Assassin’s Creed is going full RPG. In the past, the long-running historical stabbing simulator has flirted with player choice systems, most notably in last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Origins. But with Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, the series is diving headfirst into role-playing. The game features fully voice-acted interactive dialogue, branching story paths, and — in a series first — multiple endings.
Developed by Ubisoft Québec — which previously worked on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate — Odyssey takes players to a new era for the series. It’s set in Ancient Greece, circa 431 BCE, or right around the time of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Players will be given the choice of either Alexios or Kassandra, two descendants of the legendary Spartan King Leonidas, who’ll serve as the player’s avatar the entire game, marking just the second time a mainline Assassin’s Creed game has offered a female protagonist.
And unlike Syndicate, where players could switch between siblings Evie and Jacob Fyre and their different abilities as the situation warranted, Alexios and Kassandra are on totally equal footing, barring some slight variations between the story depending which character players choose. (And for fans of the modern-day conspiracy side of the series, Odyssey will be picking up those narrative threads as well, continuing the story of Layla Hassan that began in Origins. )
Where Origins was a major reinvention of the series — introducing a new equipment system, a completely rebuilt combat engine, and a much wider open world for players to explore — Odyssey is more of a refinement of those building blocks. At its core the combat is largely the same as Origins, but Ubisoft Québec is giving players more options for how they want to play.
Nowhere is that more apparent than the new, interactive dialogue system. In my short demo, I was able to choose totally different paths to destabilize a tyrannical city-state; I choose a direct military approach that saw me dispatching Athenian generals, breaking a naval blockade, and recruiting more Spartan allies, but there was a separate, more measured approach that I didn’t try. Players will also be able to lie and deceive their enemies and allies, and even — in another series first — romance NPCs.
According to Odyssey’s senior producer, Marc-Alexis Côté, though that doesn’t mean that there’s an explicit, black and white morality system as is typical in BioWare games. “At one point we were telling people ‘Your choice had an impact,’ but I feel like when we give players too much information, it destroys their immersion,” he explains. “They now try to look for the algorithms, that will make them achieve a certain end, and we’ve worked very hard to make the choices feel more grey.”
The ultimate goal is to have players enjoy Odyssey however they choose, and not force them toward decisions that lead to the “good” or “bad” endings. As Côté went on to point out, “it’s a world in which there were not necessarily good or bad choices.”
Another key part of Odyssey’s shift toward increased choice is the new combat abilities. Like Origins, Odyssey brings back the three separate skill trees that players can unlock depending on their preference of play style. (This time they’re sorted between “hunter” for ranged combat abilities, “warrior” for physical combat, and “assassin,” for stealth and uh, assassinating folks.) But in addition to unlocking more passive abilities, players can also choose up to four additional special skills (plus four ranged specials), bound to the face buttons and accessed by holding down a shoulder button during combat. Those abilities range from a shield-ripping smash attack that makes attacking armored enemies a little easier, to a quick health boost in the middle of combat. Then there’s my personal favorite: the 300-esque “THIS IS SPARTA” kick that boots enemies into walls and off cliffs.
Gear is also a deeper experience now, with different weapons and armor offering stat boosts to different styles of play. So one helmet may be better suited to a more stealthy approach, boosting your assassination damage, while another might offer better defense for when you’re rushing into the thick of melee combat. Odyssey is extremely helpful when it comes to picking your gear, too, showing what your current loadout’s rough assassin, warrior, and hunter stats are at the bottom of the screen.
Making a return to the series is the open-world naval combat and exploration from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Players will be able to walk up to any dock and summon their ship, which they’ll be able to upgrade and customize over the course of the game. But true to the advances in technology, the open world of the islands of the Mediterranean is now a seamless environment, with none of the load screen barriers between major cities that marred Black Flag’s otherwise open waters. That said, given the different time period, you’ll be flinging arrows and javelins at your enemies, instead of broadsides of cannonballs, which felt a little less impactful — although I’m pleased to report that sea shanties make their triumphant return and this time, they’re in Greek.
New systems abound as well — there’s an intricate, Peloponnesian War system where players will be able to strengthen or weaken different areas toward one faction or another by taking mercenary contracts, engaging in massive battles, or hunting bounties. How players choose to intervene in these conflicts will also apparently have a larger impact on gameplay and story, although the small slice of the game I played wasn’t enough to see the cause and effect chains of my actions.
Odyssey is an odd beast in the Assassin’s Creed series, given that it almost barely feels like an Assassin’s Creed game. From a gameplay perspective, things aren’t a drastic shift, especially if you’ve played Origins. But
. Whether you play as Alexios or Kassandra, you’re not an actual capital-A “Assassin” (at least, for the start of the game). There’s no hidden blade, no white robes, no eagle-peaked hoods, and assassinations themselves are just a small piece of the gameplay, instead of the main event.
“I feel that the franchise can grow,” says Cote. “And for me, it has grown to be something that is not about the hood, it is not about the blade. For us, the most important part of Assassin’s Creed is that you visit a pivotal moment in our history, and this is what we’re allowing you to do. This is at the core. The other thing [...] is this kind of combat between order and chaos, and it is absolutely at the center of the stories — plural — that you will find in the game.”
If Origins was the big reset button for Assassin’s Creed, then Odyssey is what comes next. It’s entirely possible that Odyssey will move back to its old habits or that the new changes won’t turn out to be very good — a lot of that will depend on how the consequences of your choices play out across the whole game. But after years of moving through the same motions, it’s at least nice to see that Assassin’s Creed is willing to try something new.