Feature Article

Assassin's Creed Odyssey Director Talks Story And RPG Inspirations

A three year odyssey for Ubisoft Quebec.

During a recent trip to Ubisoft Quebec, we had the opportunity to play about five hours of the highly-anticipated Assassin's Creed Odyssey. It was a small sliver of the huge open world of Ancient Greece, set in 431 BC during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. We spent that time on the Delos Islands leading a rebellion, completing side quests, and engaging in many of the RPG elements that are new to the series. Dialogue options aren't the only thing that are new, as facing the consequences of your choices was very much part of the demo. You can read about our experience in an in-depth preview of Assassin's Creed Odyssey and how RPG elements seem to make it a better game.

In addition to getting our hands on an early build, we had the chance to talk with Assassin's Creed Odyssey's director Scott Phillips. The following interview digs into the inspiration for the new direction, what players can expect throughout the story, and how the team is working in the rich history of this time period.

For more on Assassin's Creed Odyssey, be sure to check out our breakdown of the six biggest changes for this entry. If you want to see more of the game in action, we have a bunch of gameplay videos that show off ship combat, dialogue sequences, and large-scale battles.

GameSpot: The first thing that struck me when playing the game is the heavier RPG elements. How was that decision made and what other games did you draw inspiration from? Where did that start?

Scott Phillips: It was early on, three years ago, we were coming to the end of Syndicate. When talking about what Assassin's Creed Odyssey should be, we asked where do we want Assassin's Creed to go, what does it need to evolve into? We talked with the Assassin's Creed Origins team to see what they were doing. We both had the same sort of idea of where the series should go--RPG choice, we wanted to push it forward. We knew Origins was doing some of those things, but for us, we had the time to really go even further to focus on the two characters, Alexios and Kassandra, to focus on choice within the stories and within the dialogue, to give you special abilities, to build your own play style.

In terms of inspiration, I play a lot of RPGs and I would say open-world is my favorite genre. The RPG is something [that] fits together super, super well. And I play everything that comes out; games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and obviously Assassin's Creed Origins. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout, those two are probably some of my favorite[s]. And if you look at those games, they give players a lot of options. For us, that was what we wanted to push Assassin's Creed as a franchise into: more choice for the player.

This is the first Assassin's Creed that's moved into branching dialogue and consequences for your choices. In the playable demo, decisions were made, side quests were completed, and two hours down the line, the consequences play out. The end product of the decision wasn't clear right away. How hard is it to keep it cohesive?

It's super hard, I've got to say. There's no other way to put it. We try to think of every consequence that can happen. We write all those, we move forward with structuring the quests and all of the quests that could be impacted in a way that'll work. Then we play it a lot and ask ourselves, what did we miss? What doesn't connect? What doesn't pay off well enough?

Something we had a while ago and tried was including a sort of the Telltale-style "your choice will have an impact" notification afterward. Ultimately we felt that the player is better off making those connections themselves and we didn't want to put too much in their face. We wanted the feeling of, "Oh, wow, that thing I did back then..." or when they talk to someone else and say, "Oh, I had no idea that those connections were made." We felt after play tests that it was the stronger way to go rather than being in the player's face with the decisions being made.

Male protagonist Alexios speaking with Socrates, one of the many ways Odyssey incorporates Greek history.
Male protagonist Alexios speaking with Socrates, one of the many ways Odyssey incorporates Greek history.

Assassin's Creed always told a contained story within history. But choices seem to play out in the larger, main narrative. Is there going to be bigger payoffs or consequences of larger scale, maybe multiple endings? How much can you change the world and how much will it be reflected in the world as the game goes on?

We have to make decisions about how big are we going to go with certain choices. Obviously, we want some to have massive changes to the story, but we have mid-scale changes and small changes. Some parts of side quests can impact the main quest: who appears, who's around you, who's dead, who's alive, who you're friends with, who hates you. Those sorts of things all sort of feed into both the main story, and all of the side stories, and in the world itself because the world is constantly changing. The mercenaries that are alive in your playthrough, I may never see in mine or maybe I killed them in my playthrough. The leaders can also be different. So, there's a lot of activity and change and when players talk to each other about what their experience was, or some great fight they had with this mercenary, or the choice they made in that quest, it's going to be a very different experience for each player.

