“Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is more of the same…”
If you haven’t been paying attention to coverage since the latest Assassin’s Creed game was announced at E3 this June, you may be thinking this. After all, it doesn’t feel like its predecessor, Assassin’s Creed Origins, was released that long ago. That Ancient-Egypt-set adventure, combining action and stealth, redefined the long-running Ubisoft franchise for contemporary systems and audiences.
Last year’s Origins is a mammoth game, with players often putting in 35 – 40 hours of playtime just to complete the core storyline. DLC like The Hidden Ones and The Curse of the Pharaohs upped the level cap, as well as play time past the 80-hour mark. Less than 12 months later though, its prequel is coming out – and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey promises to be much, much bigger, at 100 hours+ for the base game alone.
While Origins depicted the foundation of the franchise’s darkly heroic Brotherhood of Assassins in the final days of Ptolemaic Egypt, 49 – 47 BCE, Odyssey shifts the action back a further 400 years to Classical Greece, and the start of the Peloponnesian War. You play as either Alexios or Kassandra, a mercenary recruited to sway the war in favour of Sparta or Athens, and their respective allies. In the process, you resolve your tragic family story as well as contend with the Cult of Kosmos, whose sinister masked members seem intent on manipulating events to ensure their control over the whole of Greece. And, delve into forgotten corners of the world, and you’ll find lingering high-tech evidence of the First Civilisation – a crucial part of Assassin’s Creed lore.
(There’s an ongoing present-day story too, centred on rebel researcher Layla Hassan, but we won’t spoil any of that for you).
A two-step transformation for the series
Any similarities between Origins and Odyssey can be linked to dual development of the two games. Work on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey – led by Ubisoft Quebec – overlapped with work on Origins by Ubisoft Montreal. (For the record, the developers previously worked on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Black Flag, respectively). The result was the greatest ever partnership between studios in Assassin’s Creed history, as Marc-Alexis Côté, Odyssey’s Senior Producer explains.
“This is probably the best collaboration between two teams on Assassin’s Creed that we’ve ever had. When I was working on Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, we united all the creative heads of the Assassin’s Creed series and charted the future of Assassin’s Creed – of transforming it into an RPG in two steps, with Origins coming first and Odyssey completing this transformation a year after. Of course, in order to do that there needed to be a good synchronisation between the teams.”
Côté continues, “For example, we always knew they would change the combat system, and the Origins team has continued working on Odyssey to continue improving and making sure the combat fits in the game. So there was this very good cooperation, not exactly sharing notes, but getting a good understanding and agreement on the two experiences so they would profit from one another.”
We got hands on with Odyssey at a press event in Paris last week, and tested out Côté’s transformation claims for ourselves. How much of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a new experience, and how much feels like a rehash and reskinning of last year’s Origins?
The more things change, the more they stay the same
As a result of the side-by-side development process, a lot has carried over to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey straight from Origins: shipwrecks to dive for treasure, tombs and caves to explore, bandit and military camps to loot (and remove of their commanders), plus prisoners and animals to free from cages. Also transplanted from last year’s game unchanged are eagle vision, photo mode, horseback travel, torch illumination, the same quest and inventory systems, as well as application of level indicators to map regions to control player advancement.
There are a few minor tweaks as well. Although you can still find them on weapon racks, you can now craft arrows as needed if you gather the resources (fortunately not a busywork activity). Also, the tough Phylakes who continually stalked you in Origins have been replaced with hired mercenaries. Steal something in plain sight or commit some other crime, and you’ll have to contend with them as your notoriety rating rises GTA-style. Alternatively, you can pay off whoever placed a bounty on your head, or hunt down and kill said employers.
Meanwhile, blacksmiths retain a key role in the game, as a place to sell off unwanted gear, buy equipment and level up your favourite armour and weapons. Smiths can now, however, also engrave your favourite pieces – sometimes more than once – although this feature seems like more of a “nice to have” as opposed to an essential addition, at least at the start of the game.
The big changes
The major overhauls in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey can be found in two areas: combat and story.
Combat: Combat in last year’s Origins was probably the most difficult aspect of the game to master. With its steep learning curve, it’s much the same in Odyssey (it’s inadvisable to face a foe more than two levels above you), but getting it right feels a lot more gratifying as you wade across a chaotic battlefield, engaging with multiple enemies simultaneously. This time around, shields are gone for the player, making parry and dodge essential skills instead. They provide a knockback effect and a few seconds of slowed time to either create some precious distance, or allow you to press on.
