With the E3 hype train returned to the depot for the next nine months, we’ve been left with an awful lot to digest, but my main takeaway was the predictable – and yet satisfying – official reveal of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Despite my reservations about the franchise’s return to an annual release, I am none the less terrifically excited to see the series visit Ancient Greece.
Taking place in 431 BCE – at the dawn of the Peloponnesian War – Odyssey’s setting has the distinction of making my prediction of where and when Assassin’s Creed would be heading to next shockingly accurate. Not to blow my own trumpet, I had the location right and was only 34 years out on the when. Now that we’ve all watched the E3 trailer and gameplay footage,I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the setting of the latest Assassin’s Creed game that seems to feature very little of the Assassin Order.
The two uncomfortably sexy protagonists in Odyssey – Alexios and Kassandra – are mercenaries that can fight for either Athens or Sparta within this war. Now first off, those fighting in the Peloponnesian War, wouldn’t have called it such. They would have claimed that it was ‘The Attic War’. Sadly it’s not that thousands of Hoplites were having a rumble in the space above your childhood bedroom, between all the toys your parents are still hanging onto, instead the ‘Attic’ in ‘Attic War’ is referring to Attica and the rumble between Sparta and Athens that occurred within it.
Ever since Athens saw off the second – and final – Persian invasion of Ancient Greece in 480 BC and subsequently led the allied states on to the offensive, they’d started to get a little cocky. They began to take control of an increasing number of city states as well as swathes of Persia, until only Sparta and its allies remained. Athens had an astonishing 150 city states under its control in what was called the Athenian Empire. To achieve this, they must have got up very early in the morning to do a little conquering, when I barely have time for breakfast!
Ultimately, the war between these two city states came down to a difference of opinion. Sparta was an oligarchy whilst Athens was a democracy where everyone could have a political vote. As long as they weren’t a woman. Or a slave. Or a foreigner. In fact, only an estimated thirty percent of the population had a say on legislation, so maybe the Athenians and Spartans weren’t that different after all?
It’s a fascinating conflict to provide the frame for the latest Assassin’s Creed. Lasting for nearly thirty years the war ran on and off from 431 BC to 404 BC, with a quick six-year break for half time and oranges in the middle. Such is the length of the war that, should Ubisoft see it through to its conclusion, then Alexios and Kassandra would be old and wrinkly at the end of it, though they’d probably still be just as uncomfortably sexy.
It’s clear to see why Ubisoft chose to set their latest game in this period of history, with a desire to return to naval battles and to introduce massive land battles to proceedings. With the Athenians having the mightiest Navy so far assembled and the Spartans having an impossibly large – and deadly – land force, there are plenty of people for our protagonists to kill, no matter their preference of doing so on land or sea.
What can we expect to see when going one on one – or perhaps, more accurately, one on fifty – with the Spartans? Well, as either friend or foe they should nonetheless be suitably badass. Famously, Spartan babies would be inspected by a council of elders for ‘physical deformities’. If any abnormalities were found, the baby would be abandoned on a hillside or, as the historian Herodotus claimed, the babies were frown off Mount Taygetus – Herodotus was known to enjoy a gentle spot of embellishment, so this could be utter fiction.
Either way, Spartan sprogs had it pretty tough throughout their childhood. They were ignored by parents when they cried, were fed very little food and were taught to get used to loneliness. Though, thinking on it, modern children probably encounter similar problems whilst competing with mobile phones for their parent’s attention. Oddly, these tactics were much admired by the rest of the denizens of Ancient Greece, so Spartan nannies were in high demand amongst the other city states.
Spartan children were then taken away from their families at the age of just five to live in a communal barracks and begin their military training. This training would consist of marching for miles and miles barefoot, sleeping nude outdoors and being fed very little – the Spartans correctly deduced that an army could fight in the field for much longer if they needed less food. Then, to pass their training, the now eighteen-year-old child would have to go and murder a slave or, as the Spartans would call them, a Helot. The trainees would be given a knife and little else before roaming the countryside and finding a slave to fill with bloody holes. This , of course, was entirely legal, because Sparta.
Should you think that the Spartans will be easy to kill as they go charging into battle wearing only a pair of hot pants, a crimson cloak and a thorough coating of baby oil, then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. The real Spartans weren’t influenced by the wet dreams of Frank Miller and Zack Snyder and were instead covered in armour.
In conclusion, when you finally get your hands-on Assassins Creed Odyssey this October, if you do get to choose who you fight alongside, always choose the Spartans.