Cavorting in Ancient Greece: Hands-on with Assassin's Creed Odyssey

I know I'm not alone in being a bit burned out by the Assassin's Creed series over the years. After Black Flag and a slog of yearly, repetitive releases, my interest waned. But Ubisoft caught my attention again with their E3 2018 trailer for Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, which featured a beautiful depiction of ancient Greece.

I went hands-on with Assassin's Creed: Odyssey at E3 2018 and found that its world and characters were everything Ubisoft promised and more, but its combat needs a lot of polish to keep from hindering my enjoyment of the rest.

What is Assassin's Creed: Odyssey?

The latest entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise takes place in ancient Greece and gives players the choice between two protagonists: Alexios and Kassandra. Whichever character you choose is a descendant of Leonidas and has inherited his spear, reforged into a sword. With that, they have also inherited his legacy, and the choices the player makes as either character will affect the game, leading to one of multiple endings.

How is it like or different from past Assassin's Creed games?

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey features many staples we've come to expect in the series. Ship combat makes a comeback, even though the total ocean area you explore is smaller than in, say, Black Flag (you're hanging in the Mediterranean, folks). The game features similar skill trees to Origins, so you'll need to talent into certain combat styles like stealth assassinations for them to have the efficacy you may have come to expect from other games. On the bright side, this allows you a degree of customization and RPG progression that feels good to grow.

You still explore the world, travel to different locations, meet with characters, and complete missions requiring a mixture of stealth and combat. The most notable difference is in how conversations work. Dialogue trees are present for the first time in Assassin's Creed: Odyssey. During my time with the game, some of my choices affected how I was able to approach certain quests (opting for a coordinated stealth attack or an outright battle). I also encountered a character I could romance; and yes, delightfully, I was able to seduce the lady resistance leader Kyra while playing as Kassandra.

What is the world like?

Though my demo was limited to two island areas, I had a wonderful time dashing, climbing, and leaping through the gorgeous world of ancient Greece. The game looks incredible visually, especially on the Xbox One X. Were I not in a time-limited demo setting, I probably would have spent my hour just bopping about the islands, looking at foliage and listening to conversations. The sheer look and feel (coupled with touches like my boat crew singing sailing songs in Greek) made me yearn for an educational tour mode like Origins had. Unfortunately, the Ubisoft rep at the demo was unable to confirm or deny whether this would appear.

I was glad that I ultimately decided to progress, though, because the other highlight of Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is its characters. I especially delighted in Kassandra, the lady protagonist, who refreshingly transcends a weird trend in many AAA games with such heroines where those women are rarely playful or funny. Kassandra jokes, teases, and flirts with men and women alike, and it all flows and feels natural like one would banter with friends. The best moment was when she met Sokrates, who engaged her in a dialogue reminiscent of his ethical quandaries from The Republic before turning it into a quest. If the man is going to be wrongfully executed, as Kassandra says, then should she go free him?

What is combat like?

For all I've praised Odyssey so far, combat was by far the worst system in the game. Without talenting into basic abilities like stealth kills, I felt hamstrung in my ability to move around and fight. Once I had put points into those skills, things improved, but the basic system of fighting was painfully awkward. I could swing my blade for a few different types of attacks, and I could dodge roll. Aiming was atrocious, though, and it was difficult to keep Kassandra focused on one opponent at a time or even hitting them. There were special attacks, but given how much I was flailing around just trying to get a hit it on the right guy (and watching it clip through my own men) it just wasn't enjoyable.

Better targeting systems would heal a lot of ills, and I do think once points are put into skill trees this will improve matters, too. But mostly, I felt that Assassin's Creed: Odyssey had, following the rest of the series, strayed from the "assassin" feel of older games. You can still put skill points into assassin abilities, but if a good chunk of the game will rely on large armies battling one another, that might be enough to disinterest me.

When can I get it?

Assassin's Creed Odyssey is planned for launch on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 5, 2018. It will cost $59.99.

Any questions?

Want to learn more about Assassin's Creed: Odyssey? Ask any questions you have in the comments below!

Reb Valentine