E3 2018 Hands-On Preview: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Embraces the RPG
After beginning to grow stale, Assassin’s Creed took a year off in 2016 in order to offer a longer development time and reinvigorate the franchise. The result was last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, a sprawling adventure in Ancient Egypt that told the story of the birth of the Assassin brotherhood. Origins leaned the series in a more RPG-like direction and earned critical and commercial acclaim for the things it did to advance the franchise.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey further embraces the RPG elements introduced in Origins. While some may be concerned about Assassin’s Creed getting back onto a yearly release schedule, Ubisoft actually has multiple studios working on games in the series. Made by the same team behind Syndicate, Odyssey has actually been in development for three years, same as Origins. At E3 2018, I had the opportunity to go hands-on with quite a large portion of the game.
Taking place in 431 BC, Athens and Sparta are fighting for control of Greece. You play as a disgraced descendant of King Leonidas (yes, the same “This is Sparta!” Leonidas), inheriting the head of his spear which effectively takes the place of the hidden blade we’ve seen in past games. Keen eyes may note that Odyssey is actually a prequel to Origins, which is set around 49 BC. How they seek to tie-in the story hundreds of years before the origins of the Assassin brotherhood remains to be seen. Either way, it makes for an incredible setting and a great story experience.
At the outset, you will choose whether to play as Alexios or Kassandra, giving players the choice to get the same story and experience as either a male or female. These mercenaries are able to freely sail from island to island, helping whom they please and doing it for either the right reasons or for selfish gain. In my demo, dialogue choices didn’t seem to have a huge impact on anything, but it might be something that’s hard to see after only a half-hour of play.
There’s Lots to See in Greece
According to one of the developers, the demo I was playing featured a fair-sized island with more than five hours worth of content to complete, including collectibles, treasures, assassination targets, side missions, and more. I was set loose on the island and immediately felt the overwhelming urge to approach every single object of interest on my compass. I tried sneaking into lordly buildings. I tried starting a war between the rebels and their oppressors. I even tried just taking in the view for a moment. Inevitably, I often found myself in a fight.
Combat takes a more central role this go around. Set well before the sneaky assassinations of past Assassin’s Creed titles (or are they future?), your main characters here are soldiers. They are comfortable on the battlefield, shield to blade, fighting off entire armies of enemies. There are a variety of combat abilities that can be earned and upgraded, including a shield break and a Spartan kick that Leonidas would be proud of. It seems that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey could be Assassin’s Creed in name only, with a much larger focus on those battles.
In fact, the next part of my demo took me too a beach where a huge battle between the Athenians and the Spartans was playing out. A meter at the top of the screen kept track of each factions soldiers, and taking out more powerful enemies resulted in bigger chunks cut out of their meter. This entire sequence was about fighting and I never even found assassinations to be an option. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think I made a single assassination kill for my entire demo.
Helming a ship returns, and in many ways, Odyssey has a lot of lines that can be drawn between itself and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Sailing around the Greek archipelago of islands, manning (or womanning) your own ship, and sitting yourself right in the middle of a massive conflict in order to gain your own advantage. The ship plays a large role in the main gameplay, acting as a kind of hub. Soldiers can be recruited to your ship’s crew, and then can offer backup to players. Weapons are an oddity (soldiers on the boats attack), as this is long before Black Flag’s cannon-loaded pirate vessels, but my brief time at the helm showed a great addition to the game.
As with any good Assassin’s Creed game, history is their playground. Inspired by real-world locations, events, and people, Odyssey will feature a number of notable footnotes from Greek history that will be of interest, including interacting with the great philosopher Socrates himself. Ancient Greece is a beautiful environment full of greenery, a nice change after the comparatively brown and sandy vistas found in Origins.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is making enough meaningful changes to move the series forward while still feeling like an Assassin’s Creed game. I’m curious how the story of a Greek mercenary will fit in with the assassins’ history (especially where Origins was supposed to be, well, the origins). Odyssey seems to be the next evolution past Origins, and many of its elements will feel familiar, but if you skipped Ubisoft’s last Assassin’s Creed, you’re in for quite a surprise on just how much of the series has changed.