You don’t need to know the backstory of Shoeless Ogarneos, a mercenary who may try to kill you in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but the word in the game is that this ancient Greek killer-for-hire only wore bandages on his feet and “liked the red tint they had at the end of each day.”
I can also tell you, thanks to an in-game description, that the mercenary Xander the Poison King didn’t jump on the bandwagon with poison recently but became fascinated by it as a child.
In a December update to Odyssey, a new mercenary showed up: Agis of the North. Here’s his story:
Agis of the North promised himself that he’d return to his home in Persia before he died. It’s said he had nightmares where he could no longer remember the name of the town he was from. Unfortunately his nightmare became reality, and he never made it back.
That’s kind of sad!
And to think I might just have to kill Agis of the North anyway.
There are dozens of mercenaries prowling the massive world of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, all with little stories behind them that are easily missable. For much of the 71 hours that I’ve played the game so far, I’ve simply encountered the mercs as one does the police in a Grand Theft Auto: I make a ruckus, they come after me, I flee from them or fight them. Occasionally, I have checked the game’s dedicated mercenary menu and scrolled through the posed representations of each mercenary, but until recently, I ignored the little stories written beside each one. There’s no gameplay incentive to read them. Their bios aren’t clues to their locations, nor do they mention strengths and weaknesses, which are indicated with icons next to their bios. (Shoeless Ogarneos, it might be helpful to know, “takes more damage from ranged attacks.”)
Recently, one merc bio caught my eye. I was looking up Vettias the Divided and saw the entry next to him about how he became a “misthios,” the game’s Greek term for mercenary:
Taken by the call of duty, Vettias the Divided went to war as a misthios. It’s said he did so for honour, choosing that over the love of his family. Over time, it’s believed he found nothing glorious about war, and dreamed only of returning to his family. Unfortunately, he never found them again.
I only read that bio after I killed him.
This was a new layer of the game that I’d discovered, and I loved it. I always get a kick out of finding hidden signs of joyful craft buried in blockbuster games. Look what I found that other players may have missed! Someone or some team got the gig to write these totally optional mercenary bios. Someone decided that, hey, we won’t just have a roaming crew of enemies to hunt or be hunted by the player, but also, they’ll all have stories.
The stories make the mercs feel more real, giving them the sense of having motivation independent of tracking the player. Some simply convey how badass these men and women are. Of Exekias the Legend, we learn that behind him “was a trail of desolation and the eerie silence of death.” Fun guy. Other personal tales feel perfectly suited to a Greek drama. Take Amphiritrite, Man-Eater, who was “often told she was beautiful and would make a great wife” but preferred the art of killing: “At the beginning of her career, she tricked men into giving her gifts. She then sold them for coin she used for her armour and weapons.” Crafty!
Perhaps these bios are meant to give me a tiny second of pause before deciding to hunt these mercenaries. Usually, though, the mercs descend upon me so quickly that I just fight them to the death. These days, I usually end up reading their bios after I have looted their corpses. The bios are sometimes sad, and I’ll feel a tinge of one of those feelings games can rarely make me feel: guilt.
I’m fascinated by the effort Odyssey’s developers have put into giving their mercenaries some flair. Imagine if such an effort could be expanded. Imagine if we could know the stories of even more characters we encounter in a game world, more about the childhoods of our foes, the hopes of our enemies and maybe even the dreams of our friends.
I’m into these bios and I’m going to read them all. I guess my lengthy Assassin’s Creed Odyssey playtime is going to get even longer.