A little warning, this is a general review of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, any spoilers contained are minor, or background details from the first hour or so of the game. A second article discussing the full story will come soon!
Last year, Ubisoft seemed to achieve the impossible. They took an annual series that many of us had written off as stale and done, and revamped it. I personally didn’t review it at the time because quite frankly, I didn’t play it last year. Well, I did, for an hour or two. I rushed my way through the early portion of the game and quickly found myself under leveled and unable to continue. Out of frustration, I stopped playing.
The reason I was so frustrated was that I was trying to play Assassin’s Creed Origins like any previous Assassin’s Creed game, a pure action game you could steam through in a weekend. As we know, that’s not what Origins is. I gave up on it, something I would later regret. In an act of protest, I took the position of “meh” when Ubisoft announced this new direction for the series. It panged of a cash grab. I felt like Origins was trying to be The Witcher 3 like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was trying to be Titanfall, a big soulless company just trying to capitalise off the success of whatever’s popular.
Now don’t get me wrong, that is exactly what happened. Assassin’s Creed is doing its level best to be The Witcher, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having gone back to Origins recently I’ve seen how well it stands on its own. It’s an excellent game and does well to set the Assassin’s Creed series on a new track. The reason I went back and finished it was to prepare myself for this, reviewing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. This is my favourite period in history so I am all about this setting. Enough preamble, let’s get started on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
The opening of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey serves to acclimatise players to the time and setting with an event most players are likely to know a little about, the battle of Thermopylae. This battle is best known as the story behind the film 300, in which 300 Spartans (as well as several thousand other soldiers from all across Greece who rarely get a look in) held the million-strong Persian army for three days at the pass of Thermopylae. It’s a legendary story that put King Leonidas in today’s lexicon, so of course, you get to play as him. In fact, his relevance plays throughout the story as your character, Alexios or Kassandra, uses the tip section of Leonidas’ spear as their main stabby thing. Turns out, Leonidas’ spear is a relic of the precursors and has incredible power. Convenient!
From there we jump to the modern day, and we see Layla from the last game. If you played Origins, you might be intrigued to know what happens next in Layla’s story. You might think something really important might be going on when she makes her appearance in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Well, you’d be wrong! She shows up, finds Leonidas’ spear under three rocks, then gets into the Animus. Now that’s a plot development if ever I saw one. After twenty hours the game has gone back to Layla once, so if there is much to her story it must be deep in this game.
When the game starts proper you play as either Alexios or Kassandra, the grandchildren of Leonidas. In my game I chose Kassandra, so for the sake of clarity, I’ll be speaking from that perspective. Kassandra’s story begins on the island of Kephallonia. She’s a misthios, or mercenary, by trade. In the early game, we learn her back-story; Kassandra was born in Sparta into an important military family. When she was a child, a prophecy was told that her infant brother Alexios would grow up to bring ruin to Sparta. When a priest takes the boy to a cliff to throw him off, Kassandra interferes. In the end, both she and her little brother go over the cliff edge. Miraculously, Kassandra survives. With nothing but her grandfather’s spear in hand, Kassandra runs away and takes a boat out to sea. Her boat wrecked by a storm, Kassandra washes up on the island of Kephallonia where a merchant named Markos finds her. He takes her in and raises her to be his personal mercenary. We join an adult Kassandra as she finds herself on the cusp of an adventure that will take her all across the Greek world, an Odyssey if you will.
On Kephallonia, we get a taste the basics of the game. Combat, stealth, exploration, interaction. Those last two are important new developments in Odyssey, the way you find things and talk to people have changed. When starting the game, you are asked to choose if you would like to play in exploration mode. This means rather than the game giving you exact directions, on many quests you will be given clues as to where to go. These consist of directions like north of a particular landmark, or in the southern area of a particular region. Once you’re within range, you can pass off to your eagle friend Ikaros to pinpoint your objective. The eagle works much the same as it did in Origin, marking enemies and chests. Exploration mode adds to the fun of, well, exploring. Having the eagle means you’ll never really be lost and keeps the game from becoming frustrating.
The other major change has been the new dialogue system and how you interact with characters. There is a lot more choice involves now, along with the standard “your actions have consequences” we’re so used to hearing. I’ve seen some of this in action, nothing world changing but some of my decisions in the game have come back around to haunt me. The dialogue is generally well written, and Kassandra is well voices (a big part of my decision to play as her), but there are issues.
