At a glance, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey looks a lot like last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins. Despite swapping Egyptian pyramids for Greek temples, the surface-level similarities are numerous. There are plenty of subtle differences, however.
(Note: This piece is based on the 14 hours I’ve played with the game as well as our reviewers’ 75 hours and some fact-checking we’ve done with the development team via Ubisoft PR.)
Let’s get the basics out of the way first.
Both Origins and Odyssey are third-person adventures set in vast recreations of iconic ancient time periods. Both eschew many of the trappings of the 10 major Assassin’s Creed games that preceded them. You can’t assassinate targets in a single strike by default, and there’s no mini-map to guide players. There’s little overt reference to Assassins fighting Templars, because both games precede that core of that conflict, instead showing some of the roots.
They’re math-driven, loot-heavy games, with more of an evident Diablo or Destiny influence. They dole out weapons and wardrobe options of color-coded rarity and escalating statistical proficiency, and have a skill tree for players to climb.
The ancient stories of Origins and Odyssey are both being experienced by a modern day researcher, Layla Hassan, who is using an Animus device to expire the past. And both are loaded with so much to do that they can run players 80 hours even before the roll-out of a season of downloadable content.
They also both do that thing where you have a pet eagle that works as a surveillance drone.
Origins starred a proto-Assassin named Bayek who used a hidden blade and treks through ancient Egypt fighting the forces of Ptolemy and, later, Julius Caesar. On rare occasion, you could also play as Bayek’s wife, Aya, often in naval missions that aped the feel of the grand ship combat in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. While the game explored the origins of the Assassin’s Order, it did little with the series’ modern day lore other than to introduce Layla Hassan. It made even less mention of the First Civilization, a precursor race shown in earlier games as having somehow influenced human development.
Odyssey stars the player’s choice of Alexios or Kassandra, a Spartan who uses the seemingly magical spear of Leonidas, itself a First Civ artifact. The adventure is set in ancient Greece at the time of the Peloponnesian War, four hundred years before Origins. According to my colleague Heather Alexandra, who reviewed the game and has played more than I have, it goes deep into First Civ lore in extensive, optional sections late in the game, though early on it mostly steers clear of any of the series’ elaborate meta-narratives.
Origins’ creation was led by Ubisoft Montreal and a creative leadership who had last worked on Black Flag. Odyssey’s was handled primarily by Ubisoft Quebec, whose previous AC was 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.
While Origins began to lean Assassin’s Creed into the realm of role-playing games like The Witcher, with more emphasis on elaborate sidequests and gear collection, Odyssey goes all-in with the addition of dialogue options and even the ability to sleep with numerous side characters.
Odyssey also restores naval exploration and combat to a full offering, complete with the options to recruit crew members and upgrade your ship. It adds an elaborate territorial control system that lets players flip dozens of regions in the game from Athenian to Spartan control or vice versa. Players do this through new large-scale battles that involve dozens of warriors fighting around your hero, as well as through a more Assassin’s Creed-like incremental system of weakening a regional leader’s control before you can assassinate them.
Odyssey offers a better way to explore. Origins was often too easy, in part because it removed the detective work of tracking down quest items and targets. Upon receipt of a new quest, the game would show a yellow icon or circle on the map indicating where the player should go. You’d go there, then be prompted to switch to control of your eagle Senu. Senu’s bird sense would highlight the loot or assassination target, or whatever else you were going for. After that simple extra step, you’d be back to following a waypoint on your HUD.
Odyssey puts a few creative twists on that. Those who liked Origins’ heavily assisted navigation can opt to keep it via a gameplay option called Guided Mode. However, the game recommends players try the superior Exploration mode, which does not mark the map when players get a new quest. Instead, players must rely on textual clues about where to go. They might be looking for a target who they’re told is in a forest in the western part of a specific region, for example, but there won’t be a big yellow circle indicating where that is.
Exploration mode is a much more satisfying way to play, though Odyssey still displays a prompt to switch to your eagle when you’re finally near your objective. You can’t turn that off, a Ubisoft rep confirmed to me, since players testing the game would sometimes lose track of their objective. Still, Exploration mode is worth at least trying. I greatly prefer it.
Ability specializations enable you to play as a sneaky assassin. Origins’ combat was biased toward players who were interested in swinging swords out in the open. There were ranged moves and stealth moves, but Bayek’s hidden blade was sometimes not a one-hit kill, which was a break from older games in the series. Guards could quickly detect Bayek and ruin any plans for a stealthy approach, and more often than not, what started as an infiltration would end as an all-out brawl.
Odyssey still lets you play barbarously, but its stealth system is more accommodating to those who wish to skulk—and remain skulking—in the shadows. Early on, players can start increasing the potency of stealth attacks that use Leonidas’ spear, which is this game’s version of the hidden blade. They can also learn how to chain assassinations and perform extra-potent assassinations that require a long button-press but dole out double damage. There are still enemies who can’t be taken out with one stab, but Odyssey is much more permissive of players trying to control their character as if they were classic AC heroes Altair or Ezio.
Odyssey gives players a load of possible melee moves, but only allows you to map four of them to the controller’s face buttons at a time. That encourages you to pick a load-out of your favored moves, and will likely encourage players to adopt and stick to certain aggressive or low-key styles of play. You can switch out active moves on the fly just by pausing, if you want.
