Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Ancient Greek world is the biggest and most dynamic in franchise history, and we’ve explored, climbed, and stabbed our way through a small slice of it. Created by Ubisoft Quebec, the studio behind Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey pushes the franchise in exciting new directions – and in the demo playable at E3 2018, we got a taste as we aided a rebellion, fought countless foes in a massive battle, and watched sharks feast on our defeated enemies.
Set during the Peloponnesian War, an ancient conflict between Athens and Sparta that was a crucial turning point in Grecian history, the Greece of Odyssey is torn between democracy and tyranny, myth and science, order and chaos – and you’ll play a crucial role in deciding its fate. Here’s a look at what lies in wait when Assassin’s Creed Odyssey arrives on October TKTK for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.
Choose Your Own Odyssey
In a series first, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will continually confront players with story-altering choices, letting you pick what to say, who to trust, and what to do. “Choice was absolutely one of the first things we wanted in the game,” says Game Director Scott Phillips. “Not just in the dialogue system, but within the structure of the game. And we wanted to have consequences for those choices. The things you make decisions about within quests are going to have an impact later on. You’re going to have quests pushed on you because of choices you made in the past.”
The first choice you’ll make is picking who you want to be. Set nearly four centuries before the events of Assassin’s Creed Origins and the founding of the Assassin Brotherhood, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey doesn’t cast you as an Assassin – you’re a mercenary (or “misthios”), unbound by any creed and free to forge your own destiny. More specifically, you can play as one of two mercenaries – Spartans Alexios and Kassandra – and the one you choose is locked into the role of protagonist throughout the game. No matter who you choose, the two are evenly matched and will follow the same storyline and lead the same stalwart crew of adventurers on a seafaring quest for money, fame, justice, and revenge.
You’re more than just an adventurous Spartan, however; you’re a descendant of King Leonidas, and you’ll carry the tip of his spear to prove it. You’ll also have control over an eagle, Ikaros, who scouts from above and lets you tag targets. The broken Spear of Leonidas – wielded like a dagger in combat as a secondary blade, or during assassinations in place of the Hidden Blade – is actually a First Civilization artifact, one that grants your chosen mercenary seemingly superhuman abilities that you’ll develop as you progress through the game.
How does this new level of choice fit in with the conceit that you’re reliving genetic memories of the distant past? “The DNA is old and imprecise, so it offers you the choice to pursue two characters,” says Creative Director Jonathan Dumont. There’s also some fuzziness in the historical record because “[Alexios and Kassandra] come from a lost book of Herodotus – the first historian – who wrote about a hero that could be one of these two characters,” adds Dumont.
Any differences between an Alexios or Kassandra adventure are largely a result of your actions. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll be confronted with choices big and small, with control over dialogue options, which side you fight for during conflicts, and which romantic partners you pursue, among other things. You can also outright refuse some quests if you don’t want to take them on, which may lead to new ones later.
“The main story is going to have branching,” says Phillips. “It’s going to come back together so that you have similar choke points where certain events will occur, historical events that we’re not going to change. But there are many, many other choices where games will diverge dramatically. And then if you look outside of the main path, if you look at what you’ve done in the world, what choices you’ve chosen to make for other quests in the world, you’re going to see a dramatic shift in how the world perceives you, and what’s available to you because of what you’ve done.”
“The goal that the team really rallied behind is that you will have an odyssey, and I will have a different odyssey,” says Dumont. “So yes, there is a main story that’s going to be told, and we will have similarities. But what happened to you on that island, when you met that girl who wanted to kiss you? Did you save that poor little girl on that other island? Did you help that Spartan general, or did you kill him? It is your story.”
So while you can influence your mercenary’s personal journey and the way they interact with historical events, you can’t actually change the course of known history. Or, as Dumont puts it, “Sokrates isn’t going to explode in the middle of the Peloponnesian War if he’s slated to live 30 years more.”
