Eleven years may have passed since Ubisoft released its first, cryptically advertised Assassin’s Creed game, but the historically fueled series is still going strong. It’s changed quite a bit since then, but is arguably better than ever, which is something that isn’t often said about a series with so many annual releases. Hell, it’s not something I even expected to be saying, after burning out on the games just a few years ago, and also feeling a similar type of burnout at the end of last year’s Assassin’s Creed: Origins, no matter how good it was.
Enter Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, a brand new and incredibly lengthy adventure that says goodbye to the sand and pyramids of Ancient Egypt in favour of the rocks, islands, olive trees and waterways of Ancient Greece. An interactive journey through a long ago time, which has received good press and word of mouth for allowing its players to choose from two different playable characters, one of whom happens to be a strong willed and incredibly brave woman. Now, the only question remains is whether it can live up to its predecessor, or even perhaps surpass it.
The good news is that the answers to both of those questions start with a Y and end with an S. This is arguably an even better and more enjoyable game than its most recent sibling, and that’s saying a lot. After all, Origins was a very good game, and ended up being a really nice surprise after a brief hiatus. It wasn’t perfect, though, and suffered from an issue pertaining to level scaling and XP rewards. This is something that Odyssey unfortunately carries forward, to its detriment.
As someone who tries to be as thorough as possible without getting too obsessive and going for 100% (which takes too much time when you play this many games, and can get boring), I tried to do a very full play through of Origins. I took my time, explored a lot, and did most of the side quests that I came across, making sure to earn lots of experience. I didn’t rush, nor did I take the easy route. Despite this, the end game was frustrating, because the story missions randomly jumped at least a couple of levels ahead of me and were unbeatable at my current level. The result was the need to spend hours grinding in order to level up enough to complete them at their listed level. Then, I took a break until the first piece of DLC came out, at which point I was greeted with the same thing. However, instead of jumping just a couple of levels ahead, the add-on’s main questline required me to be several levels ahead of where I was at the end of the main game, which felt very unfair. It led to me shelving the downloadable content. To be honest, I still haven’t gotten to it, but plan to do so soon.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey begins with conflict, and that conflict is the well documented Battle of 300, which is more accurately referred to as the Battle of Thermopylae. Those who took ancient history during high school or college will know all about it, as will those who watched the movie 300. At least, to some extent. It’s this ever important battle that kickstarts a tale about war, betrayal and revenge. A story in which a child who was presumed to be dead becomes an important player as he or she learns about their family history, and their personal significance within their home country.
Once things shift from the dark and bloody battlefield, and the opening cinematics play out, those who pick up and begin Odyssey are given a choice. Will they play as the buff, gruff and very manly Alexios, or his just as capable sister Kassandra? I, for one, went with Kassandra, because I wanted something different and was most interested in her version of the experience. I’d perhaps play as them both, but this is a 50 to 100 hour long game that we’re talking about, and it tailors itself based on your choice.
The character you choose is introduced as a mercenary with a past, and it isn’t long before they’re forced to deal with some local ne’er do wells. It’s this quest which kicks off a very, very long journey that is full of not only adventure, but also wonder and history. To say that it’s rich, deep and interesting would be to almost sell it short. This is a really good game, and one that will give you lots of bang for your buck.
Those who’ve played Origins will know what to expect here, but that’s not to say that this is an Origins clone bearing a new paint job. While Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey plays a lot like last year’s game, it introduces different gameplay mechanics, world systems and challenges. This includes the ability to seduce and go to bed with different NPCs, some of whom are part of major side quests. If you don’t wish to do this, you can choose other dialogue options that will lead to different results.
Dialogue plays more of a role here than it ever has before, and the choices allow one to tailor their character to their personality. At least, that’s the idea. Thus, you’ll often see choices with symbols beside them, one being a scale (that represents lying), another being a red X (that generally leads to combat because of its arrogance) and the other notable one being the heart that leads to flirtations and romantic ventures. Characters won’t just immediately go to bed with you, though. You’ll have to put some work in, usually by way of completing a side quest or three. Even then, you’ll have to choose your words wisely sometimes.
That said, up to the point I’m at, I’ve bedded four NPCs.
Another thing that dialogue options can lead to is recruitment. Like in previous Assassin’s Creed games, this particular one allows you to command your own ship. This is the way in which one gets around the many islands (both big and small) on this massive map of Ancient Greece. It plays out like it did before, for the most part. There’s ship combat, searchable shipwrecks and optional locations like an active volcano. By recruiting NPCs you do side quests for (and even enemies who can be knocked out and then asked to join up), you grow your crew and receive aid when boarding other ships. Boarding ships is the way in which you recover ship health, and get to steal what’s in each ship’s one or two treasure chests.
It maybe goes without saying, but it’s easy to get lost in just this part of the game if you’re a big fan of the naval stuff. There are bounties to take, ships to sink and places to explore. That, as well as some great sea shanties and encounters with Mother Nature in the form of storms, sharks, whales and dolphins. Beware of the sharks, because they’re assholes.
