When Ubisoft announced Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, they revealed it would allow players to form romantic partnerships with NPCs throughout the world of Ancient Greece.
Once players got in and started playing the game, however, it became clear that romance in Assassin's Creed Odyssey would work differently than it had in other similar games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, or The Witcher 3. In those games, the player had a couple of characters they could romance casually and a couple of characters with whom they could choose to forge an ongoing relationship.
In Odyssey, romance happens much more fluidly and much more frequently. Many characters throughout the game during both main quests and side quests offer romantic options, and many of those don’t progress much past a single sexual encounter.
This may seem odd, but it actually fits well with the overall vibe of Ancient Greek sexuality. Spending time with Assassin's Creed Odyssey makes players realize how strange it would have felt if romance options didn’t exist in the game considering the cultural significance of sexuality at the time.
Flirting Comes Easily
Players familiar with romance options in games might find their first flirtatious interactions a little bit jarring in Odyssey. In most RPG games with romance systems, like Dragon Age, the relationships evolve slowly. Games usually give players a chance to build a connection with the character of their desires before things become obviously flirtatious. Some light flirting might ensue in early dialogue options, but it usually takes a few interactions before that flirting becomes substantial.
In Assassin's Creed Odyssey, the flirting comes at the player fast and maybe a little aggressively. Players get dialogue options that allow them to flirt within the first few lines of a conversation. The player, or the NPC for that matter, will make some suggestive comments pretty quickly. The game has an openness to its romance system wherein a character can boast their desires and the player can decide to join them or let them down.
This openness in flirting comes directly from Ancient Greek culture. The naked body had no shame attached to it and much of the art of the time involved all kinds of nudity and sexuality. This helped create a culture of people who felt free to express themselves. Even the Greek Gods had very outward sexual proclivities.
Knowing all of this, it makes sense that Odyssey would feature this flirtatious directness.
More than Just Romance Options
In other RPGs, a character might have one or two sexual partners depending on how certain conversations played out. Players usually build romantic relationships with characters over time which result in exclusivity and longevity in sexual partnerships. This works really well narratively because it gives players an opportunity to truly get to know a character before they begin a sexual relationship.
Odyssey doesn't have such a singular view of romantic relationships. As the player travels around Ancient Greece, opportunities for sexual partnership will appear as often as rare armor. The player doesn't have much of an option to settle down with any of the characters they meet. If the game does imply an ongoing relationship, then it comes without the exclusivity and strings that players might experience in other games.
Ancient Greeks viewed sex as a part of their life and had no concept of sexual sin. They didn't tie sex to religious ceremony and they didn't stigmatize it or push for exclusivity. In fact, Greeks of the time celebrated all kinds of sex and sexuality. Art, sculpture, and terra cotta vases and pots featured very sexualized images that depicted acts and taboos that modern society would deem explicit.
In many instances, Odyssey treats sex like a handshake and no one rolls their eyes or casts judgement on the characters who express their sexuality in the open.
No Gender Preference
When a game announces it will include same-sex romance options, folks never know how it will play out. In the past, the games would offer one or two characters who would swing both ways and then maybe one or two who prefer same-sex partners exclusively. The games limit the options for players to emulate gender preferences in society.
Odyssey does things differently here as well. In the beginning of the game, players choose whether or not they want to play as a male or a female character. Once they start, this choice has little to no effect on the romance options provided to the player. Both Kassandra and Alexios will have the opportunity to sleep with the same men or women and the game never treats it like a novelty or taboo.
This, too, tracks with what anthropologists know about Greek culture of the time. For the Greeks, sex between two partners just represented sex, regardless of the gender. Same-sex acts did not define a person in Greek society as one thing or another. The culture of the time believed that desire for same or opposite-sex relationships exemplified just that: desire. It did not label a person.
With the sexual decisions in Odyssey remaining the same regardless of the player's gender, it creates a world that representes the beliefs of Ancient Greek society without the need to address them directly. It handled it so well, that when Odyssey's first DLC story forced characters into a heterosexual relationship, players felt betrayed.
A Historical Take
At no point during Assassin's Creed Odyssey does the game feel like it aims to make a political statement about gender or sexuality. This makes sense because Assassin's Creed games have always focused on creating a realistic cultural bubble. They dedicate so many resources to historical accuracy that the National History Museum used Assassin's Creed Origin as an exhibit.
In Odyssey, that goal hasn't changed. The game does a fantastic job of recreating an entire country that feels ripped out of ancient times. Part of doing that means a commitment to exploring ideas that could prove controversial in our current times. The team behind Odyssey found a way to represent the Ancient Greek's fluid sexual culture without instigating controversy. As a result, the final product feels like a genuine representation of the time.