We perhaps need a little bit more education: Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Discovery Tour

The announcement of the Discovery Tour was a source of much rejoicing. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed games have for many years built these extraordinarily detailed cities, that are swiftly disposed of as the series’ annual development cycle demands fresh urban grist for the mill. The recreation of Ptolemaic Egypt was by far Ubisoft’s most remarkable, and the idea of using it as an educational tool, a living museum of sorts, was well received.

In practice, Discovery Tour by Assassin’s Creed: Ancient Egypt (to give it its given name) is a peculiar thing, made with much ambition, but seemingly little understanding of how education actually works.

As I’d struggled with Ubisoft’s servers to let me load the game in the first place, while they repeatedly refused me access to the product I’d downloaded from Steam because their own internet wasn’t working, I thought to myself, “I hope the voiceover is pleasingly academic, a sort of NPR-y voice that’s at once relaxing and authoritative.” This only made it more jarring when I was greeted by a voice more suited to booming, “In movie theatres, Friday!” For the introduction, I figured, sure, this is fine. But he persists, his daft tones narrating the first and about half of the game’s tours, making it incredibly hard to concentrate on the dry and dull morsels of information about Alexander’s planning of the site for Alexandria.

The tour itself rapidly unravels. The third piece of information you’re given talks about how Alexander’s architects were forced to use flour to mark out the foundations, because they didn’t have access to chalk. And then, wouldn’t you know it, birds got involved.

“Clouds of migrating birds swept down and ate the flour, erasing the plans. This prompted Alexander to seek guidance from the oracles, who reassured him that his future city was destined to feed a large population.”

So my first thought here was, “How do you know?” Which means my second thought was, “Where are the links to referencing text?” And there aren’t any. We’re just asked to take this rather twee fairy tale as fact, because the gravelly voiced man said it. Which in turn meant my third thought was, “So Ubisoft believes in oracles?”

To do this properly, you can’t just be reporting myths as facts! You say, “According to myth…” It’s pretty basic stuff.

(For any who care, the answers are here, but we found that on our own, not via the game, and in no way should it have just been repeated as factual.)

Clicking A for “MORE INFO” is suggested for each stop of each of the 75 tours, so I thought that’s where I might find the references, further reading and links to relevant materials. But pressing it provides you with precisely the same information, not a single extra detail, this time written instead of spoken. It was easier to concentrate on that same information here, certainly, but only until I got bemused trying to find where the “MORE INFO” was, before realising there wasn’t any. There never is.

I suppose reactions to this aspect will be down to one’s expectations going in. I had been hoping for what had been promised – a delivery of the information gathered from academics, learned over the four years of making the game. Like they said it would be. What I’ve got is something akin to a haphazard audio tour to distract tourists from how much they spent on the entry fee. Of course, if someone were expecting some afternoon filler on the History Channel, then this would be far more in line with that. Narrator voice included.

And the more I persist, the less I can fathom who this is actually for. Alongside Mr Trailers is Mrs Pharmaceutical Commercial (uncannily similar to the glorious spoofs from Better Off Ted), both intoning a confusing mix of information that doesn’t seem like it could be useful to anyone. For instance, to whom is the following helpful?

“The earliest known and most complete armillary sphere of antiquity was the Meteoroskopion of Alexandria, with an imposing nine rings, compared to the three or four of most other astrolabes.

Known as the Zodiac Krikotoi amongst the Greeks, the Meteoroskopion was used to determine the location of celestial bodies around the Earth.

Every self-respecting astronomer of antiquity would have sought to use this tool to better understand the celestial movements.”

This is so very typical of the type of information given by Discovery Tour. Needlessly over-complex language that fails to explain its terms, yet is somehow at the same time devoid of anything useful for people who already understood them.

If this is intended to be used in schools, teachers would need a discovery primer for the Discovery Tour and would be translating on the fly. What’s an “armillary sphere”? What’s an “astrolabe”? If you’re trying to teach, using such obscure terms in the opening line is guaranteed to fail. Heck, if you’re aiming at younger students, then even terms like “celestial movements” are needlessly complicated. A phrase like “the movement of the stars and planets” would have far more sensibly communicated the meaning.

It’s pretty ubiquitous, these little snippets announcing facts, but not explaining them. To pick one at random:

“Reed boats, feluccas, triremes and kerkouros were the most commonly found craft within the land-locked waters of Egypt.”

Er, great. And those are? They look like? The differences between them are? If this were handed in as homework, a teacher would be scrawling all over it, “You’ve copied these facts off the internet, but don’t appear to understand them!”

The more I play, the more regions I visit and the more tours I follow, the more I think I understand what’s really happening here. Perhaps this is an exercise in frustration from a development team who worked extraordinarily hard to provide one of gaming’s most extraordinarily detailed places, that was then used as the backdrop for a very silly game. As I wander through the Library Of Alexandria, or the Islands of Pharos, or the backwaters of Haueris Nome, what I sense from the nature of the tours is a desperation for people to know just how bloody hard the team worked to build this, and how incredibly accurate the depictions are.

