With Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Ubisoft gave the time-hopping stab-em-up series a much-needed reboot. It was clear the formula was growing stale around the time of London-set Syndicate and the regular release cycle left many disillusioned by the future of the franchise. Something needed to change.
Origins was that change – a revitalisation of every major aspect of the games that had become rote. The repetitive combat was gone, tossed out and replaced with more meaty, and deliberate-feeling action. Eagle Vision was nixed for a literal eagle who could soar in the skies to scan an area and mark targets. The bland mission design was ousted for RPG quests with loot and progression. And the jargon-filled storyline of modern day assassins and templars rooting around history for clues to ancient artifacts and whatnot? Well, that’s was still there, kind of, but in Bayek and Aya there was a (very welcome) stronger emotional core to the story.
Yet, if you squinted really hard, you could still see the old foundations of the franchise buried beneath the shiny new dressing. Egypt was a vast and wondrous place to explore, but it still had its rooftops to clamber across, haystacks to leap into and mountain of hotspots to visit. This melding of the old and new was enough to get naysayers to re-evaluate the series once more but the question was, where does the franchise go next?
An epic journey
Thankfully, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey looks set to tread a similarly ambitious path, taking all the new ideas that were established in Origins and pushing them further. Yet, at the same time, Ubisoft promises that its attempting to reintroduce aspects from the previous games that fans were crying out to see once again. It all sounds great on paper, right? but will it work in practice?
As if knowing that we’d experienced the opening to an Assassin’s Creed game countless times, our demo dropped us far later into the game with a level 50 quest. The mini-adventure begins with a mob accusing a young woman named Bryce of sacrificing her lover Ligeia to the ‘Writhing Dread’ in the Petrified Valley. It’s the exact situation an assassin would want to try and diffuse. Plus, as any gamer knows, killing a big, dangerous monster usually equals good loot.
When diplomacy doesn’t seem to do the trick, however, you can step in as Kassandra or Alexios to cool the braying mob with sharp steel. It’s a near-identical return to the reworked combat of Origins – with a few new twists of its own. Far from the doldrums of repeated parries and counter kills of old, the new pair of Spartan warriors can deftly carve up a crowd, while also firing off a few special abilities that almost certainly infringe on the game’s historical accuracy.
We’ll forgive Ubisoft this time, though, considering one is an almighty 300-esque Spartan Kick that can catapults foes off cliffs or send them flying off into the distance with a satisfying thud. Other moves can expel blasts of energy around you to clear out some space if you’re swarmed, or focus an attack on an enemy’s shield to break their guard. It’s solid stuff, with the new abilities adding some nice variety to the standard mix of light and heavy attacks too.
With the mob pacified, Bryce leads us through the Petrified Valley, which might as well have a big sign out the front saying ‘Danger: Gorgons Ahead’ with all the stone figures locked in terrified tableaus dotted along the path. Pressing on through the eerie fog, it’s not long before the pair reach the Dread Ruins where Ligeia has been trapped inside.
Not stealing – borrowing
Naturally, the entrance is locked, but the Daughters of Artemis on a nearby island apparently have the key stored in a cave near to one of their camps. And that brings us to the return of the much lauded ship combat from Black Flag. Sadly, there were no naval battles to take part in – unless we wanted to be particularly beligerant to some other poor souls bobbing along the waves – yet it was nice to be given that freedom to explore the oceans once again. There are relaxing journeys to be had rowing across the Aegean Sea with your crewmates singing shanties as dolphins merrily burst out of the waters to your sides.
When we eventually arrive at the enemy camp, there’s that all too familiar process of marking targets and taking out any stragglers quietly. Of course, you can opt to go in wildly swinging, but as you’d expect from a ‘Creed game, it’s usually more sensible to sneak through the overgrowth or silently eliminate enemies with an acrobatic stealth kill or two.
Upon returning to the temple, a not entirely surprising fight with Medusa awaits. Given that we’re quite far into the game, it’s not an easy skirmish, as you duck behind pillars to avoid her gaze, cut through the stony minions she summons and land a few hits on her where possible. The combat really comes into its fore here as you ping a few arrows from behind cover, nimbly dodge attacks and make a desperate sprint towards her to execute a flurry of attacks when she’s dazed. It’s a tense, tactical and exciting encounter – something the old Assassin’s Creed games were sorely missing.
What’s new in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey?
This short quest just shows some of the positive developments the series has taken post-Origins. Looking on a grander level, too, Odyssey also introduces a far-reaching war system that allows you to participate in large-scale battles and affect which faction has influence over specific regions. Meanwhile, you’ll also be able to develop romantic relationships with non-playable characters and we’re told that some branching quests can lead to very different story outcomes.
After announcing that Odyssey will be released in 2018, there was concern that Ubisoft was settling back into the yearly release cycle for Assassin’s Creed. It was arguably the main reason why the series started to feel so well worn prior to Origins. But with these signs of further refinements in this year’s entry – plus the welcome news that there will be no Assassin’s Creed in 2019 – it looks like Ubisoft is finally taking the time to nurture one of its leading franchises once again.