Odyssey is finally an Assassin's Creed game where I might end up loving the combat. It takes what Origins did—a much friendlier version of Dark Souls—and layers a load of new abilities on top of that. I went into how this works (opens in new tab) around E3 time: you map them to the face buttons of a controller then activate them while holding down a bumper (I haven't played a PC version yet, but hopefully you'll be able to freely map them). These include setting your sword on fire, shield breaking, throwing your spear for a stealth kill and the trailer-friendly Spartan kick, as well as a quick heal move and powerful arrow attacks.
The demo I play at Gamescom takes place later in the game, and centres on helping a girl called Bryce find her missing partner, Ligeia. All of my abilities are levelled up several tiers, meaning I'm pretty much at endgame levels of power. I pick Alexios, the male main character, and I'm started at level 50 on the island of Lesbos on the east of the map.
The first objective is to protect Bryce from enemies that blame her for Ligeia's disappearance. It's here I sample the fully upgraded version of Odyssey's shield break move, and reader, it is some Dragon Ball Z shit. As well as taking the shield away, it sends an enemy flying. Likewise, Alexios's Spartan Kick is now absurdly powerful. The result is a system that intersperses familiar melee combat with what feel like superpowers.
Both the dodging and parrying windows feel way more generous in this demo than they did at E3, and that feels like a good choice. It keeps the flow of the combat going, and if you mistime using either of them, you'll still sustain heavy damage and have to use the dedicated healing ability.
I die three times in this demo, adjusting back to using the various abilities. I like this, because in Assassin's Creed, before Origins, there wasn't much combat worth learning, besides counterattacking (naval combat aside). Here, there's such a range of moves in your repertoire that you have to memorise the mapping of up to 12 extra abilities at any one time—four ranged, eight melee.
Once I've got the hang of it, fighting feels great in Odyssey. Playing without a shield, as in Origins, felt like a risky move during my first hands-on, but in this build I get why parrying with the sword and spear gives the combat a different, exciting rhythm. It's still not quite a best-in-class melee combat system, but it's beautifully animated, exciting and challenging.
I don't remember enjoying a good fight this much in Assassin's Creed before, and the increased levels of combat abilities means this late part of the game feels meaningfully different to the E3 demo; set earlier on. If Odyssey is indeed going to be longer than Origins, reflecting that progress is important.
Hit and myth
It transpires that Bryce's story is actually about Medusa, who seems to be responsible for her partner's disappearance. Alexios and Bryce enter the Petrified Forest, a grey, spooky location full of bodies turned to stone. Upon reaching Medusa's temple, I'm tasked with finding a special spear from a mercenary who claims to have slain her. The game gives me a rough location, that he's on top of a mountain, and I beat him in battle to take it.
Upon entering the temple, I follow Bryce's voice to find Medusa. My mission giver, unfortunately, is turned into stone before Alexios can do anything about. After two deaths, I work out how to beat Medusa, who primarily attacks with her extremely on-brand stone gaze and by bringing petrified soldiers to life to attack. It's not the best part of the demo, even though Medusa is a cool-looking, strange enemy, but the logic of the boss fight isn't bad, really, and there is a healthy bit of trial-and-error in figuring it out.
If you're wondering how Medusa crept into mainline Assassin's Creed lore, there is a neat explanation here that I won't spoil—it's not a bit of Animus weirdness like the superbosses in Origins. Average boss battle aside, though, in this demo Odyssey feels like an effective extension of what last year's Assassin's Creed set out to do in a location that clearly has loads of potential.