See that Library?! There are no descriptions of it anywhere! We had to make one up, and to do that, we used images of a contemporary library in Ephesus! We went to so much trouble to create something authentic and did so much research, and all you did was see if you could get a horse to climb a statue. You bastards.

See that statue? The one you just ran past and didn’t give a second glance, because you were trying to stab some made up man to death? That was Hypatia! And she was bloody brilliant! She was one of the greatest scientists of the day, and we made that statue based on the worn remains that still exist today, but meticulously restored it and put it in the Library exactly where we believe it would have stood! AND YOU DIDN’T EVEN LOOK AT IT!

I suspect much of my negative reaction is due to the version of this I’d imagined on its announcement last year, and the enormous distance between that and what has been made. I’d imagined recorded interviews with the experts, or at least the experts themselves enthusing on topics. I’d hoped for developers explaining how they’d made decisions, talking about their research. I’d also imagined something that could be useful in schools, to provide a really splendid way to improve history lessons. Instead I’ve got super-slick narrators saying sentences like,

“How do you calculate the circumference of the Earth? With a camel, two sticks, and shadows cast by the sun.”

and then literally no further explanation of what that means. Good gravy.

For those who were approaching this with the idea that it might be rather splendid to just have complete access to the whole of the game, with the combat switched off, just letting you explore the cities and surrounding deserts, then yes, it does that. But, well, the original game pretty much let you do that too. Sure, you had to sneak around inside some areas, but the world was already pretty open, and with the game surrounding it, a lot more interesting to explore. Here, with combat switched off (although you can still bash into upset NPCs, and charge horses toward children to your heart’s content), you can climb, swim, take photos while standing on statues and so on, and go absolutely anywhere you want. But for me, doing so really reveals just how detached from the world you really are.

You can’t interact with anything, other than the tour. It’s like you’re a ghost, unable to be seen or heard by the world you’re in. Well, a poltergeist, since you can shove into everyone. Admittedly the only way you touched the game proper was to punch and stab it, but it’s revealing how separating it is to remove that veneer of contact. And yet it does work. You absolutely can scramble over the whole game within limitations, and poke around in the vividly precisely recreated cities. Although, once again I’d argue, the only way to really appreciate this properly is to have those passive-aggressive audio tours point it out to you.

And I’m not being entirely fair. In between the very, very many poor explanations and narrations, there are some occasional good ones. A tour of the Faiyum, taken both on foot and by boat, gives a perfectly decent surface explanation of the Faiyum pyramid, the reasons it was separate from the bulk of other pyramids, and the reason for the situating of the wonderfully named metropolis, Krokodilopolis. And I’ve certainly not minded being able to fast travel to the pyramids to poke around them. This is by no means a disaster at all.

It’s just that I’d argue it fails at its primary intent: to teach. It just blurts detached, unexplained facts in glossy voices.

There are some other silly issues. The two narrators constantly interject with the same three nonsensical “jokes”. At any point while you’re exploring you might hear a, “My kingdom for a glass of water!” – the shortest of its uninterruptible gags. “Don’t mind me!” Mr Trailers wackily interrupts, “It’s not like Ancient Egypt is going anywhere!!!” Or the tour might think it’s useful to tell you that you can use a mount to travel faster along long distances, for the nineteenth time, after you’ve just gotten off a horse. Or are halfway up a pyramid, as happened to me one time. Then there’s the movable camera during the narration when you’re fixed to the spot, which for no sensible reason insists on returning to the same view if you leave it for literally a second. Silly, niggly things that don’t make a lick of sense in the context of the Tour mode.

I don’t know. Honestly, I think Ubisoft deserves this peculiar little vanity project, a mode of the game that’s most useful function is to pointedly yell at you just how much work went into the backgrounds you ran past last year. But beyond this, and the novelty of ghosting around its busy world, it doesn’t really have much purpose. As an educational tool (which we can only assume it’s intended to be, what with the bizarre censoring of naked bits), I’d venture it’s a colossal dud, but godspeed to any kids lucky enough to be allowed to muck around in it during school – it’s not likely to teach them anything useful, but it’ll be better than writing down banal notes about the Spinning Jenny or whatever the hell history lessons were supposed to have been about.

I love that it exists. I don’t begrudge it for any of its ridiculous failings, really. It’d have been amazing if it could have been this gently entertaining and interesting exploration of Egyptian history, perhaps something like an in-situ podcast. But it isn’t. It’s a museum audio tour, along with all their obvious shortcomings, that takes no advantages of its medium, ignoring all the vast possibilities of linking out to relevant Wikipedia articles and papers, or offering any possibility of directing players to further reading.

Discovery Tour by Assassin’s Creed: Ancient Egypt is out now on Windows, for £16/$20/20€, via Steam and Uplay.

55 Comments

  1. Grizzly says:

    That’s a bit weird, as I do remember that the history blurbs in AC2 and the like did at the very least make their text understandable to laymen. It was hardly Horrible Histories (which would probably be the best fit for the intended audience), but it was always something interesting to read on the side.

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    Oakreef says:

    Sad to hear, I was considering picking this up. I might still do so but this certainly dampens my enthusiasm.

