When I first played LA Noire, I'd never been to LA. I drove around the streets, ignoring crimes in favor of the sun-soaked La Brea tar pits and the glossy, art deco interiors of hotels and banks. GTA V, for me, is a game about Californian tourism as made possible by copious amounts of vehicle theft. But many games don't offer the blood-free roaming option, even by accident.
You can't stroll around Dishonored's worlds, admiring the beautifully-crafted architecture, without being noticed and body-slammed by the nearest guard; you'll never be able to have a nice old jolly in Breath of the Wild's grassy plains without attracting the ire of some underpaid, overworked bokoblin.
But Assassin's Creed: Origins, the upcoming prequel in the historical stab-simulator series, set in Egypt, has introduced what Ubisoft is calling "Discovery Tour"—essentially, a photo mode plus. "Discovery Tour lets players roam the entire game world without constraints or threats," reads a blog post on the Ubisoft website, "exploring a sprawling landscape that includes Memphis, Alexandria, the Sand Sea, and the Giza Plateau at their own pace."
The ability to explore, worry-free, is something that Assassin's Creed games have always missed: a chance to play NPC in an historical recreation, to wander around the streets of Paris, London, or Florence and soak in the conversations and culture that have been painstakingly recreated with the help of artists and historians.
Previously, all this work would have been filed away in the Animus Database, read aloud in a snarky, sarcastic voice by Danny Wallace's world-weary historian, Shaun Hastings. While it offered insights into the world they had built, it felt like an afterthought—not of the creators of the game, but of the characters themselves. Desmond didn't care about history, he just wanted to murder some fools.
The blog describes Discovery Tour as a "living museum"—something Assassin's Creed has long been for people who care about that sort of thing, but the game's violence and cutscenes tended to disrupt from the appreciation of one's surroundings.
The most exciting thing about Discovery Tour is that it'll let us live history (as close as is possible for the time being). It will let us watch as a body is prepared for mummification. It will let us absorb the atmosphere of a living, breathing city. I've been to the ancient, ruined city of Pompeii, and it's fascinating, but it's not alive—it's hard to imagine people we've only read about in history books walking around and living like we do.
The second most exciting thing is that now you can legitimately play video games for homework.