I love the Mass Effect series, but with Paragon/Renegade, I know straight up if my decision is good or bad. But we've also had games like The Witcher 3 that just give you options, and who knows how they'll pay off in the end. From the slice we played, it seems Odyssey is going the latter route.

Making the game morally gray and not black-and-white was important to us. We didn't want it to be like past games where you're not forced to not kill civilians, as a simple example. The Creed doesn't exist for your player character in terms of restricting you from doing that. That's your choice. But we're going to impact the player, we're going to show you that it means something in the game world. And it's going to give you feedback, you're going to feel those choices you've made in small-scale and in these large-scale choices across the game.

Do you want to encourage players to do more side stuff, especially those who tend to mainline games? Do you kind of accept that they might be missing out on some really good story bits and narrative arcs?

Yeah, I think the easiest example is if you look at our E3 demo, you don't have to play any of that. That's all side content in the main game, and that's true throughout huge parts of the game. We want you to do that, we think you will enjoy it. And as balance between players that want to rush the game and players that want to complete every single piece is a challenge for us, because we want both play styles to be valid and work well. In an RPG, making sure that the player who does 100% of the content and that player who does only what they want, we want both to have a good experience. Balance for both player types is something that RPGs have struggled with quite a bit. I think we have a very good progression system, a very good way of balancing the game that makes it so everyone, no matter what they do, is going to have a great time.

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Character relationships are a new thing, along with choice-based dialogue, of course. For example, I tried romancing Kyra but it didn't work out. How deep are relationships going to go and how impactful are those relationships?

It depends on the character. I would say Kyra is a mid-level romance to put it in a weird way. There are some side characters, and other characters where it's a shorter thing, but you can still recruit people to be on your ship crew. And with some of these romanceable characters, you can recruit them to be on your ship and with you for the rest of your journey, or you can never see them again. It's sort of your choice. There's also family relationships which you'll make decisions about, and will impact, ultimately, who's around or who's there for help as you get further in the game. You'll see a lot of variation based on the way you've played the game.

With choice-based dialogue, there are many directions it can go. But it's all contained in Greek mythology and the Ancient Greek historical time period. How do you balance between using history and creative freedom? Are we still going to have that rich, historical backdrop along with the story that you're trying to tell as well?

It's fun. It's always a back-and-forth of how far can we push it: when do we need to focus more on Greek history, when do we need to focus more on Assassin's Creed lore, and when do we need to just give the player something really cool to do? We're constantly making those choices. On a small scale, it's things like how buildings and structures look. We maintain historical accuracy, but some of our statues are way bigger than they would've been in this time period. Or the look of Sparta in our game is more grandiose than what Sparta actually was, because the Spartans, the Laconians, were very minimalistic. They focused solely on war; they didn't try to build big statues. But we wanted Sparta to be this awesome, amazing, epic-looking Greek location, and we had to push it forward.

Skyrim, Fallout, those two are probably some of my favorite[s]. And if you look at those games, they give players a lot of options. For us, that was what we wanted to push Assassin's Creed as a franchise into: more choice for the player.

When it comes to ships, there are simple things about how the triremes would have to be pulled out of the water to avoid getting waterlogged and sinking. Obviously, we're not going to do that. But we also need to make decisions about ramming, shooting javelins, and firing arrows; how far are we going to push it? Did they have catapults? Did catapults exist at that time? Well, sort of. It's always a fine line, and we're pushing and pulling, and trying to make sure that we're true to both the vision we want to have for a game in 2018 and what this period of time would've looked like.

When you meet with Socrates, you have discussions of philosophy. You meet with Hippocrates, who's the father of medicine. You talk to Herodotus, who's the father of modern history. You engage with these characters and develop details about what their thought processes were, and you affect it as well. But then you also argue with Socrates even as you have him as an ally. So, it's a constant battle between too little and too much. And I think we found a really good balance, especially with the mythology of Ancient Greece. It's a super deep, awesome mythology of legends and gods with the mixture of history. And it's also Assassin's Creed, which has a ton of characters with names from the first civilization that come from Ancient Greece, and they're coming from that sort of lore. We had a good backdrop to sort of mix the two. I don't want to spoil stuff, but there are a lot of really cool ways that pays off. If you really engage in the game, there's some really amazing stuff that ties it all together.