  3. Magus42 says:

    This sounds pretty similar to a lot of tours I’ve taken of actual historic locations, so points to Ubisoft for authenticity at least. All the bad history without the cost of a plane ticket.

  4. Smollik says:

    This game is just beautiful in every single aspect, if you didn’t played you should

  5. Urthman says:

    Who could have suspected that Ubisoft’s nonfiction writing would be about as good as their fiction writing?

    [hands go up all over the room]

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    I think this is really unfair. I’ve listened to a few tours and found them to be interesting short bits of information, a fine jumping off point to find out more on a particular topic if so inclined. Yeah it would be nice if they listed references and further reading, but it’s hardly a requirement. This is clearly not meant to be standalone course in Egyptian history but a supplemental tool to visually explore a time and place. The world is the material.

    “So Ubisoft believes in oracles?” is an extremely silly thing to ask given that people of the time DID believe in oracles and frequently consulted them on various matters, however nonsensical the answers they received may have been, so stating that a historical figure went to consult an oracle is hardly a fairy tale.

    I also think you underestimate how much being able to freely explore without ever being attacked is a selling point for a lot of people. Even in the main game I often wish the guards were less aggressive/attentive so you could just climb around freely without having to fight quite so much.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Double Fine did an interesting Dev’s Play with Maxime Durand which gives an idea of what they were trying to do and also where they took liberties: link to youtube.com

    • Blad the impaler says:

      I think you might have misinterpreted the value John placed on the silliness in that bit about oracles.

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        Probably, but in a review that specifically questions the factual accuracy and sourcing of the game it stands out as particularly unreasonable.

        • Blad the impaler says:

          The criticism here isn’t factual integrity but rather its usefulness as an educational product. The joke was that there’s so little to grab on to that why not make a ridiculous assertion about oracles? Oracles tell and nothing else, this game tells and nothing else. There’s a few parallels there.

    • John Walker says:

      My point regarding the oracles and the bird seed story is very clearly made, twice in fact, and I’m not entirely clear how you’re missing it.

      The issue isn’t that they’re reporting what people believed at the time – it’s that they’re reporting the beliefs of the time as historical facts! There’s nothing in how this fairy tale is phrased to state, “Alexander believed” or “as the myth goes” or anything that any sensible or respectable explanation of history would give.

      Plus, I’ll never tire of people who say, “It’s completely unfair of you to say that the game should have had X, even though I agree it would be better if the game had X.”

      We’re agreed it would have been a damn site better if they’d cited their sources and linked to further learning. Good!

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        The “unfair” bit (imo) is your characterization of the content of the tours. My agreeing with you that further links to other sources of information would be good is quite separate.

        It is factual to state as far as we can tell (where recorded) that X historical figure consulted an oracle and was given X advice. The non-factual basis of said oracular advice goes without saying. It does not change the factual basis of the exchange. You could also accompany every mention of Egyptian and Greek gods (or any gods) with a disclaimer saying “of course, none of these gods really existed but the ancients believed in them anyway” but that would seem exceptionally superfluous.

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          Ninja Dodo says:

          >the factual basis of the exchange

          To put it another way: we know they consulted an oracle. The fact that what they were told was made-up BS (or whatever they wanted to hear) does not change the fact that the consultation took place and they acted on what they were told. This of course assuming that the records were accurate and not contemporary self-mythologizing after the fact.

          • lglethal says:

            Umm actually to back up john here we DONT know that Alexander consulted Oracles, that is in the myth surrounding the founding of Alexandria, but there is ZERO evidence that the event ever took place. Therefore, declaring that it DID happen and acting ias if its factually correct is just plain wrong. All you need to do is say “According to ancient sources…” or “According to myth…” and people will be happy and understand the context.

            John has this one dead right…

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            Ninja Dodo says:

            I did write “assuming that the records were accurate and not contemporary self-mythologizing”… John was acting as if the very concept of oracles was a fantasy and while this specific event may not have taken place exactly as recorded, we know for a fact the Greeks visited oracles.

            eg: link to en.wikipedia.org

            Though it is fair to say that it might have been worth citing the source of this founding story, which again is the part where I do agree with the review.

  7. poliovaccine says:

    Even if this has its shortcomings, I hope it’s not the last of its kind. This sort of format could be cool in all kinds of ways. I remember the first time I heard of a game with its own “director’s cut” – I think it was actually the first Assassin’s Creed – what I pictured was basically this, but instead of historical tidbits it’d be tidbits on the development, maybe the game could be played with an optional commentary track in voiceover, like you so often get with movies. That wasn’t what the Director’s Cut actually was, of course, but what I first envisioned still sounds cool to me. I’d love to wander around GTAIV or GTAV with that feature. It could be kinda like how Watch Dogs has historic buildings of Chicago marked as collectibles (which I actually dug, since just wandering around that simulation of Chicago is pretty much the best thing about the game).

  8. Evan_ says:

    I’m pretty happy that I can get all I’m interested in AC:O for third of the price of the regular version. Black Flag made me realize how happily I do anything else than stabbing trough the cheeky stories.

    Though I’d love a ‘seashells begone’ mod. :]

    • JakeOfRavenclaw says:

      This, really. Discovery Tour has everything I like about Assassin’s Creed, minus everything I don’t, and at a fraction of the price, so that’s already a win right there.

