Assassin's Creed Odyssey is not what you think it is. It's no simple follow-up. It's not phoning it in. This game aims to be an even bigger revolution, a more profound shake-up of series foundations than the phenomenal franchise reinvention that was Assassin's Creed Origins. And it's doing so by hopping genres, turning the action-adventure into a full-blown open world RPG.
Here's how it's going to change everything you thought you knew about Ubisoft's time-hopping franchise.
An Odyssey defined by choice
In many ways, Assassin's Creed Odyssey embodies its titular brotherhood's mantra - “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” - more than any other game in the franchise. The core fantasy remains, but almost everything surrounding it has changed. If Origins was the first step down a new road, Odyssey is jumping in a Ferrari and plowing forward at full speed down that path.
For starters, we're once again in a new location and time period: ancient Greece, circa 431 BC. You are the descendant of Spartan king Leonidas, exiled from your home for being an omen of doom. Note: I say "exiled," but the truth is closer to " thrown from the top of a mountain" - what would a Greek story be without some melodrama, eh?
Thankfully, you survive your fall, and grow to be a hardened mercenary. One day you receive a contract that takes you into the midst of the Peloponnesian War, with a tantalizing tease that, should you succeed, you'll learn the truth about who you really are and why you're important. Of course, before all that, you'll need to choose whether you'll play as Alexios or Kassandra, meaning you'll choose to play as male or female for the full duration of the game.
The world will respond to you differently depending on who you choose, though the overall plot will remain largely the same. And what a world it is: the largest ever open-world map built for an Assassin's Creed game, with biomes ranging from sandy beaches to rocky mountains, from lush fields to paradisal islands. And nestled among these varied lands are the ne'er-do-wells you're charged with executing.
Each major target will be holed up in a secure location, and it's up to you to either sneak / fight your way in or, alternatively, weaken your enemy's hold over the land by taking over smaller encampments and denying them resources (not unlike in another Ubisoft game, Ghost Recon Wildlands).
And despite being an Assassin's Creed game, there is no creed to follow, meaning you can play around in the sandbox however you please. Want to attack civilians? I mean, kind of a jerk move, but sure. Other mercenaries will attempt to take you down like you're a fugitive in Grand Theft Auto, but even that can be turned to your advantage if you lead them into enemy territory. Want to set a lion loose and let its claws do the dirty work for you? You can do that too.
Of course, you may not want to. Not when you have Odyssey's revamped combat system at your fingertips.
Spartans fight with honor - and kicks
Odyssey's new take on combat is a sight to behold, and a joy to play. Like Origins, Odyssey ditches the "counter to win" fights of old - but where Origins' combat could feel a bit slow and clunky, Odyssey keeps things fast and layers special abilities on top of your basic light and heavy attacks. What kind of special abilities? How about a 300-style kick that sends enemies flying? Or firing a rain of arrows to damage multiple targets from afar?
You can mix and choose up to four such abilities for both melee and ranged combat, and these are unlocked by leveling up their respective skill trees. This allows you to go all-in on one particular playstyle, become a jack-of-all trades, or experiment to find your own way of taking down foes. As I run around the beautiful Delos Islands, I choose to focus on abilities that let me stand toe-to-sandaled-toe with the toughest of Greeks. And it. Is. Fabulous.
My favorite moment comes when battling a ship full of pirates that had been terrorizing nearby merchants. As with Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, you're able to fire on enemy ships with ease, though this time with arrows and spears instead of cannons (side note: yes, your crew does still sing shanties... or whatever such work songs were called in ancient Greece). After incapacitating the pirates with some well-aimed flaming spears, I sidle alongside the boat and prepared to board.
Leaping from my own ship to the pirates', I identify their captain and draw my dual-wielded swords. Strafing side to side, I watch and wait for an opening. Unfortunately for me, my foe has a shield which blocks my attacks. Unfortunately for him, I have a special ability equipped which allows me to remove that obstacle. With a press of the left trigger and a face button, I activate it, thus ripping his shield from his arm and bashing him with it before tossing it aside.
Our duel continues as I swing my blades and position myself just right, so that I am near the center of the ship and he at its edge. Activating another of my abilities, I raise my arms, thrust all of my weight into my leg, and punt him overboard into the ocean. Even better, a nearby shark smells the captain's blood and finishes my work for me. Thanks, my finned friend.
It's a thoughtful, exhilarating approach to combat, very much in line with the Odyssey team's stated goal of turning the game into an RPG.
Plato's (branching) dialogues
"But wait," you may be thinking. "Assassin's Creed Origins was already pretty RPG-ish, wasn't it?" Well, yes and no. It had a level-based progression system and a suite of skills to be unlocked, but these are just a foundation upon which Odyssey expands exponentially. Leveling is back and pretty much the same as before, but now you've also got individual equipment slots for your chest, legs, arms, and head, as well as your melee and ranged weapons. Gear provides stat bonuses. The aforementioned special abilities give you a leg up in combat. And where before skills were laid out as one sprawling web, now you have three trees that carve out and support unique playstyles.
However, the biggest change in Assassin's Creed Odyssey may be what feels at first to be the most subtle: a dialogue system where, instead of watching cutscenes play out every time you undertake a new quest, you can choose how you respond to the characters you meet on your journey. You'll be able to press people for more information, respond positively or negatively, or even lie, flirt, intimidate, and more, should the occasion call for it. This is all standard stuff in the RPG genre, but it's a first for Assassin's Creed, and the implementation immediately gives proceedings a different air from what's come before.
Learning history through video games
So why the change? "In all Assassin's Creeds past, we've developed a relationship between the main character and the game, where the player had input in moments of action, but not in moments of story," says Odyssey's narrative director Mel MacCoubrey. "This puts a lot of pressure on cinematics to be able to tell the story, set the tone, introduce characters, probably tutorialize something, and set up missions going forward. So we moved to a choice-driven, interactive way of telling stories. This would set up a relationship between the player and the game where the player has input in moments of action and moments of story."
MacCoubrey says there's more than 30 hours of conversation recorded for players to experience this way (though there are still traditional cinematics as well), and your choices can change how a quest unfolds. In the demo, I meet up with two lovers who both seek to end the life of a tyrant ruling over their home. The woman wants to be careful, stealthy, and methodical, while the man argues for charging the fortress head-on. I have to choose which method I support, which in turn gives me new objectives.
Of course, not everything is so grim and serious. The Greeks were as well known for comedy as they were tragedy. "We wanted to be true to Ancient Greek stories and Ancient Greek literature. We wanted to explore a wide range of tones and looked at a lot of different inspirations. An example of comedy would be the play Lysistrata by Aristophones - if you haven't read it, I highly suggest it - lots of sexual tension, pretty great," MacCoubrey explained. "If you want to have a philosophical debate with Socrates, you can do that. If you want to be friends with the great doctor Hippocrates, you can do that."
I don't know about you, but I very much want to do that. And everything else Odyssey offers. Assassin's Creed Odyssey comes to PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 5.