As for the modern day storyline, are any of the RPG elements going to play into the modern day storytelling?

So, there is definitely modern day gameplay with Layla Hassan, but I don't want to go into that just yet.

Origins was big in terms of scope, and this game seems big, too. How do you answer those worried about series fatigue? Even though there's a lot of new stuff, they might just not be in the mood for another huge open world.

We've worked on the game for three years, and in terms of what we've done, we put in a huge amount of effort. We had a big team for that period of time. We focused on making this huge, huge game. I think fans will really see, when they play it, that what we brought is something new and fresh to Assassin's Creed with choice, with RPG elements. And I think it is and will be one of the favorite Assassin's Creed games.

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Assassin's Creed Odyssey

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Destructionzz

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They need to fix the release date for this, it's Oct 5th not 2th.

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speed45823

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Edited By speed45823

I really liked AC Origins and its DLCs....BUT this looks and feels like a re-skin of AC Origins. Gonna skip this one and wait for the next one probably if its in Japan setting. Hopefully, they'll make a new world with innovative mechanics and not a cookie cutter sequel.

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@speed45823: they will never give you want you want cause they know they will disappoint.

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Shantmaster_K

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Can’t wait. Love the AC series. I liked the direction Origins went.

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bbq_R0ADK1LL

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So, it's an RPG now? OK, I like RPGs. I'm just worried it's going to be tied down by the expectations of what an AC game needs to be.

Publishers are scared of any new IP but sometimes it's better to just let a series end & start a new one. I've always loved the historical tourism aspect of AC games, so hopefully they make use of the advantages of the IP, rather than being restricted by it.

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streamline

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@bbq_R0ADK1LL: that’s exactly what they did. The AC series got started because they let go of the Prince of Persia series. It started as a PoP game. They’re just not ready not move on again yet.

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ASneakyPoptart

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I can deal with the combat and RPG changes, they were pretty much needed to revitalize the series. What I'm worried about is this looks nothing like an AC game. I'm going to have to see more of the story before I write this game off, but other than the setting, nothing really excites me about this game and this is coming from a long time AC fan. It essentially looks like a Spartan game more than an AC game and that's fine in it's own way, just not an AC franchise way. I'll definitely be waiting for reviews and maybe pick it up on sale sometime next year. Way too many games coming out the rest of the year.

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Edited By SythisTaru

SJW's Creed: Genders

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bbq_R0ADK1LL

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@SythisTaru: The fact that you think being able to play a woman is an SJW move is pretty sad. They're like 51% of the population.

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iskaroth

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@bbq_R0ADK1LL: it is an SJW move in a game aiming for historical accuracy.
As for women making up 51% of the general population... WTF does that have to do with anything? When it comes to AC players they are probably closer to 5,1% at best.

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Mogan

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@SythisTaru: Only if you're really trying to push that narrative.

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Edited By lorddaggeroff

The only game worthy of Ubisoft was assasins creed 1, the level of detail back then really made other competitors cringe, then black flag that Ubisoft was in love with but never fully realised the potential of black blag as it could have been a far better game then as it is today, but yes it's by far the best assasins creed.

Skull and bones is Ubisoft does best as black flag 2. Shame they cannot call it that because that's essentially what it is.

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dragoonmike

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Edited By dragoonmike

I only played blag flag and that was only until you had to catch or kill some dude before he got to a house spent over 8 hours trying but nothing I did ever worked so could not move on with the story got mad closed game ejected disk then went and used it to play frizbe with friends dog disk did not survive it was the first and last creed game I ever played.

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lorddaggeroff

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@dragoonmike: Maybe you should stick to Nintendo games in the future, they use cartridge too and you will enjoy it.

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MigGui

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@dragoonmike: there probably were some better ways to deal with that

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Edited By streamline

@MigGui: That is the only way one must deal with when it comes to “blag flag.”

Interestingly enough, just a few comments above, someone else called the game black blag.

