A hefty 5gb patch just dropped for Assassin’s Creed Origins (opens in new tab), bringing with it an intriguing new mode called Discovery that turns the game into an interactive history lesson. Ubisoft’s vast, detailed recreation of Ancient Egypt is an incredible thing, and it’s great to see one of the studio's famously lavish historical settings being used for something other than parkour and acrobatic stabbing.
Discovery is completely separate from the main game, dropping you into an Egypt where all the fast travel points are unlocked and nothing can kill you. So you can stroll down by the Nile without worrying about being mauled by a crocodile, or wander into a Roman camp and not get skewered by a centurion’s pilum. It’s a mode I wish more games had, letting you experience the world without the usual open-world distractions of quests, enemies, and NPCs.
Dozens of blue icons litter the map indicating guided tours, which see you following a glowing thread between points of interest. And at each stop a narrator explains what it is you’re looking at, whether it’s a pyramid, people making bread, or lawbreakers writhing in agony on Roman crucifixes. There are a total of 75 tours to choose from, ranging from the history of mummification and the origins of the pyramids, to the secrets of the Sphinx and more conventional subjects like animal domestication, beer brewing, and religion.
It’s all incredibly interesting, and accessible for people with limited knowledge of the region and its history. But the narration is a little flat. The actors have the perfect, sterile delivery of those robotic voices that announce the next subway station. I’d have appreciated a little more humour, like the entertaining codex entries in previous Creed games. But Discovery seems to have been designed with education and teaching at least partly in mind, and this drier style is probably more appropriate in that context. It's like one of those audio tours you get in a museum, but with the added benefit of 'being' there.
There are some nice bonus features included too, like being able to choose who you play as. As well as protagonists Bayek and Aya, you can wander around as Cleopatra, Caesar, or even just a lowly, unremarkable peasant. There are some characters from the game’s present day segments too, and it’s odd seeing someone wandering around Ancient Egypt in khakis and modern hiking boots. You also have access to a mount and Senu, but no weapons. We’re here to learn.
This, plus an abundance of fast travel points, makes Discovery one of the most enjoyable ways to explore Origins’ amazing world. And with the game’s great photo mode, it’s basically like going on a virtual holiday. I played Origins for 30 hours and finished it, and I never thought I’d return. But this is such a unique way to experience the setting that I’m loving being back there again, wandering the desert, taking photos of the scenery, and filling my head with history.(opens in new tab) (opens in new tab)