Since the beginning, the central conflict in the Assassin's Creed series has been freedom vs. control. For the most part, we've been placed on the side of freedom and fought to give others the right to choose how they want to live. Ironically, we haven't had much choice in how we go about it, and have repeatedly followed a controlled narrative in each entry that forced us to kill certain characters, spare others, and react to the world in a specific way.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey changes that and delivers an unprecedented level of freedom in its combat and dialogue. The game even allows you to choose your romantic partner, personal allegiance, and which people deserve to die--including normal civilians and several of the assassination targets.
In the opening eight to ten hours of Assassin's Creed Odyssey, our travels through ancient Greece introduced us to a large supporting cast of characters, gave us our first taste of Odyssey's naval combat, and allowed us to experience the effects of choosing certain dialogue responses over others. We got a pretty comprehensive idea of the differences in combat and how the introductory skills in Odyssey work too, as we played through the game's opening hours with Alexios as a powerful melee fighter and bow wielder, and then again with Kassandra as a speedy and stealthy assassin who relied on small daggers.
As we played through Odyssey's opening chapters, we noticed the game repeatedly go out of its way to give the player the ability to choose. Kassandra and Alexios may be its protagonists, but the next Assassin's Creed is all about you living your own odyssey. For the most part, it works, but some of the new innovations suffer from solely focusing on the player's needs and not those of the game's characters.
New Skills Are Unlocked Quickly And Make Fights More Fluid
You level up and unlock new skills fairly quickly at the start of Assassin's Creed Odyssey, giving you plenty of opportunities to experiment with new abilities. At the start, the only abilities available to you will be different types of archery shots, melee attacks, and stealth skills. The higher end abilities that sheath your blade in fire or perform other seemingly magical attacks are locked until you progress a certain ways through the story.
Like Assassin's Creed Origins, the use of these skills runs on an adrenaline meter. However, adrenaline fills a lot faster in Odyssey, so it's easier to chain together many skills in a row to pull off devastating combos in combat or stealthily slice your way through an enemy compound in mere moments.
Kassandra and Alexios do not use shields, so the shield bashing skills from Origins are gone. However, plenty of Bayek's other abilities make a return, including using a special vision to sense and tag enemies through walls or controlling the trajectory of an arrow after you've fired it into the air.
The new skills are way more fun, though. Spartan kick deals tons of damage and is a good way of putting some space between you and a powerful enemy. Ubisoft has even nicely stationed several foes alongside the edges of cliffs or towers in the early areas whose sole purpose seems to only be to stand there until they're sadisticly kicked into oblivion. Compared to Bayek, Kassandra and Alexios have a lot more creative stealth skills as well, including a particularly effective one that allows you to throw out a knife into a person's back and immediately appear behind them to finish them off before then throwing the knife into another target. It's like Kassandra/Alexios are teleporting from one enemy to the next, but the game describes it as them being so fast and sneaky that enemies can't keep track of them.
Instead of putting all your points into new skills, you can also spend them on upgrading your existing ones too. For example, the teleporting knife throwing skill only chains up to two targets at first, but you can use additional points to raise that number. And if you don't like the skills you've unlocked or upgraded, Odyssey lets you respec your protagonist at any time.
Romancing Someone Can Be A Little Creepy
In our time with the demo, we only found one person we could flirt and start a relationship with. Her name is Odessa and she's a direct descendent of the legendary Greek hero Odysseus, the protagonist of Homer's Odyssey. Odessa is attracted to both Kassandra and Alexios so you'll be able to romance her regardless of which character you choose.
Romance in Odyssey plays out a lot like the romantic storylines in Mass Effect: Andromeda. One of the dialogue choices for when you meet someone you can romance will have a little heart next to it. Clicking that choice causes Kassandra/Alexios to flirt with that person. Do it enough times and the game transitions into a scene where both characters are intimate. It's very straightforward and easy to do if you want to romance someone, and just as simple to avoid it if you don't want to.
The problem with romancing Odessa, is that you have to be a huge creep to "woo" her. If you choose to romance Odessa, you have to continue flirting with her and pushing for her to have sex with you while she's asking you to help her gather medicine for her dying father or pleading with you to save her life from some men who want her dead. And when you do help her and she finally agrees to have sex with you, you can ask if she wants to go again. She resists--saying she's tired from the sex you both had literally seconds prior--but she appreciate your advances and you can then offer for her to serve on your crew so she can find the meaning in her life she's been desperately seeking. She's then available to help you in boarding parties during naval combat.
