E3 2018: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is both new and familiar

Ubisoft /

During an intriguing, yet sluggish, hands-on preview, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey brought out the best in its new direction and worst in its series trappings.

It’s been a while since I took a deep dive into the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Digging the aesthetics, story and characters of the II mini-series, I’ve found most follow-ups to be lacking in a compelling narrative. Even Black Flag’s chanty-singing, pet-petting charm wore thin in the hours of “listen from afar” missions. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey continues to follow the (supposed) gameplay strengths of Origins while adopting a more narrative-driven focus with its main characters.

That’s what I found during my time with the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey E3 2018 demo build, giving me an hour’s look at Kassandra; the female main character of the game. No longer are the days when players’ concerns of player character viability are hand-waved as extra development time for animations; Kassandra is a well-written lead that is believable, compelling and bad-ass.

I got to take a look at several aspects of this new title, starting upon landing in a small island town to heed the call of a band of resistance fighters in opposition of Athenian warriors. Kassandra commands herself as a strong fighter, deft in communication and diplomacy. At least, that’s the version I found when choosing the right dialogue options.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey screenshot
Ubisoft /

Though they certainly won’t have the same franchise-spawning backing or importance in gameplay events a la Telltale’s The Walking Dead, the slight variance in dialogue options lets you bring a bit of your personalized style to either protagonist in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, helping you connect with the protagonists in a series that you might as well swap out with “smarmy charmer no. 3” for everyone not named Altair.

Given the renewed emphasis on RPG mechanics, it’s hard not to treat this game more like an action-RPG than a stealthy assassin game. Based on the totality of my experience, so little required on sneaking around a building to take out a historical figure, but instead things such as “fight that bounty target” or “fight those groups of enemies.”

This was especially prevalent in conquest battles; a new system in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Kassandra found herself fighting alongside Spartan warriors in one segment of the demo, requiring you to defeat Athenian captains and their soldiers to dwindle down forces in a push-and-shove large-scale battle.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey screenshot
Ubisoft /

Without a doubt, it was the most difficult moment of my demo experience, as you often had three enemies chasing you down at all times (some equipped with shields and flanking on your position). You needed to take advantage of all of your combat skills, including occasional healing abilities, flurry of swings and even a Spartan kick.

As cool as these conflicts were, immersing you in a historical war effort, my demo version left me confounded about its standing within this title. Not only did you see dozens of character models repeating the same combat animations as droves of NPCs fought each other, but the framerate grinded gameplay to a sluggish halt, struggling to reach even 30 FPS.

More importantly, my pre-designated abilities meant missing out on basic assassin skills due to the demo build lacking them. Sure, you can spec into stealth backstab attacks using the skill tree on your own time, but why the hell is the main character in an Assassin’s Creed game not able to act as a basic assassin in the first place? Hopefully, that is addressed in the game proper.

Furthermore, after meeting Kyra, the resistance leader and failing to establish a smooth romantic encounter after bumbling my words (Kassandra’s one weakness so far), I encountered a quest failure. The next part of my quest could not proceed as a key NPC didn’t trigger the next flag in the process, soft crashing my progress. It felt indicative of the annualized development process for the franchise a year after releasing a game that was the first of its kind in a two-year release gap.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey screenshot
Ubisoft /

It did give me a great opportunity to explore the sea-faring parts of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, bringing me back to the best part of Black Flag‘s gameplay; the naval combat. Though I’m certain it will diminish the necessity of another Ubisoft-backed pirate game, the smoothness of travel, familiarity with cannon combat mechanics and the authentic Greek shanties put me at ease.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey wants to immerse you in this world, and despite warts found in its implementation, I felt that Ubisoft accomplished their task. You’re not playing as British people with British accents pretending to be French; you have funny, authentic characters that sound like they come from their locale and their time period.

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The world is ripe for exploration, and there is certainly tons to explore in the full game. I counted close to a dozen islands of various size, presenting a world noticeably larger than Black Flag and adding new combat pillars onto its newfound narrative direction. Traditionalists will found plenty holes to poke at why this is even called an Assassin’s Creed game, but if you treat it as a different property altogether, with a bit of polish, you may find an even better experience overall.