Also crucial are your skill-tree abilities. Origins had a skill tree too, but most of those abilities were passive. In Odyssey, spending your level-up points on the Hunter, Warrior and Assassin categories typically grants you key-assigned active abilities to use in combat. At low level, these are options like firing three arrows at once, delivering a powerful “This is Sparta” kick, receiving a second-wind surge of health, and coating your weapons in poison. The result is faster, more satisfying fights. You come out the other side of these punishing encounters, often against mobs, with a powerful sense of accomplishment that you survived. Abilities are pivotal to this success. As a side note, you can reset and reassign your abilities at any point, which looks necessary to successfully tackle high-level, specialised enemies.
Naval combat:Given its Greek setting, in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey you spend a lot of time travelling between Aegean islands, typically on your warship. Origins featured some sections of naval combat too, but Odyssey takes it to the next level, both in terms of frequency and customisation. You can recruit specialised lieutenants to provide bonuses in encounters, plus indulge in Sims-style cosmetic changes, like fitting a figurehead to your vessel, changing the sails and providing new uniforms for your crew.
Exploration mode: Admittedly it’s not a massive change, but it’s worth noting that Odyssey features both a Guided Mode and Exploration Mode. While the former is more traditional Assassin’s Creed, with icons telling you exactly where to go, new Exploration Mode removes the hand-holding for a more realistic, immersive experience – with just a touch of puzzle-solving. This new play-style requires a lot more world investigation, with the player guided primarily by character hints. This said, come within a certain radius of your objective and the game will insist you use your companion eagle Ikaros to pinpoint the target.
Story choice: As far as the differences between Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey go, this is the biggie. One of Odyssey’s major marketing taglines is “Live your odyssey,” as the game emphasises choice for the player – starting with the decision to play as a male or female character (a first for the franchise).
As Côté explains, “Odyssey takes the RPG elements further. What you will find is that there is a lot more storytelling to it because we’ve added over 30 hours of interactive dialogue. The choices that you make in Odyssey will really and truly impact on the story and outcomes that you will have. Odyssey has many different endings, and hopefully when people get to the end they receive the feeling that have an ending they deserve. The biggest difference is how much storytelling there is and how much influence you have on it.”
Playing the game, you certainly feel the difference of swapping out two hours of cut scenes for interactive encounters. To be fair, many of these moments don’t seem to have major consequence and are there more for fun – such as the opportunity to flirt with both female and male characters – but there are others that hit hard, such as deciding the fate of a young family possibly infected with plague.
One of the gripes that could be made about Assassin’s Creed Origins was that the many side quests became a bit samey after a while. They typically slotted into one of maybe four categories (such as rescue, item retrieval, investigation and intervention for the persecuted). Not only are the missions in Odyssey more diverse, but the interactivity component makes them, and the figures involved, more “real” as you can alter the tone of each encounter. Old peasant woman throwing shade about your ability to complete a task? Respond with a veiled threat and watch her attitude immediately change.
As for the main “family” storyline – the game has a three-pronged narrative – the first two chapters of Odyssey set up a potent Greek tragedy. In this regard it doesn’t hurt that your character starts the game with a well-defined personality as opposed to being a Bethesda blank-shell protagonist. And the general step-up in terms of nuanced animation and performance-capture enhances the sense of immersion in this on-screen world.
Paws for thought: While you can once again tame wild animals in Odyssey, and interact with your eagle Ikaros, it looks like the ability to pet domestic animals has been removed. With the shift from Ancient Egypt to Greece, dogs have replaced Origins’ cats in Odyssey (I didn’t see a single feline), and in the build we played we were unable to stroke them.
The choice is yours
So which of the two historical adventures should you buy? They’re both high-quality, exceptionally good value-for-money gaming experiences. It may come down to your setting preference and gaming tastes.
Origins satisfies with its exotic mystery and sense of wonder as Ancient Egypt is a diverse environment rarely presented on-screen. It satisfies a very different kind of wish fulfilment to Odyssey, which places the player in the sandals of an Ancient Greek hero for epic battles and visits to locales that Classical history and mythology buffs will squee over (Ithaca, anyone?).
Of what we saw, Odyssey doesn’t have the jaw-dropping visual splendour of Origins, mostly because it wasn’t first out the gate to dazzle gamers with a dramatic contrast of pyramids, vast desert expanses and elegant cityscapes. However, Odyssey offers a far more cohesive and emotionally satisfying overall experience, from the story to the gameplay mechanics. You very quickly become invested in the fate of its characters and thrill at your expanding capabilities (and rapidly-changing hero’s wardrobe).
Assassin’s Creed fans will get both games, no question. For everyone else, particularly if you’re a bit cash-strapped, it may boil down to your favourite setting. Make your choice. Embark on your next gaming odyssey.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey releases on 5 October and will be available for PS4, Xbox One and PC (Windows). Look out for more Odyssey coverage here on Critical Hit in the coming weeks.
Last Updated: September 10, 2018