      I do think John is pretty spot on with regards to the tone. In the future I’d love to see them bring in actual academics for the narration, and hopefully adopt a more conversational tone. A good professor giving a lecture can be sooo much more engaging than your typical museum tour.

      On a side note, if anyone does want to hear some academic discussion of AC Origins, see this excellent video: link to youtube.com

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        Second that last recommendation. History Respawned is super good. Apparently they’re also going to do a video specifically on Discovery Tour later.

  9. gabrieldlbien says:

    Sorry, I don’t want to seem argumentative, but isn’t this even more than people on this very site asked for? Weren’t some of you asking for a peaceful mode in AC:O that simply didn’t have combat? And here’s a full one, with tours (which, from your excerpts, I think are actually fine, but I understand that’s subjective) and tidbits of history? Why are we upset that they provided more than asked?
    While I’m on the subject, wouldn’t it be better to try and encourage devs to do this? I understand they would need criticism to improve, but this is the kind of thing that a cyclopean company like Ubisoft would see as proof that it was a waste of time. I’m sure a happy medium of encouragement and critique was possible.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Eh, I get the sentiment, but the way I see it, in general, once you attempt something in earnest you open yourself up to responses to that thing. If a gymnast goes through their whole routine flawlessly, and every move they attempt is executed at 10/10, that’s one thing. If their run includes all those moves at 10/10, but then they try an extra little spin on top but don’t stick the landing, well, it’s not like you judge their run on all the perfectly executed moves they did, and ignore the one they goofed – rather, that 5/10 gets mixed into their average.

      If they had stuck to the simpler, safer routine, they would have executed that perfectly – they would have had a 10/10 average for their run. But they attempted more, they were more ambitious, and they didn’t quite fulfill those ambitions. I can’t envision many contexts where it makes sense to just ignore that failing as a gimme, cus hey, it’s more than we even asked for. Like, maybe it is – it’s also what they attempted, and failed to pull off. I mean that’s sort of the innate danger of ambition – so likewise, its inverse: you can’t fail if you never try.

      Basically, they’re being judged according to what they tried to do. That is eminently fair to me. Like, if the latest high-fidelity racing simulation came out and its cars felt “simplified” and “arcadey,” nobody would be celebrating it for its “rollicking arcade action.” Or if they were, they’d be a very charitable soul who was kind of deliberately missing the point, haha. But yeah, that would be fine for Saints Row or something – it’s only a problem because it was supposed to be a hyperrealistic physics sandbox.

      If this AC mode didn’t explicitly set out to be “educational,” I don’t think we’d even be having this conversation. Cus then it would just be called “Free Roam” or something, and these historical tidbits and driblets would just be a bit more flavor to enjoy about the world, maybe another form of Ubi collectible. But it’s very clear, both by how their team has talked about it, and also by the prudish censorship, that they had some sort of abstracted hope that this would be used to teach children something – potentially children younger than AC’s usual, ESRB-approved player base.

      • gabrieldlbien says:

        Fair; I totally get your point, and to be clear pretty well anything I say here is subjective, I think we just disagree on aspects. But your main argument is that they didn’t pull off the educational aspect. If you’re right, there are still better ways of saying so than what this article went with.
        But I’m not sure that they did fail the educational aspect. I think this article is just putting it in a bad light (before I explain, I should clear up, I have a slight bias against this site’s, and particularly Johns, way of doing things). But for example, the astrolabe comment being too complex. Its using names and titles (like astrolabe) that literally have no other name. Particularly the meteoroskopian(maybe spelled right?) Which is simply the name of that specific object. Sure, some may not know what astrolabes or celestial bodies are, but those are the correct terms. At worst, the ‘player’ ignores it, at best they research it. Isn’t that the teaching style schools use anyway?
        And we also must remember, John is using them absolutely out of context. I may be wrong, but I’d imagine that quote popped up when he looked at an astrolabe. Same with the quote about the ships; at least some must’ve been modelled in front of him.

        The final point I have as to it being better than this review says, is that some comments on this page seem to think the tours are fine. Sure, that means according to this page the tours have mixed responses, but this article is a good deal more negative than mixed.
        I know, this website is all about opinions, but for the sake of more educational products like this, can’t we just be a little cheerier about it?

        I apologise for both the long reply, and anything that doesn’t make sense; bit tired.

        • poliovaccine says:

          Yeah I haven’t actually played it either, I was just taking for granted the idea that it had failed, or at least frequently stumbled, as an educational tool because it clearly had in the eyes of the author whose piece we’re using as the baseline. But yeah, I don’t get the sense it’s altogether a failure from the mixed comments, though I didn’t think the writeup was 100% negative either. (Though I would say, in my own case, the nudie-seashell thing is so painfully puerile and stupid that I see that as *an* automatic failing of the project, if not necessarily being the utter downfall of the project as a whole… like if that were the only issue, I think I’d cope.)

