Assassin's Creed Odyssey Veers Into Straight Sword and Sorcery Territory, and I'm Just Fine With That

Is it real? Is it a simulation? Who cares. It's way more interesting than anything that came before it.

You can see the outlines of an Assassin's Creed game in Assassin's Creed Odyssey. It's set in a real-life historical period, it picks up several story threads from Assassin's Creed Origins, and familiar elements like naval combat return. But you also fight Medusa, putting it more firmly in sword and sorcery territory than any game before it.

The mythical gorgon awaits in the Petrified Temple, which is filled with fog and creepy stone statues. Odyssey has already been compared to Witcher 3 (and BioWare) on multiple occasions, but it's in this temple that you can feel the similarities most acutely. I was half expecting that I would need to mix up a potion and coat my blade for the coming battle.

Alas, the ensuing fight isn't quite the multi-step process that makes Witcher 3's hunts so special. Rather, it's a fairly standard multi-part fight in which you battle a handful of stone minions while dodging Medusas's eye beams, then attack Medusa herself, then fight even more minions. But that doesn't diminish the fact that you're totally fighting Medusa in an Assassin's Creed game. If there was ever a moment for the series to jump the shark, this would be it.

Bet you never thought you'd see anything like this in an Assassin's Creed game.

The presence of the Medusa is yet one more example of how the series is keen to leave behind its roots and delve into more fantastic territory. It picks up from Assassin's Creed Origins, which made myths like the Land of the dead into reality. It makes for an odd juxtaposition with previous games, which were often ridiculous, but at least tried to stay reasonably grounded in reality. Now we have to acknowledge that Medusa totally exists in the world of Assassin's Creed.

Or do we? Creative director Jonathan Dumont hints that there's more to Odyssey's mythology than first appears. "These are small pockets that are lost somewhere in the world. There is a sort of a sub-plot with artifacts. Are you seeing a simulation within a simulation? What are you seeing?" Dumont says. "It's real for Alexios, Kassandra, and that world. But what you are perceiving through that world with Layla, is that real?"

The implication is that Layla, the returning modern day protagonist from Assassin's Creed Origins, is experiencing a somewhat unreliable simulation. Dumont continues, "You're not going to see Medusa in Athens burning people up. This is something where people have beliefs, and you verify those beliefs. Sometimes people will talk about Cyclops, and it will just be a big guy with one eye," he says, bringing to mind John Goodman from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (which is itself a retelling of The Odyssey)."

Still, even if Medusa really is just a myth based on unreliable stories that filter into the simulation, Assassin's Creed Odyssey undeniably veers into the sort of fantasy/sci-fi territory more typically reserved for Horizon Zero Dawn and Witcher. In the wake of the success of Origins (and the middling reception afforded Syndicate), it feels like Ubisoft is running even further from the formula that defined the original games. And perhaps to its benefit.

Dumont, of course, denies this. "History's still our playground," he says, "as it is in every Assassin's Creed. It'll fit into everything that you're used to, but in a different way."

Stealth, he says, will continue to be a major aspect of Assassin's Creed Odyssey. You will be able to assassinate enemy leaders and influence the ongoing war. The Templar won't figure into the main story, but there will be groups with similar motivations. And, of course, you'll be able to go sailing, like you did in Assassin's Creed 3, Black Flag, and other entries.

The scenes spent on your boat are pretty as ever.

All of which is to say that there will be enough in Assassin's Creed Odyssey to keep diehard enthusiasts like our own Mike Williams happy. But as for me, speaking as someone who has long struggled to get into the series, this is probably the most excited I've been for an Assassin's Creed since AC3 (and yes, I know how that one turned out) because it's so different. The increased emphasis on RPG elements, including branching dialogue choices, are far more interesting to me than the stale stealth missions that defined the previous games. If this is truly to be "Witcher 3 in Ancient Greece," then count me in.

Time will tell whether this is truly the new direction for the series or just an interesting experiment. But for now, Assassin's Creed officially has a Medusa for you to fight. And where it goes from there will largely define the franchise's legacy going forward.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey will be out October 5. Here's our guide to everything we know about Assassin's Creed Odyssey so far.

Tagged with Action, Analyses, PC, PlayStation 4, Role Playing Games, Ubisoft, Xbox One.

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