As a lot of people’s mums will tell you, playing too many video games will rot your brain. That’s probably true of quite few games out there, at least if it comes the at expense of getting your homework done or if you’re playing Drawn to Death, but what if a video game could combine the two? That’s what Ubisoft are trying to do with Discovery Tour by Assassin’s Creed.
If there’s one blockbuster game series out there that’s most likely to teach you something, it’s almost certainly Assassin’s Creed. As it’s leapt from one historical setting to another, we’ve visited the time of the third crusade, explored renaissance Italy, the American and French Revolutions, Victorian London and now Ancient Egypt. While Ubisoft can naturally take liberties with certain aspects of these settings and the characters that you meet to let them tell their stories, not to mention how far you can fall and not suffer terminal injury the starting point always has to be in historical fact.
A huge amount of research goes into these games, so for Assassin’s Creed Origins and its Ancient Egyptian setting, they’ll have been looking at getting the clothing right, the size of the towns and cities, that all of the fruits on the trees were appropriate for the era, that the pyramids were realistically decayed. The list goes on and on and on, but it’s a testament to their research that just as the game released, a secret and previously undiscovered tomb was found in the Great Pyramid. That tomb was already in the game.
It’s an accuracy that has seen Assassin’s Creed be used as an example in historical studies by professors, and featured in history magazines on a handful of occasions as well. However, this was more a happy byproduct of the work that Ubisoft had done. With Assassin’s Creed Origins, they’re making a much more deliberate effort to take all of the historical research that they did and turn it into something that people can use for education.
Discover Tour is coming as a completely free update to Origins, as simply another side to the game that you can explore – alternatively, it will be up for sale separately on PC. within it are an impressive 75 tours that span all aspects of Ptolemaic Egyptian life, from exploring the daily routine of a regular Egyptian to the burial rituals of mummification, and even sharing what we know about the library of Alexandria.
Just from playing the game for even an hour, I actually learnt things about this period that I never knew before. Little tidbits about how Alexandria sought to be a central pool of all knowledge, confiscating the books that visitors had on them, copying these books by hand, and then handing the copies back to their owners while keeping the originals for themselves. The cheek! Truth be told, this is something that you can find out by looking at Wikipedia, but there’s far more nuanced little nuggets of information that Discover Tour offers up to you.
Discovery Tour takes place in the game engine, letting you pick from a board selection of character models to wander around Egypt as, whether a small child, an Abstergo employee, Bayek or even some of the antagonists in the game. You can ride animals, climb buildings, and do many of the things that are elsewhere in the game, but all of the combat and actual gameplay has been stripped out. It’s purely about exploration within this trove of history.
Taking a tour, you’re guided along a path through a location with a number of stopping points along the way for stations that will tell you something about the given topic and location. At each point, you’re given a certain viewpoint into a scene, there’s voice over text and the text to read, as well as a photographed source for this information or concept art work from the team, if that’s more appropriate.
Along the way, there are certain insights into the game’s creation as well. The Library of Alexandria, to come back to this example, famously burned down and was destroyed, with the exact timeline of its destruction still a mystery. What is in the game is merely a guess on what it would have looked like, but it’s an educated one based off contemporary libraries in Turkey that have survived the ages.
Ubisoft aren’t even forcing you to be in-game to explore the historical database they’ve created, and you can eschew the walking around in favour of digging into the audio and text through the menu. At the same time, you can teleport straight to a tour, or simply ride around and soak in the ambiance.
The one problem I can see with the entire Discovery Tour is that it’s ideally used as a teaching aid. In a blind test, with one group of students taking a standard history lesson and another group playing through the same topic with Discovery Tour, they didn’t come out of it with as good a result in the following test, but the passive learning that the game provided definitely helped them to pick up quite a lot of knowledge. How many schools have got 30-40 Xbox Ones that kids can play on for half a lesson though? And even if playing on PC, schools don’t usually have computers that are up to the task of gaming. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth – wait, that was the Greeks and not the Egyptians – but the barrier might be for Ubisoft to actually get the research they’ve done into the hands of those wanting to learn from it.
Outside of the classroom, Discovery Tour by Assassin’s Creed is shaping up to be a fantastic way to explore the game’s setting in history. Ancient Egyptian history buffs will no doubt flock to try it out, but even for those with a more casual interest, this is a wonderful and engaging way to explore Egypt without worrying about soldiers hassling you or who your next assassination target is.