Hands-on with Assassin's Creed: Odyssey

Ode to a Grecian skill tree.

After Assassin’s Creed Origins wowed fans and critics alike last holiday season, I thought I’d be done with skulking around different historical eras for a while. After all, taking the year off between Syndicate and Origins was the best thing that could have happened to the franchise, so why not do the same thing for the next installment? Well, it turns out a second studio has been working for three years on a new Assassin’s Creed game, and at E3 2018 we got to taste just what Ubisoft Quebec has been doing all this time. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is taking us all to ancient Greece, and the hour-long demo I played at the show promises another fun historical romp.

Odyssey starts bucking established franchise trends right from the get-go, allowing me to choose between a male and female protagonist. Both characters, Alexios and Kassandra, share the same backstory of being Leonidas’s grandchild, both grow up to become great warriors, and each of them add a different flair to the storyline. For my demo I chose Kassandra, and I dove right into Mykonos City.

Upon docking Kassandra’s ship in port, I meet with the one-eyed Barnabas who gives me my mission: meet up with a band of rebels to challenge and kill a powerful warrior named Diokles. Walking through Mykonos City to get to the rebel hideout shows a vibrant and busy Grecian town. Merchants call out to people walking by, groups of people huddle together to talk and laugh, and a mercenary who is trying to cash in a bounty on my head chases me to the top of a hill. It has everything!

Yes, in the middle of walking to complete my mission, I am challenged by some blowhard hired sword and I get my first taste of combat. Fighting in Odyssey feels just as smooth and fluid as it did in Origins, with Kassandra defending and striking with ease. Her two swords allow her to strike and defend at the same time, and she has a full slate of powerups and special moves that make her a viable threat in battle. Before long this would-be assassin is struck down, relegated to a part of the scenery, and I receive a skill point to use in Odyssey's robust customization system. Seriously, this is something I’d expect to see in The Witcher or another RPG of its ilk, and now it’s available in Assassin’s Creed. Multiple ability paths across three main categories allow me to craft my Kassandra as I see fit, giving me agency that previous Assassin’s Creed games did not have.

After selecting a perk, I can continue to the hideout after being so rudely interrupted. When I get there, the welcome isn’t exactly with open arms. In fact, the woman who wrote the letter asking for my help throws a knife at the door frame next to me just to get my attention. That’s, uh, one way to do it I suppose. The new dialogue system is highlighted in this brief conversation, giving me multiple ways to approach my new “friend.” Eventually a few waypoints are highlighted on my map, giving us a few options on how to proceed in order to lure Diokles into battle.

After storming some enemy bases and killing a few captains of the guard -- including one with a pet lion that was far more difficult than anticipated -- we finally enter one of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s major new setpieces: the Conquest. This is a large scale battle on the beaches of Mykonos, 150 rebels in red taking on 150 Athenians in blue, and we are right in the thick of it. As each side suffers losses, a meter at the top of the screen shows how many soldiers remain on the battlefield, slowly ticking as more and more soldiers fall. I’m also amazed at how the demo is performing despite all of the action going on around me: there’s no hint of slowdown, not a trace of framerate drop, just smooth action on a giant scale. 

After taking down enough enemies, my target Diokles finally enters the battle. Considering all of the work it took to lure him out, I am not surprised to discover he is an absolute beast to bring down. This is where Kassandra’s special abilities really come into play, like her Sparta Kick that allows me to create some distance between us. Eventually I am able to bring Diokles to his knees, securing the battle for the rebels and ensuring that the scourge that once plagued Mykonos is ended... for now anyway.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey was not a game anyone expected to be coming anytime soon (until it was leaked, at least) but the demo definitely impressed me as I left. The traditional RPG elements add a level of customization to my assassin, the sprawling islands of Greece look to be a massive playground for me to explore, and the Conquest battles are raging fights that punctuate the already impressive combat. I’m excited to embark on this Odyssey once it drops on October 5, and I hope the full adventure is as loaded as this small demo.