Without Assassins or the Creed, is Odyssey a true Assassin’s Creed game?

"Is the series defined by its iconic, and now absent, hood and hidden blade or something else entirely?"

This past week, at E3 2018, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was revealed. Well, I say “revealed” but in fact, just like every Assassin’s Creed in years, pretty much every detail had been previously leaked. We knew it was to take place in Greece, re-introduce naval combat, have dialogue options, a protagonist of selectable gender and even the map was leaked a day before the Ubisoft conference. One thing that had been reported incorrectly however, at least where I saw the information, was the time period. I had heard it was to be a sequel to last year’s brilliant Assassin’s Creed Origins and see the return of Bayek, but no. The one surprise the Ubisoft conference had was that in fact Odyssey is a prequel to Origins, set some 400 years before Bayek’s adventures in Egypt. 400 years before the creation of the Assassin Order. It got me thinking, and lots of angry people on Twitter and YouTube thinking too, what even is the Assassin’s Creed franchise anymore? Without the titular Assassins or creed, can this truly be called an Assassin’s Creed game? Is the series defined by its iconic, and now absent, hood and hidden blade or something else entirely?

I’ve been a big fan of the franchise since its flawed but fun beginnings. Not just the gameplay and historical setting but the complex (a nice way of saying convoluted) lore and present-day storylines. These parts of the series are set to return, and in a big way. The game will be a sequel to the present-day portions of Origins, following the continuing adventures of new playable character Layla, who hopefully will do more than just hang around in a cave this time. Developers have also stated that the game will focus on the enigmatic First Civilisation more than any game previously. The canon continues and develops, expanding on what has come before, and while not as instantly symbolic or iconic as the hood or hidden blade, these things are just as important to the series, whether players like them or not. Even though I like these aspects, I still have to use the Assassin’s Creed wiki on occasion to try and decipher what the fuck’s going on. I can see why many don’t enjoy those aspects of the game but they’re part of the backbone of the series.

I’m sure other trademark Assassin’s Creed story beats and plot lines will return in Odyssey, even if it’s not apparent from the gameplay demo we got. I think that by the game’s end, the Piece of Eden spear head that the protagonist wields will be fashioned into a type of hidden blade. The lead character could be a kind of proto-assassin much like Darius (one of the statues of famed Assassins seen in Assassin’s Creed 2) who lived around the same time as Odyssey and was, to our current knowledge, the first to use a hidden blade. Or maybe while Origins was the origin story of the Assassin Order, Odyssey could detail the origin of what later would be known as the Templar Order, or the Order of the Ancients as they are known in Origins. The themes of Odyssey also seemingly follow those of previous games in the series and show why Odyssey is a true Assassin’s Creed game rather than just another historical action epic using the brand recognition of AC. The themes of control and order, free will and choice will once again be a focus but just won’t be personified by the same brotherhoods and sects we are used to.

Now, before I make any more of my points supporting Odyssey’s seemingly Assassin-less main storyline, I do want to say, as an admirer of the franchise’s early games, I would love to see another game revolving around a dedicated member of the fully functioning Assassin Order. I would have also liked a larger break between instalments than the not-even-a-year break between Origins and Odyssey to avoid the cloned games of when the franchise’s annualization was in full swing. That’s the perfect entry way into my next point: Odyssey’s gameplay is incredibly similar to Origins. What makes an Assassin’s Creed game? Plot or gameplay? Enough of the Assassin’s Creed plotting and lore, as I’ve just discussed, seem to remain in Odyssey (despite the glaring omissions that began this conversation) and from the look of it, the gameplay is incredibly recognisable as Assassin’s Creed.

The gameplay is consistent with the recent Assassin’s Creed games, primarily Origins, but also pulls the naval combat that was seen in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag back into the forefront. The ship battles returned briefly in Origins but they’re prominent again in Odyssey. These naval mechanics have not been a part of the franchise since the very beginning but have now since become a defining feature of the series. There was no identity crisis back in Black Flag’s day, at least not a major one like with Odyssey, because once you got your hands on it you realised it was still an AC game, simply with a new feature. Naval combat complimented Assassin’s Creed rather than usurped it, despite it being a feature worthy of its own game, which it now is as “Skull & Bones”, which looks like “Sea of Thieves” but with none of the charm. Assassin’s Creed is more than just the features introduced in the first game, but an evolving experience, that maybe leaves behind some cruxes for a game or two (I’m sure in the future we’ll return to the creed) but has many others to support itself with. Other keystones of the franchise, that have been firmly cemented in the series’ DNA since 2007, return in Odyssey and will never leave, such as viewpoints, assassination missions and parkour.

In conclusion, I believe the title of “Assassin’s Creed” to no longer be the franchise’s ultimate descriptor, if it ever was. The series has pioneered and prominently featured so many mechanics and themes that make the games instantly recognisable, even if some of the series’ oldest linchpins are absent, so many more remain. Assassin’s Creed can be Assassin’s Creed without the Assassin Order or its noble and seemingly contradictory creed. In Bioshock, “there’s always a lighthouse, always a man and always a city”. In Assassin’s Creed, “there’s always an animus, always a warrior and always an historical location”. From what little I’ve seen so far, Odyssey is undoubtably an Assassin’s Creed game.

Did you like the look of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey we got at E3? What do you see as the defining features of the Assassin’s Creed franchise? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.

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