If you’ve played games like The Witcher 3 or Mass Effect, you’ll be used to the way characters animate while speaking. In games like these, you’re dealing with probably hours and hours of dialogue, and it would be a Herculean task to animate every character for every line. Also, with so many dialogue options you’re going to get a lot of lines that are recorded completely separately, even if they come one after another. Sometimes, the tone can be a bit off, I found one time when Kassandra was suddenly very angry mid conversation, then back to normal the second after. I bring up Witcher and Mass Effect because they are excellent examples of what I’m talking about, but aside from the rare misstep, I think Odyssey applies this system better than they did.
I’ve heard a lot of people who are concerned, and rightly so, that this is just the mechanics of Origins lifted and placed in a new setting. Assassin’s Creed fatigue hasn’t evaporated, so much as cooled off. With two AC games in two years, it does feel right back to where we were (Ubisoft has announced they are taking another year off from releasing major AC games, so no main sequel in 2019). Much like how Assassin’s Creed 3 brought in some new elements that Assassin’s Creed 4 built an incredible game on, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes the ball and runs to the end zone with it. Everything Origins started, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey makes it better. The combat feels better, the exploration is more fun, the world is filled with things to do. Origins was Assassin’s Creed dipping its toe into the RPG waters. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey lives there, and that makes all the difference.
One of the things I didn’t see coming was just how much the changes to combat would strengthen how much this game feels like a true RPG. In particular, the new skill tree. You can unlock a variety of active and passive skills, from upgrading your assassination damage to the famous Sparta Kick which is just as satisfying as it should be. Going in, I thought all these extra abilities would be a pain to manage. However, they’re non-intrusive and add a lot. You could go on hardly using your extra skills and be fine, but they can be very powerful and seriously fun. Your extra combat abilities feel very classic RPG, with cooldowns and a meter that must be filled for you to use them. You can even unlock the ability to heal, a feature Origins really could have used.
There really is a lot to this game. Case and point, there are three entire tabs on the pause menu I have yet to address. Let’s start with the Mercenaries tab. Fairly straightforward, there are mercenaries all over Greece and here you will find them ranked and tiered off. As your character is a mercenary, you too are among the ranks and must climb up the tiers by taking on other mercenaries and defeating them. As with the phylakitai in Origins, the roaming mercenaries are there to hunt you down should you end up with a bounty on you. Now on the map screen, you can see who exactly is paying the bounty, and you can pay it yourself or kill the benefactor to put an end to it. Hunting down mercenaries and moving up the tiers will net you bonuses like reduced prices and blacksmiths and so on.
It wouldn’t be much of an odyssey without a ship, and you have the good ship Adrestia to get you all around the islands of Greece. Along with your own upgrades, your ship needs upgrading as well. On the Ship tab, you can upgrade your hull, archers, oars, with the resources you collect throughout the game. As well, you recruit lieutenants who improve your ship’s stats. When out in the world, defeating enemies without killing them gives you the opportunity to recruit them for your ship. Basically, at all times, you can be doing something to improve your ship.
The third tab is something I don’t want to be too specific about in the interest of spoilers, but the targets tab from Origin returns. It takes quite a while to uncover this part of the game, so I’ll spare the specifics. What I will say is there are a lot more targets for you to assassinate, and plenty of investigating for you to do.
Has it become clear yet why I need to break this up into parts? Seriously, this is a huge game. If you look around the net you’ll see plenty of other outlets saying the same. This was just a run through of the various faculties of the game, not to mention the story of Alexios/Kassandra and how it develops into the world of Assassin’s Creed. There’s so much to unpack here, and I heartily recommend you unpack it for yourself. If you were ever an Assassin’s Creed fan, get Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. If you want another Witcher that’s a little lighter in tone but with all the adventure and exploration, you want this. I’m as jaded with big AAA games as the rest of you, but this is the quality you expect from a big studio.
For all their faults (which are as numerous as they are severe), Ubisoft has gotten it right with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Also, you can spend actual money to give your character and XP boost, so I take back everything nice I said about Ubisoft. Good game though.
Come back soon as I continue my adventure in part two of my review of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.