‘Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’ Hands-On Preview
What do you think about when someone says “Assassin’s Creed?” You think, of course, about assassinating people. But that’s likely not all that comes to mind. You might also think of exploring open worlds, connecting to real-world history, and moving acrobatically across the map.
That’s what Ubisoft is betting on. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the upcoming entry in the franchise, shifts from an historically minded open-world stealth game to an action-RPG like The Witcher 3. Odyssey, which has been in development for the past three years and was designed in tandem with last year’s entry, Assassin’s Creed Origins, will complete a process that Senior Producer Marc-Alexis Cote and others described as “going full RPG.” Fans saw the beginning of this process in Origins, which added stat-laden weapons and armor, but Odyssey tacks on more of what fans of Mass Effect would associate with modern RPGs, including player-controlled dialogue options, and customizable combat abilities. (The loot is coming back, too).
That change means turning away from some of the series’ core tenets. Though purists will be able to wear a cowl and stalk guards in tall grass, Odyssey has a combat-forward design philosophy. The character you control is not an Assassin, and their skill set suggests you should run towards battles, not sneak around it.
I must confess, I didn’t think highly of Assassin’s Creed Origins. While a beautiful game with some great characters, its gameplay is messy — a missing link between the original, stealth-centric Assassin’s Creed and the more combat-heavy adventure the series hopes to become. After spending a couple of hours with Odyssey and seeing the changes they’ve implanted — from giving players agency over dialogue, to creating protagonists who do not seem the least bit interested in sneaking around — it seems Odyssey will effectively steer Assassin’s Creed to a new, more freewheeling action game.
YOU. ARE. SPARTAN.
As a leak prior to E3 revealed, Odyssey sends the series to a new historical era, Ancient Greece. More specifically, Odyssey takes place in the year 431 B.C during the Peloponnesian War, where two coalitions of Greek city-states, the Delian league, led by Athens, and the Peloponnesian League, led by Sparta, fought for control of Greece.
You control a descendant of the Spartan king Leonidas, who led the legendary 300 Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae. (You might remember him as the character who yells “This. Is. Sparta” in 300.) You are not royalty, though. In fact, you’re something of a black sheep. After prophecy foretold you would bring doom to the family, you were cast out by Sparta and thrown off a cliff as a child. Despite this, you’ve inherited Leonidas’ blade — a spear-head, which you use as a secondary short sword (and the equivalent of an Assassin’s wrist blade). The blade is important for reasons the story quickly explains, but I won’t spoil them.
Odyssey will complete the process of making Assassin’s Creed go “full RPG”.
At the start of the game, you take control of one of two characters, either Alexios or Kassandra. Both are successful mercenary captains. Though you aren’t connected to any city-state, a mysterious cabal of enemies has targeted you and your family, spurring you to enter a war. As a mercenary, you can come and go as you please, so you sail across Greece, working as a soldier for hire while you try to root out and eliminate whoever means you harm.
There’s surprisingly mention of Assassins or Templars, the groups Creed stories usually revolve around. It seems that seemingly eternal conflict will be taking a back for Odyssey. And yet, the story has all the trappings found in past games. Though you are less likely to find notes connecting the Greeks to the American Revolution or World War II (and other such conspiracies), there is still a historic conflict for you to examine, and a secret cabal of nefarious people for you to murder. The quest will inevitably sweep you up in the politics of the war, and you’ll interact with some of the age’s most recognizable figures, including Socrates.
Speak for yourself
Since Assassin’s Creed is, for many of its players, a story-driven experience, the biggest change in Odyssey may be your ability to choose how the story progress. Unlike past games, you can sometimes decide what Alexios or Kassandra say. According to Ubisoft Quebec City Narrative Director Mel MacCoubrey, there will be at least 13 types of goal-oriented conversation actions, including the ability to lie, threaten, and romance.
The impact of choices wasn’t apparent in my time with the game. In general, you have the option to role-play a likable, heroic character or a less-likable, self-interested one. Those choices may change how certain characters feel about you over time, but I didn’t see enough to know how choices change the story.
Stealth is a tool for getting the upper hand in a fight, rather than circumventing it.
