I've put around 12 hours into this since starting it Tuesday morning.
I'm mainly going to focus on the additions and changes to the formula since Origins as I feel like there's many posts of mine already extolling the virtues of that game.
Exploration mode is one of the major new additions. It lets you strip away a lot of quest markers and gives you clues as to a place/person etc. you have to find, so instead of just pointing you towards your target and placing a marker down for you it'll say 'South of Mount Apollo', 'West of Athens', 'near Fort Marmaris' or something like that and you'll have to use your own deductions to find your way there, sometimes having to speak to someone who will then point you in the direction of your destination or having to investigate an area to find where a certain person of interest went next. As soon as you get close to your destination it'll pop up with 'you're close, use Icarus - fucking eagle - to find target' which takes away a bit of the mystery but it still remains more satisfying and engaging to play this way, I was sceptical and didn't think I'd bother with it but it's the intended way to play the game and I can't recommend it enough, just helps immerse you in the world that little bit more.
They've also added a dialogue tree to almost every conversation you can engage in. Almost straight away the game starts you off engaged in conversation and you have to choose your responses for the first time ever in an AC game - which as a long time fan I was genuinely exhilarated about. On the surface of it it's a small detail but having that ability to pick your own choices deeply enhances your engagement to certain quest-lines and conversations, instead of sitting passively by and waiting for a conversation to be over so you can get on with the quest at hand you feel more proactive and engaged every step of the way so when you finish the conversation.
It also means you've got more agency to make your own choices, I've had one mission where I saved some villagers from some enemy soldiers and they thanked me by giving me their life savings in Gold - you can either take it or tell them to keep their money and go on your way. There was another mission where some villagers stole some supplies from a Spartan caravan, I found them in a cave and could've slaughtered the lot of them but I decided to let them live and went back to my Spartan soldier quest giver only to end up empty handed, save for a 'Sparta thanks you' as a reward. Certain quests that have you finding select treasure you can lie about and say you found nothing, pocketing the trinket yourself and things like this. Granted, none of this is new in the RPG-sphere but it feels very new and fresh when implemented so superbly in an AC game. The new romance options are sure to delight too, so far I've only managed to sleep with one lady but I had to work to get her to that point!
Complimenting the new dialogue tree is a brand new quest structure which I've not really seen before in an AC game. It kind of makes everything meld into one, even the main story quests aren't given particular gravitas at all, they're just on your quest menu and have you doing small tasks which will eventually add up to something bigger later on, they can also run into a variety of side quests and overlap. Again, other RPGs have done this before so it isn't anything special per se but to see them overlap to such an expert degree that it feels incredibly organic is a real triumph. Origins had a similar idea but everything still felt a little disjointed at times but here everything feels seamless.
Full fat Naval Combat returns from AC4. In Origins there were brief sections of Naval combat but most of your time on the seas was spent in rafts and basic sail boats. Within the first 5 hours of this you're given your own boat and free reign to go wherever you'd like on the high seas complete with Naval missions like sinking x number of ships and being able to board enemy ships and slaughter their crew - just like you could in AC4. Another return from AC4 are the sea shanty's, which just are a delight and help add to the tranquillity when you're sailing around on the open seas. I don't yet know whether other AC4 naval options like hunting down legendary ships, taking over Naval forts etc. are going to be in the game but I hope they are.
You can also fully upgrade your ship by picking up supplies floating in the sea and sinking ships. Making it stronger and stronger by upgrading the Hull, archer capacity, adding new weapons like a flaming pot and things like that. Along your travels you can recruit lieutenants who work on the ship and give various perks to you and your crew along the way.
The Phylakes system in Origins - where certain actions would make a strong enemy hunt you down throughout the world - has been expanded into the new 'mercenary' system which acts quite similarly to the Nemesis system in the Middle-Earth games. You start off on the bottom tier and work your way up hunting down - and being hunted - by stronger mercenaries eventually working your way up to the top. I really liked the Phylakes in Origins and I like the system again in this, it definitely feels more fleshed out this time around and the incentives for working your way up the leaderboard to be a legendary mercenary make the whole system more compelling.
Without giving anything away about the story, it is already quite a bit better than Origins’ so far. Whilst I did like Origins’ freeform mission structure (and the way you could pick and choose which targets you want to take down and when) the story feels much more focused in this - at the moment anyway - with a lot of cutscenes, flashbacks and interesting, intriguing characters who you can’t quite tell their motivations. The dialogue tree plays its hand in the story missions too with you being able to make key decisions about whether you want to let a certain person live or die and the narrative shifting based on your decision, I’m sure there will be many more like this as the game goes on as well. This helps keep you invested in Alexios/Kassandra’s story quite a bit more, and it took me a good minute or two to make my first key decision and was an unusually emotional for an AC game.
The combat and upgrade system is largely the same as Origins but you seem to be a bit more limited in the abilities you can equip at any one time which means you can’t just spam special attacks over and over until an enemy is defeated. If you liked the combat system in Origins you’ll like it here, it is still very satisfying to take down a difficult enemy and the new abilities help you feel like more of a badass, especially the Spartan Kick which feels amazing to kick some high level fort boss off a cliff. The ability tree itself seems to be much more toned down compared to Origins as well with far less clutter and superfluity, you can only equip 4 melee and 4 ranged abilities at one time as well which helps you not get overpowered too quickly in the game.
The Greek setting itself I haven’t found quite as fascinating to explore as Egypt so far. Egypt felt so distinct and different in its art styles and environment whereas this can feel at times like a lot of other RPGs with European settings. Nevertheless, it is still incredibly beautiful and walking through a town and watching the inhabitants go about their daily routines or seeing the sun go down over the Mediterranean is spellbinding, it is still such an incredibly easy game to get utterly lost in. I’m sure once I experience more of the Aegean Islands and Athens things will begin to feel more distinctly Greek.
Safe to say I’m besotted with it so far, it's maybe got a little less of the evocative magic that made Egypt feel so vivid and memorable in Origins but it makes up for it in pretty much every other way. I’d put it on the same level as Witcher 3 so far and it’s probably one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played.