A Storied Past: The History Behind AC Odyssey

Introduction

When Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey hit the ground running in October 2018, its premise piqued my interest. Essentially I could run around in a (mostly) open-world Greece with all the trappings of a good RPG: involved combat mechanics, romancing options, all the loot!, a huge map to explore, and the promise of an epic quest. Generally-speaking, AC: Odyssey was also the closest I was going to get to traveling to Greece and immersing myself in its storied past.

For someone who concerned herself more about romping around Greece on my horse killing those damned Athenians than all of the hullabaloo surrounding Ubisoft’s shift in their approach to Assassin’s Creed, it turned out to be a dream come true. I am almost ashamed to admit I’ve put in over 180 hours of gameplay, and I’m still not done.

Why’s that, you might ask? It’s because I’ve enjoyed the history behind this sprawling epic. History is my background and my passion. I suffered through 8.5 years of school for a piece of paper that shouted to the skies, “I LOVE HISTORY!” More pointedly, I’ve always found Greek history and mythology fascinating.

Spartans versus Athenians? Brawler!

Assassin’s Creed as a series takes place in various historical settings: the Renaissance, Ancient Egypt, the American Revolution, and more. In AC Odyssey, gamers are swept away to the rolling hills and alabaster columns of Greece. The Peloponnesian War forms the historical backdrop against which the game’s action occurs.

You might wonder, what the heck is the Peloponnesian War?

The Peloponnesian War pitted two Grecian factions against each other in a prolonged conflict – the Delian League, headed by Athens; and the Peloponnesian League, headed by Sparta. The two city-states wrestled for control in three phases between 431 and 404 BCE. For reference, AC Odyssey happens right at the beginning of the war in 431 BCE. Ultimately, the Spartans and their allies dominated, and some have said it ended the Golden Age of Greece.

Map of Peloponnesian War alliances
Map of alliances in the Peloponnesian War | Image in the public domain.

Where Do Kassandra and Alexios Fit into the History of AC Odyssey?

Let’s bring in Kassandra and Alexios, the game’s twin protagonists. In this game, you’re able to control one of them. Choosing one of the other doesn’t change the gameplay too much, but it does flavor the text, the cut-scenes, and your romance options.

The game casts Kassandra and Alexios as the grandchildren of the famous Spartan king Leonidas. History knows Leonidas as the man behind the last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae. Popularized by the movie 300, Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae still captures imaginations today though the actual event happened in 480 BCE (around 50 years prior to the events in AC Odyssey) .

19th-century painting by John Steeple Davis, depicting Athenian and Spartan combat during the Battle of Thermopylae
19th-century painting by John Steeple Davis, depicting combat during the battle | Source

The game begins with the Battle of Thermopylae where players learn the basic mechanics of combat by playing as Leonidas. From there, the story moves to Kassandra’s or Alexios’ beginnings where their father throws from the mountain of Taygetos as the result of a misguided “prophecy”. They miraculously survive.

Once you’ve navigated through the prologue, our favorite misthios almost immediately embroils themselves in the war. Athens and Sparta both desire to take advantage of the misthios’ innumerable talents as they seek to tip the scales in their favor. However, it’s up to the player to choose sides or remain neutral. I chose to remain neutral since decision-making often eludes me. On the other hand, I also didn’t hesitate to clear out entire Spartan and Athenian camps if the mood struck me. Such is the breadth of choice in this game!

No matter your path, the misthios, as the center of this game, encounters both friends and foes from history as the game progresses.

Herodotus, Alcibiades, and Pericles: Real-Life Characters in AC Odyssey

Some of the game’s shining moments come from the interactions with various persons pulled right from the historical annals. They make us laugh, ponder, and perhaps even tear up a bit.

Alcibiades

Take, for instance, Alcibiades (written in the game as Alkibiades). According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Alcibiades was

a gifted and flamboyant Athenian statesman and general whose shifting of sides during the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BCE earned him a reputation for cunning and treachery. Good-looking and rich, he was also notorious for his extravagant lifestyle and loose morals. Never short of enemies or admirers – amongst whom was Socrates – he was one of the most colourful leaders in the history of Classical Athens.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia

In short, Alcibiades was a witty playboy whose “love ’em and leave ’em” lifestyle Ubisoft plays up in AC Odyssey.

Image of Alcibiades from Assassin's Creed Odyssey
Ain’t he handsome?

The misthios, in addition to completing various quests for him, has the option to romance this sassy character in several instances. Even moreso, however, the game accurately reflects his ambitious tenacity and drive to play each side for his own personal gains. After causing some mischief in Athens, he promptly flipped to Sparta and advised them on Athenian secrets. Eventually, he returned to Athens a hero after defeating Sparta in a naval battle at Cyzicus in 410 BCE. Unfortunately for Alcibiades, his diplomatic and militaristic philandering ways caught up with him, and someone assassinated him in 404 BCE.

Herodotus

We first meet Herodotus when he’s tasked by the Athenian leader Pericles to travel to see the Pythia at the Sanctuary of Delphi. There, he meets the misthios who desired information of their own. He calls himself a “storyteller”, and throughout the course of the game, players learn more about him and the tales he tells.

His historical counterpart essentially founded the study of “history” through writing his (aptly named) “Histories”. He split this work into nine volumes, each named after a Muse of Greek mythology. Despite some fanciful embellishments and inaccurate information, Herodotus provides us with mostly accurate and reliable commentary and information on what was happening in the Greek world during his lifetime.

I loved how Ubisoft characterized this historian in the game. His calm demeanor and dialogue was a welcome addition to the misthios’ crew, especially in his interactions with Barnabas.

Pericles

It’s hard to write just a couple of paragraphs on Pericles. He was the reason for the Golden Age of Greece. Between his progressive politics and social thinking, he helped transform Athens into the powerhouse it grew into. He promoted arts, literature, and philosophy and helped encourage democracy where anyone (well, any man at that point in time) could participate in government.

His accomplishments are not without criticism, however:

Although Pericles has been criticized as a “populist” who appealed to the baser instincts of the people, as well as a war-monger who encouraged both wars with Sparta, he quite obviously was able to create an atmosphere of freedom of thought and expression which resulted in some of the greatest contributions to world culture ever made.

Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia

History says he succumbed to the first wave of plague that wracked Athens in 429 BCE. In AC Odyssey, already weakened by illness, his death ultimately results from the misthios’ sibling.

More Stories, No Time

I could wax poetic about all of the stories contained within AC Odyssey. There’s so much to explore. I would love to dive into some of the myths players experience. Perhaps that’s for another time. In the meantime, I urge you to go out and explore the world of ancient Greece for yourself!

Please note that this article was cross-posted with sister-site My Life is Geekery and gaming website The Gamerholics.

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