Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is not nearly as romantic as I’d been led to believe.
Her name is Odessa, and, a few hours into Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, she’s the first person in the entire world I can flirt with. A descendant of Odysseus, supposedly, she’s on the island of Ithaca to visit his ruined palace, hoping to find clarity and meaning. Instead, she finds me, Kassandra, a mercenary with a pet eagle. The game tells me I can call her pretty. So I do. It … doesn’t go so well.
The compliment lands fine, but the dialogue option I choose next—something about greatness being something you find for yourself—comes off far differently in voice actor Melissanthi Mahut’s line reading. While I imagined it as encouraging, it sounds pushy, even smug, and Odessa storms off, scandalized by this brutish island woman who doesn’t even know how to flirt right.
Not all is lost with Odessa, if you don’t want it to be. She appears later in the game, and Kassandra can try again, hopefully with more grace this time. Romance lurks elsewhere as well, and while I haven’t played through enough of the game to experience all of them (it’s huge!), I have to say, it’s hard for me to hide my disappointment.
It’s never wise to take pre-release videogame hype to heart, but I admit I did just that when I saw the E3 demo for Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which promised both choice of gender for the player-protagonist and expansive romance options that would remain consistent across that choice. Like a lot of people probably watching, I was caught up in the idea of flirting my way across Ancient Greece, solving the Peloponnesian War with the sheer tenacity of my charm. The reality, though, leaves much to be desired, and has me thinking about the expectations we place around romance in games.
The idea of romance as a central aspect of game roleplaying has seemed to explode in the past few years, fueled by the increased prominence of dating sims in the West, and aided by the significant fandom around game series like BioWare’s Mass Effect solely—some of which are based solely around the romance plotlines built into them.
At this point, romance feels like a required component of proper worldbuilding, so it makes sense that Odyssey—which marks the Assassin’s Creed franchise’s transformation from action/adventure into sprawling RPG—would attempt it. But the results are limited in a way that feels too familiar. Odyssey turns love into a tiny, walled-off part of its characters lives, an occasional flirtatious distraction amidst all the assassinating and building-climbing when it could have been so much more.
Why sexuality remains so compartmentalized in gaming is, frankly, baffling. Not all stories need sexuality, and not all people want to be sexual, but sexuality could constitute an organic, interesting part of a character’s life in worlds like Odyssey‘s. Creating romance options for everyone in the world would be an engineering nightmare—but why can’t I at least flirt more? Why is thinking about my protagonist’s sex life something that only happens when an in-depth romance pops up? If I’m going to occupy this person’s life, let me occupy it, fully.
Odyssey was never obligated to offer that. And it’s still a compelling game, if a bit paint-by-numbers. But there’s so much more that it and games like it could be doing, if they really want to make their worlds as compelling as possible.
But hell, while I’m in Greece, I might as well try to find Odessa. See what she’s up to. You never know.
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social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/assassins-creed-odyssey-romance