Forging the relationship feels very formulaic and unnatural. There are cute moments--especially at the start--but the overall experience leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It's a moment where Odyssey's message of this being a journey for the player gets in the way of the gameplay. The Odessa romance is purposely built for you to have the girl if you want her, and dispose of her if you don't--you can literally leave her locked in a cage on an island. By the end, we didn't feel like we'd formed a loving connection with a special person; rather we'd chosen to recruit someone who felt indebted to us. Hopefully there are other romantic storylines in Odyssey that feel a bit more like actually falling in love.
Shaping The Protagonist's Words Can Create Amusing Consequences
Despite having the choice of choosing what Kassandra or Alexios can say to someone, the dialogue in the game has been structured to fit a specific archetype. Kassandra and Alexios are hot-headed, stubborn, and very opinionated so all of their dialogue choices reflect that. When an annoying woman is badgering the protagonists about finding her stolen wood, they can either ask her to be patient with a hint of annoyance in their voice or angrily yell at her and tell her to shut up while they go get her wood. Both answers are technically the same--in both instances Kassandra and Alexios are getting tired of being badgered about getting this woman's wood they already agreed to find--but the player decides whether or not the protagonist should keep their emotions under control.
There are a few moments where you'll be able to use dialogue to solve problems. For instance, you can help a praying woman by having the protagonists speak out and pretend to be the god Hermes. It's hilarious how easily the woman believes in the ruse, but it convinces her to return home to her family. You can continue the charade by following her home and leaving the gold she was praying for on her doorstep.
During the demo, we also got to see how our dialogue choices can affect the game's story. Not all of the choices in Odyssey lead to the result you think, and you'll have to be careful. A positive action does not always yield a positive response. Early on in the game, we learned about some plague victims. After investigating the situation, it seemed like the civilians in quarantine were clean, so we allowed them to return to their lives. It wasn't until much later--after we'd sailed away from the island--that we learned the plague had spread from those civilians and killed more people. Ubisoft informed us that had we allowed the guards to continue detaining the quarantined citizens against their will, the plague would have ended.
Another surprise was the lack of complete censorship in Odyssey's dialogue. Although a few words--like "mercenary" and "hello"--are spoken in the native tongue, the protagonist and the other characters they meet all freely swear without being censored by the Animus. We've never heard an Assassin's Creed protagonist drop so many f-bombs before. It's a little jarring at first but we quickly got used to it, and it occasionally makes Kassandra/Alexios' angry outbursts a little funnier.
Naval Travel Is Tedious
Naval travel is so slow in Assassin's Creed Odyssey. From a historical sense, it's understandable that Odyssey's protagonists wouldn't have access to the same technology seen in Assassin's Creed 3, 4: Black Flag, and Rogue, so their vessel would be slower than Ratohnhake:ton's Aquila, Edward's Jackdaw, and Shay's Morrigan. That doesn't change how annoying it is when it comes time to sail on a longer voyage, and it certainly doesn't help that the ocean lacks the same vibrant life and activity that made exploring so enjoyable in Black Flag. After playing the mandatory naval missions, we steered clear of the optional ones.
Naval combat is still pretty fun, although you'll often be ramming into and sinking ships in the beginning of the game instead of boarding them. If you do choose to only wound a vessel and leap aboard, an army will no longer follow after you. A few sailors might join you, but you'll mostly be on your own. If you want a boarding party, you'll have to recruit people for the job--in a similar style to Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain. You find someone you want to recruit, knock them out with a Spartan kick or melee takedown, and then abduct them. When they wake up, they can be assigned as an officer within your crew.
Officer recruitment is another unfortunate example where Odyssey's mission to cater to the player has a negative effect on the gameplay. It would have been nice to have specific missions devoted to acquiring officers--similar to Assassin's Creed 3's assassin recruit missions--so each member of your crew had a bit more personality. But again, your crew's story and their choices don't matter, it's yours that does. It's also a little weird that everyone you kidnap is just okay with serving under you, even if just prior to being knocked out you killed every one of their fellow soldiers. Apparently, no one you abduct has a family who misses them either.
Like the weapons and gear you find, each potential officer has a rarity level and extra attributes. For example, a common enemy archer we recruited increased the number of arrows our ship could fire by a tiny percent and he brought a small contingent of soldiers with him when he joined us while boarding an enemy ship. Meanwhile, Odessa--who's very skilled with both a bow and sword and considered a rare character--increases our ship's arrow barrage damage by a significant amount, remains by our side while on enemy ships, attracts a sizable boarding party, and can kill most sailors in just one to two hits. At the start, you can only assign one officer, but if you choose to upgrade the size of your ship then you'll be able to pick up to four.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey releases on October 5 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. The game comes with certain in-game bonuses depending on where you pre-order it from and what edition you buy, of which there are quite a few.