As a mercenary, your morality is also largely yours to define, which means you can stay on the (relative) straight and narrow, keeping a friendly demeanor and doing helpful things like hunting pirates; or you can walk around with a huge chip on your shoulder, stealing and killing to get what you want. Just be aware that your actions can put a bounty on your head, and the bigger it gets, the more other mercenaries will actively hunt you. Behaving somewhat like the Phylakes in Assassin’s Creed Origins – in that their movements are visible on your map and compass, and a warning horn sounds when they’re near – these tough operators can match or exceed your abilities, sometimes with pet predatory animals in tow. Without an active bounty, they’ll leave you alone – but when they’re tracking you, they’ll zero in on your location and can often appear at inconvenient moments, like in the middle of pitched battles or infiltrations. Sometimes two or three at a time.
“The mercenaries in this world – of which you are one – travel the world looking for jobs,” says Phillips. “When you do bad things in the world, stealing or killing other people, you’re going to be found, a bounty is going to be put on you, and these mercenaries are going to come and hunt you down. Now, the good thing about that is that they have some of the best gear in the game, and so they’re bringing that gear to you, if you can defeat them.”
Defeating them is far from easy, however. “When you get multiple mercenaries together, it’s like having three player characters all fighting you at the same time,” says Phillips. “You have to be good or you have to be smart about it, because you can set up ambushes if someone’s coming to you. You’re going to know when they’re coming, and you’re going to know what their abilities are, you’re going to know if they have a pet with them. There are a lot of ways that we can mix and match with those mercenaries, and just a huge amount of opportunity for the player to challenge themselves, or to feel really smart about playing as a stealth player and creating that ambush.”
Killing mercenaries has the added benefit of raising your own standing in Greece’s mercenary rankings, but there are other ways to get them off your trail. Paying off your bounty is one, but if you’d prefer to save your money, you can track and kill the person who put a price on your head, usually an enemy officer who’s marked on the map and flanked by guards. Also, if you can take a mercenary by surprise, there’s a chance you can knock them out instead of killing them – and if you can pull that off, you’ll have the chance to make them a better offer and recruit them as a lieutenant on your ship. And they’re not the only ones, either.
You can also try to recruit people you meet during quests to serve as your lieutenants, although they won’t always accept. For example, one of our assassination targets during the demo turned out to be an Athenian defector in hiding, who was eager for a second chance as an archer on our ship. These characters will also assist while your crew boards other ships, and can even be called in to fight alongside you while you’re on land.
“It’s a nice loop we wanted to put into the system, of making it not just about ‘Here’s a bunch of enemies in front of me, I need to wipe them all out,’ but ‘Here’s a bunch of guys – ooh, that guy’s really interesting! He has a stat that I really could use on my ship. I’m going to go get him.’ So I need to figure out a way to approach this situation where I’m going to not kill him accidentally,” says Phillips.
Exploring the Land and Sea of Ancient Greece
The E3 demo unfolds on the islands of Delos and Mykenos, two tiny slivers of a much larger game world. Mykenos is a land of rocky cliffs and pristine beaches, where smoky temples and painted statues loom over bustling towns, blurring the lines between myth and everyday life. It’s also densely populated, lush, and packed with activity. Wolves wander the outskirts of town, Athenian soldiers have set up camps at strategic points, and a colossal statue of Artemis Agrotera towers over Mykenos’ tallest hill. (You can climb the hunting goddess’ statue, too; the arrowhead it points at the sky doubles as a synchronization point.) The more strategically important Delos, meanwhile, is smaller and comparatively quiet, with only a few ruins and villages dotting its rocky landscape. As Delos is a holy sanctuary of the god Apollo, it’s forbidden to spill blood there – but don’t let that stop you from roughing up any enemy soldiers you encounter. Delos also has a huge, legendary bear stalking one of its beaches, so tread carefully unless you’re confident you can kill it.
Exploration in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey expands on what we saw in Assassin’s Creed Origins, with its climb-anything approach, its AI-guided NPCs running on individual schedules, and its lists of objectives that appear whenever you visit an enemy camp or other point of interest. Two things are immediately, strikingly different about the new Grecian open world when compared with sandy Egypt, however: first, it’s vividly colorful (on Mykenos and Delos, at least), with bright wildflowers and vibrant foliage that stands out against sun-bleached seaside cliffs and pristine beaches.