          As far as details about the astrolabe and so forth, I don’t know if I mistook what he was saying about it, but I thought the complaint was more that it didn’t define these terms, rather than the fact they were used whatsoever. Again, not having played it, I can’t say anything with any real conviction either way, so I hesitate to even weigh in on this part that’s less about broad concepts and more about the game in particular, but I mean, I don’t understand from that quoted text what an astrolabe is, or a meteorskopion. Again, I have no idea if this is actually made perfectly clear in some other way 20 seconds later, but I get that it’s not in the text. And some other examples were just more of gaffes in tone and execution, which, remembering school days, is plenty important in an educational tool, if you want kids to actually pay attention to it… instead of, yknow, vandalizing, demoralizing or ignoring it, depending what “it” is.

          But in spite of that, in general I take your overall point – that it may not actually be such a failure. I’d sure like to think it’s not, because I’d sure like to see its promise made good, not just in this project but in other, future ones of its kind, both as classroom tools and also just as gamer chow, like I was talking about in my other comment on this article. I was saying guided tours of a game’s development would be fun bonus or “Director’s Cut” material, more akin to the overlaid commentaries you tend to get in actual “Director’s Cut” DVD releases. I’m imagining the feel of The Beginner’s Guide for this. But yeah, I also just plain think that, if done right, videogame tours like this could absolutely make history class jibe for certain kids with whom it otherwise wouldn’t, and quite possibly science classes are another, slightly different “game” idea to explore. I picture Car Mechanic Simulator 20XX or whatever and I feel like very few topics would fail to translate to that format – not all as guided tours, I mean, but all as different types of “gameplay.” I genuinely benefited my understanding of coding by playing Human Resource Machine – it presents concepts using a visual illustration, which is exactly what I grasp best. For someone like me, it’s a benefit. Ditto Bomb Squad Academy – while once my sum knowledge of electricity was only what I dimly remembered from school, now it’s that plus what I dimly remember from BSA..! It actually taught me, and in spite of essentially just leafing through it for the sole purpose of finding some diverting puzzles, some of what it taught me actually managed to stick. I believe, broadly, in the gameified format, and I do want to see this stuff encouraged.

          But I want it encouraged to do this stuff right, and while, like I say, I can’t speak firsthand to anything, I don’t need to have played it to know that the seashells are a definite fuckup in my book, and that pointless, puritanical sort of censorship needs discouragement in its own right. It has about as much place in modern society or that society’s educational system as squinty-eyed peasant superstition. The astrolabe I can’t rightly say, though I would argue that, actually, the concept of “if they’re interested they’ll look it up” isn’t really the method we use of teaching at all – that seems a bit passive, haha. I mean I’m sure I’m misunderstanding what you meant at that part, cus I don’t think you meant that. Even college classes aren’t typically that hands-off, unless you’re in, like, one of the advanced placement classes for people with an affinity for the subject. Even then, I think an advanced class, should the teacher be asked, “But what *is* a meteorskopion?” would hear that teacher reply with the answer… Or else they unhelpfully retort, “Would anyone who actually *did* the reading last night care to enlighten Mister/Miss ______?” but then that sounds more like John’s account of the game as it currently is – except the classmate doesn’t add any “More Info,” they just repeat the excerpt in text format.

          Anyway, I agree wholeheartedly this type of thing should be encouraged, but I think we bear most benefit from being critical, particularly as it’s still not yet even wholly emerged as “a thing,” because if it gets off on a wrong foot it’s more liable to continue that way, but getting off on the right foot will also have that same inertia against its being stopped – only, in the case of getting off to a *good* start, that’s a benefit.

          But yeah, fair points. I still intend to try it for myself eventually and see if these issues really are as proportionately distracting as this article would suggest. I’m just not in as big a hurry to drop the cash as I might be, had this thing won a warmer reception. And hey, maybe by then any offending foibles may be patched into submission! (That is one benefit of being habitually late to the party, the creme has had time to separate de la creme, haha.)

          • Blanka says:

            I implore you to read my comment below and buy this game/experience. fair enough if you only have a console (bit expensive) but this thing is legit!

        • John Walker says:

          I’ve included the screenshots for both of those quotes, and you can see that no, they don’t contain the key information.

        • Archonsod says:

          I think the key thing in terms of a classroom tool is that it’d be there to supplement the classroom learning, not replace it. As a teacher I wouldn’t necessarily want it to explain how you can measure the circumference of the Earth with shadows and sticks, because that’s an exercise I could set the students.
          It’s somewhat hard to assess the educational value though; the way we learn as children isn’t the same as how we learn as adults, so if it is indeed intended for say the average 12 year old it’s highly unlikely to work for those of us who remember the times before the internet existed (what we really need is a tour where the guide tells you how all this used to be fields and explaining why modern camels aren’t as good as the camels we used to get under the Satrapy).

          • poliovaccine says:

            That’s the thing, though – if it were designed to go alongside classes, there would be a lesson plan or some outside reading to fill in any blanks. As it is, though, it’s a standalone educational tool, not a classroom accoutrement. So I mean, I’d like to have that information somewhere. It only has to be as thorough as the Codex in Mass Effect…

    • John Walker says:

      Why are we upset that they provided more than asked?