Getting lost (if you want to call it that) will also happen more often if you play on the game’s Exploration Mode, which gets rid of quest waypoints, leaving you to figure things out based on clues. It also allows you to change the HUD, so that it only shows what you want it to. Guided Mode is the other, and more traditional option.
Said ship can also be upgraded in parts. You can upgrade its hull for greater defense (and to allow for more secondary captains to be hired and equipped at one time), and can also upgrade every one of its weapon types, not to mention the stamina of its rowing team. This takes a lot of resources, though, and is something that you’ll want to do slowly over the course of this hefty game.
Truth be told, I’m not as interested in the naval content than I was before, back when it was new in Black Flag. I’ve done so much of it over the years that it’s not my favourite part of these games anymore. I prefer exploring on land, swimming underwater and checking out the caves, sinkholes and shipwrecks that lay beneath. That said, I’ve never avoided the ship stuff. You can’t really do so, anyways, since the islands are often so far apart and the boat plays an integral role in main missions, in which you must travel from one landmass to another or help other characters escape from captivity on one by way of another.
This really is a different landscape, too. Origins‘ Egypt was sandy and had limited amounts of water, with a realistic focus on golden deserts. It had quite a bit of wide open space (and some areas that I’ve still yet to visit because I’m just not leveled up enough). Odyssey, on the other hand, seems to make better use of its real estate. Sure, it has a lot of water, but there’s often something at the bottom, and its open landmasses feel more alive. Then again, this is likely due to the differences between Egypt and Greece, given that one is full of open desert. That said, while Odyssey does feel more alive, it doesn’t seem to convey the land’s cultures as deeply as its predecessor did. I haven’t encountered as many cultural quests, or seen as many day-to-day rituals
Another major addition comes in the form of the game’s Mercenary system, which relates to a bounty level that increases every time you do something bad. Kill a bunch of soldiers and it’ll go up. Conversely, if you steal from people, it will also rise. Said meter is sectioned off, and at each section point lays a mercenary’s helmet, making it feel like Grand Theft Auto‘s wanted system. When the first part of the meter is filled, a mercenary will be sent out into the world with orders to kill you, and as the meter continues to fill they’ll increase in numbers and difficulty. Eventually, it’ll get to the point where you’ll have no choice, really, but to run. It’s possible to take them all on, but it’s difficult and will often lead to death.
It is, however, possible to pay off your bounty to avoid having a uniquely named and leveled mercenary sent out after you, but where’s the fun in that? After all, this is an entire subsystem of the game, in which Kassandra and Alexios battle for top spot in the arena. Some mercenaries can be fought in said arena, and the top one is level 50 if I recall correctly. I came across him early on, and he reduced my health bar to nothing with one hit.
Mercenaries can be annoying, and can show up in numbers at the worst times, but they can also lead to some pretty badass fights. Some even have animals with them, and if it’s one thing that this version of Greece has in great numbers, it’s both vicious and innocent animals that can be hunted and skinned for leather. This includes deer, elk, cheetas, lions, sharks, and chickens (who get mean in a nod to The Legend of Zelda). Leather is just one supply you’ll want to collect and hoard, though, and is in addition to things like olive wood (for making arrows and upgrading both items and your ship) and iron ore. There are also crystals that can be mined and used for special upgrades.
Pretty much everything can be upgraded here, allowing you to keep using your favourite weapon, even if it was once outdated. This upgrading is done at blacksmiths, who will also offer you the option of engraving your items, which adds perks to them. Things like 1% more damage, 5% more fire damage and the like.
Last, but not least, is Odyssey‘s world of war. That is, an overlying mechanic that ties into the idea that the game is set during a war between the Spartans and the Athenians. Through this design, each island and major region has its own control meter, which lessens over time. One can reduce it, and the related control the sect has on the place, by killing captains, burning war supplies and looting treasures. Then, once the meter is near empty, the land’s leader will become vulnerable to attack, whereas he’s normally quite protected. This can also lead to attack and defend conquest missions, which vary in difficulty (it’s easier to defend than attack, if I recall correctly) and are basically just big open battles that have consequences. Success in them depends on more than just the player, too, because if your side’s health meter empties (due to NPC soldier deaths) then you’re screwed, no matter how many enemies you personally killed.
War is the backdrop, here, and you won’t forget that while playing. It’s talked about quite a bit, and even bounty quests (some of which are naval, others of which take place on land) will ask you to kill a certain amount of one side’s soldiers. They’ll also ask you to take out pirate or merchant ships, and will be timed. Some even give a special type of currency as a reward, and that currency can be used to buy special weapons.
