10 Things You Need To Know About Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Last year, Ubisoft Montreal took the Assassin’s Creed series in a bold new direction with Assassin’s Creed Origins. Combat was more action-oriented, encouraging players to step away from the “block until you can counter” style that later entries relied on. It also leaned harder on character customization, with more of an emphasis on loot than players had seen before. Ubisoft Quebec is building off that foundation, while creating a game with its own identity. Don’t expect a quick palette-swapped sequel in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, in other words.
This new game, just fully revealed at Ubisoft’s E3 press conference, is set in ancient Greece (431 B.C., to be exact), and will let Assassin’s Creed players shape the world, the story, and their in-game identity in unprecedented ways. Here’s what you need to know, based on our extensive hands-on time with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
1. You Play As One of Two Characters
Ubisoft Quebec’s last game in the series, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, let players control a pair of twins, Jacob and Evie Frye. You’re able to control a male or female hero in Odyssey, though you won’t be bouncing between them as the story pulls you forward. Instead, you choose to play as either Alexios or Kassandra at the start, and you continue with that character throughout the duration of the adventure. While there are some subtle differences in their performances and how the voice actors deliver their lines, you don’t need to agonize over the choice from any lingering sense of FOMO.
“Everything is open for both characters,” says creative director Jonathan Dumont. “It’s much more of an identification for you, for how to relate and connect to your character. That’s why you have the choice.” Unlike Jacob and Evie, who gravitated toward combat or stealth, players can shape their character as they see fit. If you want Kassandra to smash faces in with a club or have her stick to the shadows, it’s your call.
Regardless of who you ultimately choose, your role in the world is the same. You’re a mercenary, though there’s more to it than that. “You’re a descendant of King Leonidas of Sparta, who is believed to have had legendary first-civilization DNA blood,” Dumont says. “And he wielded a first civ artifact, this spear, and that got brought to you and you wield it as well.”
Things did get a little weird when I asked Dumont to clarify that early character decision. What happens to the character you don’t choose? Does that counterpart still exist somewhere in the world, or are you playing god with that decision and choosing which of the pair was born? “We will communicate on this later,” was all that Dumont would say.
2. The Modern-Day Stuff Is Back
It’s no coincidence that you play as someone with an important lineage. Even though your ancestor King Leonidas predates the Assassins and Templars by a few hundred years, the contemporary in-game storyline is a part of Odyssey. Ubisoft recognizes that opinion on this element of the series is divided, particularly since the story of Desmond wrapped up in Assassin’s Creed III. Origins introduced players to Layla Hassan, a former Abstergo employee gone rogue, who is able to access ancestral memories of people she has no DNA link to. Layla is back in Odyssey.
“Layla is important to the overall story, and you do have a couple of gameplay sequences with her,” says gameplay director Scott Phillips. “I would say that it’s a slightly increased nature versus Origins, but not dramatically. Present day is always a tricky subject with fans and internally. Honestly, it’s very polarizing, so finding that right way to weave that into each game is tricky. Personally, I’m a fan of the present day, so games like Assassin’s Creed II, where it was woven the most into the mix of the two are the best, so I think we tried to take a cue from that, but we’ll see what fans think.”
3. You Don’t Have A Hidden Blade
During our hands-on time, we were able to sneak behind enemies and assassinate them, but we didn’t do it with a familiar wrist-mounted apparatus. Where’s the hidden blade? If you’ve been paying attention to the lore and timeline, you already know the answer. (Hint: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes place in 431 B.C., which is the earliest setting in the series.)
I’ll let Dumont handle this one. “There’s no hidden blade in the game,” he says. “The hidden blade is introduced in Origins. In our game, we have the broken spear.”
4. About That Broken Spear…
Whether you chose Alexios or Kassandra, or decide to go with a stealth, ranged, or face-smasher build, one thing is consistent: You’ve got a first-civilization artifact. Assassin’s Creed fans recognize the significance of that statement, but if you’re new to the series, you should appreciate the fact that having King Leonidas’ spear is kind of a big deal – broken or not. These powerful relics are at the center of the long-standing battle between the Assassins and Templars, and they’ve featured prominently throughout the games, movies, and comics.
“For me, one of the cool things about the spear of Leonidas and using that in place of the hidden blade is that the spear of Leonidas is sort of the first time in Assassin’s Creed you get an artifact to use the entire time in the game,” says Phillips. “It’s not just five minutes at the end of the game where you get the Apple of Eden and then the game’s over. For us, it’s the entire game. You’re spending the entire time upgrading and improving that.”
We didn’t get to see many of those upgrades in action during our demo, and we’re eager to see how a leveled-up spear acts in combat. Dumont says it’s grounded – don’t expect to see it blasting off face-melting beams – but that it will allow players to feel extraordinarily powerful. Where we were in the game, somewhere around halfway through the campaign, it felt familiar. That’s by design.
“It allowed us to rethink a bit while still keeping some of the same pillars that you feel,” Dumont adds.
“You don’t have the visual of the hidden blade, but you have the function. It allows us to take a different spin on what you’re doing in the game.”
