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Feature Article

A Fresh Look At Assassin's Creed Odyssey's Big Combat Changes

Spoiler: It's pretty great.

Assassin's Creed Origins released in 2017 following a year off, when Ubisoft took time off to reassess the future of its flagship series. Beyond the obvious move to Egypt, Origins' most notable area of innovation was combat. Previously reliant on engaging enemies and playing out execution animations, Origins completely transformed the series' combat into a hitbox-based system emphasizing precise timing and tactical dodging. While this was a welcome shift that introduced more complexity to enemy encounters, it still had plenty of shortcomings. You could easily fall into using a single dominant strategy to win fights, and the relatively low skill ceiling meant that you ultimately had very little improvement to strive for.

Ubisoft Quebec's upcoming Assassin's Creed Odyssey seems to be attending to these issues, providing more tactical combat than its predecessor while making subtle adjustments that vastly improve the moment-to-moment thrills of engagement. This might not mean much if you're more inclined to play stealth or ranged. I've personally been more of a stealth player in past Assassin's Creed games, even in entries that didn't accommodate such a playstyle--I'm looking at you, Assassin's Creed III. But I was pleasantly surprised to find during my experiences playing Odyssey that its combat was one of the aspects I enjoyed the most. Here are four major changes I noted during a recent two-hour Gamescom 2018 preview session while playing one of Odyssey's late-game questlines.

No Shields, Just Dodges

The most welcome change to Odyssey's combat is the lack of a shield or guarding stance. No longer can you block enemy attacks or arrows--you dodge them instead. This alters the flow of combat, forcing you to pay close attention to enemy movements while also being mindful of the spacing between you and your opponent. This is the best part about Odyssey's take on Origins' combat, as it elevates your active investment in a fight. It was easy to become idle in Origins, often turtling up against enemies with a shield, charging up a strong attack to knock them down, and then wailing on them. You need to be fully aware in Odyssey, unleashing measured bursts of attacks and dodging before getting hit by an enemy follow-up.

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You may not come equipped with a shield of your own, but your opponents do! There's a power imbalance you feel every time you square up against a group of shielded enemies--a feeling I rarely got from fighting such enemies in Origins. Luckily, you're given a shield removal skill that can quickly put foes on even ground with you. It's an added layer of defense to enemies that seems superficial at first blush, but during my experiences with Odyssey, it contributed to the tension and reinforced the need to be alert.

A drastic, yet subtle new addition to movement is the roll as an action. In Origins, you could perform a roll after mashing the dodge button three times; it would be the third maneuver Bayek would perform after two step-dodges. However, it didn't serve much of a tactical purpose and was more of a cosmetic animation. In Odyssey, a roll is performed by holding the dodge button, and it covers more ground than the standard step-dodge. In every encounter, I had to distinguish which enemy attacks called for a roll, and which could be simply dodged with a quick step. It's a minute change but it made all the difference in elevating my senses during a battle.

You're Making Way More Decisions In Combat

Remedying the issue of Origins' barebones combat are a ton of special skills you can equip and activate on the fly in Odyssey. The most prominently featured skill in early Odyssey footage is the Spartan Kick, which allows you to launch foes away, potentially off cliffs or into shark-infested waters. But there are several other skills you can use--some offensive and others defensive. For example, one allows you to slow down time and move seven times faster than your opponents, something that comes in handy for doling out more damage or simply getting out of harm's way. Skills are triggered by holding the shoulder button and pressing the face button associated with the one equipped on your wheel. You can equip up to eight skills at once, and each takes up a specific number of points from your Adrenaline Meter--which is now split up into segments--upon use.

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During high-level play, having so many skills to mix-and-match made for a satisfying dance of creatively linking together the best ones to inflict the highest damage possible. But it also demanded think about how I spend Adrenaline. While you can use it to trigger a powerful special attack that can easily dispatch a single foe, you might be better served triggering several crowd-control moves to hurt multiple foes or launch them off the battle arena instead. A canvas for players to use skills the way they want was exactly what Odyssey creative director Jonathan Dumont intended to be a part of the game's combat.