Behind everything, though, lays a cult, much like in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. This cult’s members can be researched (through side quests and that type of thing), then unmasked. After that, it’s possible to go after, fight or assassinate them. Doing this helps your quest, and also provides rewards that can be used to upgrade a specific weapon, which must be upgraded a certain amount in order for some of the game’s better abilities to be unlocked through skill point usage. These abilities give Kassandra and Alexios an edge, by providing increased damage, allowing for healing and even setting their weapons on fire or tainting them with poison. Some also allow for better arrow attacks, such as being able to shoot three arrows at once, or slow down time. One even lets you fire off a mortar-like arrow attack.
The aforementioned abilities are mostly handled via an adrenaline system. Adrenaline is a meter that quickly builds up through successful attacks and kills, and appears below one’s health bar. Each time you use an ability, it drains a bit.
Needless to say, this is a game with lots going on. To see everything that Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey has to offer, you’re probably looking at at least one hundred hours of gameplay. Even then, there will likely be things that you’ll miss. This game is massive, and it offers a lot of value.
To that point, I must admit that I’ve yet to completely finish this game. Although I pride myself on completing the games that I review, and have always pushed and pressured myself to do just that, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to beat this one in time to get a timely review up. Thus, I’ve decided to write my review now, at about level 21 and 20 hours into the campaign. I don’t expect much to change, gameplay wise, and feel that I’ve seen most of what the game has to offer outside of its story, which continues to be of interest. I keep meeting important historical figures, like Sokrates, and look forward to seeing where things go. I’ve also visited several islands so far, and expect many to still be locked once I complete the final quests, as a way to entice me to level up more and more.
As I did with Origins, I’m taking my time and trying to play through the campaign as thoroughly as possible. This means exploring, doing as many side quests as I can and not rushing anything. Despite this, I’m leveling up slowly and am finding it a lengthy process. In other RPGs, I do so many side quests that I’m often ‘over-leveled’ for the main quest line, but it’s hard to get to that point here, especially since certain things scale to the player’s level. It feels as if Ubisoft has slowed the leveling process, and it doesn’t help that the game also allows you to make things earlier by buying advertised ‘time savers’ from its store using real money and microtransaction processes. One allows you to level up faster than normal, and provides extra skill points.
Truth be told, I’m taking my time more than ever before, because I don’t want what happened with Origins to happen to me at the end of this game. I was hoping that leveling wouldn’t be a problem here, too, but unfortunately it seems to be one.
Going in, I was also worried that I would burn out quickly. The break between the last two games’ release dates was appreciated, and allowed me to enjoy the Egyptian adventure more than I maybe otherwise would have given that I was getting burned out on the previous games. As a result, I expected to not enjoy this one as much as I actually have. To be honest, though, it did take a little while to really get into it. Now, I’m having a hard time pulling away from the thing and it’s probably become my favourite Assassin’s Creed game yet. The start was a little rough, but as it’s opened up it’s become great.
Combat also isn’t an incredible strength of Odyssey, which was also the case with Origins. It’s pretty good, does its job and is better than what came before it, but it’s not as deep as it could be and gets repetitive after a while. Your options are light and heavy attacks, and the latter are generally required for breaking shield-based blocks of heavy and shielded enemies. Of course, all of this depends on which weapon type(s) you have equipped, be it swords or spears, hammers or mallets. Light or heavy, if you will. That, as well as how much you stand back and use your bow, which continues to play a big role here.
One thing that this game truly is, though, is beautiful. Almost every region has its own look and colour palette, be it the dark and gloomy volcano with its ashen exterior and orange lava, or the many settled islands which don’t resemble each other too much. On one, you’ll be venturing through fall-like forests, where coloured leaves steal the show. Then, on another, colourful flowers will overwhelm your eyes. Each area has different geography, towns and cities, and they’re all fun to explore. It all looks really beautiful, too, thanks to all of the above as well as a great lighting system that allows for some truly impressive day to night cycles.
The vistas, they’re something else. So, too, are some of the views from the ocean. The same goes for the facial animations in some of the game’s main and major secondary quests.
Thankfully, the dialogue, sound effects and voice acting are also all up to par, and are probably the best we’ve had in an Assassin’s Creed game. Kassandra’s voice actor did the best of the bunch, though, and that makes me happy about my choice to play as her. All of this dialogue, coupled with very realistic sound effects and rich music, combine to create a very immersive and believable historical world. One that just so happens to be massive, and is apparently the largest in series history.
With all that being said, there’s no need to really say any more, but Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey truly is a very good game. It is also arguably the best Assassin’s Creed game yet, and that’s saying a lot after Origins. If you’ve been a fan of any of these games, or happen to be a history junkie, then you’re in for a treat. Newcomers also needn’t hesitate when it comes to this one, because it’s packed full of content that could easily last a hundred hours or more. It’s also one of the best titles of the year.
**This review is based on the Xbox One X version of the game, which we were provided with.**
- Beautiful, rich and immersive
- Tons of content
- Leveling takes a long time
- (Optional and very gross) microtransactions aplenty
- Combat could be deeper, less repetitive