      I mean, this whole article is framed by my pointing out that this doesn’t provide what we’d hoped it would based on their announcement, but, er, sure?

      wouldn’t it be better to try and encourage devs to do this?

      I guess I should have written something like, “I love that it exists. I don’t begrudge it for any of its ridiculous failings, really.”

  10. Joga says:

    For what it’s worth, I picked it up and am quite enjoying it. Admittedly, I went in with basically no expectations – I didn’t even know the mode would *have* narrated tours; I was happy enough just getting to explore a super detailed Egyptland in peace without all the traditional Ubisoft collect-a-thon/climb the towers/take over the outposts tacked on.

    The tours can be hit or miss, but as a kind of basic overview of Egyptian history (or a refresher from my high school world history from years ago) I’ve found them fairly interesting to go through.

    Agreed about the silly censorship seashells and the repeated unprompted jokes though.

  11. Aetylus says:

    I do think that Ubisoft deserve a great deal of credit for this. While it may not be perfect, it does set a new benchmark in immersive history – something that was unthinkable even a few years ago. I would have absolutely adored this as a kid.
    And it is most certainly was not something that Ubisoft needed to do. Good on them for this.

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    Barvahal says:

    Wait, there’s a statue of Hypatia? Isn’t it a bit anachronistic, considering she was born some 400 years after Cleopatra?

    • lancelot says:

      This is the relevant part of the tour: link to youtu.be. Apparently we’re looking at a statue of a woman with a pitcher, are shown a statuette of a draped woman and are told about a specific woman who was born long after the Library had been destroyed. Makes perfect sense, since they’re all women.

      So John is rather confused if he thinks the woman with a pitcher is Hypatia (why would she be depicted holding a pitcher, ffs), but I can see the source of the confusion.

  13. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    I appreciate that John is getting at a somewhat different point with his comments about not interacting with the world, but I should note that one really neat thing about Discovery Tour is that it will let you move up to various nodes that NPCs can use in the world (marked by white circles on the ground when you get close enough), and your avatar will then do the appropriate animation–laying down for a nap, sitting to eat food, working with tools, etc. It’s ultimately meaningless, but I thought it was such a neat way to interact with a system that AC has been using for years, as well as making the world feel a bit more tactile, and providing some new opportunities to play around with photo mode.

    • poliovaccine says:

      That *is* a nice touch.

    • Nicias42 says:

      I agree, that is a really nice touch. It seems to have been fairly simple to implement – the animations and the nodes are already available to NPCs. Why not make them available to the player? They should add this to the regular game. I hope more open world games will have this in the future.

      It’s something I wished GTA V had implemented when it came out: sitting on a park bench, lying on a beach towel, watching the open world npcs do their thing – as a choice, depending on the player’s tastes. Open world games could really benefit from this kind of immersion.

  14. Nicias42 says:

    Ubisoft may be proud of the research they put into this game, but they keep glossing over the fact that many historical aspects have been changed in order to fit the game’s limitations, or (I assume) to appeal to what they think would fit a teenage gamer’s standard of “cool”.

    None of the triremes or galleys in the open world use oars, even though these were their main method of propulsion, especially on a river. And they have been heavily redesigned by somebody who obviously wanted to make them look more crude and dangerous, to the point of giving them weird scorpion-like tails.

    Bayek and Aya wear trousers, even though this is very untypical for Ancient Egyptians or Ancient Greeks, and so do average Roman soldiers. Ubisoft have the gall to describe the Roman soldier character that you can select in Discovery mode as “wearing the equipment typical of the period”, even though his helmet and weird biker trousers are a complete fantasy.

    Other aspects are nicely researched, such as the average ptolemaic soldiers and officers, but it seems like they just threw a random number of designers at the game with diverging opinions on the value of research and/or apprecation of the period. The visual material and sources would have all been there, this is one of the best-researched periods in history.

    While I still enjoy the game and the discovery mode, I agree that Ubisoft should be judged by what they say they are trying to achieve. They should not be forgiven for on the one hand, making conscious decisions not to portray history accurately, and then on the other, passing this off as the real thing to children wanting to learn about history.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    For anyone looking for more in-depth listening material I recommend these (when on sale, standard price not so much):

    History of Ancient Egypt: link to thegreatcourses.com

    Daily Life in the Ancient World: link to thegreatcourses.com

  16. teh_nerd says:

    Interesting read, but I wish the author would have given Ubi some credit for having created such a mode at all. Even if it might have its shortcomings, seeing this from a AAA publisher is definitely a noteworthy step in a very promising direction, even for games in general. Also, providing this as a free (sic!) DLC to owners of the full game and also offering it as a separate stand-alone version at a pretty decent price reduction is laudable. Without at least a short paragraph about these aspects a review of Discovery Tour seems incomplete, imo.

    • John Walker says:

      “Honestly, I think Ubisoft deserves this peculiar little vanity project, a mode of the game that’s most useful function is to pointedly yell at you just how much work went into the backgrounds you ran past last year.”

      “I love that it exists.”

      “I don’t begrudge it for any of its ridiculous failings, really.”

  17. thekelvingreen says:

    What happens if you go and look at the (spoiler) sunken TARDIS in this mode?

