Keeping a franchise with as many games under its belt as Assassin’s Creed feeling fresh and entertaining is no small task, and arguably by the time of 2015’s Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate the franchise seemed like it’s formula was starting to wear a little thin. Thankfully however Ubisoft seemed to realise this themselves, and decided to take a year off, marking the first break in an annual console release since 2009’s Assassin’s Creed II.
They came back with a bang in 2017 with Assassin’s Creed: Origins which saw a totally revolutionised approach to the long running series, updating practically everything. This new take proved a success, and looks to be the basis for a new era of Assassin’s Creed, with Odyssey, using Origins as a starting point and going on to make everything bigger and better, with a number of new (and returning) features making it the best game in the franchise.
The Continued Combat Overhaul:
The original combat model from early Assassin’s Creed games was continuously improved upon in each game, changing here and there, with games like Unity and Syndicate introducing more precise and fluid takes, but generally speaking if you had played one game, you’d played them all. This is exactly why the updated model for Origins was so interesting.
The new system moved away from the animation based counter system in previous games, and introduced a ‘hit box’ mechanic, which meant the player had to make sure the enemy was in range when they swing their weapon. Additionally the enemy AI was updated so that the they would gang up and attack in a more realistic way, rather than waiting to take on the player one by one.
Showing a real effort to keep working on the already vastly improved system Odyssey refines it even more, adding a host of new features including some active abilities like the Spartan Kick (with Origins having mainly passive perks), and an upgrade menu now split into three skill trees. The ‘Hunter’ tree upgrades Alexios or Kassandra’s bow skills, allowing for abilities like a Multi-shot arrow, The ‘Warrior’ tree sees better control over over weapons and gear, and the final ‘Assassin’ tree unlocks some more passive abilities that help diversify gameplay, like ‘vanishing’ and calling allies in to help.
Almost all abilities are upgradeable, providing more benefits with each upgrade, and as one of Odysessy’s most impressive and immersive features the combat and levelling system is only made that much more enjoyable when you look at how far combat in the franchise has come.
A Return to the Sea:
First introduced in Assassin’s Creed III, and perfected in Black Flag (and to a lesser extent Rogue) the naval combat system allowed each game’s Assassin to take control of their very own ship, sailing their way from one part of the map to another, and waging war against the various thieves and pirates of the seas.
It was an unexpected highlight of each game it featured in, and has been unfortunately absent from every game since Black Flag and Rogue in 2013. But in an effort to maximise the freedom Odyssey delivers, the naval system returns, much bigger, more developed, and better looking than ever.
Not only does this new system show off the Aegean sea and a number of Ancient Greek warships beautifully, but the ship upgrades are more advanced, there is a wholly new mechanic of recruiting crew members, each of whom bring a new perk, ability or some improved stats to the ship, and overall the whole system plays as well (if not better) than it ever has, but on a much larger scale.
This is SPARTA (… or Athens):
One of Odyssey’s more in depth and interesting systems is the ongoing war between Athens and Sparta. First introduced through the story as either Alexios or Kassandra hunt down the Wolf of Sparta, the system involves the player destabilising one factions control over an area, which is done by destroying resources, taking down forts, and assassinating leaders.
Totally removing the controlling factions influence in an area then triggers a battle between Sparta and Athens for who can fully take control. The player is able take part and choose whichever side they wish to join. Once deciding between Atens and Sports an all out brawl begins, with the player having to take down a number of regular enemy soldiers, captains, and some high level mercenaries along the way.
It’s one of the more in depth systems in the game, and is (after that first introduction during the early story) almost totally optional from then onwards, allowing the player to choose whether or not they want to take part in each areas battle for power.
The system works well as more of a background element, and allows for some of the most ‘Assassin’s Creed’ moments of the game, with lots of sneaking around, influencing, manipulating, and assassinating.