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Defiler

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Female Spartans. Yeah, seems like you're really focusing on accuracy. Oh and joy of joys, more Layla Hassan. She's exactly like Desmond only completely unlikable and with no weaknesses or pathos to speak of. God this game is going to be a dumpster fire.

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Mogan

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@defiler: Layla sucked in Origins, but there's nothing to say she wont be way better written in Odyssey. Or maybe she'll be in the game all of five minutes, like last time.
And you can always just choose to play as the dude instead of the chick if women warriors don't tickle your fancy.

I'm not seeing a reason to think this game will be a "dumpster fire" beyond you just wanting to think that.

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Edited By stm1185

@Mogan: The whole future thing has been total garbage after AC3. They really need to just drop it. What is the point! Why does anyone care?

The Woman Warrior thing is out of place, but if they write the game around that instead of white washing history to make Ancient Greece have gender equality, maybe it will seem good. The NPCs should treat her differently than the male protagonist, making the story play out differently as a result. Adding replay-ability!

If its exactly the same, then why even have her? Might as well put in a Thomas Croft in the next Tomb Raider then.

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bbq_R0ADK1LL

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@stm1185: I agree that the world needs to respond to a female protagonist differently. If Kassandra is basically a man with a woman skin that only the player can see, it's a pretty bad RPG. There are going to be some romance options so clearly some NPCs will recognise the sex of the main character but hopefully there will be a few more nuanced reactions.

In AC: Liberation, Aveline faced the expectations of society & even had different costumes to slip between different facets of social standing. Her high class dress made it hard to move so she couldn't parkour but allowed her to interact with high society. It was an interesting mechanic & a clever use of using historical perceptions to influence gameplay. I'd like to see the devs use their imagination a little to bring some gameplay differences into this game as well.

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Edited By Mogan  Moderator  Online

@stm1185: I really liked the modern day stuff in Black Flag, but the series needs a new over arching main story line that can link numerous games. And they have to do more with the modern day stuff than they have been to make it matter. Either that, or like you say, just get rid of it entirely.

Adding a gender option in Odyssey is the same as adding it in any other RPG; players like choices and some would rather play as a chick than a dude. It's not likely to hurt anything if Ubisoft adds in that option.
And don't start with the, "But mah histories!" Nobody cries when the ancient cultures in these games all speak accented English, or we find out history has been manipulated by a shadowy organization hunting the advanced tech of a precursor race.

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This sounds great! I can't wait for this!

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snugtron

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Anyone else tired of sailing a goddamn ship? Can we please bring back a revamped version of Unity's co-op, but one that functions? It would be great to do those large scale battles with a couple of friends!

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Mogan

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@snugtron: I really liked the boat in Black Flag, but I hope Odyssey doesn't just copy the ship combat from Origins (all three out of place, disconnected levels of it). If they're going to base half a game around sailing again, they need to do something unique with it; not just clone Black Flag and replace cannons with fire arrows.

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sadasda

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Rekonym

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The only Assassin's Creed game I ever owned was AC3, and that's only because I received a digital code to download it back when I bought a graphics card (can't even remember which card it was, but it might have been my GTX 670). I never actually ended up downloading it. And to this day I have lost that code and the download is probably not even possible anymore. In the end, as of now, ever since the Assassin's Creed franchise came up I never played a single one of those games.

With all this said, all things considered, Assassin's Creed Odyssey actually looks genuinely interesting. It might well be the very first one I get to play. If it's at least remotely close to Mass Effect / Witcher 3 in dialogue branching and questing structures then I'm definitely curious to know more about it. It's exactly my type of game (and it's probably why I pretty much ignored all of the AC games in the franchise to this day).

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Jasurim

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I haven't played an AC game since the second one, but by the sounds of it, it's best not to even think of it as an AC game.

Also shoot me, but damn I can't help but be drawn to this game. It sounds fun. Sure, they'll likely never be a CDPR, but I don't expect them to be and it doesn't mean the game can't be enjoyable. Cautiously optimistic with this one, it might be my first AC game in a long while.

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ssdd_again

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The changes sound awful, so the Origins team ruins the combat and then the Odyssey team ruin the gameplay/story telling (even more). Did EA buy out Ubisoft recently?