A new weapon-engraving system also rewards focusing how you play. Perhaps to a fault, Odyssey regularly pops up alerts about things you’re doing in the game. Oh, you’ve just killed another predator animal, or another enemy with a sword. Those actions and others like them count toward goals that unlock new engravings that a blacksmith can etch into your weapon. Those engravings are basically weapon perks and they match the kind of actions that unlock them. Killing animals, for example, allows you to get an engraving that makes your weapons even more potent at killing animals, which then would make it easier to hunt and fight the game’s legendary beasts. Or, if you do a lot of stealthy assassinating, you’ll be unlocking engravings that make your weapons even more powerful when used for assassinations. Likewise if you focus on ranged combat or out-in-the-open melee.
The loading screens are different. In Origins, true to longstanding Assassin’s Creed tradition, you could make Bayak run through an endless digital horizon. In Odyssey, all you get is a non-interactive screen of a fire and an artifcat glowing. Advantage Origins!
There are more gear slots. You’re not collecting outfits one at a time in Odyssey, as you were in Origins. Instead, you’re collecting helmets, chest pieces, lower body armor, gauntlets and footwear, which is either great news for lovers of loot collection or bad news for people who don’t buy Assassin’s Creed games to spend a major chunk of their time doing inventory management.
Odyssey offers more types of quests. Origins gave players main quests, sidequests and a handful of timed events, mostly involving fighting a rotation of a few gods. It all added up to more than 180 quests, downloadable expansions included, a lot of which was fun to do.
Odyssey slices things up differently, with a structure that feels a shade more like Destiny or other games meant to offer players reasons to turn the game on regularly. There are main Odyssey quests, and then below those, major side-quests classified as “world” or “character” missions. Then there are numerous bounties, which are timed and usually involve having about a day to hunt down a target. And there are contracts, which involve having to do things like sink X number of boats or fight Y number of enemies. Players grab bounties and contracts from message boards in the game’s towns, and they appear to replenish frequently. There are also daily and weekly quests that dole out a special currency that can be used to obtain rare gear or to get lootboxes that randomly include such rare gear, similar to the Nomad’s Bazaar in Origins.
Among the range of side activities in Odyssey are the aforementioned large-scale battles and also a batch of “impact quest giver” quests that a Ubisoft rep clarified to me are quests that pop up based on decisions you’ve made in the game.
Quests allow for somewhat malleable outcomes. In my experience with the game, Odyssey has recognized when I’ve bungled what was supposed to be a stealth mission. Once, a quest giver asked me to keep a mission quiet, but I screwed it up and alerted several guards. When I returned for my reward, I found my quest-giver besieged by enemies. After I fought them off, I got a scolding about making too much of a ruckus and leading the enemy back to them.
Quests level up as you play. When Origins launched, it was easy to grind away at the game and become over-leveled for any early quests you skipped and then tried later. Enemies in the game’s starter regions would be weak and the game could often feel too easy. A patch enabled players to make enemies scale up in difficulty as they did. Odyssey makes that kind of leveling mandatory, though it handles it differently depending on whether you’re playing on normal or hard difficulty.
Every region on Odyssey’s map has two numbers associated with it. Those numbers indicate, in part, how leveled up you need to be to explore the region without getting thrashed. If you’re in a region and start leveling up, the quests in that region will level up with you. Enter a level six zone at character-level six and then improve to seven, and any level six quests you grabbed in that region become level seven quests, complete with tougher enemies. If you hit the max level for the region and playing at normal difficulty, then quests will keep leveling but will lag some and eventually stay wo levels behind your character, no matter how high you go, according to Ubisoft. If you’re playing on hard or nightmare, the quests will, at most, linger one or zero levels behind you
The Mercenary system is a game unto itself. Black Flag had a wanted system along the lines of Grand Theft Auto’s, which would send hunter ships after you the more mayhem you committed on the high seas. Origins placed a high-level enemy called a Phylake in many of its regions, requiring you to flee for your life if their regular patrol routes drew them near, though you could eventually level up enough to fight them, kill them and activate a quest in the course of all of that.
Odyssey combines what those earlier games did and mixes in a touch of the Nemesis System from Shadow of Mordor for an elaborate side challenge involving mercenaries. Powerful mercenaries populate the game’s world. A special pause menu interface displays more than nine tiers of mercenaries, as well as your standing among them. Most in that menu are initially masked in silhouette. Mercenaries vary in power, strengths and weaknesses. Players can gather intel on them and hunt them down. A wanted system that tracks the player-character’s own excessive violence will also trigger mercenaries to start hunting them down. Inevitably, mercenaries will confront you, barking taunts as they do. And even as you kill mercenaries and move up the tier ranking, new mercenaries will emerge. At any time, players can pay off or assassinate characters who ostensibly are putting bounties on your head, which will chill things out for a while.
As with the regional control stuff, the mercenary system is surprisingly involved, arguably superfluous, distractingly engaging and yet another multi-level means for acquiring exotic loot.
A more customizable HUD. While Origins let players switch between a few pre-set options for your heads-up-display, Odyssey lets you tick 20 options on and off. I turned the damage numbers off right away. Closing my game wouldn’t save the options I’d selected, nor would the game remember my HDR settings, but Ubisoft says those are bugs that should be patched after release.
Traversal is slightly faster. I thought Kassandra felt like a quicker climber than Bayek. Not quite. According to a Ubisoft rep, climbing is not “meaningfully faster” but moving up steep inclines has improved, and jumping down is faster. Getting up and down is therefore a shade quicker than in the previous game, though obviously not as brisk as just using a grappling hook in Ubisoft Quebec’s last AC game, Syndicate.
There are hosts of other similarities and differences between Odyssey and Origins, including some that’d spoil the new game. These, though, are some of the biggest and some of the easiest to miss. A lot of the subtler differences help Odyssey feel like an improvement over the already impressive Origins, and help the new game stand apart as more than just more of the same old thing.