Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Coming Home
Persia is the homeland of Assassin’s Creed, but will it ever go there?
There has never been an Assassin’s Creed game set in Iran. There have been games set in the Holy Land, Turkey, and Egypt, but not Iran. This is in spite of Alamut, in northwest Iran, being the birthplace of the order that the games take their name from. Instead, the original 2007 game revolved around the Masyaf (Syrian) sect led by Rashid ad-Din Sinan during the Third Crusade, before its sequels moved to fictitious sects in Renaissance Italy, Revolutionary France and anywhere else really.
However, Assassin’s Creed II (2009) did establish a Persian warrior named Darius invented the Assassins’ signature weapon — the Hidden Blade — to kill King Xerxes in 465 BC. In the ‘Legacy of the First Blade’ expansion for the latest game, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, players can befriend a grizzled Darius in Ancient Greece, and watch in flashback how he ambushed Xerxes as a young man.
As large a game as Odyssey is, you always feel aware you are playing in the shadow of something far greater: the Persian Empire was simply enormous, extending from Asia Minor and Egypt to India. Imagine if you will, game developers Ubisoft had chosen to make a game about the tribes north of the Roman Empire rather than the empire itself. Yet that’s what they, and historians and linguists for centuries before them have done. To quote Dutch historian Jona Lendering:
It is remarkable that there have been more scholars who have studied the fuss and bustle on the northwestern border of the Achaemenid empire than researchers who have analyzed the world power itself. Of course, there are good reasons for this situation. Greece is relatively close to western Europe, where Greece had, since the age of the great art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), a more or less privileged status as the cradle of western civilization. Another reason is that the impressive Greek collection of literary, scientific and other texts has survived, whereas there is no such collection from Persia. [The collection of religious texts known as the Avesta dates from the fifth or sixth century CE.] Moreover, in their historical writings, the Greek authors make it clear that the Persians are a mere bunch of decadent, effeminate barbarians, natural slaves that could be ignored in the history of mankind. The Greeks themselves had the best culture and there was simply nothing that other civilizations could add. Western scholars have long accepted this judgment.
It is also perhaps unsurprising Ubisoft haven’t made an Assassin’s Creed in Iran given the series’ origins lie in another Persian-inspired game franchise, Jordan Mechner’s Prince of Persia. Patrice Désilets, the creator of Assassin’s Creed, was also the creative director on 2003’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and originally intended the 2007 game as a spin-off titled Prince of Persia: Assassin.
There hasn’t been a Prince of Persia game since 2011’s The Forgotten Sands (no pun intended), but Ubisoft is perhaps still holding out hope to return there someday. That would be a shame: Assassin’s Creed has superseded Prince of Persia partly as it’s a more historically accurate series, and it would be disappointing if Iran was constantly relegated to the overly fantastical Prince of Persia universe.
When Assassin’s Creed returns to Asia, it will inevitably head to the more flamboyant and colourful locales of China and Japan, and possibly India, before it even thinks of heading to Iran (and maybe even Russia before that). I’m sure many will appreciate that, but as someone half-Chinese, I cannot help but feel more intrigued by a game set in a less familiar country.
Perhaps someday we’ll get a game that fully immerses us in the width and breadth of the Persian Empire, but that day is a long way off. At the very least, if it happens, it’ll be the largest and most technically complex entry in the series to date, and that is a most encouraging thought.