  18. Lorka says:

    Such a fun read, thanks as always, Walker!

  19. Vegas says:

    I think it’s selling this game a bit short to project some kind of spite onto the motives of the dev team. It is disappointing that this isn’t more, but I don’t really read the news so my expectations weren’t informed by hype. I really didn’t expect anything but a museum-style tour, and the fact that you get that along with an approximation of the world that you can actually run around in? I’d have to be jaded and pedantic to scoff at that.

    In any case, hopefully they keep doing stuff like this, and learn from feedback.

  20. DatonKallandor says:

    I’m not sure why a video game developer/publisher is suddenly treated like they have any relevance to education. This is Ubisoft selling content they already made, again, with a healthy heaping of pretentious “for the children” on top, but without any of the actual work put in.

    And seriously, they’re a for-profit video game company, what the hell are they doing anywhere near education? They’re not teachers, nor are they historians. They’re laymen selling their plucked-off-wikipedia info as a robust package on ancient egypt (only they didn’t even make that package for this purpose, they just had it lying around after using it for something else).

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      You seem to be implying that educational videogames should be made by teachers, rather than videogame makers. Do you also think that cider should be made by apples?

    • John Walker says:

      A vast amount of effort has gone into this. 75 audio tours, written, researched, implemented voice recorded. They might not have done a brilliant job of making it usefully educational, but to suggest effort didn’t go in is ludicrous!

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      They employ an in-house historian and consult with experts in relevant periods for their games. Obviously there is artistic license and sometimes mistakes or questionable choices (I think AC Unity is one of the weaker entries in terms of historical accuracy for example, though the recreation of Paris is gorgeous). Whether or not you approve of the end result as a whole, anyone with eyes can tell from a screenshot that an extraordinary amount of work and research went into constructing the world for this game. This Tour is a way to highlight all that work and allow players to explore it stress-free.

      I don’t know about you but one of my favourite things in museums has always been the reconstructions, miniatures and illustrations, sometimes videos… don’t underestimate how valuable something like this is in making history tangible. I wouldn’t be surprised if this game/tour inspires a bunch of people to go into Egyptology.

      • Nicias42 says:

        I agree on the overall value of this effort – but I still think it comes down to what John is saying, in the end. Since they advertise this is an educational tool, it has to be judged by that standard. Artistic license has no place in teaching history.

        A tool based on a game should actively point out any license taken, e.g. at points relevant in the tours, and should definitely not pass off artistic license as historical fact, such as when they do this in the character selection screen (some examples being the two “white” and “blue” costumes for Bayek, which are described as being traditonal Egyptian garb – although they are clearly based on the same old Assassin’s outfit worn by every player character since Ezio…).

        • Premium User Badge

          Ninja Dodo says:

          Dunno, using the cloth to form an optional hood seems like the only nod to the series’ signature costume there. It looks very unlike the other assassins and more like traditional local garb. Couldn’t tell you if it’s accurate though.

          Any reconstruction is going to have some artistic license because at the very minimum you have to make educated guesses at the things which are simply unknown. As long as you discuss any deviations and guesses there’s no reason that should be a problem.

          • Nicias42 says:

            Yes, that proves my point; anyone without any prior knowledge of the period will tend to assume that what they see is historical. And as mentioned, they do not declare the artistic license they have taken; on the contrary; they describe these outfits as being historical.

            As mentioned, the clothing of this period is well researched, so these examples are not the result of educated guesses; they are stylized for other (probably commercial) reasons.

            Have a look at the shapes of bayek’s garb below the waist, in practically everything but his default outfits. That is the exact same flared out, triangular style they’ve given to every assassin since Ezio. The style has nothing to do with the period.

  21. sagredo1632 says:

    What a disappointment. What I gather is that the team fell into the trap of making a sort of Behind the Scenes/Director’s Commentary rather than a well thought-out educational product. The point was to educate users about the making of *history*, not the game.

  22. Blanka says:

    I was captivated by this experience as much as I was disappointed by the review.
    I am by no means an expert or even a teacher (or an Ubisoft employee) but the value to me was immediately obvious. I loved learning about ancient Egypt in high school and I was able to learn more in half an hour than the measly amount of time we spent on it.
    Granted they have taken licence with certain elements but at it’s core it is an invaluable tool to engage learning on many levels.
    You’re welcome to pick at what I say to the nth degree but I am going to give my opinion of the tour and your review from my perspective having played this non-stop for 3 hours now.

    I jotted down notes in order so excuse the structure as I don’t have time to construct a well layed out persuasive essay.
    Firstly your problem with narration seems very short sighted without considering support for multiple languages – did you want them to teach the academics all the languages they would like to present this in?
    And even if there were subtitles it would detract from the fact that you are supposed to be looking at what they are talking about. this is mainly about the visuals for me and the overwhelming sense of wonder I’ve felt constantly experiencing this tour.

    The more information button does indeed provide more information in the forms of:
    -zoomed in highly detailed watercolour paintings – I can’t remember the historical artists name but there is a tour that explains where these came from and the collaborated work involved in recreating them.
    -the text from the narrator. Sometimes the whole text of what is being said isn’t displayed on the main game screen and you want to read over what was just spoken to you to, I don’t know, do some follow up research? – or again covering all bases for the hearing impaired
    -highly detailed photos from the 1800s to the present day of what is being discussed and drawings and diagrams of many different things.

