The start of Assassin's Creed Odyssey sees King Leonidas in a familiar position. It's 300 all over again as against all odds the Spartans fend off the Persians only to be betrayed. It's an introduction players will recognise (most likely from Zach Snyder's movie) and it also introduces players to two of the main new features all in one fell swoop, the character abilities (Leonidas is naturally a high-level character) and the large-scale conquest battles.
"What I like about the Spartan angle is that it's something that's very accessible for our audience, for the people who like video games," says seinor producer Marc-Alexis Côté. "Everybody when you say Sparta thinks about 300 and it forges an image of what the game could be. It's the reason why we begin with the battle of the 300, because it's something that will ease you into this experience that we have built."
We're then treated to a present day sequence starring Layla Hassan, we're not going to spoil the present day scenario fully here, but basically she has come across a relic, the broken spear of King Leonidas, and there are two strands of DNA on it and this is where the player gets to choose to play as either Alexios or Kassandra, both ancestors of Leonidas. This is where you pick to play as either brother or sister. It's not two different stories, instead regardless of who you choose you end up as the older sibling who for a reason we won't spoil here finds him or herself exiled as a child. We're not allowed to explain exactly how this comes to happen and in fact, we've only witnessed brief flashbacks and the actual truth behind this is something you're going to have to play through the full game in order to uncover.
The family mystery is one of three major narrative pillars, and the one Ubisoft Quebec considers the main one, comparable to the main narrative of Origins with Bayek and his family. Then there's the Cult narrative, which ties to the family narrative in that these are the people responsible for the fate that befell your family. Finally, there's a third pillar to do with the First Civilisation, and this is represented with mythological themes and has ties to the present day story of Layla Hassan.
If our first taste of Odyssey allowed us a look at the what the content to do with the Cult, hunting down those who wronged your family (the E3 demo on Mykonos, considered regional content), then Gamescom offered a look at the first civilisation ties, through the Medusa questline (endgame content on Lesbos). It's important to note here that Odyssey doesn't tread into fantasy territory with its take on mythological creatures, instead, there are explanations tied to first civilisation artifacts. Finally, this look at the start of the game offered insight into the main story of Odyssey, why you're a Spartan in exile, and what your motivations are as you search for the truth behind what happened. We got to play the first two acts, roughly seven hours worth of gameplay on PS4 Pro.
The game starts out on the island of Kephallonia (Cephalonia), west of the Greek mainland, where Alexios or Kassandra washed ashore as an orphaned youngster. Fast forward to 431 BCE, you're a young man or woman, a mercenary (misthios) and a fairly capable one at that. You're first made to deal with a couple of thugs sent by the "Cyclops", a kingpin type who's apparently not too keen on our hero/heroine. This sequence immediately introduces you to the sort of choice and consequence gameplay you'll find in Odyssey. You can opt to just administer a beating and let them off with a warning or kill them. We opted for the former, and just a bit further down the round they were joined by a couple more thugs who attacked us on sight. That's a short-term reaction, but there are also more longterm consequences to your choices. We also meet a young girl named Phoibe right at the start, and she plays an important role in the early part of the game and your relationship with her is also one that will be affected by how you choose to deal with certain events.
It turns out a man named Markos saved you and raised you as you washed up on Kephallonia. While you're a misthios now, he's something of a small-time swindler whose latest scheme involves running a vineyard. You'll soon find out that Markos borrowed money from the Cyclops to buy the vineyard, and knowing next to nothing about making wine, he's not able to pay what he owes. A pretty convenient set up for some early fetch quests, but ultimately dealing with the Cyclops will open up the storyline involving your family.
We mentioned Phoibe earlier and the young girl will be involved in a side quest that is another great example of how choices change the world of Odyssey. Phoibe, who adores you and almost thinks of you as a God, asks you to help her friend who lives in a nearby village, apparently, it's been hit with an illness. As you get to the region you see burnt down houses and a priest with soldiers holds a family captive. You can choose to let them kill the family, possibly allowing this deadly disease to spread, or allow the priest to go about his business. Your relationship with Phoibe will be affected in the short- and long-term, but perhaps more importantly if you return to Kephallonia later on in the game something dramatic may have come to pass. It's nice to see here that there's no magic concoction you can search out by mixing herbs, instead you're faced with a decision that has severe consequences either way.
You learn of a group of foreigners, possibly in league with the Cyclops (he's not a mythological creature, by the way, just a large man who lost one of his eyes), and you go to take them out in an abandoned house they've made their own. Turns out this was a test by someone called Elpenor, and he's not done with the tests, as he wants you to collect Penelope's shroud (or part of it) on the nearby island of Ithaka, in the ruins of Odysseus' old palace (an example of how history and mythology are woven together in Odyssey). Here we retrieve the shroud, proving our capacity to Elpenor, but we also run into a woman named Odessa, claiming to be a descendant of Odysseus, who'll have her own questline and side story as we made it to the mainland.