After more than 100 hours in Assassin’s Creed Origins, arriving in Ubisoft’s history-focused Discovery Tour is a strange experience. Everything looks the same but is somehow different. The sand still swirls around Bayek’s feet, hippos wallow in the murky waters on the banks of the Nile, and the golden tips of the pyramids twinkle invitingly across Giza, but this is a world of walking tours, not steering predator arrows into enemy heads. Like a cosplay trip to a local comic con, that hidden blade on your arm is for decorative purposes only. Everything is not permitted here.
Ancient Egypt is still very much alive though. Bandits and Romans hurtle across the world on horseback and stand guard at encampments, but there’s no more waiting for them to pass below and tapping the button for an air assassination while hollering “just thought I’d drop in”. Death has been relegated to the corpses being systematically emptied into canopic jars as part of the mummies tour in Memphis. Honestly, it takes a few minutes to get used to but Discovery Tour means Ubi’s sprawling beautiful world becomes the biggest museum you’ve ever seen and the result is pretty incredible. Here’s what it’s like to go hands on before the free download arrives for all Origins owners on Feb 20. And yes, don’t worry, you can switch back to the normal mode if all the learning/desire to kill gets a bit too much to handle.
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1. Welcome to a museum with no queues or kids
An impressive 75 individual tours await across Ancient Egypt. While you can ride, run or just take a leisurely stroll to your destination, there’s a helpful section of the new menu that’s switched out ability points and gear for a new tours section. Divided into topics, you can hunt for Egypt specific lessons, tours around pyramids or various cities, and even hunt down specific lessons about daily life. It’s extraordinarily thorough. Only got 10 mins? You can see exactly how many stations each tour has and how long it will take in the menu and immediately fast travel to go through the stations. Suddenly got a craving to know exactly how beer and bread was made in 49BCE? There’s definitely a tour for you that you can happily watch while eating a sandwich and swilling a pint.
Ubi has done its homework too on how to keep museum audiences happy. Every stop on each tour is short, sweet, informative, and backed up with other imagery that you can admire or minimise. Nothing drones on and impressive new cinematic camera angles have been added so you can see the world in a new way. Suddenly the interiors of pyramids become works of art. Chambers and tunnels are no longer just holes to scurry down to find even more Legendary loot and carbon crystals. Ancient Egypt suddenly has even more layers. You thought you already appreciated this world but you really don’t.
2. Development secrets await
While you’ll be largely experiencing actual history on each tour, there are stacks of development Easter eggs between the real facts. Flashing up in blue writing, these behind the scenes info-bites finally give the developers true credit for the smallest of extra details that I can only imagine they told at least their partners about to try and stay sane. One tiny trivia point in the (aforementioned) beer and bread tour revealed that some of Assassin’s Creed Origins’ NPCs wander around looking pained because they have toothache because of all the sand that makes its way into their food. Yes, seriously.
It’s one of thousands of incidental details we don’t even see as we ride flaming steeds across the sands in the name of the fledgling Brotherhood. Would this always have been there in any Assassin’s Creed game, even if the Discovery Tour wasn’t a factor, you ask? “Yes! The answer is yes,” grins creative director Jean Guesdon when I ask him, incredulous. “In our research on that subject, they taught us that sand was a big issue. Sand is everywhere, wind is always blowing and so this is why they’re always sweeping the sand. Because of that there was always sand and little rocks in the bread, leading to teeth problems. This was part of the logical, credible world that we would have done anyway. Now, when it came to the Discovery Tour, we said that food is important so let’s talk about bread and beer. So we thought, yes, we have this so let’s talk about that but let’s say it. This is how we came up with these behind the scenes moments.”
3. You can go anywhere as anyone
Given that you can now battle with a giant cotton bud spear and ride a Final Fantasy Chocobo across the sands, Origins already lends itself to customisation but Discovery Tour takes this one step further. Want to climb pyramids with Cleopatra and surf down them as Julius Caesar? How about ride a camel as Desmond Miles’ father William, or explore a tomb or two with rebel Abstergo employee Layla? There are 24 characters to choose from as you explore Ancient Egypt and it makes an enjoyably surreal wander as each one of them goes through the normal animations. You can even switch out Bayek for young Shadya or Khemu *double sob*, and market trader Reda is in there too with his trademark camel. Adorably they’re all too small to row properly, stretching up to reach the oar and, a word to the wise, don’t even attempt to try out ziplines…
Ubi has always used the word playground to describe its historical universes and nowhere has this been more true than in the Discovery Tour. Even if you don’t take the lessons, you can still do everything you would normally do - except, y’know, murder the locals. Swimming, climbing, sailing, it’s all here, along with the ever impressive photo mode. “It was really important to have this sense of being able to fully experience the world,” confirms Guesdon. “Removing the stealth and the combat was not hard. We knew from the get go it was a different experience. The purpose of it is really to take the time and to be in a time machine. ‘Let’s just have a walk or a little cruise on the Nile without any risk’.”
4. There are secret activity spots
While death and looting is out, there are some intriguing new ways you can interact with the world. I’m on a tour about aqueducts - much more interesting than it sounds - when I spot a white circle on the ground. Heading over as Julius Caesar, I discover that these mean you can perform certain tasks. Caesar helpfully grabs a hammer and starts working away on the construction. I just let him work away for a bit and appreciate the irony. It’s yet another way that Ubi is playing with the way we interact with its worlds. This is a new toy not just for us but for the studio too.
“Oh you found those did you? This is one of the features that are a little bonus,” Guesdon concedes when prodded on the topic. “We don’t communicate on that because they are not core to the experience but we felt like ‘you know what, with this new AI framework’ we can do that. Now NPCs aren’t positioned in a certain way. They move. They go to work. They sleep. We thought ‘now we can share the animation pool so let’s use that too.’ So already being able to interact and as civilian or as a soldier or as Julius Caesar is something different. Now you can interact with the world in a more civilian way. In ways that are not about fighting, about chasing people. That also reinforced the feeling of being part of that and understand the world a bit better. I don’t know if you cooked bread? This is a little surprise that we want people just to have fun with. It’s an extra thing. Once you get how it works, it’s super simple. It’s a cool addition that shows we can do other things with these worlds now. To use these worlds for other purposes.”
5. Aaand don’t worry you can still pat cats
The question on everyone’s lips. Yes, your character can still befriend the noisy felines that entangle themselves in your digital legs. Crouch down and you can pat happy cat heads for as long as your heart desires. This is the only way you’ll be able to interact with nature though. While Senu can still be sent up to stretch her wings, the animals across Egypt are now entirely placid. Crocodiles will happily swim past you, hippos won’t come charging out of the fields like like furious bulls and make you drop your controller. Far from being boring, it’s a perfect way to wander Egypt and admire the animals in their natural habitat. I even got to wander past a group of hyenas who were fast asleep. Yes, of course I took pictures of them when they weren’t gleefully trying to eat my face.
Discovery Tour then is a new way to see Origins' world that redefines what it means to play. The tours are informative and I don’t doubt they’ll be incredible for use in a classroom but it’s the way that the world can have its dangers turned off that’s impressive here. Walking from region to region, all risk and distraction removed immediately makes you truly look at the world around you. Like a day where you were pissed off you forgot your headphones, heard the birds singing in a nearby tree and suddenly wondered if it was like that every day, The Discovery Tour is a relaxing break from the killing and chaotic madness of Assassin’s Creed Origins. Regardless though, after an hour of peace, I’m heading back to the fray. Those Romans aren’t going to stab themselves in the neck…