Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is due out in a little more than a month and this time around the series is taking us to the world of Ancient Greece while further building off of last year’s installment of Assassin’s Creed Origins.
During a recent Ubisoft event prior to Gamescom, I sat down with Jonathan Dumont, the Creative Director of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and asked him about some of the biggest changes in this year’s edition of the beloved franchise.
Logan: You told me before we started this interview that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has been in development for three years, which means you were developing this one somewhat parallel to the team working on Origins. What were the changes you wanted to make in this game knowing what Origins had in store?
Jonathan Dumont: We knew as the Odyssey team that we wanted to embrace the RPG aspects of the game. It was good because Origins wanted to venture into that and be that first step into an RPG. They did a lot of stuff on progression, they revamped the fighting so that it feels different and that it can expand a bit more and is more skill-based. You could feel the start of something new and it was cool because we knew that we wanted to concentrate on the role play.
Allowing you to have choices, allowing you to have dialogue, giving you a little bit more depth in the story. Also allowing you to make choices that would influence the stories that you see so that it is much more relatable of an experience — choosing your character, for example. Those are all things that our team wanted to do and knowing that we were getting a base more on the progression side and combat from Origins was great for us because that’s where we wanted to go as well. We were integrating a lot of stuff in development from them and keeping an eye on what they were doing. This is why we’re able to launch a year after with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
L: When did you start adding the elements to Odyssey that do differ drastically from Origins? Were things like dialogue trees and the special combat abilities that are now available, were those part of Odyssey from the beginning or added later?
JD: From day one, we started building our own dialogue tools. We had the intent of doing so and we had a group of programmers who had a total vision for it and how the tool would work out. Then the special abilities were something where we wanted to add a lot more depth to combat. We were seeing what Origins was becoming and we thought it was good but also about how we could make it more of class-based fighting. That came with the abilities and those came pretty early as well, in about the first year of development. We knew that that’s sort of where we wanted to go. Most of the bigger features of our game, we started very early on them.
L: Let’s talk about Greece because I think a lot of people are very excited about this location. Why did you end up choosing Greece this time around?
JD: Greece was good for multiple reasons. It is a world that we can relate to easily because we all know some parts of the myths and legends along with a lot of historical facts and philosophers. It’s something we’re taught in school that the way that we speak, the stories that we tell, the things that we refer to, they all find their origin in Greece. It was a match made in heaven from a cultural point of view because we’re always looking for these settings that offer a little bit more of a teaching. A place where something important happened culturally.
It was great because there are many wars in Greek history and we wanted a setting that allowed us to express a little bit more of the RPG feeling of the world. Going into the Peloponnesian War–Sparta vs. Athens–you’re an iconic Spartan warrior with the culture of Athens, it made for a good choice for us.
Plus, since we’re introducing choice, discussions were happening, dialogues were happening in Ancient Greece — people were questioning everything. It fit the mindsight that we try to put the character in, where they’re a little bit of a philosopher at times questioning should I do this-or-that, is it wrong to do this, what is the right thing. Some of the characters that you meet embody this quite a bit, like Socrates for example. It fit in right away with us, plus Greece is a beautiful world. It’s awesome.
L: You touched on the myths there for a moment and I think that’s one of those aspects a lot of people were interested in seeing how you’d tackle. I’ve now seen a bit more about how I think you are approaching those elements within Odyssey, but was there a struggle to find a way to fit those aspects into the game? Despite Assassin’s Creed always having had sci-fi aspects, the series has tended to stay rooted in realism. How did you go about bringing those things into Odyssey?
JD: Well, there are two things: we wanted to tap into the beliefs of the people who lived in that world. They truly believed in gods, myths, and legends. So a lot of times, when you’ll be hearing about, let’s say, a guy with one eye–the Cyclops–it’s not going to be a Cyclops, it’s going to be a dude with one eye. We tried to have the player guessing a little bit.
When it comes to what you’ve seen with Medusa, it is truly tied to the First Civilization in our game. We try to explain whether you’re in a simulation of a simulation or something like that — you’ll figure it out when you play the game. It is hidden in places, it is in secret. People in Athens wouldn’t just see Medusa appear, it’s in these sacred temples of the First Civilization. The way that we treat it, as you’ll see in the game, it is all tied to artifacts as well. The powers of the artifacts and what they can do — are you really seeing what you’re seeing? You are experiencing what a person has seen in Ancient Greece through the Animus, so is this perception okay? We’re playing off of that a little bit.
L: Are any of those mythical elements of the game going to tie into the main story of Odyssey or will they all kind of be included as side content sort of like what I saw in the Medusa quest?
JD: They are tied to a meta-story so not necessarily the main path. I don’t like to use the word “main path” because we do have a personal story but then there are bigger stories that do branch off at certain points in the game and they become their own thing. That [Medusa quest] was one of them.
L: So since you can choose your own character in this game–Kassandra or Alexios–will the storylines of each character be drastically different in any way depending on who you choose?
JD: It’s pretty much the same but you do have quite a few different role play options to play them like you want. The voice acting is different and the characters play off of people a little bit differently. If you are making certain choices with Alexios, you can replay with Kassandra and make different choices and you’ll get different outcomes. The history doesn’t change but your personal story will change.
L: Is the other character that you don’t choose to play as at the beginning of the game going to still be present in this world or will they just cease to exist entirely?
JD: I think everyone has asked that question. [laughs] I don’t want to talk about it right now. You’ll see when you play the game.