5. It Feels Like An Extension Of Origins
Players who have spent hours exploring ancient Egypt and the Nile delta in Assassin’s Creed Origins will feel right at home in Odyssey – at least in terms of general gameplay. The controls and overall approach to combat are the same, reinforcing the notion that the last game marked a new direction for the series moving forward. That sense of familiarity is the result of early collaboration between the teams at Ubisoft’s Quebec City and Montreal studios.
“I discussed with Ashraf [Ismail] the game director on Origins pretty regularly, so we knew early on that we were on similar paths,” Phillips says. “They were still figuring out their game as we were figuring out our game. Ultimately, we knew for us that RPG was key, and ACO was going in that same direction, and we were going to go even farther as we possibly could to deliver an Assassin’s Creed full-on RPG. I think building that and building on role-playing and choice were key to what we wanted to bring to Assassin’s Creed. I think it does feel like a transition that we’re completing for Assassin’s Creed into that RPG.”
“And we integrated quite a bit of their code,” Dumont adds. “So what they’re building, like they rebuilt the fight, we’re not going to rebuild the fight.” Instead, the team at Quebec took that framework and added its own take onto it, incorporating combat abilities into the structure similarly to how players map their favorite moves from the skill trees to face buttons in Diablo III.
6. You’re On A Boat
You’re going to be exploring a lot of islands during your Mediterranean journey, and swimming can get a little dull. Thankfully, you’ve got a boat. This vessel serves as a mobile hub of sorts (a la Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’s train), giving players another element to interact with and upgrade. Players who missed the open-water adventure that Black Flag provided have reason to rejoice with Odyssey.
“Being an ancient Greek odyssey, we had to bring back open-world naval,” Phillips says. “So Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is the return of a seamless open-world naval – you can explore, get on and off your ship at any time, you can fight ships on the sea with arrows, you can ram into them with your ship – cleave them in half – you can board them with your crew.”
Your crew is an important element of the game. As you travel around the world, you can recruit up to four lieutenants to join you on your voyage. Some can be encouraged through conversation. Others might require a bit more coercion, joining your motley crew after you’ve incapacitated them in combat. Regardless of how they join, they offer a variety of passive buffs, such as increasing your rowing team’s endurance or allowing your archers to fire twice as many arrows in each volley. Your crew members can also join you when you board enemy ships, and you can also summon them into combat on land – provided you unlock that ability in the skill tree.
7. Islands Of Adventure
Our hands-on adventure took place on a pair of islands, Delos and Mykonos. It featured just over a dozen different missions, strung along a surprisingly complicated questline (for more on that, check out our preview). It took about five hours to see that storyline through to completion. Ubisoft Quebec wanted players to encounter a variety of smaller, regional storylines during their voyages, while also delivering a larger-scale adventure.
“We wanted to mirror what it would feel like to be on the odyssey of Odysseus, where he goes on islands and he doesn’t know what he’s going to find,” Dumont says. They designed the game with exploration in mind, rewarding players who move away from pursuing the main questline with richly designed content like what we played.
8. And About Those Gods?
It would be inconceivable to set a game in ancient Greece without delving into their rich religious tradition. Fortunately for fans of Greek mythology, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will be exploring those elements in some form or another. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to figure out exactly what form it’ll take. Will the gods appear in hallucinations or via Animus glitches, the way the Egyptian pantheon popped up in Origins? Or are they based on reality – or what passes for reality in the AC universe? All Ubisoft will say for now is that they’re present.
“Gods and myth, they absolutely play a part in the game,” Phillips says. “How they fit into everything and how we use Assassin’s Creed and Greek mythology and mix those two is not something we can talk about yet. Even within the structure of the game, it’s something that takes a while to tease that out, and then it sort of explodes, and then you have things across the world that you can engage with. It’s something you’ll come to over time, how that works within the game.”
9. You Can Play As A Proto-Assassin, If You Want
Assassin’s Creed Origins tweaked the game’s combat, which irked some traditionalists. In the interest of game balance, the days of one-shot assassinations were few and far between. Instead, players had to upgrade their hidden blades and make sure that targets were relatively close to the player level. If not, they faced the humiliation of a failed assassination attempt, with the target shrugging off the attack.
Major targets still won’t fall as easily as they did in the early days of the series, but that doesn’t mean that players who want more of a stealth experience are out of luck in Odyssey. “Because it’s an RPG, assassination is not an instant kill,” Phillips says. “We can’t have that overriding any progression you make in the game. But I would say that my assistant game director played the game in that style just recently, and because he could gear himself with gear that has bonuses to assassination and to stealth, because you can buy passive and active abilities that increase how much damage you can do in stealth, and with things like the rush assassinate where you can chain assassinate enemies who are very far apart, I think for players who want to focus on that, they’re going to be able to do it. It’s not at all impossible. Will it be a challenge? Yes, absolutely. But if you focus on it and that’s the way you want to play, it’s going to happen.”
10. The Game Is Launching With A Photo Mode
There’s not really that much to add here. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is filled with gorgeous sights, as well as giant bears, massive nude statues of Apollo, and all the weird things you’ve come to expect from open-world games. If you see something you like, you’ll be able to capture images with an in-game photo mode. Phillips says it will continue to be updated after launch with additional filters and effects. A mosaic blur seems like an obvious one, right?
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on October 5. For more information on the game, check out my extensive hands-on impressions, as well as our all-new episode of New Gameplay Today that features an hour of footage from our sessions.
by JEFF CORK