Editor's Note: There are some slight spoilers for romantic options in Assassin's Creed Odyssey.
Back when Assassin's Creed Odyssey was first revealed, Ubisoft Quebec played up its role-playing aspects. Odyssey is focused heavily on player choice, with branching storylines and extensive dialog. Many of the choices are of a moral or mortal variety—who lives, who dies, who dies gruesomely—but some are about romance. For the first time in the franchise, players can choose who they romance on the seaside vistas of Ancient Greece.
When many players think "romance", they think back to BioWare's role-playing game offerings. Games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect popularized the idea of romances as an ongoing relationship you build up over the course of a game. Only certain characters could be romanced, depending largely on your character's gender. The right dialog choices, gifts, and quests were required to find a place in your chosen paramour's heart.
The romance options in Assassin's Creed Odyssey aren't like that at all.
During my playtime, my version of Alexios has Captain Kirk-ed his way across all of Ancient Greece. If a romance option appeared, I took it. Young, old, male, or female; my Alexios does not care. I spread life with the equally reckless abandon that I spread with death. Like Captain Jack in Doctor Who, if you're up for a romp, then so am I.
Odyssey doesn't differentiate between Alexios and Kassandra in terms of romance options. Every character that you can romance, you can sleep with as either character. And once the deed is done, you're not likely to see that character again. Some can join your crew as lieutenants, but they're so weak compared to the ones you'll find out in the world that I tend to dismiss them immediately. It's less romance and more one day flings. You're an important person on an important journey, leaving behind a series of great nights for a swath of people.
"We have a handful of romances around the world that have their own enclosed stories and they're all different and it doesn't matter who you play as-you can access all of them, or none of them, or some of them. You can also engage with these quests even if you don't want to get with romance, a lot of them were built for the purpose of being a romance but you can always do the quest [and] just totally forget about that," Odyssey narrative director Mel MacCoubrey told USgamer previously.
It's weird, but also oddly liberating. My Alexios has slept with a young woman who believes she's the heir to Odysseus; a blacksmith as payment for a weapon; a young doctor who is trying to decide if his fortune-telling mother needs to die; an old woman whose husband isn't up to the task; and a young woman who's trying to find her place in Sparta. Alexios has even participated in an orgy with Alkibiades, a prominent Athenian historical figure and general.
The reference to Captain Kirk or his future counterparts Commander Riker or Captain Jack (from Doctor Who) is an apt one. Alexios and Kassandra are smooth, smooth criminals. They can hit on someone at the drop of a hat. They can respect someone's desire to get to real business first—killing someone, delivering an item, or collecting some needed objects—but they're always ready for a shag.
There is one romance that actually feels somewhat like the BioWare romances of old. On the island of Mykonos, you'll meet Kyra and Thelatas, a couple who are working together to topple the local regime. You can romance either of them. On Kyra's side, Alexios not only helps her with local resistance missions, you also eventually uncover part of her backstory.
Across Kyra's series of quests, you have time to get to know and understand her. When the romance is consummated, it feels real. You've worked your way up to what ends up being a beautiful moment. And when it's done, you go your separate ways, because you have a journey and she has a newly-liberated home to govern. If I had a problem with the romances in Odyssey, it's that I wish there were more like this.
While the open one night stands are odd in the beginning, you slowly start to realize that Ubisoft's choices allow the player to largely define their sexuality. Is your Alexios or Kassandra straight, gay, bisexual, or even asexual? That's up to you. With every new encounter, you have the chance to define your character again.
"The truth is that making a romance available for both genders is far less costly than creating an entirely new one," said former Dragon Age lead writer David Gaider many years ago in regards to Dragon Age 2 allowing same-sex relationships.
Odyssey's romantic conquests lack a sense of permanence; they're fleeting moments before you move onto the next port. For Ubisoft, it's cheaper to allow every romance to work the same with Alexios and Kassandra. For the player, it offers another vector to express themselves and the kind of character they're trying to role play. It doesn't really matter that in another reality, Kyra is romancing someone else's Alexios or Kassandra; it's a single-player game and the only reality that matters is the one in front of you right now.
When USgamer spoke Odyssey's narrative director before, she called the romances "experimental." "We're trying it out, we'll see how it goes," she said.
I think that they're a fantastic idea. It's more spring fling than long-lasting relationship, but I like the freedom of being able to choose who gets a shag from the wielder of the The Spear of Leonidas. The series should lean into this idea and improve upon it, building some longer, deeper stories around the romantic variety. We're not getting another Mass Effect or Dragon Age anytime soon, so I'm glad the heir apparent is heading in the right direction.