I have Assassin’s Creed Odyssey installed and updated on my PS4, but every time I boot up my console, I select the game right next to it: Assassins Creed Origins. I want to beat the older game and move on to the newest one, but I can’t, because I keep accepting new side quests.
For my whole life, I’ve had this problem in games where if an NPC offers me a side quest, I have to do it. It was a huge hindrance in games like Dragon Age, where just walking down a mountain road can lead to me mistakenly bumping into a person assigning a side quest, which I then would have to do, no matter what. I ended up getting 100% on many areas in Dragon Age games simply out of my own weird emotional obligation, not because I enjoyed it.
In Assassin’s Creed Origins, side quests are opt-in. If I see an exclamation point over someone’s head, I can choose to ignore them and go about my business of trying to track down main questlines, beat the game, and move on. The thing is, side quests in Assassin’s Creed Origins feel very rewarding to play. There have been a few boring ones, but many of them have entire plotlines that add even more colour to an already vibrant, textured world. That makes it all the harder to ignore these extra quests, even when I don’t “need” to do them.
This week, I saw an exclamation mark on the map in Giza. Even though I didn’t need to level up Bayek any further in order to play the next main questline in my queue, I found myself walking over to it to investigate. (The rest of this story contains spoilers for the “What’s Yours Is Mine” quest.)
The side quest seemed boring at first. I found an unconscious man named Corteseos, and as I tried to rouse him, I got knocked out from behind. Once the two of us woke up, Corteseos told me that his precious geographical notes had been stolen by whatever thieves had incapacitated him (and, later, me). He had been trying to make a map of the area, and now I had to track down these thieves and get his notes back. I’ve already tracked down a lot of missing pieces of paper in video games over the years, so this quest sounded like a real snooze.
As I wandered off in search of the thieves, whose probable location I found thanks to my magical bird Senu, I thought to myself, “I don’t need to do this questline. If I don’t find this man’s geographical notes, nothing bad will happen. He’ll be sad about it, but that doesn’t matter, because he is a character in a video game.” And yet, even as I thought this, I pictured Corteseos wandering around sand-swept Giza forever, without his notes, doomed to never advance his own storyline. He’s just a digital facsimile of a person, and yet I felt obligated to help him.
Once I got to the right place, I found something surprising: a young boy digging through the old ruins. One of my favorite parts of Assassin’s Creed Origins is Bayek’s interactions with children. Bayek’s backstory in the game is that his own son died, and the game has an underlying theme of lost children looking to Bayek for help. When Bayek meets children, he often smiles at their follies and plays with them, and these brief moments of joy crystallize the game’s overall story of grief and trauma.
The young boy claimed not to have seen any thieves, but his voice sounded hesitant. I kept walking around and found more children with equally indirect answers. Eventually, the kids admitted that thieves had forced them to steal, because the baddies had kidnapped the children’s protector, Anta: “We’ve given everything to the bandits from the hills west of Hemon Tombs. They have Anta too and won’t give her back unless we steal for them!”
What had begun as a boring search for some missing geography notes had spiralled into an Oliver Twist-esque tale of street urchins driven to thievery and a kidnapped woman who was their “protector” and probably a total bad-ass. I headed off to the thieves’ ring, and after I took out all of the bandits, I looked around for either the notes or a cage holding a woman. The notes weren’t there, and neither was any human woman. Shockingly, the “protector” Anta was an adorable dog, locked up in a cage and in need of my rescue.
Bayek set Anta free. As the two of us headed back to find the children, Bayek said to her affectionately, “So, Anta, you are a protector too?” Once we found the kids, who were excited to see Anta, they explained that the notes were probably being held by the biggest, baddest bandit in the area, a towering horseman. After killing off the horse-riding culprit and reclaiming the notes, I headed back again.
Corteseos wasn’t just happy to receive his notes, he was almost tearful. The voice actor really brought out the emotion in his delivery of the line, “My notes! By Zeus! I can’t believe it! I owe you my life!” Bayek introduced Corteseos to the “thieves,” the young children who had conked both of us over the head earlier. We all shared a chuckle of relief that the true bandits had been conquered.
Corteseos had to chart out a map of Memphis next, but he had no idea how to get there. Turns out, the young street urchins knew the way. As Corteseos blissfully headed off in the direction of what he thought was Memphis, one of the kids grabbed his arm and pointed the other way. Everyone laughed and headed off on their new journey together, now on the correct path.
As I watched them walk away, with loyal Anta in tow, I felt satisfied and thankful that I hadn’t abandoned what initially appeared to be a boring quest. The tiny side-story had epitomized all of Assassin’s Creed Origins’ core themes: helping children, clearing towns of enterprising bandits, and uniting people with shared interests in a common goal. Now, the children had a new father figure in their life in Corteseos, and he had new smart friends to help him in an honest and important job. If I hadn’t tried to find Corteseos’ notes, he would’ve just sat in sadness forever, but also, the children would’ve stayed under the thumb of those bandits. I mean, sure, they’re video game characters. But I helped them, and my reward was seeing a beautiful end to their story.
Unfortunately, this means that I can’t get to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey quite yet. I have a lot more side quests to do.
Header image: Screenshot: YouTube