There's a lot of fascinating history to devour in Discovery Tour, an educational new mode released for Assassin's Creed Odyssey. You can learn about the origins of the Olympic Games, the myth of the Minotaur, or the history of Athens' mighty Parthenon. But the tour focuses on more everyday things too: winemaking, religious practices, the role of women in society, and the running of a typical Greek household. And it's these things—these glimpses of the mundane, the human—that I really connected with as I wandered the streets, fields, and ruins of Ubisoft's dramatic take on Ancient Greece.
You can learn a lot more about this time period, and with more depth, from a history book, of course. But there's something magical about being there. Walking through the Acropolis of Athens, pushing through crowds of people, seeing the sun glint off that colossal bronze statue of Athena… it's utterly transporting. And it makes the various bite-sized history lessons contained in each location incredibly evocative, because you aren't just passively listening: you're there, experiencing it, watching it unfold around you.
Origins had its own Discovery Tour, but the voiceover was a little too dry, like something you'd hear looping on a screen in a stuffy museum, which was at odds with the scale and beauty of the world. But the Odyssey tour is much better at creating a sense of place and drawing you into the history. Lively, charismatic historical figures introduce each tour and beautiful cinematography accompanies the narration. The voiceover is still a little too pristine—I'd have liked those famous faces to perform the tours themselves—but they definitely have more personality than the presenters in Origins.
Odyssey's Discovery Tour is also great because it gives you a chance to explore Ancient Greece without being hassled by enemies. You can still sail ships, ride horses, and take to the sky with Ikaros, but you don't have to worry about getting into fights with mercenaries or being eaten by lions. It's an enjoyably sedate way to absorb the atmosphere of Ubisoft's remarkable open world, letting you exist there as a tourist, which is something I'd love to see more of in games. You can also switch to a first-person perspective, which makes those gleaming temples and monuments seem even more grand.
Bring up the world map and you can jump to any tour that piques your interest. These include learning about how the Greeks made wine on the island of Thasos, the relationship between the gods and romance at the Temple of Aphrodite, or the ancient city of Mycenae, which is said to have been founded by the legendary hero Perseus. The tours also tell you beforehand how many stops there are and how long they'll take, which is a nice consideration. All the map's fast travel points are unlocked as well, letting you travel freely.
On a tour you follow a glowing thread between points of interest, learning as you go. But you're also rewarded for venturing off the beaten path with optional lessons that unlock new playable characters including Socrates and Pythagoras. That's not my favourite new feature, though. When you finish a tour the character who introduced it will approach you and quiz you about what you've just heard. These quizzes are fun and light-hearted, and if you get an answer wrong they'll explain why it was wrong, rather than just scolding you for not paying attention. I was personally so determined to ace these quizzes that I made sure I was listening intently to every lesson.
These tours also made me realise just how much detail I was missing when I first played Assassin's Creed Odyssey. When you run through a town, you aren't really thinking about the clutter around you or the people roaming the streets. But after a few tours you realise how painstakingly detailed and well-researched everything is, down to the specific types of ovens the Greeks used, or how they dried grapes for winemaking. A nice side effect of the Discovery Tour is returning to the regular game and everything feeling richer.
The word 'edutainment' conjures up images of boring old CD-ROMs with low-res videos, or rubbish adventure games masquerading as entertainment. But Odyssey's Discovery Tour is rare because it's a legitimate piece of educational software that just happens to have the lavish production values of a blockbuster open world game. It's free for everyone who owns Odyssey or can be bought standalone on Uplay. So if you've ever wanted to immerse yourself in the culture, history, and atmosphere of Ancient Greece, this is the best way. Well, at least until someone invents a real-life Animus.