Assassins Creed games are supposed to be Action-adventure, not RPG. As @NonEdibleCheese pointed out, things are supposed to be done in a certain way as we are retracing what an ancestor did (or someone else that has been accessed using an Animus). I don't see how you can access an ancestor's memories and then start changing them around.

There are many RPG games on the market for people who want that kind of thing, sounds like Ubi are running out of ideas for AC tbh.

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Edited By RevanxKnight

@ssdd_again: You’re delusional if you think that the combat in Origins ruined anything. The combat has been exactly the same for the 9 main games prior to Origins. That’s literally 10 years of essentially no combat variation. The revamped combat in Origins saved the series from the absolute chore that combat had become. Assassins are humans. Excuse people for wanting them to seem as such instead of one man armies who counter-attack their way through 50 soldiers without breaking a sweat.

After over a decade of the same formula the changes that were brought in Origins and soon to be Odyssey are welcomed by many. The only way to ensure continued player interest in franchises like AC is for games to evolve. The new combat system and RPG elements are welcomed additions.

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ssdd_again

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Edited By ssdd_again

@revanxknight: Welcome to some clearly. I thought the revamped combat system made combat into a chore, I actively avoided (and dreaded) getting into a fight in Origins, the hidden blade also seemed to be rendered useless relative to it's former ability. The fluidity of the combat in previous games is what made it fun for me.

You say it's not realistic that they are one man armies, but you're ok with the other fantastical elements of the game? sure ok.

Games can evolve with the same combat system, and without additions that are just the flavour of the month/not suited to the genre/

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RevanxKnight

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Edited By RevanxKnight

@ssdd_again: “Welcome to some clearly.”? Care to elaborate on that mess of a statement? If you truly find the new combat “a chore” then you’re better suited to the previous entries. Origins has begun a new chapter for the series and wont be going backwards with the widely positive reception its combat and new features have garnered. The hidden blades have been completely ridiculous for the entire series. They’ve been utilized as weapons of god-like power that are apparently stronger than every weapon it encounters. Battle axes, longswords, hammers, etc., nothing stands a chance and it’s absurd.

I never mentioned anything about things being realistic, try again. However, if you’re referring to the God battles that were literally added for fun and have absolutely no connection to the events of the story, or larger game in general, then you are clearly misguided on what constitutes optional content. Those battles have zero impact on any “realism”, as you said, present within the game. They’re purely for additional side activities.

Frankly, I find it curious that you bring up realism in a video game series that is roughly 90% fiction, if not more.

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ssdd_again

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Edited By ssdd_again

@revanxknight: No need for the hostility, it's just my opinion. Are you working on this game or just an angry 14 year old? You're rambling, you're inferring things from my response that don't make sense. I cba with this.

Don't worry, you'll still get your toilet of an AC game either way.

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Edited By RevanxKnight

@ssdd_again: “Hostility”, “rambling”, “inferring”? Dare I ask whether you ingest copious amounts of narcotics...? Or are you just prone to hallucinations? Clearly you’re observations are skewed by something if you seriously took any of what I’ve said as hostility. Pointing at the flaws of your argument is hardly “hostility”. And with the “angry 14 year old” comment? Because that proves you’re capable of anything beyond such a response that an actual 14 year old would use.

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Mogan  Moderator  Online

@ssdd_again: It sounds like people were getting tired of playing the same game every year, sales were flagging, and Ubisoft decided they needed to refresh the series.

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speed45823

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@Mogan: I mean its on Ubisoft for releasing a cookie cutter AC game year after year. People are bound to get burnt out sooner or later.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator  Online

@speed45823: Apparently not this dude; he seems upset that things changed.

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ssdd_again

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@Mogan: Yeah, just a shame they've done it in the wrong way.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator  Online

@ssdd_again: Outside the main story and a couple of characters, I thought Origins was real good.

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kutulu1

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Never been a fan of Assassins Creed, this may be my first game I buy in the franchise; looks amazing.

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JEF8484

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I'm totally down for this. Origins was definitely a step in the right direction- this should be even more so. Hopefully though its not too glitchy- but I doubt it, Ubisoft I think learned their lesson there.....

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