Los Angeles - Assassin’s Creed, one of the most recognisable game franchises, is having something of a renaissance.
Released last year, Assassin’s Creed Origins was a complete reset for the series and heavily moved the games towards being a fully-fledged role-playing game. As far as I’m concerned, it paid off. Origins was beautiful to look at, challenging to play and it felt like the developers had created something really solid to build on.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is the next game in the series, and from the hour or so I spent exploring the vast oceans and idyllic islands of Ancient Greece it looks like we might have another winner on our hands.
The game uses the same engine as Origins, and short of three very big changes (which I’ll go into in a moment), it looks and feels exactly the same. Ubisoft are playing it safe then, which is fine by me.
While it feels the same, the first of the three changes they’ve made fundamentally alters the whole Assassin’s Creed series: You can choose to play as a male or female, for the entire game.
That sounds silly, but for over a decade Assassin’s Creed has focused on the character that Ubisoft created for you. You were simply there for the ride, and for most of those journeys you played as a man.
You can play as either Alexios or Kassandra, a mercenary who is descended from Leonidas himself and carries the legendary Spartan King’s spear.
This shouldn’t be a big deal and the industry has been painfully slow in accepting that over half of its audience is actually female. Times are changing and the last 24-months have seen the release or reveal of games like Horizon Zero Dawn, Tomb Raider, Cyberpunk, The Last of Us Part 2 and now Odyssey. All of these games have a female lead character.
The second big change in Odyssey is that there are now multiple-choice answers to every conversation, and the choices you make can have potentially devastating consequences on the characters around you.
It also means that you can now build and develop relationships the characters around you, so much so that Ubisoft has confirmed that you can even become romantically involved with some of them.
By letting you choose how you approach conversations and situations Assassin’s Creed has finally moved into fully-fledged RPG territory.
The last big change is to the combat. You no longer have a shield, this is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it makes the combat feel far quicker, and more fluid. You can’t just stand back and wait for the right moment, instead you’re constantly moving - dodging and parrying as you look for weak spots.
The curse is that it makes the barrier for entry much higher. A shield gave you a safety net, however in Odyssey you’re thrown in at the deep end.
To compensate Odyssey presents you with a new feature - four powerful ‘super’ attacks which can be swapped in or out and customised to the four directions on the D-pad. One of them is a hilariously lavish ’300′ style Spartan kick that sends the recipient flying off across the ground, another removes a shield from an enemy and then promptly uses it to punt them again, flying across the ground.
They can also be passive or active with one of them allowing me to instantly restore a portion of my health. They’re not permanently available and can only be earned through fighting enemies. It took me a while to really get the hang of them, but by the end I was commando rolling and Spartan kicking my way around the battlefield.
The game itself is set across Greece and the many islands that surround it. To get around you’ll run, ride on your horse or as has become customary with the series, take control of your ship and engage in huge naval battles.
The naval component of the game again feels almost identical to that of Origins with the objective being to cripple or ram enemy ships until they can be boarded and their loot stolen.
As is tradition with Assassin’s Creed one of the characters I encountered during my demo was Socrates (spelled Sokrates in the game). The philosopher is apparently a close personal friend of yours and in the brief conversation I had with him I was given a small mission which thanks to the multiple choice chat system allowed me to approach it in the way that I wanted.
Having completed the mission (saving a man from a prison), the developer turned round and revealed that despite being nothing more than a side-mission the way I had approached it would have massive consequences later on in the game.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey feels like they’re heading in a really interesting direction with the series. By taking the excellent foundations of Origins and then building more RPG-elements on top of it they’ve created a game that finally lets you feel like the individual choices you make might actually affect the world around you.
Throw in some shameless ’300′ style combat, a philosopher and the game’s beautiful setting and Odyssey is shaping up to be a worthy addition to the series.
HuffPost UK has travelled to the E3 video games conference with the help of Activision. Our journalism remains entirely independent.