Assassin’s Creed Embarks on an Odyssey of Choice

Throughout the years the Animus has taken us to many exotic locations from different eras where we could meet many interesting historical figures and kill them. The newest location for Assassin’s Creed is Greece circa 431 BCE during the Peloponnesian War, which predates Assassin’s Creed Origins by about 400 years. This could have been called Assassin’s Creed Pre-Origins, but thankfully Ubisoft decided to go with the much less awful title of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. This upcoming entry, scheduled for release October 5, has many similarities to the 2017 title but also introduces some new ideas to the long running franchise.

Most of the specific changes in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey have to do with the overall shift to placing on emphasis on player choice and role playing. As with previous Assassin’s Creed titles, there’s a defined fictional story based around historical events and figures. During the game’s progression these events will unfold but the player will have more freedom in how they have their character respond which can shape how the story progresses, allowing the player to shape their experience into something more personal. Branching dialog trees play a significant role in interacting with NPCs and choices made in conversation can greatly impact the narrative. Players can modify how they talk to NPCs based on how much they may like them or how much an NPC is irritating them, though how each NPC will react to each approach will vary based on their own personality. Some of these exchanges can be rather humorous and other times heartbreaking. Flirtatious attempts can sometimes start out quite promising but fall apart just as quickly as they began with some poor dialog decisions. Because of the player’s freedom to make choices throughout the game there are a few different paths the story can take which means there are multiple endings to unlock.

Players will have a choice of playing as one of two characters, Alexios or Kassandra. These two characters are identical, save for the fact that Alexios is a man and Kassandra is a woman. To facilitate players feeling free to play whoever they wish, there’s no need to base character selection on how it might effect the narrative as voice acting and visual appearance are the only differences between the two. When the story is told in flashbacks it switches the roles of Alexios and Kassandra based on whichever character the player selected. When it comes to romance, all romance options remain available for both characters so players can flirt with whoever tickles their fancy regardless of who they are playing. For all intents and purposes, Alexios and Kassandra are the same character.

With all the quests and various side activities in Assassin’s Creed Origins, the HUD could get rather cluttered with the zillions of markers to follow. This was useful for getting to the destination point but did detract from the scenic landscape and break immersion. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey introduces an optional mode called Exploration Mode where there is less hand holding when it comes to marking destinations and cluttering up the HUD. This can lead to a more immersive experience and make the exploration of Greece feel more organic instead of simply trying to take the fastest path to the next quest marker but since player choice is a major theme in Odyssey both modes are available based on the player’s preference.

While not exactly new to the series, naval warfare and exploration takes on an increased role in Odyssey. The player stands at the helm of the ship and directs their crew to travel as they serenade the players with sea shanties. The crew does most of the fighting during the ship battles until it’s time to board the enemy ship, at which time the player can jump on over and give their crew the thrashing of a lifetime. Prior to boarding, the player can instruct the crew to fire a volley of arrows from a distance or hurl javelins at a closer range, the latter being akin to a shotgun blast. One of the touches that was personally appreciated was what happened to the enemy crew after our ship acted as a battering ram and split their ship in half. As the wreckage of their ship sank and blood filled the water, the survivors could be seen treading water, at least until half a dozen shark fins circled around them before swarming into a feeding frenzy.

Even with all the changes, there’s a lot of ancestral Origins DNA to be found in Odyssey. The overall look and tone will be familiar to anyone who played last year’s title and even the map structure detailing the various locations and marking off the recommended levels will have echoes of Egypt. To gain a greater perspective of the map and to increase Senu Ikaros’s powers, the player will still need to climb great heights to synchronize their feathered drone. Thankfully, the usefulness of the feathered companion for scouting out new regions and tagging enemies remains which can help in finding quest objectives and planning strategy for an attack. The well-meaning but completely unreliable Markos did provide a sense of levity and entertainment in his cutscenes, though I couldn’t help but think of good old Hurk from Far Cry 5, even though the two have their own individual type of buffoonery.

The combat system from Origins is more or less the same in Odyssey where there’s an increased emphasis on action combat. The enemy levels in the different regions serve as means to try to keep the player outside of certain locations until later in the game as any enemy with more than a couple levels above the player is virtually invincible except for the most skilled or patience/cheap players around. This was one of the aspects of Origins where I understood the intent but thought the execution was too extreme. Being able to slice a level seven hippopotamus into ribbons effortlessly and then die instantly at the paws of a level twenty hyena did break the level of immersion. This is also the case in Odyssey where a level three Kassandra barely made a dent in a level five bounty hunter’s health bar with a stealthy assassination attempt only to almost immediately die during the retaliatory attack. Also, since this is developed by Ubisoft the animals are jerks. Any great cat free from its cage will turn on its savior before seeking vengeance on its captors. When hired goons attack the Vineyard the resident roosters jump into the fray but they do so to attack the player and not the invaders to their home. During a “when animals attack” sequence that made sense, Kassandra was underwater fighting for her life with a heavy bludgeoning item against an aggressive shark. She ultimately won the battle after flailing around with impotent rage as the shark nimbly evaded the majority of her button mashed club swings, proving that a victory that is done with absolutely no grace or finesse is still a victory.

With its release less than a month away, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey shows potential to be a strong entry in the series. While it’s too soon to render a final verdict, early impressions of the title hint that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey used Origins as its template and expanded on it, bringing in more role-playing elements and making choice an important factor. Players who enjoyed last year’s title have reason to be optimistic about Odyssey as many of the good qualities of Origins remain intact with enough new features to keep it from feeling like it’s simply retreading familiar ground.