Assassin's Creed: Origins was a soft reboot of its franchise, melding the open-world and stealth gameplay of Assassin's Creed with role-playing game (RPG) mechanics. Bayek could gain experience, level up, and loot his enemies for new and better gear. Despite the additions, Origins was still a largely linear adventure guiding you through Bayek's choices.
Assassin's Creed: Odyssey wants to change that. This year's entry in the series continues the series' shift towards RPG gameplay, while tweaking some past concepts.
Like Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, you have the ability to play as either a male or female character: Alexios or Kassandra. Unlike Syndicate, both characters don't exist in the same world; whichever one you pick is the focus of the story. You're a descendant of the Spartan Leonidas, the stern commander some folks will remember from the comic and film 300. Apparently, Leonidas was able to pull off his mythical defense against the Persian army thanks to an item from the First Civilization: the Spear of Leonidas.
As a child, you received the spear from your parents, only to be cast out from Spartan society. The Prophecy of the Delphi Oracle named you as the fulcrum of bad things happening to Sparta, so your people leave you for dead. Odyssey picks up 17 years after these events, with Alexios or Kassandra as a mercenary.
Sparta vs Athens
Odyssey is rooted in 431 BC, in the middle of the Peloponnesian War. That's 400+ years before Bayek's journey in Origins, so while this is the next Assassin's Creed game, this isn't a sequel. The only connection apparent in what Ubisoft showed is the modern day section, with Layla Hassan continuing her exploration of history.
Ubisoft chose the period Peloponnesian War because it represents the rough start of Western civilization. Not only is there ongoing conflict between Sparta and Athens that feed into the overall themes of Assassin's Creed, but players will have a chance to meet historical figures like Socrates, Hippocrates, and Thucydides. While you are a Spartan, you were cast out, so you ally with neither side. Whether you side with Sparta or Athens is ultimately your choice.
Choice and Consequence
As part of transitioning Assassin's Creed into an RPG, Ubisoft has blown out the the idea of player choice. Origins allowed you to tackle challenges and objectives in your own way, with gear and abilities filling out the type of assassin you wanted to play. Odyssey introduces dialog options, branching choices, and even multiple endings.
In my demo, I began a quest with Socrates, who in his weird, roundabout way wanted me to free a local rebel. I snuck into the garrison, killed all the guards, and freed the rebel. This is where a normal Assassin's Creed would end the quest or start the next quest in line. Instead, I had a conversation with the rebel, a hardliner who was convinced that the local rebellion needed to revolt right now. I tried to convince him that maybe a low-key approach might be better, but he wasn't hearing it. So, I uh… had to stop him.
He tried to run, but I'm a stone-cold killer and an arrow to the head put him down. I had to explain this to Socrates, who… oddly didn't care? I guess this is the problem with relative morality.
Another interesting change is in the quest system. Picking up new quest works the same as before, but instead of giving you a waypoint directly to your target, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey prefers to give you hints. A series of three descriptions classify your target's location, based largely on map landmarks. You still use your falcon to find—you're not special Senu!—and mark your target once you're in the right region, but it means you need a working knowledge of the area for some quests. One mission in the demo said my target was West of the birthplace of Apollo, which I (correctly) took to mean the Temple of Apollo.
In terms of consequences, Ubisoft has added a bunch of smaller consequences for your actions. If you kill people or steal items in front of witnesses, your bounty meter goes up. At certain levels of the meter, bounty hunters are sent out to hunt you down. Players of Origins will remember the Phylakes; bounty hunters are similar in terms of challenge. Killing them doesn't negate your bounty though. Either you can pay to clear it, or you can hunt down and kill the bounty sponsor. It's a interesting little system that adds a snag to your rampant crime and murder.
Fight to Survive
The broken Spear of Leonidas is the focal point of some new abilities, and it doubles as this game's version of the Hidden Blade. Your Spartan is nearly always dual-wielding in the game, a melee weapon in one hand and the Spear in the other. This means that the ever-present shield available to Bayek is gone: your only options are to dodge and parry now.
The Spear is a First Civilization item though, so it gives you superhuman abilities. If you looked in the brief teaser Ubisoft posted, there was a version of the iconic kick from 300 that in no way looked realistic. By holding the Left Bumper on the controller, you can access Spear abilities. The Kick works just like the teaser, a powerful forward kick that sends enemies flying and never gets tiring to use. The kick is great to make space, push enemies at the end of a combo, or simply to kick foes off platforms, cliffs, and ships.
One ability buffs your health regeneration in combat, while another strips shields from enemies who think they can hide behind them. Ubisoft showed a trailer with ability that creates a rain of light arrows to rain down upon the target. The last ability equipped in the demo I played creates a bubble of force that pushes enemies away. Each Spear ability costs a certain amount of energy from a new meter that fills by attacking enemies. Ubisoft developers confirmed that the specific spear abilities can be leveled up.
The shield is not the only weapon to be cut back in Odyssey. While Origins outfitted Bayek with several types of bow, Odyssey sports a single type. Instead, many of the things that were specific to Light, Hunter, and Predator Bows have been folded into other aspects. Many concepts are now abilities you can pick up in the Hunter tree. (The three ability trees are Hunter, Warrior, and Assassin, with Seer retaining some of the same abilities under a new name.) Others are now a part of craftable arrows: there were only normal arrows available in the demo, but there were five other types waiting to be unlocked.
Unlike the desert-bound Origins, the ancient Greece of Assassin's Creed Odyssey is based around the Aegean Sea. Origins had boat travel as an option and ship combat in specific sequences; Odyssey blows that up with the return of full, seamless ship combat to Assassin's Creed. Much like Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, you can sprint out of a town onto the deck of your ship and head out on the open ocean. (Or you can call the ship to a dock.)
Ship customization is one of the choices available to players in Odyssey. Not only can you change up the look of your ship, but you can also recruit NPCs to man it. Ubisoft was light on details in regards to this, but I was told that the crew you choose will affect your ship's performance. And apparently you can knock out hapless guards and conscript them into your tiny navy!
The ship is Odyssey is more spritely than the ships in Black Flag and Rogue, splitting the difference between those larger craft and the nimble craft of Origins. There's also a stamina-based boost, which is perfect for ramming enemy ships. And for all your pirate fans out there, ship-to-ship boarding has returned! Jump onto an enemy ship, kill the crew-the Spartan Kick is great for pushing soldiers into the ocean-and loot their coffers.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey isn't the direct continuation that some players expected, but it is building upon what Origins started. We'll see if players want to make their own choices in ancient Greece when Assassin's Creed Odyssey launches on October 5, 2018 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.