    Your problem with the flour to mark the lines of the port? this was obviously not a routine occurance that plagued engineers of antiquity. They did it once and it didn’t work.
    A quick google and I found this:
    chapter 1 from a book titled Flour and Sand
    “The idea to use flour had come from one who now stood among them. It was a practical solution to the lack of chalk in Egypt but, typically, an impulsive and perhaps not wholly thought-out one.
    it was seen as a bad omen by the workers.” – his personal soothsayer (fixer or religious/political advisor) said.. “…it simply showed that Alexandria would one day feed the whole world, and according to an ancient source known today as “the pseudo-Callisthenes” in the Alexander Romance,
    when the great man consulted the Egyptian gods himself on the matter, he was told: “The city you are building will be the food-giver and nurse of the whole world” (Arrian, Anabasis, book 3a, chapter 2).
    Politically, probably akin to Trumps advisors smoothing over a “guns for teachers” like comment or something. Seemed legit anyway myth or not.

    You seem to have a problem with referencing text and confusing statements. Is this not how experts talk about their findings in papers etc? Confusing nonetheless, pressing the more info button allows you to read such words for you to google.

    Your problem with oracles – googled it – “alexander the great consults apis” – granted i typed the wrong search as apis is the bull god and not an oracle but I was on the right track and was still able to find a source towards the top of the search page:
    link to gorffennol.swansea.ac.uk
    “How important was it for Alexander to be recognised as pharaoh
    and what did it involve?

    This conversion to Egyptian religion and pharaoh was a key part of his success in Egypt, and across the rest of his empire.
    The accession was multi-faceted and included trips to Memphis, Heliopolis and famously, the
    Zeus-Ammon oracle at Siwa. Alexander’s visits to these sites, his adoption of Nectanebo II as
    father and use of the Egyptian hostility towards Persia, show at the least, a surface-deep
    understanding of Egyptian culture and tradition, as well as a knowledge of how to use this to
    gain a strong political stance in Egypt.

    On his arrival in Egypt, Alexander went to Memphis, where he was traditionally
    coronated and made offerings to gods including Ptah and the Apis bull, as pharaoh.20 This
    confirmed him as pharaoh in the eyes of Egyptians, as he was filling roles only a pharaoh
    could do.”

    The oracle at siwa being one of 3 most renound oracles regocnised in the ancient world – i learned that from this. maybe my trust in this paper is misplaced but i trust it more than a wikipedia page. seems legit. and yes oracles were also a big part of greek culture were they not?

    this is aimed at high school and above as far as the information goes but even in primary school, just walking around to get the feel of it would be invaluable!
    Lesson plan to accompany this tour example:
    – activate prior knowledge (my gf is ateacher :)) what do you know and what do you hope to learn….
    – teachers would pick the most appropriate tours for the curriculum e.g what is a mummy? that tour in particular is amazing.
    – students get together in pairs, someone to play and somone to jot notes for further reading e.g what is trireme? hit the more info button to get the spelling and google it.
    – do a presentation to the class on your findings

    You can indeed interact – there are white markers where you can pray etc (took a while to figure that out to be honest and thats the only one i have activated), you can ride camels and horses, get on and drive boats, fly an eagle etc. For me, awesome, for kids, awesome.

    Then there’s the movable camera during the narration when you’re fixed to one spot. it is useful in say, an artisans workshop where you are directed to the workshop and can look around. sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, still though you have the choice to walk off if you want with the narrator still talking to you.

    The bizarre censoring of naked bits – some countries and cultures censor this stuff! – maybe have an option to activate privates but you have to cater to the lowest common denominator.
    also for primary/high school kids this would be entirely distracting from the pertinent information being offered. even the word sex causes red faces and giggles in early high school, not sure about these days though.

    anyway, rant over, to anyone who reached the end of my counter review please, cook at home once to afford this game or if on ps4 don’t buy COD once to afford this game OR show you parents the educational value to trick them into buying this game for you.
    I signed up just post this comment.
    Thanks.

  23. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Having seen a bit more of it I will say I could do without the unprompted narrator remarks like “Have you visited Alexandria yet?” (I have and you said that 3 times already) or “Did you know you can travel faster on a horse” (twice in a row, while on horseback)… They definitely need to set those to play only once or add an option to turn them off in the next patch.

    And yes, the shells censoring statues are stupid and should be made optional. You already have the art from the original game, so just add a toggle in the menu or optional DLC or something.

    Everything else though… the world is stunning and the tours are interesting, and it’s nice to run around without getting attacked all the time.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      I was going through the Alexandria tour just now, the library, and it seems you can often get additional information such as on the circumference of the Earth if you Y interact with objects around the tours, like the boards with notes. It’s still short and text-only and could do with more detail or references as suggested but there IS more information there.

      It turns out the method was measuring the difference between the length of shadows at the same time in two cities and then taking the distance between those cities and calculating from there. It says this in the game.