Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has so many animals it’s a veritable Noah’s Ark. My loyal eagle Ikaros is always by my side, ready to swoop down and strike at my enemies or just hang out a bit on my gloved hand. Throughout the game I’ve encountered dogs, wolves, ibex, elk, bears, lions and more, and once I unlocked a certain ability I was able to tame many of them. It’s hard to walk more than a minute or two into any undeveloped area without running into a beast, and even when they’re trying to kill me they’re still a welcome sight. They don’t mean me any evil—they’re just trying to survive in a cruel, careless world that would just as soon reduce them to food or soft leather as it would provide for them. Ubisoft went to great lengths to once again create a believable ecosystem full of wildlife, and yet they somehow forgot one crucial thing. I can’t pet any of these critters.
My character can. If I leave Kassandra near a tamed animal long enough, she’ll reach out and pet it. If I don’t do anything at all Ikaros will land on her hand and the two will acknowledge each other tenderly. There is petting all throughout this game, and yet I, the player, the one who should be in control, and who wants to feel that control, am completely divorced from the petting process. It’s like when you’re at a zoo and you see an employee in the otter habitat, playing with them and running their hands through that soft otter fur. Zoos can be terrible because they lock up animals but also because I can’t pet the otters. Animal Creed Odyssey is a giant digital zoo that won’t let me touch anything, and it doesn’t even have the decency to have any otters at all.
All it would take is a single button press. Just one quick tap on the X or A button to pet an animal would help me feel directly connected to that intimate relationship between pet and master. I’d even accept a shoulder button, or a bumper, or even that big flat thing in the middle of the PlayStation 4 controller. That tactile sensation is vital to interacting with a game—pushing buttons gives the assassinations a tangible weight, both morally and physically, elsewhere in Odyssey—and the lack of a pet button creates a distance that momentarily threatens my ability to truly inhabit this world. Simply seeing my character lovingly caress her sweet animal friends isn’t nearly enough—I have to push a button myself for it to truly resonate.
The dedicated pet button is also almost a videogame standard at this point. Don’t blame me for expecting it—blame the industry, which has let us push a button to pet furry critters in so many games over the last few years. At this point if I see some kind of creature shuffling towards me, be it bird, reptile, ungulate, or cetacean, I expect to be able to give it a loving pat on the head however many times I want to. Maybe even a hug. Assassinating is hard, lonely work, with most of it spent lurking in magical bushes that somehow make Kassandra completely invisible. After a long day of sneaking and slaying I need to unwind by pressing a button to make an onscreen character touch another onscreen character that happens to look like an animal.
Watching Kassandra pet an animal, without being able to trigger it myself, isn’t just a failed half-step. It’s a cruel taunt, a vicious punishment, the fruit and water that Tantalus will always see but never taste. When Kassandra’s hands glide across Ikaros’s smooth, supple head, I want it to be my hand that makes it happen. You can do better than this, Ubisoft.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.