Assassin's Creed Odyssey takes the Phylakes that were so fun to fight back in Origins, procedurally generates an endless number of them, and lets you recruit them instead of just killing them (assuming they don't kill you). We already knew Odyssey would feature a GTA-style wanted system that would send mercenaries after you if you caused enough trouble, but Ubisoft developers explained to Game Informer that they're far more than the ancient Greek equivalent of generic Los Santos Police Department officers.
The main character of Odyssey is a mercenary, finding their fortune amidst the struggles of the Peloponnesian War, But they're far from the only one. The game starts with a pool of 50 mercenaries, some pre-authored by Ubisoft, others unique to your game. You can run into these characters out in the world (their locations are marked on the map) or challenge them to gladiatorial combat if you happen to be near an arena. As you kill or otherwise dispense of them, the game will steadily generate more to take their place.
"It’s endless Phylakes,” creative director Jonathan Dumont said. “And some have bears.”
Unlike the Phylakes, your fellow mercenaries won't ordinarily have much beef with you (aside from professional competition). The Beef happens when you make the most of your "not abiding by the Creed because there is no Creed yet" freedom and start raising hell in the public eye. At that point a bounty will be placed on your head by an interested party, often an officer of whatever faction you were messing with. If you don't kill that officer or make good with the faction, mercenaries will start coming after you to claim the bounty.
Here's where it starts diverging from GTA: you can get away from your pursuers and safely retreat to the wilderness, but the bounty will persist. That makes things extra interesting the next time you get caught causing trouble.
“Let’s say you have a three-star bounty and you go into the world and you go into a big fort and you start messing around,” game director Scott Phillips said. “Then they sound the alarm. Who’s coming? The bounty hunters. All those guys know where you’re at. They’re seeking you. They don’t come straight for you, they come in the area you’re at, but in this case when the alarm rings you see them like they’re Ring Wraiths coming. Oh no! We wanted to create those tension moments. When you have a five-star bounty, which takes a long time to store up, it’s something.”
If you get the upper hand on your mercenary pursuers, you can recruit them rather than killing them. Recruited mercenaries join your ship's crew and convey unique bonuses for your operations. And they often come with powerful loot, which they'll surrender in exchange for you not killing them (though you also get it if you kill them). Returning to the Lord of the Rings comparison, it's like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis system but with mercs instead of orcs.
Check out our hands-on Assassin's Creed Odyssey preview for a deeper look at good times and stabbing fools in ancient Greece.