What I was told, however, is that Odyssey gives you more choices with less consequence. Alexios and Kassandra are not Assassins, so they do not have to live by the “creed.” The game doesn’t reset if you kill civilians or otherwise behave badly, though characters might treat you differently. This also applies to your behavior towards both the Spartan and Athenian armies. As a mercenary, you can work with both groups, but you pick too many fights with one, they will come after you. Creative Director Jonathan Dumont explained that certain city-states may decide to put a bounty on your head, sending other mercenaries to collect.
In my demo, the lines of battle were clearly drawn — I was sailing between Delos and Mykonos, figuring out how to kill the islands’ Athenian overseer, Podarkes, whom Alexios connected to the group attacking his family. As such, we were fighting with the Spartans and killing the Athenians. I expect, however, that those lines will not always be so clearly drawn.
Come Sail Away
Sailing is back for Odyssey. Your character is captain of a ship, the Adrestia, which you can use to sail among Greece’s many islands at any time. While there were sailing sequences in Origins, they were brief. Many recent Assassin’s Creed games, such as fan favorite Black Flag, were beloved because of their high-seas adventuring, so I’m sure this will be popular.
It’s not clear if Alexios and Kassandra will have a base or home port, but there are some metagame elements tied to the ship. Your character can knock out, then recruit soldiers he finds in the world to join the crew of the Adrestia. In addition to manning the ship, you can summon members of your crew to back you up on missions, helping with support functions, such as distracting guards.
The feeling of sailing is much like past Creed games, though I found the ship a tad less maneuverable than I remembered. Also, since Odyssey takes place in a pre-gunpowder society, the naval weapons felt a tad limited, relative to some of the other games’ aquatic arsenals. That feeling may subside as you spend more time in that world, but I found myself missing mortars, chain shot, and other tools to which I had grown accustomed.
Fight for your life
As mentioned, Alexios and Kassandra are soldiers, not assassins. They can sneak in the shadows, but their personalities, their weapons, and their abilities all make it quite clear that you should not shy away from combat, and that stealth is a tool for getting the upper hand in a fight rather than circumventing it.
Your signature move is, you guessed it, a “Spartan Kick.”
This is obvious in each character’s new skill tree, which is populated with active abilities, including setting your weapons on fire, and using your bow to fire arrows in the air to create a “rain of destruction.” These skills are tied to an energy meter, which fills as you deal or take damage, and are mapped to the four face buttons on a controller. You will earn more than four abilities before long, so coordinating your abilities with your gear creates a playstyle.
Your signature move — or at least the one Ubisoft was most eager show off — is a Spartan Kick, which sends an enemy flying back and carries anyone behind them along. You can use it to knock your opponents off cliffs, into fire, or to buy yourself a breather in the middle of a chaotic battle.
It’s good you can fight effectively, because my biggest pet peeve about Origins returns — Stealth kills are tied to your gear and character levels, which means you can perform an “assassination,” but not kill your victim. There is an ability that lets you buy an upgraded “critical assassination” attack that inflicts 150 percent damage as compared to a normal stealth attack, but even that is no guarantee.
But where that was, in my mind, a serious issue with Origins, Odyssey seems more universally designed around head-on conflict. Of the three story missions I saw, only one had a combat sequence that could be handled with stealth. There was even a large-scale battle sequence, not unlike the gang scrums in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, the last game spearheaded by the Ubisoft Quebec City team. The fact the is built around this new reality makes the fighting enjoyable even if the details haven’t drastically changed.
The more things changes, the more they stay the same
Ultimately, despite all these changes — new mechanics coming in, old concepts coming taken out — Odyssey still feels very much like an Assassin’s Creed game. If you’ve played one in the last five years, you’ll feel right at home. If you’ve played Origins you’ll recognize the map design, the menus, and most of the controls. Alexios and Kassandra can even summon an Eagle, just like Origins protagonist Bayek.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Compared To
Depending on who you talk to, that’s probably Odyssey’s biggest accomplishment. For all the substantial changes its making, the series has not lost sight of the signature components that make an open-world action game feel like Assassin’s Creed.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey sets out October 5, 2018, on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.