Assassin’s Creed Origins released in 2017 following a year off, when Ubisoft took time off to reassess the future of its flagship series. Beyond the obvious move to Egypt, Origins’ most notable area of innovation was combat. Previously reliant on engaging enemies and playing out execution animations, Origins completely transformed the series’ combat into a hitbox-based system emphasizing precise timing and tactical dodging. While this was a welcome shift that introduced more complexity to enemy encounters, it still had plenty of shortcomings. You could easily fall into using a single dominant strategy to win fights, and the relatively low skill ceiling meant that you ultimately had very little improvement to strive for.
Ubisoft Quebec’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed Odyssey seems to be attending to these issues, providing more tactical combat than its predecessor while making subtle adjustments that vastly improve the moment-to-moment thrills of engagement. This might not mean much if you’re more inclined to play stealth or ranged. I’ve personally been more of a stealth player in past Assassin’s Creed games, even in entries that didn’t accommodate such a playstyle–I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed III. But I was pleasantly surprised to find during my experiences playing Odyssey that its combat was one of the aspects I enjoyed the most. Here are four major changes I noted during a recent two-hour Gamescom 2018 preview session while playing one of Odyssey’s late-game questlines.
The most welcome change to Odyssey’s combat is the lack of a shield or guarding stance. No longer can you block enemy attacks or arrows–you dodge them instead. This alters the flow of combat, forcing you to pay close attention to enemy movements while also being mindful of the spacing between you and your opponent. This is the best part about Odyssey’s take on Origins’ combat, as it elevates your active investment in a fight. It was easy to become idle in Origins, often turtling up against enemies with a shield, charging up a strong attack to knock them down, and then wailing on them. You need to be fully aware in Odyssey, unleashing measured bursts of attacks and dodging before getting hit by an enemy follow-up.
You may not come equipped with a shield of your own, but your opponents do! There’s a power imbalance you feel every time you square up against a group of shielded enemies–a feeling I rarely got from fighting such enemies in Origins. Luckily, you’re given a shield removal skill that can quickly put foes on even ground with you. It’s an added layer of defense to enemies that seems superficial at first blush, but during my experiences with Odyssey, it contributed to the tension and reinforced the need to be alert.
A drastic, yet subtle new addition to movement is the roll as an action. In Origins, you could perform a roll after mashing the dodge button three times; it would be the third maneuver Bayek would perform after two step-dodges. However, it didn’t serve much of a tactical purpose and was more of a cosmetic animation. In Odyssey, a roll is performed by holding the dodge button, and it covers more ground than the standard step-dodge. In every encounter, I had to distinguish which enemy attacks called for a roll, and which could be simply dodged with a quick step. It’s a minute change but it made all the difference in elevating my senses during a battle.
Remedying the issue of Origins’ barebones combat are a ton of special skills you can equip and activate on the fly in Odyssey. The most prominently featured skill in early Odyssey footage is the Spartan Kick, which allows you to launch foes away, potentially off cliffs or into shark-infested waters. But there are several other skills you can use–some offensive and others defensive. For example, one allows you to slow down time and move seven times faster than your opponents, something that comes in handy for doling out more damage or simply getting out of harm’s way. Skills are triggered by holding the shoulder button and pressing the face button associated with the one equipped on your wheel. You can equip up to eight skills at once, and each takes up a specific number of points from your Adrenaline Meter–which is now split up into segments–upon use.
During high-level play, having so many skills to mix-and-match made for a satisfying dance of creatively linking together the best ones to inflict the highest damage possible. But it also demanded think about how I spend Adrenaline. While you can use it to trigger a powerful special attack that can easily dispatch a single foe, you might be better served triggering several crowd-control moves to hurt multiple foes or launch them off the battle arena instead. A canvas for players to use skills the way they want was exactly what Odyssey creative director Jonathan Dumont intended to be a part of the game’s combat.
“We tried to have choice at the core of everything that we’ve added.” said Dumont. “We were thinking about how it would be cool to mix and match skills…we looked at it more from a perspective of customization instead of trying to enforce a certain way to play the game or unlock things in a certain order.”
If there’s anything that Origins was completely lacking in, it was boss fights. Bosses were often just stronger versions of standard enemies, and if they did have something more interesting at play, the strategy to beat them was incredibly simplistic. Even at high-level play, Origins’ boss fights were prolonged encounters that simply required dodging and walloping on a foe until you had enough Adrenaline to perform an Overpower move; rinse and repeat.
Odyssey seems to throw more variety into difficult boss encounters. Admittedly, this observation is purely based on my experiences fighting against Medusa (yes, that Medusa). But if what I experienced with that fight is indicative of the entire game, then I’m quite excited for what other formidable opponents Odyssey is going to throw me against–mythological creature or not.
Medusa actually had varying attack patterns and different stages as the fight progressed. She would try to slow me down with her petrifying stare and then spawn stone soldiers to gang up on me. But as the fight went on, went on, she’d assault me with petrifying lasers and try to attack me directly, all while more stone soldiers spawned in. The fight actually challenged my ability to dodge and use skills efficiently. It’s exactly what you want a boss fight to be: a test of everything you’ve learned and executed upon using the game’s various systems. You can watch the full battle against Medusa at the end of the footage above.
This doesn’t pertain to combat directly, but if you decide there’s another character build you’d like to pursue that would better accommodate your fighting style, you’re free to completely restat your ability points any time at no cost to you. This is a tremendous addition that gives you the ability to experiment and spend your ability points on other skills that may not have fit your initial character build. Once again, this seems to align with what Dumont believes is Odyssey’s emphasis on creativity and player choice.
“Invest the points where you want them but map them like you want them and create your own playstyle,” commented Dumont when asked about player customization. “Because Assassin’s Creed has been around for over 10 years now, we all play differently. Where some people just want to play stealth or ranged, some people want combat. So, we want to make sure that your play style that you want to bring in is a right playstyle for you. And the game allows you to play that way.”
That creativity is welcomed by the freedom to change the way you play at any time. The build given to me during the preview was focused more on combat, but I was able to restat into a hybrid of both combat and stealth. It made the build more focused on chain-killing as many enemies as possible with the Rush Assassination skill before being seen, and then clearing out the rest with crowd-control and attack buff skills. The opportunity to branch out allowed me to get creative with my character on a whim. It was refreshing to have no penalty for doing so, as Origins forced you to commit to a build for a majority of its runtime.
There’s a higher sense of urgency and strategizing in Odyssey’s combat. You’re thinking more and you’re constantly making split-second decisions on the types of skills you want to perform. Enemy groups are quicker to surround and overwhelm you than in Origins, so it’s essential to move quickly and act aggressively. All of this already puts Odyssey’s combat system far above Origins’ in complexity and nuance, often motivating me to pursue enemies head-on more than I’m usually accustomed to.
As someone who has always relished in playing stealthily in every Assassin’s Creed game, it’s exciting to see improvements that make combat less mindless and more tactical. For the first time in the series’ history, I’m struggling to settle on a playstyle–not because of lacking quality in one over the other, but simply out of finding each genuinely appealing. It honestly surprises me, and for a series I’ve been following since the beginning, I find that fantastic.