An enormous boss fight against Medusa is not something you would have expected from an Assassin's Creed game a few years ago. God of War? Of course. Castlevania, sure. But to face off against the mythological monster in a series so concerned with history as Assassin's Creed? You'd think the developers had spent a little too much time in the Animus for their own good.
And yet it fits this new breed of Assassin's Creed - one unashamedly wearing its RPG systems as obviously as Ezio draped that cloak over his shoulder before you followed yet another NPC over a rooftop. Assassin's Creed has always dabbled in myths and conspiracy stories, but never quite this overtly. Since last year's Origins, however, the series has embraced ancient times and allowed itself a little more wiggle room to work in its fantastical elements. It fits - featuring the importance of the time period's Gods and other legendary figures and explaining their feats using connections to the series' own legendary First Civilisation.
Assassin's Creed has often used the First Civ as a creator of macguffins (the various Apples of Eden, for instance, First Civ objet d'arts which control human will) - but has also often kept the really wacky stuff at arm's length - hidden away for hardcore players to find, and rarely if ever mentioned during the game's marketing campaign. But this is a different Assassin's Creed era - and especially so with Odyssey as it takes place before the actual Brotherhood was founded. Fans have asked Ubisoft what Odyssey has to do with the Assassins if it does not include any. Ubisoft's answer is that Odyssey features the mythological elements the series has established over the past decade - which may well be why our Gamescom demo is all about the First Civ now.
The Gamescom demo - an hour-long campaign mission spread over a couple of islands in Odyssey's Aegean sea - is a tale of tragic love between two women - Bryce and Ligeia - who were forced to meet in secret because their love was forbidden. Their secret meeting place, chosen because no one went there, is in a forest of snakelike trees within which a monster was rumoured to live.
After a bit of island hopping to meet a mercenary with knowledge of the monster and combat against a group holding a key to its lair (who also keep bears and wolves you must also fight), you're back standing in front of the monster's front door with Bryce alongside you. While you have been adventuring, she has collected a flower to greet her lost lover with. Sadly, things do not go well.
In Odyssey, the curse of Medusa - becoming the monster which can turn others to stone - is a defense mechanism of a First Civ site. Ligeia is the latest person affected - and it is her you face. Medusa cuts a terrifying figure on the battlefield, and even though both you and her are top level, its not an easy fight. This is end-game content, not connected to the overall main story, but a significant questline regardless.
Holding a First Civ artefact yourself - the Spear of Leonidas, which in Odyssey you use instead of a Hidden Blade to assassinate people with - Medusa can, handily, not turn you into stone straight away. Instead, prolonged exposure to her eye gaze simply petrifies you into a golem-like figure, capable of trudging around the battlefield at a snail's pace. This is a real problem because of the footsoldier enemies Medusa summons in groups to keep you occupied - although fighting them fills your special ability bar quickly. A pattern of killing adds, moving in for special attacks on Medusa, then dropping back behind pillars to avoid her eye gaze gave me victory on my first try - but only just.
With Ligeia as Medusa defeated, and Bryce killed in the opening moments of the battle, you're left to stare at her flower left behind as the screen fades to black.
Ubisoft has come to Gamescom with a demo which should please most fans of the series - a mix of naval, combat and exploration gameplay with strong story themes. The publisher has also come to lay its cards on the table - with gameplay evolved from Origins and plenty of First Civ elements, a statement of why the game deserves its Assassin's Creed moniker. And then there's the other Assassin's Creed news from the show - the answer to fans concerned the series would return to an annual release cycle - that there will not be another game in 2019. This news benefits Odyssey. It calms those worried about series fatigue, and hopefully will make Odyssey feel more special when it launches, into a story for the ages.
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