At E3 2018, we had a chance to go hands-on with Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, in both a land skirmish as well as a naval battle. Now, as a full disclaimer, I hadn’t personally played an Assassin’s Creed game since Brotherhood, so not only was there new changes made for Odyssey specifically, but I personally had about 5 titles worth of general polish that was new-to-me. So as such, my experience with about 20 minutes with the game is, likely, less perceptive to iterative changes made between Origins and Odyssey, and instead offers a bit of a looser, comprehensive shift from a large scale action title to full-on RPG experience.
Though Odyssey is releasing only a year after 2017’s Origins, the title has been in development for about 3 years, since the release of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. The game seems to again lead in strongly with the addition of RPG elements, only this time going further with the ability to play as two different characters, romance options, as well as incorporating dialogue choices within the narrative. It’s not yet possible to say exactly to what extent these options will affect a playthrough as a whole, but they didn’t really affect the demo experience that much, which was far more combat focused, unsurprisingly.
In our combat demo, I played as Alexios, leading the Spartan forces against a troop of Athenians at a location called the Delos Islands. In this “Conquest Battle”, several dozen soldiers from both sides were squaring off, with regular enemy units denoted by basic silver emblems and Captains and bosses (such as Diokles from the press video) adorned with more elaborate and golden emblems. At the top of the main screen were blue and red meters, for the Athenians and the Spartans, respectively. Both meters drained at a regular pace, based on the number of units defeated on each side. It was the player’s goal to do well enough in the battle to force the blue, Athenian meter to reach zero first.
The adrenaline bar from Origins returns, and works largely the same way it did in that game, with a couple tweaks. Like Origins, the meter fills when you defeat enemies, and also when you dodge attacks with proper timing, or parry an incoming blow. Adrenaline is used to perform skills, which in Odyssey can be mapped to a face button, which are then selected by using the Left Bumper / L1 and then pressing the mapped face button. In the demo, the three skills I had available to me were a quick self-heal, an ability that used an offhand dagger/spear fragment to strip enemy shields from them and throw back at their faces, and of course, one to “Sparta Kick” foes into a prone, vulnerable position.
Now, general combat flow might be familiar to those that have played Origins, but to me, it was quite a bit different (and better) than what I had last experienced in Brotherhood. Enemies approached me with a variety of attack types, and often ganged up on me instead of awkwardly taking turns to be downed one-on-one. Near the end of the skirmish, with both meters about to deplete, I was trying to take down Diokles while he was flanked with a general spear-wielding grunt who I had to make sure was out of the way before focusing on the big man himself.
I was impressed (and pleasantly frustrated) that both enemies were engaging me at the same time. I had to make smart use of toggling focus between them and positioning myself so that I could finish the grunt without exposing myself to be crushed by the boss. Once both enemies were down, a few more units needed to be defeated before the victory bell rang. For winning the fight, the Delos Islands declared that they will ally with Sparta, and I won a handful of crafting materials and some gold. I also earned additional EXP for each soldier, captain, and boss I defeated. Ubisoft has mentioned that there will be several dozen Conquest Battles found in both the story and the open world, and the player can eventually fight for either side – they are a mercenary after all. The result of getting enough locations to side with either faction, however, is yet to be seen.
All in all, the refined combat system and being able to see some of the new mechanics behind Conquest Battles first-hand left me far more excited for the game then I had been going in. If the story adjustments and proposed greater level of narrative agency hold up their end of the bargain, then this year's Assassin’s Creed might, surprisingly, end up as one of more interesting RPGs released in 2018, despite the general Assasin's Creed formula being over a decade old. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey releases on October 5.