Assassin's Creed Odyssey is three years in the making; Ubisoft Quebec conceived this entry into the long-running franchise as the team wrapped up development for Assassin's Creed Syndicate back in 2015. Ubisoft Montreal was in the process of transforming the series with Origins (that released in 2017) which gave the Quebec studio a foundation to further evolve Assassin's Creed into a full-fledged RPG the team envisioned. It's not just about the inclusion of branching dialogue or seemingly arbitrary choices during quests, though. Consequence is at the heart of making the journey through Ancient Greece something more than just another historical fiction.
During a visit to Ubisoft Quebec's studio, I had the opportunity to spend around five hours with Assassin's Creed Odyssey, starting at a point deep into the story. Many of its features jumped out immediately, like choosing to play as the female protagonist Kassandra through the entire game. Regardless, I'm a mercenary on the search for lost family members in the midst of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC. Docked ashore the Delos Islands following a storm, I'm immediately posed with conversation options with my shipmate Barnabas. At first, it's striking to see this in an Assassin's Creed game, but considering Odyssey's full RPG approach, having agency in what I say to others is to be expected. While I could tease out more information or evoke different responses, words can have a much larger impact in certain situations.
The ability to steer your own course was abundantly clear when I could affect the rebellion on the Delos Islands. Would I endorse a brute force approach suggested by Thelatas or devise a more subtle, strategic plan with Kyra? Thelatas offers naval combat missions while Kyra points out enemy camps where you destroy weapons and supplies to weaken them. Siding with either ally on how take down the unjust ruler Podarkes would lead to liberation, but in this case, it's about changing the journey, not the destination. You won't be able to go through both missions in the same playthrough.
Decision-making in Odyssey is taken a step further when factoring consequences. A side-quest given by the philosopher Socrates tasked me with handling a prisoner situation. This particular prisoner could aid the rebellion, but he's known to be dangerous and unhinged. I could straight up kill him, save him, or just ignore the quest altogether. So, as a dedicated paragon all throughout Mass Effect, I'm willing to give others a second chance. Little did I know that saving him would impact the conclusion to the main quest line. After taking down Podarkes, the Delos Islands erupted in celebration. However, the man I saved went rogue and assassinated an ally that he believed to be a threat to maintaining independence. It was an unforeseen consequence, but I quickly realized that Assassin's Creed is now asking us to think twice, watch our backs, or anticipate the effects of our actions.
Of course, the demo was just a small slice of a much larger open world, and if Odyssey can weave all the variables into a cohesive RPG experience, it's easy to see the game stand with some of the genre's best, which have also served as inspiration for the new approach. Director Scott Phillips said it himself; The Witcher 3, The Elder Scrolls, and Fallout are among his favorite games, and stated "that's what we wanted to push Assassin's Creed as a franchise into: more choice for the player."
Everything that's new is layered on top of the foundation Assassin's Creed Origins built. Franchise staples still permeate the game like climbing up to vantage points for synchronizations, stealth assassinations, and a modern day tie-in story. Genre trends such as weakening an enemy presence in specifically mapped zones to take control runs core to the game. Traversal holds Odyssey back from feeling fluid, though. Unintentionally leaping off building and scaling walls in the wrong direction happens more often than you'd hope. Hand-to-hand combat, in particular, is similar to Origins in feel, cumbersome targeting system in all. It's somewhat sluggish, but stays varied through different weapon types. However, Odyssey stands on its own with the number of abilities available in combat.
The skill tree gives players access to many more options this time around. Yes, the Spartan kick is thrilling to use for launching enemies off cliffs or into the sea during ship combat, but comes in clutch when you just want to create more distance. A shield rip makes defensive enemies less irritating and much more manageable. The multi-arrow show helps tack on more damage per shot, which was really useful when fighting a burly bear with a whole lot of HP. These skills are easy to access because of how they're seamlessly mapped to the face buttons when you either hold the left trigger or left bumper. That's eight skills at your disposal at any time.
Trekking the open deserts of Origins wasn't the most exciting part of the game. Odyssey replaces that with the dangerous waters between Greece's collection of islands. In a similar vein as Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, ship combat plays a large role. Fire arrow barrages, waves of javelins, or full-speed naval rams tear enemy ships, and hopping aboard to finish off the last of an enemy crew yields useful loot. It makes all the in-between more interesting and the game feels full.
The initial impression is that Assassin's Creed Odyssey makes meaningful strides for the franchise by going all in on being an RPG, and it seems to be better for it. By looking at the genres frontrunners, Ubisoft adopts the web of choice and consequence for the first time in franchise history while building on established mechanics. It's a bold move for a series that traditionally tells you a story; soon you'll be telling your own.