Last week I was given the intense privilege of attending a hands-on session with Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Odyssey and was overwhelmed, positively so, with what I saw and experienced. In previous entries to the Assassin's Creed series, there has been some dispute into whether the titles were all that players were expecting to see, and I was one of those who, at times, harbored skepticisms.
Let me input a personal exception before I wholeheartedly gush about this game. I still haven't gotten around to playing AC: Origins. I know, almost criminal. Given that shortcoming on my part, I am only generally aware of changes and all-around awesomeness that was present in that title and may end up gushing over things that aren't necessarily new. With that, however, I have been assured by others that most of the "new" mechanics from Origins had been improved or adapted to better fit with Odyssey or simply for improvement's sake.
Now the gushing.
Let me just say I haven't been wowed like this on a visual level by a game in a long time. I was immediately struck by the beauty of, well, essentially everything. It helped, I'm sure, that we were all playing on hi-def monitors, but that seems to be industry standard these days so I'm fairly confident that most players will encounter the same visually stunning world. From the character designs and textures to that of the individual aspects of the environment and landscape. And don't think you can look at these trite screen pics and get a real feel for it, either. You'll just be cheating yourself. There isn't much more I can really say as what I've already said detracts from the experience, but in my opinion, it is pushing the boundaries of what we've come to expect in a game.
Moving onto playability. I was playing on an X-Box One (possibly an X-Box One X?) and, there were some changes and glancing at Origin's control scheme there are some changes from that as well. Rather than a singular block or shield button, blocking or parrying required the simultaneous use of both bumper buttons. This took some getting used to on my part. The last AC game I had played was Syndicate (very recently) and I kept hitting the B button, to no avail. My general opinion, however, is that most players are quicker on the take than I am and will adapt quickly. Like Origins, there is no "sprint" button, but of course, the Parkour function with the Free-Run-Down functionality have made a return. All in all, it felt solid and tighter than my previous experiences with mobility in AC games.
Happily, the Naval aspects return for further awesomeness and with it a return to relative freedom as you control your craft and sail the seas as you see fit, a much-awaited return to the feeling of autonomy that was so popular and absorbing in AC3 and Black Flag. This is something that has been sorely missed. Granted, I'm not sure they could really have done without it as you start out on an island. Being that it is ancient Greece, there are no cannons, and flaming arrows and javelins are only obtained through upgrading your vessel. Ramming is also a much-used technique, especially by your opponents and as there tend to be groups of opposing ships, it can sometimes feel like piloting giant bumper buggies. Learning to swiftly and accurately maneuver your vessel is key to many of these sorties, especially since you have to be aware of the projectile assaults as well. But damn, is it fun.
The player's character choice is between a woman (Kassandra) and a man (Alexios) and there is no switching back and forth like there was in previous games. My choice in character for the event was Kassandra (despite what the lovely pictures might suggest) and I was immediately impressed with her character and personality. Her strength as an individual is obvious and, though originally somewhat aimless in her overall goals, once she takes on a task, there is no doubt she will finish it. Her very presence bespoke a warrior's experience and in interactions with NPCs, none questioned her competence (without regretting it).
That brings me to one of the big changes I noticed: A complete lack of synchronization constraints. This time around, you are the character. Your choices and how you accomplish goals are entirely up to you. Just be ready to pay the consequences. And consequences there are, some of which may leave you questioning your internal paradigms of "right" and "wrong" as the results don't consider the idea that "good things happen to good people". Neither are the results immediately obvious. Any decision made can have varying effects down the road, and where down the road is just something you'll be left to discover on your own. This variability is also in regard to how you perform your tasks or missions. If a mission suggests stealth, getting spotted is probably not in your best interest. But hey, we think, we can fight our way out. Sure. But the consequences are not always directly relayed back to you. Others may suffer for your clumsiness and lack of prowess.
The story is compelling. As a mercenary or "mysthrios" who has an interesting friendship with a conman, in no time at all you find yourself in heaps of trouble, driving you to defend and counteract forces raised against you. And oh, can that conman spins things, and spins thing, and spins things right into a much larger problem than there was, to begin with. However, what lies in their past keeps your character plodding through difficulty after difficulty with him. Yes, the characters are deeper than their initial impressions might suggest. Getting to know them and their motivations, personalities can shed a lot of light on the world around you.
All in all, it was a great experience and I walked away very impressed with what they have been working on. This is something I will eagerly await the release of and has certainly spurred me to go right out and pick up a copy of Origins.