with Socrates and get a primer on his grand philosophies.
It all adds up to a magical tour of a time and place that previous generations only saw through stuffy textbooks, or poorly researched (but fun) movies. Discovery Tour melds together solid research with a Hollywood sense of the spectacular, and of engaging storytelling.
I’ve loved ancient Greece all my life. I’ve read many books on the subject, and once spent a month traveling around Attica and the Peloponnese. I’m impressed with Discovery Tour’s ability to retain my attention and to teach me new lessons. It’s left me understanding more about the ancient Greeks, but also wishing that we lived in a world where products like these, on every subject imaginable, were freely available to everyone.
As it is, Discovery Tour is a rarity; an educational game with sumptuous production values and the heart of a genuine teacher. It’s available for free, from today, to anyone who owns Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. As a PC standalone product, it costs $19.99
Assassin’s Creed Discovery Tour is available now on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. The game was reviewed on PC using a final “retail” download code provided by Ubisoft. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.