“It’s such a beautiful world, and the rendition that our world team and art team did is marvellous,” says Dumont. “You know why people lived there back then? Because it looked good!”
Another striking thing about Ancient Greece is that its terrain ranges from “hilly” to “just a big mountain.” Towns are built on elevations, and most of the climbing opportunities come not from huge, ornate buildings (of which there are still plenty), but from cliffs and mountainsides, which dominate much of the Greek countryside. This reflects a real geography that, according to Phillips, is one of the big reasons the Ancient Greeks were such capable seafarers.
“In Ancient Greece, most people didn’t travel by foot – they would travel by boat when they wanted to get somewhere,” says Phillips. “Because Greece is super-super-mountainous, it was much easier to go by boat.”
While you’re better at climbing than most Ancient Greeks probably were, you might also find that it’s quicker to get around by grabbing a rowboat and hugging the shoreline, rather than navigating the rough terrain between you and your destination. For anything more substantial than a quick jaunt through the shallows, though, you’ll want to take the helm of your ship – a trireme named for Adrestia, goddess of retribution – and head out into open water.
Again, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s Ancient Greece is the series’ biggest open world yet, measuring approximately 1.6 times the area of Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Egypt. About half of that is aquatic, and you can explore it at your leisure, cutting through picturesque waves and fending off attacks from pirates (or raiding other vessels, if you don’t mind growing your bounty). If you’ve played the naval segments of Assassin’s Creed Origins, piloting your ship will feel familiar, as will aiming volleys of arrows at enemy ships. They aren’t your only armament, either; you can throw javelins at close range for greater damage, and the demo also gave us fire arrows that not only do massive harm, but have the added effect of preventing enemies from moving or attacking if the fire spreads across their ship. You can also order your rowers to give the Adrestia a sharp burst of speed. Not only is this great for chasing down targets, but it’s essential for ramming enemy ships – and if you ram a vessel as your finishing blow, you’ll cleave its hull into several large, splintered chunks that sink separately under the waves.
If, on the other hand, you don’t want to just smash your opponent, disabling an enemy ship will let you board it and fight its crew for their treasure. If you want to do the job a little more gruesomely, knocking the defenders overboard tends to attract hungry sharks – and if you want to attract several sharks at a time, sinking the enemy ship will trigger a full-on, surface-breaching feeding frenzy.
Sharks aren’t too picky about who they attack, though, which makes them a frequent concern when you’re exploring below the waves. So long as you’re not in the middle of naval combat, you’re free to dive underwater at any time. Close to shore, where the water is clearer, we found shipwrecks, sunken ruins, caves, and other underwater treasure hoards to dive and scavenge. In the open ocean, however, visibility is limited and the water goes much deeper. And while your mercenary has the lung capacity to touch bottom and the strength to fight whatever slithers out of the gloom down there, the constant threats of drowning and/or being pursued by a big chompy fish make this ill-advised unless you’re after something specific.
Odyssey’s version of Ancient Greece isn’t all islands and ocean, either, and the rest of its world won’t necessarily look like Mykenos and Delos. Again, the two islands are small parts of a much larger map, and there’s a lot we haven’t yet seen – including brushes with Greek legends and relics of the First Civilization.
“It’s a super-diversified world,” says Dumont, adding that it will feature seasonal changes as well as a day/night cycle. ”We have different biomes for our regions – and since we’re using the Peloponnesian War as a backdrop, they are in conflict, so there’s a big gameplay aspect to that. Looking at each region, we wanted you to picture them in a different way. Let’s say if you go in the south, like Crete or places like that, it’s very rugged, very rocky. If you go towards Delphi, more in the north, it’s big forests. If you look at our E3 demo, it’s beautiful white rocks and blue ocean. When you find someplace, it has a unique feeling to it.”
