One of the obstacles in creating Assassin's Creed: Odyssey was its Ancient Greece setting and the brand's focus on history. Looking that far back, the lines of distinction between history and mythology aren't always clear. As Odyssey creative director Jonathan Dumont explained, while the development team was doing research on the setting to capture the fidelity Assassin's Creed routinely brings to its settings, it was often tough to tell whether a historical figure or event was real or myth. That meant the team had to discard the myths whenever it could--but it also left a lot of cool things Dumont would have liked to use, but that wouldn't have been realistic enough. Enter: Gods & Monsters.
Ubisoft showed off Gods & Monsters during a closed-door, hands-off demo at E3 2019. It's an open-world action-RPG and a new IP for the company that includes some of the same ideas as Assassin's Creed, but which Dumont, who's the game's director, and senior producer Marc-Alexis Côté said is angled at being more accessible. That's expressed in a painterly, more animated art style, abilities inspired by myth that are a bit more fantastic than what's in an Assassin's Creed game. The 20-minute demo that Dumont and Côté showed looked like what Assassin's Creed might be if mixed with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Players take on the role of Phoenix, a wholly customizable hero summoned by the Olympian gods to help them battle Typhon, in a setting called the Island of the Blessed. Homer narrates the story as he tells it to his grandchildren.
"Gods & Monsters is a tale of mythology, but we often confuse mythology and fantasy," Dumont explained. "Mythology is not fantasy. Mythology is cautionary tales and lessons and philosophy that's been given in an oral tradition earlier on, from generation to generation for over 3,000 years, and now it's coming back to us, right? So it's still something that we can relate to. We always say, 'I'm strong like Hercules,' or things like that. It comes from that place. It is a foundation of how we view the world today, so there's a little bit of a difference here so that we are basing it on things that are the foundation of Western civilization."
Gameplay looks similar to what was on offer in Assassins: Creedy Odyssey, but with new abilities like double-jumping, a magical glider, and an uppercut move that can fling you into the air to attack flying creatures. Dumont and Côté said freeform exploration and "risky" traversal were key elements of the game. You can climb a whole lot of things in Gods & Monsters, just like in Assassin's Creed, although what you can do both in traversing the world and in combat is dictated by a stamina meter more like Breath of the Wild. Giant creatures to fight like Cyclops and harpies create the "over-the-top" mythological feel Ubisoft is going for.
Dumont said the Island of the Blessed is populated by monsters working for Typhon, and you'll interact with various characters and quest-givers, including folks like Zeus. The setting carries six distinct biomes and will be home to plenty of secrets to uncover as you explore it. And as a place of mythology, you'll often interact with Greek myths, whether by learning about stories reflected in puzzles, hearing about them from Homer, or running into mythological characters.
"There's a lesson, as well, in the way that the story is constructed," Dumont said. "Not going to talk too much about it, but you know, like, friendship is important. But it's something where the gods are cautionary tales, as well--they're flawed, you know? So how do you use that to your advantage? How do you befriend them or whatever? So there's an interesting insight on that stuff in there, and then a reflection of who you are, as well, in the game. So there's quite a bit of a small philosophical underline to all of that, while still being a fast-paced, fun game that you can go and adventure and have some fun with things that are a little bit more mechanical sometimes, too. So I think a good blend of lore meets adventure."
You'll do things in Gods & Monsters that are a lot like the activities in Assassin's Creed, like collect new armor to increase your stats or earn increases to your stamina gauge. But the reason Gods & Monsters exists is that it offers Dumont, Côté, and the developers at Ubisoft to do the things they couldn't otherwise do in Ubisoft's flagship franchise.
"For example, I want to double-jump in the air and punch that harpy in the face, you know?" Dumont said. "In Assassin's Creed, that would not be believable. In this game, totally believable. I want to kick a monster across the ocean, bang. I want to do it, right? So those are things that we want to make sure that we push that."
For players who like Ubisoft's approach to Assassin's Creed--without actually liking Assassin's Creed--Gods & Monsters could provide a fun, accessible alternative when it launches on February 25, 2020, for PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One, and Google Stadia.