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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the Wrath of the Snake Lady
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 07:14am 22/08/18 | Comments
Which means, if you saw the recent trailer released during Gamescom, you should know we’re alluding to Medusa, but after our time with the game in hands-on form, she’s also a wrathful snake lady, because she’s nasty…

Since our time with the game at E3, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has come along in leaps and Spartan jump bounds. Smoother, prettier and more complete; our session with the game at Gamescom ran for an hour and a half -- practically unheard of at trade events. But here I was, playing as the ever-confident -- and capable -- Kassandra: Spartan warrior, nomad and… fixer of things.

In this instance, on the isle of Lesbos where we alight from our barge, the game prompts an important quest marker high upon a ridge nestled over the small fishing village and marketplace below. Commotion can be heard from there and my Assassin’s Creed instincts kick in. We’re playing the game at level 50, decked out in all Legendary gear. This is the height of an endgame scenario -- an equally odd way to show off a game at a trade show. But as a good Spartan samaritan, it’s our duty to call in on the events above and see what we can gain from it.

A woman named Bryce (pronounced “Breece”) is being angrily accused of trickery by doltish villagers because of the disappearance of another woman. A woman who it turns out has been having a secret love affair with our cornered friend, Bryce. Conversation ensues and we take on the task of attempting to find her friend, but not before the doltish villager and the soldiers by his side decide to attack. And they attack hard.

Initially my problem was Assassin’s Creed Origins. I played the shit out of that game and completed it on Nightmare -- no small feat. To this end, I felt from the outset I’d own Odyssey, but the game’s shift in combat -- the best the series has ever seen, mind -- had me on the ropes early. In Origins, Bayek’s combat arsenal is his shield, weapons and bow. How you choose to utilise these, of course, was up to you: do you want to use a longer, two-handed weapon and forego your shield for greater reach but slower attacks? Or are you a dual-wielder? Maybe you’re a traditionalist and prefer sword and shield -- either way, that was essentially the choices before you, with how they play out indirectly (and directly) managed by your skill-trees was kind of the end of it all. Sure you had the Hidden Blade and such, but the action was thin in depth, though deeper than any combat the series had yet seen.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has all of the above, but also adds up to eight combinations of extra skills, attacks and abilities while in combat. These are managed by a complicated and dexterously-challenging placement of the four face-buttons on any controller, with both the left bumper (or L1) and left trigger (L2) acting as a platform for which of the eight you want to utilise, alongside the usual evade, light (right bumper, R1) and heavy attacks (right trigger, R2). The left trigger, obviously tied to your ranged abilities allows for a deep system around your bow, while the left bumper mapped attacks, buffs, abilities and more. These can be allocated as you see fit, and the actual depth of what was on offer in-menu was daunting. Suffice to say, it took a bit of getting used to.

After my fourth Desynchronisation, I just jumped back on to my barge and decided to leg it out of there and explore. While at sea a whale breached ahead of our bow and dolphins swam in schools beside us, occasionally leaping joyfully out of the water (probably because they are actual jerks in real life and were showing off). The impressive wave physics challenged our forward momentum, but my men sang merrily and we pressed on. It wasn’t until I got a real-world tap on the shoulder by our demo overseer that I was told we had to go back to Lesbos, and we had to face the combat challenge laid before us. Damn.

So we turned around, docked and I went back into the fray. This time I won the battle. It wasn’t pretty, but the combinations and newer controls began to click. And so now, with Bryce safe, we pressed out into an eerie petrified forest, replete with human figures seemingly made of stone, only as if they’d been alive not long before. (At this point I hadn’t seen the new trailer -- at E3 and Gamescom, this sort of stuff gets lost on attendees a bit, as we’re focused on our sessions.) Bryce begins to explain that this forbidden place was the only time her and her now lost lover could meet away from the judgemental eyes of the townsfolk, and our heart goes out to her plight. But this place… something’s not right.

Fast forward to a blocked entrance with walls too smooth for Kassandra to Assassin’s Creed up, however, a keyhole exists which requires an odd disk being kept on another island in a cave, guarded by beasts just outside of an enemy encampment. There’s also the tale of a Bounty Hunter who has allegedly killed the mythical creature allegedly living in this place, whom people travel all over to challenge because of his combat prowess, yet has never been beaten. So, once again, off we go on more adventuring.

At this point, play-by-play parked for a minute -- it should be noted the game is very pretty. Animations and movement feel tighter and more fluid even than they did in Origins. The game-world itself feels even more alive with opportunity, and there’s a greater sense of breaking with uniform Assassin’s Creed rules. When we get to the caves, there’s very little tall grass to hide in, and larger numbers of baddies in the one place, who all emerge on my position and fire fire arrows at me, which not only light me up, but with every frantic press of X to attempt to extinguish myself, I’m lighting the environment around me on fire, making the situation worse. Dread and dynamism exist here -- I can’t rely on my Origins stealth tactics as much and need to be smarter about the way I go about it. The general sense of competition and growth between the Odyssey and Origins teams is almost on-show: “no, we did it better”, “no we’re doing it better”.

And we’ll all be the better for it.

Long story short: after killing four bears and an entire camp of angry warrior woman with fire arrows, we need to go back. Our time is running out with the demo, so when I get back to the distraught Bryce, I ignore the option to go and see the legendary bounty hunter. The game doesn’t hiccup and we move forward (I learnt from friends who played the same demo later, beating him gifts you a weapon allegedly capable of killing this mythical creature). But that it wasn’t a required task to complete to move forward is also telling. Conversation options are coloured (so far as we’ve been exposed to in Gold and White -- white appears to help with your own investigation gathering, while gold potentially has far-reaching outcomes, and often these lean one way or another), but how deep and dynamic this all is, will remain to be seen.

Naturally, once we unlock the door, Bryce runs in with no sense for her own safety. Following her, we’re confronted by snakes everywhere -- not uncommon if you’ve played Assassin’s Creed Origins -- and remember, I have not yet seen that trailer). But we follow her regardless and the ensuing discovery, for me personally, is one of disbelief, because her lover is none other than Medusa, who in an intense beam of light turns Bryce to stone, and now a real boss battle begins.

Medusa kicked my ass. Like, all over the place. Turns out I didn’t have the right combinations of abilities, and I also could have used a shield to block her annoying stone ray. Also playing crowd-control to the stone men she kept bringing back to life, while avoiding said ray and also now, area of effect ray bombs was pretty hard. But this is what we play games for. If I’d played the game to get to that point from the start, I’d have likely been in a better position to beat her, and I came frustratingly close on two out of about six occasions, but time wasn’t on my side. What I will take away from my effort though was, had I been diligent with what I was doing already, I still could have beaten her. So there’s no magic formula, but the game is designed for you to take advantage of its myriad, seemingly complex systems. This is RPG more than action, the deeper you look into it, and we’re okay with that.

Don’t worry Medusa… I’ll be back.

Crazy wrathful snake lady.

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