With Assassin’s Creed Odyssey just around the corner, I find myself thinking back to last year’s entry in the series, Origins. It was packed full of side quests and collectables and set pieces – in short, everything we’ve come to expect from a Ubisoft open world adventure. But one moment in my playthrough still stands out to me. It was almost entirely unscripted, driven by my own exploration, and – because this is an Assassin’s Creed game we’re talking about – involves a dead body.
Spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Origins and Revelations below the cut.
The body in question was once Khaliset, who you might remember as ‘The Hyena,’ one of the game’s villains. There were a lot of those, and even though I thought Origins’ story was pretty good, I don’t remember many of the people that protagonist Bayek killed on his quest to avenge his son and protect Egypt. But I do remember Khaliset.
Bayek meets her in a pyramid where she’s trying to gather information and resources that she believes will eventually help her to resurrect her daughter. It’s an immediately sympathetic story, even though she’s obviously one of the bad guys, especially considering Bayek’s own primary motivation is the loss of his child. Still, Bayek kills her in a dramatic boss fight, as she shifts around in a blinding sandstorm, sending hyenas and arrows through the dust.
It’s one of the game’s many striking moments, but didn’t immediately take on any more significance. Instead, it was when I stumbled onto the battlefield again later, while I was exploring aimlessly, that I noticed that her body had never despawned.
In fact, because I didn’t recognise the area thanks to the sand that had been blowing everywhere, I didn’t realise it was Khaliset at first. I went to investigate the body because, it’s a video game, I was expecting loot. Instead, I realised it was someone that I had murdered, and it all looked a lot less dramatic without the storm and sepia overlay. She was just lying there, between a couple of hyena corpses.
Maybe what happened next happened because Origins often talks about death beyond just saying "hey, go kill those people." Being set in Ptolomeic Egypt, there are multiple quests that talk about the practice of mummification, and how important it was to people. Khaliset had wanted to be reunited with her daughter in the afterlife, and she wouldn't get there without the proper rites. So while I walked past the corpse at first, I hesitated. And then I decided to take her body somewhere where she could get them.
There’s probably more than one mummification practitioner on the map, but there was only one that I happened to remember off the top of my head. It was a long trek. I loaded Khaliset onto the back of my camel and set off into the desert, and after a while dropped her off on a table next to all the equipment and jars. It wasn't exactly ceremonial, but it still felt like the right thing to do.
I never went back to check if her body eventually despawned, but it was always what I remembered about the game, even as I’m thinking about Odyssey coming out. It’s also reminiscent of another experience I had in an earlier Assassin’s Creed game: after Maria Thorpe’s death in Revelations.
Maria Thorpe is an antagonist in the original Assassin’s Creed game, but by this fourth instalment she’s been transformed into Altaïr’s love interest. Then she's killed, and Altaïr must escape a swarm of enemies. But just like with Khaliset, I really didn’t want to just leave her body lying there, so I slung it over my shoulder to take it with me. Except at one point in the escape, there’s a scripted cutscene of Altaïr leaping from a window, and, of course, Maria is nowhere to be seen. Once it transitioned back to gameplay, her body was gone. Sorry, Maria. I did my best.
I’m really looking forward to playing Assassins Creed Odyssey, and I hope that it’ll have similar memorable moments that’ll help it stand out from the other entries in the series – though I suppose they don’t necessarily have to be quite so morbid.