Moral ambiguity in a world of assassins
assassinscreed bayek hyena scarab
I've been playing a lot of Assassins Creed: Origins lately, and I've run across something interesting. I haven't played an Assassins Creed game since ACII (and I only got about 75% of the way through that one). My recollection is that these are not games with lots of grey areas. The protagonist is the player-identification figure and it's largely assumed that the protagonist's goals are "good" and his enemies are "bad."
NOTE: This post will contain some substantial spoilers for the story of AC:O, so if you haven't played it, and you intend to, please do yourself a favor and stop here. You have been warned.
We learn Bayek's tragedy pretty early on, and, as befits this series, it involves a Conspiracy. This particular conspiracy has designs on control of Egypt, and they need Bayek for this purpose. To convince him to cooperate, they murder his son. Probably not the smartest way to go about this, in retrospect. Nonetheless, this is the beginning of Bayek's quest for revenge. He is presented with a group of five initial targets, leaders of this plot. He kills the first one at the start of the game. After the other four are slain, he believes that he has exacted his vengeance and ensured his son may rest in the afterlife. Then he discovers that there are more conspirators (of course).
In contrast to the first targets on his list, who seem only interested in power, the next ones are somewhat more complex figures.
If he tackles these in the order of difficulty, as the game intends, you start with the Scarab, later revealed to be a man called Taharqa. Taharqa is working to recruit settlers to the once-lost city of Letopolis. He intends to resurrect this fallen city and bring it prosperity and peace. The game intimates that his methods are brutal, and outright states that he has his henchmen torture and remove the tongue of his father-in-law for the crime of investigating his identity. Yet the game also introduces us (and Bayek) to his doting son and loving wife and has the player fight alongside Taharqa to defeat a plague of bandits in the area. Were it not for the pretty in-your-face example of the Scarab's vicious methods, he would seem like a noble figure.
Next, there is the Hyena, who Bayek discovers is a grieving mother. The game definitely takes a turn for the weird here, and I'm curious to see whether some of the ideas that are touched on here actually go anywhere; if it turns out that this is just some sort of bog-standard, "oh, look, there were ancient aliens in Egypt," I'll be pretty bummed. In any case, she is attempting a ritual to resurrect her dead daughter. It does involve some murder, but, uh, so does doing what Bayek does, and, even though he berates her for trying to do something that is "not for them," I couldn't help but wonder whether a man in his position might not consider doing exactly what she is doing if he harbored any suspicion that it might actually work.
Well, that's as far as I've gotten, but I'm curious to see what lies ahead.