L: The present-day story this time around, what is that going to involve in Odyssey?
JD: It is a continuation of what you played in Origins but I think we are taking it a step further with the character Layla. You will be visiting some places that might be very interesting. It is a continuation of her story and her progression through finding artifacts and opening up mystery boxes for that story. I think it beefs up that storyline to be quite interesting.
L: Okay so as someone whose favorite game in the series is potentially Black Flag, I have to ask you about the new naval gameplay in Odyssey. How much content is there in the game associated with sailing? Is it just a means of traveling between islands or is there more to it than that?
JD: It’s not a naval game. If you took a look at Black Flag, you could say it’s 50/50 with being on a boat and on foot. For us, it’s more of a ground game. You can invest as much time as you want in the boat though. It’s there, you can travel with it, and there are some mission requirements that go through it. It’s fully upgradeable so you can upgrade your weapon set, you can upgrade your crew, you can change your hull and the cosmetics of your ship as well. It is meant for big battles out on the ocean and that feels pretty cool.
The biggest difference as well compared to any other game in the series is that your crew–you have four lieutenants in your crew– is all recruitable in the world. Almost every NPC is recruitable and they all have stats, they all have bonuses for your ship, and they all have a rarity. In some quests, you can ask them to join you. Most of the people that you see in the open world, you can knock them out and give them a second chance. Almost nobody will have the same crew, so you’ll have your own unique crew for your game.
L: How much side content is there in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey? Is it about the same as Origins?
JD: It’s bigger. There’s a lot more to explore. There are POIs, you know, forts, camps, tombs, all of that stuff. We have a lot more dynamic agents that are roaming the world. We have a full world logic in the game where a leader of the nation has a set of resources. When those resources are low, the neighboring region can invade them if they’re from the other faction. This produces epic battles which are–I think you’ve seen some–150 vs 150 and you can join into those and it gives you epic loot. You can also target the leaders and kill them for rewards or contracts.
We have a bunch of contracts also on posts. There’s one on the ship as well for naval and boat stuff. Then, the mercenaries, for example, are free-roaming in the world and you can hunt them down. They’re unlimited and there’s a sort of mercenary ladder you can climb and get bonuses for doing so. So there’s quite a bit with a ton of side quests.
L: Is there more content overall than there was in Origins?
JD: Overall, yes, absolutely.
L: One thing that I know bothered some people about Origins was the somewhat strict level gates that certain missions would have. If you didn’t do a mission at or above the level it suggested, you could get trounced easily which often led to grinding of levels. Will you have to do as much grinding in Odyssey?
JD: From time to time you’ll need to get up your level. We try not to make it a daunting wall. Some stuff that is on faraway islands is going to be at level 50 or whatever, but those are much more side content things. As the story progresses, you might have to pick up a level or two here and there but it’s not too bad.
L: So just to confirm with you, Odyssey does take place before Origins, correct?
L: So how exactly does that work? If Origins was supposed to be the dawn of the Brotherhood, where does Odyssey fit into the larger story?
JD: So you’re not playing as an assassin in our game. You’re not playing as somebody from the Creed. Our franchise allows us to explore different people in history. It’s not just Assassins that we want to visit. We can take a look at, from an ideological point of view, that same conflict between order and chaos in our game and there are factions that embody that. We place you in a spot where you have to evaluate a little more what’s good and what’s bad for you.
With the story of Layla, she’s looking for artifacts so she can go in any time period to look for these things. We decided to go back for the reasons I explained before about why Greece is a great setting.
L: Will there still be broader stuff related to the franchise thrown in here or are you guys just kind of shoving the entire Assassins and Templars conflict off to the side?
JD: Obviously we can’t say that there’s a Brotherhood before the Brotherhood’s foundation, but there are elements of what’s the makeup of a Templar or of an Assassin in here. As the game progresses into the later stages, you get a lot of hooks into what we’ve established as a franchise but we really wanted to tell the story or someone that wielded an artifact and what that presents in our game.
L: One thing I noticed from the demo was that my character was at max-level but I did not have everything unlocked ability wise. Will you be able to earn all abilities upon reaching the level cap or will you have to pick and choose?
JD: You’ll have to pick and choose but you can respec at any time. We give you a respec power which you can use whenever you want for a small drachma cost. It’s pretty cheap for what you have as money. You can unlock everything with the ability points that we give you but you cannot max them all out if that makes sense. You can get a taste of everything if you want to, but you can’t upgrade everything.
L: Last question I typically ask everyone I speak to — what’s something about your game that you haven’t talked about as much that you’d like people to know more about?
JD: Well, there are many things! [laughs] Something that we haven’t talked about is that our game offers many tones in narration. Yes, we’re giving you this epic journey into Ancient Greece and parts of the main story are very dramatic, tragic, and poignant. But Ancient Greece is known for tragedy and comedy and it’s known for storytelling as well. Getting that change of tone as you progress through the game or when you do side content, a lot of it is a little funny. You pop a smile once in awhile while playing and say “oh, that’s funny!” or “that’s a funny character.”
The thing that I hope our players really like is that we have some pretty awesome characters in there that are complex and they occupy certain functions but then you get attached to them. We’ve focused a lot on making relatable, funny storytelling with some of these characters and tragic with others so that you get these variations. That’s how you can sustain it over 80 to 100 hours of gameplay.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is due out on October 5 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. You can pre-order the game over on Amazon right now if you’d like.
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