Your Quest to Weaken the Leader’s Grip
Mykenos is where the majority of the action in the demo happens, as our misthios (Kassandra, in our playthrough) is summoned to the island to assist a rebellion against a local strongman named Podarkes – who is conveniently also a member of the Cult of Kosmos, a shadowy conspiracy that hunts Kassandra’s family. Getting started means tracking down either Kyra, the rebellion’s leader, or Thaletas, a Spartan commander who’s also come to assist her. The order in which you find them leads to slightly different cutscenes, but the events are the same: Kyra will tell you about Podarkes’ oppression, and you’ll assist Thaletas and his Spartans in fighting off an attack from Athenian troops.
From there, Kyra and Thaletas will each suggest a strategy: Kyra wants you to sneak around and destroy the Athenians’ supplies on Delos, while Thaletas wants you to take to the sea and sink their ships. It’s up to you to decide which plan to follow, and your decision affects how each leader views you in the short term – although once you’ve picked a side, you can still follow both plans. This is also useful if you’re interested in pursuing a romance with Kyra and/or Thaletas (love, like a lot of things in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, operates without regard to gender). One successful quest will lead to others with that character, and if you complete them while also keeping an eye out for gifts and choosing heart-marked dialogue options, you’ll open up a series of one-on-one quests with them that can create a bond – as well as potential consequences when the job’s done and it’s time to move on.
Interestingly, quests are marked on the map, but once you’ve started one, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey doesn’t always give you map markers to direct you to your next goal. Instead, you’ll get directions that say things along the lines of “south of the market and west of the temple” or “at the western camp in the Hills of Artemis.” You’ll still get an alert to scout with Ikaros and pinpoint your objective when you’re nearby, but getting there feels more organic than just heading toward a marked search area, and it pushes you to grow more familiar with the world as you explore.
You also don’t need to follow every quest to reach your objective, whether it’s related or not. Once you’ve established yourself with your allies and gotten the lay of the land, you have a central goal – kill Podarkes – which you can tackle at any time. Podarkes is surrounded by a lot of tough security, though, so while you can cut to the chase, you’ll have an easier time of it if you first take on missions, infiltrate military camps, and destroy or steal any assets or treasures that might be helpful to Podarkes and his Athenian allies. This depletes the Nation Power they hold over Mykenos, and if you do enough damage, Podarkes might even get kicked out of his palace with only a few bodyguards, at which point you can saunter up and kill him in the streets.
The approach of having a central goal you can complete at any time means that the missions leading up to it are largely optional, although that doesn’t mean they’re missable or detached from the story. You can, for example, learn quite a bit about Mykenos and the people you’re working with, including some startling revelations about Kyra (which you can choose to announce to her followers or tell her in secret, with consequences for each). You can also join your Spartan allies in a full-on Conquest Battle against the Athenians on the beach, a new type of challenge that can shift the balance of power in a region, and which can bring together as many as 300 combatants at once (as well as any mercenaries who wander in to challenge you). As the melee erupts around you, you’ll fight your way through soldiers until their marked captains appear on the field; defeat them, and you’ll be able to challenge the other side’s tough-as-nails hero, whose defeat will devastate the other side and effectively hand victory to your allies.
Meanwhile, if you need some extra cash, you can take a break from pursuing your objectives and accept a mission from one of the game’s many job boards, which offer brief, focused tasks, like sinking a specific pirate ship or retrieving a stolen item.
Combat, Armor, and Weapons Worthy of Achilles
Fighting as Kassandra or Alexios builds on the combat systems pioneered by Assassin’s Creed Origins, with your chosen mercenary using a variety of weapons and fighting styles to dispatch groups of enemies with light and hard attacks. That said, combat, gear, and character abilities have all been hugely retooled and revamped, making for a very different experience. Origins fans picking up a spear, for example, might be surprised to find their mercenary executing balletic Spartan jabs instead of Bayek’s wide swings. They might be even more surprised to draw a sword and see their mercenary fighting with the broken Spear of Leonidas as an off-hand weapon, instead of a shield.