"We tried to have choice at the core of everything that we've added." said Dumont. "We were thinking about how it would be cool to mix and match skills...we looked at it more from a perspective of customization instead of trying to enforce a certain way to play the game or unlock things in a certain order."

Boss Fights Are More Difficult And Complex

If there's anything that Origins was completely lacking in, it was boss fights. Bosses were often just stronger versions of standard enemies, and if they did have something more interesting at play, the strategy to beat them was incredibly simplistic. Even at high-level play, Origins' boss fights were prolonged encounters that simply required dodging and walloping on a foe until you had enough Adrenaline to perform an Overpower move; rinse and repeat.

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Odyssey seems to throw more variety into difficult boss encounters. Admittedly, this observation is purely based on my experiences fighting against Medusa (yes, that Medusa). But if what I experienced with that fight is indicative of the entire game, then I'm quite excited for what other formidable opponents Odyssey is going to throw me against--mythological creature or not.

Medusa actually had varying attack patterns and different stages as the fight progressed. She would try to slow me down with her petrifying stare and then spawn stone soldiers to gang up on me. But as the fight went on, went on, she'd assault me with petrifying lasers and try to attack me directly, all while more stone soldiers spawned in. The fight actually challenged my ability to dodge and use skills efficiently. It's exactly what you want a boss fight to be: a test of everything you've learned and executed upon using the game's various systems. You can watch the full battle against Medusa at the end of the footage above.

You Can Restat Anytime You Want

This doesn't pertain to combat directly, but if you decide there's another character build you'd like to pursue that would better accommodate your fighting style, you're free to completely restat your ability points any time at no cost to you. This is a tremendous addition that gives you the ability to experiment and spend your ability points on other skills that may not have fit your initial character build. Once again, this seems to align with what Dumont believes is Odyssey's emphasis on creativity and player choice.

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"Invest the points where you want them but map them like you want them and create your own playstyle," commented Dumont when asked about player customization. "Because Assassin's Creed has been around for over 10 years now, we all play differently. Where some people just want to play stealth or ranged, some people want combat. So, we want to make sure that your play style that you want to bring in is a right playstyle for you. And the game allows you to play that way."

That creativity is welcomed by the freedom to change the way you play at any time. The build given to me during the preview was focused more on combat, but I was able to restat into a hybrid of both combat and stealth. It made the build more focused on chain-killing as many enemies as possible with the Rush Assassination skill before being seen, and then clearing out the rest with crowd-control and attack buff skills. The opportunity to branch out allowed me to get creative with my character on a whim. It was refreshing to have no penalty for doing so, as Origins forced you to commit to a build for a majority of its runtime.

A Step Forward For Combat

There's a higher sense of urgency and strategizing in Odyssey's combat. You're thinking more and you're constantly making split-second decisions on the types of skills you want to perform. Enemy groups are quicker to surround and overwhelm you than in Origins, so it's essential to move quickly and act aggressively. All of this already puts Odyssey's combat system far above Origins' in complexity and nuance, often motivating me to pursue enemies head-on more than I'm usually accustomed to.

As someone who has always relished in playing stealthily in every Assassin's Creed game, it's exciting to see improvements that make combat less mindless and more tactical. For the first time in the series' history, I'm struggling to settle on a playstyle--not because of lacking quality in one over the other, but simply out of finding each genuinely appealing. It honestly surprises me, and for a series I've been following since the beginning, I find that fantastic.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

mgespin

Matt Espineli

Matt Espineli is an Editor at GameSpot. He loves MGS, film noir, and westerns, but he very much loves YOU too.

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40 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for ditronus
Ditronus

It looks like you're still button mashing. It tried something similar to dark souls, as they said with origins, but without a stamina bar making actions truly precise and costly, it just desolves into overwhelming enemies with a barrage of attacks.

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PCPS4XB

God of war has spoiled me. I'll get this anyway since I did enjoy origins.

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Yaotar5

where is hood?

where is good old defensive combat system?

why this game is called asassins creed?

:(

Avatar image for se7en1989
se7en1989

@Yaotar5: You fight monsters in this game. This is not AC...

