Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Ubisoft is taking things further back in time than ever before for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, to 431BCE and the Ancient Greece of Socrates and friends. It’s a big swing in timeframe for Ubisoft Quebec, which is heading up development duties, as the last game it worked on was the 19th century-set AC: Syndicate.
At first glance it looks like this is Origins Part II, at least from a technological standpoint, but Odyssey brings with it a host of tweaks and outright new features to keep the experience fresh and exciting. Not least of which is Ubisoft leaning more towards the RPG genre for its inspirations, making Ancient Greece and her islands not just a historical playground, but a personalised historical playground.
What this means is you’ve got an open-world game full of choices throughout – something we were able to get direct experience of by going hands-on with Odyssey. It boils down to a conversation system – think Mass Effect or The Witcher 3 – allowing you to steer discussions in the direction you want, before offering up your own choice/solution to the issue at hand.
We needed to take out a local leader on the island of Mykonos – how we went about it was open to interpretation. Use the help of a local rebel leader/drunkard? Bring in the defacto leader of a Spartan troop? Destroy weapon and supply caches? Attack head-on without thinking about anything?
It’s not a brand new concept, but the fact it all plays out in the story proper, based on your decisions – who you talk to and what you say to them – makes the whole thing feel a lot more personalised to the player. We even managed to avoid flirting with anybody as Kassandra, one of the two characters players can select at the beginning of Odyssey (the other is Alexios, he’s the dude option), which was a minor miracle considering how much people have been talking about the romancing options.
Beyond mere chatter, RPG elements make their way into other areas of the game – gear can be customised on multiple parts of the body, rather than the more limited version we saw in Origins. It’s probably more in tune with the Division’s armour system, with separate parts offering separate stats and able to be upgraded separately.
The custom factor is rounded off with the chance to mould your abilities to suit, going down different speciality paths – hunter, warrior, or assassin – and unlocking powers related to said paths. We weren’t able to muck about much with this, but the default demo setting gave us a couple of wonderfully useful special attacks – holding L1 and pressing the requisite button resulted in either a THIS IS SPARTA kick, as it isn’t officially called, or a brilliant shield-stealing manoeuvre which helped stop walking tanks be so much of the ‘tank’ thing.
Different moves can of course be unlocked and used, and they can all be mapped accordingly to how the player wants them. It’s a level of deeper customisation that’s very welcome, but Odyssey isn’t about to go full on sandbox and drop the linear aspects – that’s why there’s no character creation option, for example, or anything really much deeper than what we’ve mentioned. It’s a game that straddles the RPG and straightforward open-world action genres nicely.
What you’ll be doing in Odyssey is another way in which we’re impressed, and hopeful to see more soon. Different factions are vying for control across Greece and her islands, the Spartans and Athenians. Players operate as mercenaries, and can work for either side as they see fit. From here we see a system of leaders come into play – generated dynamically for each player, they have their own names and back stories, supplies and armies, and so on. And, if you take on the missions against them, they have to be killed.
So you go forth and weaken them – destroying their supplies and weakening their troops and so on, eventually resulting in a 150 vs 150 conquest battle, which, if won, changes who controls the region. There are 27 states across the game, each with their own leader, and it’s very much up to the player who they want to focus on and take out as they progress. It sounds a lot like Far Cry 5’s system, but with dozens of bosses instead of just a few.
Islands have been mentioned a few times, and yes naval elements are returning – both transport and combat. We weren’t able to take advantage of our Hellenistic warship during the demo, but it is in there ready to be rammed and archer-ed with – cannons didn’t exist in 431BCE – and it sounds like it will make up a big chunk of the game. There’s definitely a lot of water on the map, and even without any combat in our session, it was still a hell of a lot of fun scooting around in an ancient fishing boat, riding alongside dolphins and dreaming of lazing on a sunny, paradise island beach.
The game will take players from Mykonos and Delos, featured in the demo, through Kos, onto mainland Greece, and plenty of other areas big and small – either to idly explore or for story-specific moments. Snow capped mountains, forests, gorgeous beaches, villages and nascent towns: it’s all in there, and it’s all ripe to be explored whether you be on foot, horseback, or checking it out from above with your trusty bird-drone Ikaros.
It’s not all in the past, with Odyssey returning to the modern day in order to continue Layla Hassan’s story. Hassan discovers a lost book of Herodotus, sometimes known as ‘the Father of History’ by those who know their stuff, and learns about the exciting adventures of a Spartan mercenary.
Shock of all shocks, said mercenary is the player character – and from there all the laughter and violent rampages can commence with a narrative thread to bind them. While we know little of the modern era sections, Odyssey’s developers have been a mite more candid about their existence, as well as that there will be a bigger modern day story backing the whole thing up. This may irk some fans, it has to be said, but Hassan’s Origins sections weren’t all that bad at all.
All in all, Odyssey doesn’t feel at first play like it’s very different to Origins – that’s both bad and good. Bad in that it’s always nice to have something brand new and shiny, and Odyssey at times does just look like a reskin of the Egyptian adventure. But the good, for us, far outweighs that bad for now.
While it’s not a vast step forward for the tech underlying things, Odyssey does go so far as to do fundamental things a bit differently. The RPG elements don’t look like they’ll be on a par with something like The Witcher 3, but they will add a level of depth you wouldn’t otherwise get – and choice, as well as multiple outcomes dependent on your actions, is always welcome.
Sailing the Aegean, building a character – largely – exactly how you want them to be, romancing anyone you want to, or just lazing by the beach. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will live or die by the quality of its moment-to-moment action – but right now, we’re quite surprised by how eager we are to play more of it.
Tuesday, June 19, 2018 @ 09:26 PM
Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 12:42 AM
Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 12:44 AM
Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 07:51 AM
Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 01:13 PM