One of the biggest differences is that you’ll no longer be able to hold a shoulder button to block incoming attacks; instead, tapping the button at the right moment parries them, and you’ll rely on quick dodges or longer dodge rolls to escape most damage. Meanwhile, holding down the former block button now pulls up a customizable quick menu, letting you unleash one of four special abilities that you can select ahead of time.
“The special abilities are a way of expanding what abilities have always been, which is a way to customize your play style,” says Phillips. “We push it even farther because we use the broken Spear of Leonidas to access even bigger and better abilities. You’re going to have to build up adrenaline within fights or within assassinations in order to fire off one of these abilities, but the way players mix and match them, it’s been really exciting to see how people create their own style out of it.”
These abilities are grouped into Hunter, Assassin, and Warrior trees, representing ranged, stealth, and melee combat skills respectively –and most of the abilities can be upgraded for additional perks. Some of these are familiar; the different bow functions from Assassin’s Creed Origins, for example, are now abilities that can be applied to whatever bow you’re holding, letting you fire off remote-control Predator shots and multi-arrow spread shots without juggling gear.
There are plenty of new abilities, too, like the Spartan Kick, which works exactly how you think it does and can send enemies flying; Rush Assassination, which lets you silently throw the Spear of Leonidas at a distant enemy and immediately, stealthily sprint up to them to pull it out; and the Shield Breaker, which lets you hook an enemy’s shield and bash them with it as you hurl it away. You can even heal during combat or infuse your weapons with fire or poison effects, so long as you’ve got enough adrenaline and have the ability unlocked and ready. And that’s just for starters; work your way up the skill tree, and you’ll unlock things like arrows that can pass through shields and walls, or the ability to become functionally invisible.
You’ll also have a range of passive skills, which enable familiar abilities like stealth assassination, as well as new ones like the ability to knock out and recruit enemies. And then there’s Leap of Faith, which now not only lets you perform a classic swan dive from high places but protects you from dying if you take a bad fall. Upgrade the ability, and the Spear of Leonidas’ power will keep you from ever taking falling damage again.
Odyssey’s approach to gear is another big change; while you’ll still be able to continually find new weapons in the world and quickly switch between two at a time, you’ll now collect a constant stream of new armour as well. Your head, arms, torso, waist, and feet all require individual pieces of armour, and you’ll want to pay attention to the buffs they and your weapons can grant. For example, a chest plate that grants a 5% bonus to your Assassin attacks might be more useful to you than a seemingly identical piece that boosts Warrior damage. And while it’s not available in the demo, you’ll also be able to add new perks to your equipment with engravings, which can be found throughout the world and applied by a blacksmith.
Again, however, it’s the Spear of Leonidas that truly sets Assassin’s Creed Odyssey apart. “We’ve seen First Civilization artefacts throughout the Assassin’s Creed franchise,” says Phillips. “The Apple of Eden is one iconic piece of this ancient civilization, and the Spear of Leonidas is our way to bring it into the story, and into the gameplay, and of giving the player access to those First Civ elements that they’ve never had broad access to. In the past, you’ve maybe had the Apple of Eden for a little bit; we give this to you for the entire game, and you upgrade it, you make it better. You get to get more abilities because of it, and because of its connection to you, which we’re going to develop throughout the story.
“So it’s an exciting way to meet the lore of the First Civ with that Greek setting and mythology,” adds Phillips. “2,500 years ago is the oldest we’ve ever gone in Assassin’s Creed, and it’s where that connection to the First Civilization is the strongest it’s ever been in the franchise.”
“The game is really about order and chaos, and explaining the origin of this fight that came to be between the Assassins and the Templars later on,” says Senior Producer Marc-Alexis Côté. “So the game doesn’t feature the Hidden Blade. For the first time, you’ll be playing a character who is not an Assassin… but this frees us to tell a story that’s different, that’s going to feel fresher and more involving for our players, because they’ll be able to steer that story where they want, and make it their own odyssey.”
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will launch on October TKTK for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, and will be playable at the Ubisoft booth during E3 2018.