Avatar image for face76
face76

@Yaotar5: the hood might night be there. The AC games was a story about Assassins vs Templars in some form or another. The last AC saw the start of The brotherhood. This game is more about th first civilization, which plays a huge role in AC. The spear you use is a first civilization item. Then in the video we saw what looks like the apple of eden. This game is more about Isu and the their creations. I’m guess IGN Medusa is an experiment in creating humans that went wrong or maybe that was what the Isu wanted.

As for combat, it’s more about dodging and parrying. These demos had max stats. So it looks easier.

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@Yaotar5: I’m pretty sure blood is still a thing in Odyssey. They’ve actually focused more on dodging and parrying here than before.

And I’m not sure, why, after 9 to 11 main line AC games, people are all shocked the series is different than when it started.

Avatar image for hollywood1
hollywood1

As the next few months are gonna put a severe hurting on my wallet. I am torn between Assassins Creed or Tomb Raider.

Spider-Man (PS4Pro) and Red Dead (Xbox One X) are a given... the rest are just icing.

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LiveDreamPlay

@hollywood1: Same here. Exact same doubt.

Avatar image for knolddasker
knolddasker

After investing in For honor i will never buy a ubisoft game again... It's the same with EA, they release broken hollow games with no depth. I will just wait for Red Dead Redemption and Cyberpunk

Avatar image for face76
face76

@knolddasker: For Honor has been the come back game for Ubisoft. The game has gotten better witch updates. The Division, though good at launch, improved significantly with updates. Games like For Honor sometimes need to go thru a few changes to become a better game.

As for broken games, I guess you never played a Bethesda game. They are always riddled with bugs from the beginning. Unity was the only game Ubisoft released that had game breaking bugs.

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LiveDreamPlay

@knolddasker:

Stupid strategy since some games suck and some don't.

Avatar image for se7en1989
se7en1989

@livedreamplay: The majority of Ubisoft games suck...

Avatar image for livedreamplay
LiveDreamPlay

@se7en1989:

True, but you can still filter some good ones. Especially franchise beginnings.

Avatar image for hollywood1
hollywood1

@knolddasker: that's seriously your loss bud. Assassins Creed Origins was excellent. Especially on an 'X' on a 4k tv. Breath taking.

The graphics, the story, the fighting. I highly recommend you give it a try, even if you just get it as a rental.

And if you haven't yet, Far Cry 5 is also incredible and a huge step forward, breathing life into a stale franchise.

Don't forget, their are a bunch of different Ubisoft studios handling different games.

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se7en1989

@hollywood1: Looks like a reskin of Origins.

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EdwardNygma

This looks awful.

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ahmad996

@edwardnygma: Finally someone whose not blind

Avatar image for edwardnygma
EdwardNygma

@ahmad996: Thanks!

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JustTheTip

Sounds good to me. I played tons of Bloodborne, so I’m fine with no shields. This seems way better than Origins.

Avatar image for blibdoolpoolp
Blibdoolpoolp

One of the best parts of the AC series up until Origins was the excellent executions, I feel they were best in AC3, the brutality of those moves were amazing. ACO and now this seem like more of a brawler.. Not happy about that.

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MisterVulpes

@blibdoolpoolp:

The “executions” were still very present in Origins. Every weapon had its own distinct finishers just like all the other games...

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Blibdoolpoolp

@mistervulpes: They're just pretty lame in comparison. I use a heavy maul in ACO, the "execution" is always me throwing the guy top the ground and doing an overhead smash to their body on the floor. Kinda cool the first 5 times, gets old quick. The old game had mostly swords and as such there were a lot more finisher animations as the weapon types were a lot less varied. I think in the new games they should have an equal or greater number of animations per weapon archetype.

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silentrambo

Can't wait, every article or video I read and see just make me more excited

Avatar image for mrbojangles25
mrbojangles25

Good god that looks clunky as hell.

What is this, a Piranha Byte game?

Still...it's early in development, I imagine they will do quite a bit more polishing.

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Mogan

@mrbojangles25: A Piranha Bytes game? Jeez man, that's about the rawest thing you could say about a game. Let's not be crazy.

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mrbojangles25

@Mogan: Yeah, but I secretly like their games.

Avatar image for mistervulpes
MisterVulpes

@mrbojangles25:

Right?

