Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Discovery Tour Mode is much more than just an educational tool.
Last week, Ubisoft released the Discovery Tour Mode for Assassin’s Creed Origins. A free download for people who own the game (which is also offered as a stand alone download for those that don’t), The Discovery Tour Mode allows you to roam around the same version of Egypt featured in the core game but instead of hunting down shadowy figures to assassinate, you’re hunting for historical facts. The mode is designed to turn Origins into a “virtual museum” which you can peruse without worrying about combat or quests as structured tours guide you around historically significant locations while offering facts and interesting titbits on everything from mummification to the various wines of ancient Egypt.
Ubisoft describes the Discover Tour Mode as “Purely educational” and having spent several hours with it, I can certainly confirm that it’s very enlightening. A collaboration with a number of Universities and Museums, the virtual tours are packed with facts, educational imagery and interesting anecdotes. As an example of gamification of learning, it’s certainly very effective. In a study that attempted to measure the effectiveness of the Discovery Tour as a teaching tool, it showed that students did learn from the virtual tours (if not as effectively as when taught a traditional lesson on the subject by a teacher). As my son recently completed a module on ancient Egypt at school, he found the Discovery Tour mode to be particularly interesting as it expanded on aspects he’d learnt in the classroom. It was fascinating to watch him relate to what was being said by the tour narrators before listening intently to sections he’d not yet been taught at school.
For me though, The Discovery Tour mode offers more than just facts and figures on the fascinating time period that Origins is set in. For me, this mode is a celebration of the minutiae that Ubisoft have always strived to include in the Assassin’s Creed games and a monument to the passion they have for recreating the past. When you’re stalking guards in the long grass, it’s easy to miss the people picking grapes in a vineyard around you. When you’re bolting down a rode on horseback on the way to shift another member of the hidden order off their mortal coil, it’s easy to ride right past a group of men pulling a block of stone without stopping to ask why. With the Discovery Tour mode, these little touches that make Origins feel so immersive but live on the periphery of the game experience are put front and centre for all to see. It shines a spotlight on the weeks of hard work – the character models, the animation, the draws, the positioning, the AI – that we take for granted when walking down a busy, almost living and breathing Egyption street as Bayek in the core game.
The Discovery Tour mode also acts, in part, as developer commentary. For example; When explaining the various Oils used in Origins, the Tour explains that the oil jars that are littered among many of the camps and structures were included to add options for the player to use. During a tour of the Pyramids, the narrator explains that the development team made passageways wider to make them feel less claustrophobic to the player.
It’s mind blowing when you get to see the amount of world building present in Origins without the distraction of combat or quests and, similarly, to get an insight into some of the game design decisions. Assassin’s Creed was one of my favourite games of 2017 (and continues to be so with the release of The Hidden Ones DLC and the regular ‘Trials of the Gods’ events) but now I appreciate it on a whole new level. This mode has opened my eyes to the depth of research that Ubisoft Montreal put into making Origins feel as real as possible while remaining accessible and entertaining. It has made me realise that much of what I found so engaging and ‘real’ about Origins was because the development team had done their homework and had made it feel that way, as if nothing was by accident.
Hopefully, The Discovery Tour will serve as an example for others. As a tool for education it’s fantastic, leveraging the passion for authenticity that the Assassin’s Creed creators have obviously poured into this game to gamify edification. Other games set in historical locations with a bent for faithfulness, and hopefully future Assassin’s Creed games too, should at least consider doing this if they can afford to do so.
But why stop there?
Movies often come with director commentaries which explain, scene by scene, how and why a film is shot the way it is. With the Discovery Tour, I see the first step on a road for this becoming a regular reality in gaming. Imagine exploring the wilderness of Red Dead Redemption II while a narrator explains the life of the various animals in the game or exploring Mordor in the Middle-earth games while the game designers explain how they interpreted and built upon Tolkien’s world. The Discovery Tour is a genuinely brilliant example of a developer opening up their game to educate and inform but it’s also potentially a watershed moment for gaming legitimacy and a way for developers to break down some of the walls between them and the players in a way both parties could enjoy.