Another of the more detailed systems working in the background of Odyssey is the Mercenary system, which acts as a sort of notoriety system throughout the players travels in Ancient Greece.
Long gone are the days in which the player is attacked by pretty much any guard they walk past, and instead Odyssey lets you attack, kill, and steal from pretty much any one. The consequence being that a notoriety meter builds the more you do this, eventually leading to a bounty on your head, with a stream of mercenaries out to claim the reward.
Able to track you all over the map an almost endless stream of mercenaries can show up at some of the most inopportune moments trying to kill the player. Adding to this very cool feature is the fact that Alexios/Kassandra are also mercenaries, and with each opposing mercenary they defeat they can move up a sort of bounty hunter scale, unlocking more perks and rewards with each tier.
As another of the more subtle systems it’s easy enough to avoid much interaction with the system, as it’s possible to take the bounty off your head by hitting pause and paying it off. Other ways to get rid of the people chasing you is to hunt them down first, or find and kill the person who called for the bounty in the first place.
Dialogue Options and their Consequences:
Dialogue character options and the resultant consequences are nothing new to games, and was perfected in series like Mass Effect years ago, but it’s something that has always been missing from Assassin’s Creed.
For the most part it’s fittingly so, as the story has always focussed on characters in the modern day reliving the lives of people from the past. There was little choice to be made as the game was telling it’s own narrative. Odyssey however upends this system, bringing for the first time both character dialogue options and a number of story differences and even multiple endings.
Odyssey has a clever blend of picking what to say in a way that always makes you feel like you’ve made choice one way or another even if you haven’t – with a lot of the outcomes being preprogrammed no matter which option you pick. There are however still plenty of decisions you can make, that have some interesting consequences, a great example being how you interact with a family who live in a diseased village early on the game. If you chose to save them, the whole island becomes infected as the disease spreads, a direct consequence of not only one of the players actions, but the player trying to do what appears to be ‘the right thing’.
Other conversations lead to accepting or declining missions, altering how exactly you go about a mission, and even more in depth decisions like whether or not to romance certain characters in the game.
Adding to the idea of dialogue options, which allows the player to choose how the narrative (or at least certain parts of it) play out, there are a number of other decisions the player has to make in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
The first (which is straight after the opening sequence) is on how the game will actually work, where the player has to choose between ‘Guided Mode’ or ‘Exploration Mode’. Guided Mode is your traditional RPG style where points, locations, and landmarks automatically show up on the map, telling you were to go. It’s how all past Assassin’s Creed games have worked, and is a relatively simple and familiar experience.
Exploration Mode however looks to be a more realistic version of the game, and is described as ‘how the game is meant to be played’. In Exploration Mode the player isn’t just given a mission, and a map point to head to, instead they are given directions such as ‘in the forest, to the west of the village’, and then they have to go to the map, work out where that is, head there, and find the what they are looking for themselves.
Exploration Mode is a great addition to the series, that brings with it a lot of depth, intrigue and work, but what is even better is that the game gives you a choice rather than forcing one or the other. The next choice is even more important and has the player pick between which main character they will become; Alexios or Kassandra. Moving away from the model in both Syndicate and Origins which both had separate male and female protagonists, Odyssey has a different storyline for each of it’s main characters.
Generally speaking the storylines between Alexios and Kassandra follow the same story beats, with some more subtle differences here and there, but the fact that there are almost two separate games with each character having thousands of lines of dialogue is extremely impressive. Both Alexios and Kassandra are fully fleshed out and unique, adding a new and interesting element to the Assassin’s Creed franchise (and for one of the first times adding some genuine replayability)
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’s most impressive trait is probably how it manages to feel so fresh, new and entertaining and yet at it’s core still be Assassin’s Creed. Odyssey shows a continued effort to keep the franchise progressing and evolving, taking risks, adding a host of new features, and bringing back some older ones, totalling to a franchise that looks a far cry away from becoming formulaic and boring any time soon.