I secretly enjoyed Elex....

I’ll never play it again...

But I liked it.

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@mrbojangles25: Risen (the first one) was pretty good; in a little bit busted, weirdly compelling, low budget European kinda way.

Best thing I can say about the Gothic games is that they were obviously made with love, if not necessarily anything else. : p

Avatar image for chopsbenedict
chopsbenedict

Wow I really enjoyed this article. I feel like reviews and conversations Ive seen and had have all been really blind to the issues in the game, being 100% praise and not delving in at all.

The biggest of these was combat, which to me felt just like the previous entries, you have to learn the moves of 4 different guys, but then its super easy to use one move over and over and wreck shop, I didnt find it any easier to die in Origins than in the predecessors, though perhaps there were more encounters to be had overall, which presented more opportunities to die?

Regardless, I think these changes, taking away the shield and making the skills a limited list combo bar kinda thing sounds great. It is....frustrating/turnoff whatever that the shield is gone. as another poster mentioned, they're integral to the hellenic combat style, though mostly in mass formation, which we can assume will not be the case here. Its silly to think about but I think the result is quality.

I always feel like the 1/3 to 1/2 mark of these games was the sweet spot for difficulty, you had a couple toys, and some health, but werent godlike, and these changes should make that feeling extend further and make the game a whole more enjoyable while also highlighting someones individual playstyle and perhaps making them consider it more.

Love seeing more 'bossy' boss fights, and respeccing.

I was less of a fan of origins than most other people who played it that I know. I play on a ps4Pro and Im convinced my massive issue with errors was due to that. I thought the storyline was weak, I had literally forgotten the kids name by the time story stuff really picked up - some of which is due to the completionist nature of my play. I also felt like using cleopatra and caesar was super lowest common denominator. I dont mean to give the wrong impression, I liked the game and platinum'ed it because of that, but I felt let down by combat which had been widely lauded, apparently simply because it was different.

A lot of these changes just turn the series into prince of persia/god of war rehashes, I feel much less like an Assassin in origins than before that. One could say that is as it should be, because its the origins of the assassins, so theres no doctrine or style, but to me it loses some appeal in this sense, and I feel like theres a real opportunity for a more dedicated assassin game where youre in the shadows.

I think they should have gone with another setting for this, we just had origins which is blended hellenic environment, which makes programming easy, you can reuse all sorts of bits and bobs, but its lazy and, while the medusa pic (and dlc from origins) makes it clear they are going a more fantastic route, I would have preferred a swap to a further removed time/place.

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MisterVulpes

Yo Matt. You said that Odyssey’s combat goes some way to offering you options rather than just relying on the same strategies, but with things like shielded enemies, has it not just replaced them with new spammable strategies?

Is there anything stopping you from just spamming the shield removal ability or do some enemies resist it?

Avatar image for Tyler50314
Tyler50314

The Ancient Greeks were infamous for Hoplite soldiers, who fought with Shields, Spears, and Short Swords. Removing the shield ruins the game for me. I was so excited until I discovered this information. Especially since they kinda used the “300” look to try to sell the game in previous trailers. What a dumb move...

Avatar image for hollywood1
hollywood1

@Tyler50314: Yeah I'm totally surprised they removed shields, I love it that it adds a more dramatic aspect to think before you rush in swords swinging but to remove shields in a ROME based game just seems weird. I immediately thought of Gladiator and the famous testudo or tortoise formation.

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IM_A_BIG_DB

@Tyler50314: Yeah, removing shields is kinda disappointing. Wondering if it will just be a parry-thon like 1-4. I didnt use shields to much, but when I did it was a godsend.

Avatar image for dawgs97
dawgs97

@Tyler50314: no shields ruined it for me too. But then it was just an extra slap in the face when they added all the nonsense piece of eden magic. The whole joy of this series is to create the illusion of running around a real historical place, not necessarily 100% accurate but believable, this nonsense just makes the game look like a God of War rip-off

Avatar image for Mogan
Mogan

@Tyler50314: I would much rather they focus on making the combat more fun than try to make it historically accurate. If shields not being a thing makes for a better experience, I'm fine with that.