The Assassin's Creed franchise has been going through changes over the years, but last year's Origins was without a doubt the biggest change the franchise has seen since its start. Odyssey continues along the same path by adding a few more new features that further divert the game from its stealth-heavy action-adventure roots. There's still stealth, it's still an adventure, but the overall package is that of an open-world action-RPG and to be perfectly honest it's a change we welcome.
Assassin's Creed Odyssey steps back further in time than ever before, prior to Bayek founding of the brotherhood, but in some ways, this means the game offers more insights into the overarching lore of the first civilisation. And so in a bit of a weird twist, longtime fans will no doubt be intrigued not just by the historical setting (which is magnificent), but also about the first civilisation story arch. There are three main threads to the story, but they intertwine to create a tapestry of narrative that works surprisingly well even if the game is massive in terms of content, characters, and scale of the world.
Primarily, much like Origins, it's a story about family - a Greek tragedy if you will. Secondly, it's a story about taking down those responsible for the tragedy (the cult) and learning more about the first civilisation (this comes into play about halfway into the game). The latter part is really what the modern-day sections are about, but as in Origins, these are few, brief, and far between. As you'd expect from the series, it's a mix of serious issues, more light-hearted stuff, and some family intrigue that would make the writers of The Bold and The Beautiful jealous. For us, it's all about the characters and there were many we enjoyed getting to know along our Odyssey.
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The key new innovation here is player choice, and not just through dialogue but also through your actions. It starts with the first choice of protagonist between siblings Alexios and Kassandra. Basically what happens is that whoever you choose to play as becomes the older sibling in the story. Choices often have consequences later on, for instance, there's a cultist quest where you can choose to spare someone, but only if you've made a decision earlier to kill a target in private rather than creating a public spectacle. Choices also colour the dialogues with key individuals and whether you choose to speak of Gods or take a more pragmatic modern approach will shape the way Alexios or Kassandra comes across. If you've opted for violence in key scenes, this will also factor in at times. This can be more or less subtle, but overall it works well, and this is something that it's going to be hard to imagine Assassin's Creed going without in future installments.
Something that was part of Origins, but only in scripted sections (and perhaps our least favourite part of the game), was naval combat. Given the geography of Greece, there's naturally going to be more naval action, but here it's all tied into one open world, much like in Black Flag. While the bulk of the game takes place on the Greek mainland and the surrounding islands, it should be said that the ship battles are fun and well crafted, and the whole system for upgrading your ship (the Adestria) and recruiting crewmates adds depth. Often you'll have guests on the ship who'll update you on the mission you're undertaking, and there's always Barnabas, who happily handed you the captaincy after you saved him early on, who loves to chat about the adventures you've had ashore.
Combat may at first seem very similar to Origins, but the addition of abilities (that you map to the face buttons) and the removal of the shield (an odd choice for a game about a Spartan outcast), makes it very different, particularly as you've progressed a handful of hours into the game. You are supremely powerful in straight-forward combat thanks to your abilities, and the ability to heal really changes the way you tackle enemies. Dodges and parries replace blocking and make for more aggressive combat and the offensive abilities add to this. We also appreciate that you can respec skill points at any point (for a bunch of Drachmae), which means that you can adjust for a certain encounter or simply if you want to make your character focus more on skills in a certain tree (Hunter, Assassin, Warrior). Most players will likely create a useful mix of passive and active abilities, but being able to switch out skill points spent on abilities you don't use is always a good thing.
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One thing that puzzled us about the weapons is that upgrading them is now far more expensive. It felt great in Origins that simply through spending coin you could keep your favourite weapons levelled up without much issue. Here it's not enough with coins, but keeping your gear levelled up also requires a bunch of other resources (ridiculous amounts even), and so you'll most likely switch up your gear more to keep it at an appropriate level. One thing that helps in this regard is the engraving feature (also done at the blacksmith) which allows you to add a specific bonus to any weapon, whether it's an armour perk, warrior damage, or more potent poison. This allows for some customisation of the weapons and the need to keep specific ones levelled up diminishes. Still, this new economy does infringe on player freedom and spending 400 wood (a decent sized forest's worth) on updating a bow just feels completely off. We assume the lure of potential microtransactions is the culprit.
Assassin's Creed has a problematic history with certain previous games launched in unfinished states. Unity is the poster boy for a game that could have done with 2-3 more months of development, and while Origins was a massive step in the right direction, sadly Odyssey isn't as polished as its predecessor. It's not the sort of game-breaking stuff you'd find in Unity, but there is a wealth of smaller issues; pop-in textures, slight freezes when quickly moving through areas on horseback (before the region has finished streaming presumably), on a couple of occasions conversations seemed to use the wrong set of lines depending on a previous choice (at least it felt off), and the occasional floating horse and weird AI behaviour (there was some of that in Origins too, in all fairness). Loading times on PlayStation 4 Pro (the unit we tested the game on) are also excessive, and while it's natural to wait a while for the huge game world to load, we don't see why there's so much loading for cutscenes, and sometimes it even takes a few seconds for the map to load. This is one of those occasions where if we weren't rushing to finish the review we'd have waited for a couple of patches to drop before playing the game later. These are not game-breaking issues, but there are enough small annoyances here that it influences the overall impression.
Ancient Greece is a glorious place. The geographical diversity, the olive groves, the mountains, the islands, the sea, the caves, the beaches, and the plains: it all looks stunning. While some of the grandeur of Egypt with its pyramids and vast deserts is lost, the huge statues of Gods and the many temples make up for some of it. The game allows for two modes, Guided and Exploration. The latter works like in Origins where you need to use to map to find locations and get your eagle (Ikaros) to scout ahead. The guided mode works more like old AC titles and you get exact directions of where you need to go. Much like difference of finding your own way somewhere or using Google Maps.
The Peloponnesian War is raging in 431 BCE and this informs a system where you can help overthrow or defend the faction in control of various regions. Basically, you'll take on a few tasks to destabilise the region; kill a number of soldiers, pillage a treasure chest, burn some provisions, and kill off the leader. This, in turn, allows you to trigger a Conquest Battle, a brand new addition to the series where you enter a battlefield along with other soldiers and take out soldiers, captains, and the likes to win it for your side. It works well enough, and it fits with the fiction of being a mercenary, but it's doesn't feel like Assassin's Creed and this largely optional part of the game was not something we enjoyed as much as the rest.
What's important to note here is that, with the exception of a few main story missions, this part of the game is entirely optional. The objective isn't to win the war for one side, it's to learn about the fate of your family and bring down the cult, but if you enjoy this there are neat rewards in terms of gear and experience points to be gained.
Some of the best moments we had on our Odyssey were in part thanks to the new branching narratives. On Mykonos, we had to face off with a certain Spartan officer after having slept with his love interest and refused to engage in combat his way against the Athenians. We could have used his tactics, or we could have opted not to romance the island rebel. During a side mission, we inadvertently killed the quest giver's mother and slept with his father. He wasn't entirely happy with the outcome. This branching structure may be at its infancy in Odyssey, and it's not as evolved in say a Bioware title, but it's a great starting point and it definitely adds something to the game. Romancing is pretty much in the same category, where we'd like to have seen a bit more nuance, but it's still a fun addition that allows for more roleplaying.
The systemic side of things is also nice with the Mercenary system reminding us of the Nemesis system in Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War. At times we just raised hell in camps, sending our wanted level into dangerous zones with mercenaries coming in from various directions, which made things challenging to say the least.
One thing that was a slight disappointment was the tombs, they felt a bit underdeveloped and we rarely had to spend any time reaching that "stele", we would have liked to have seen more actual puzzle rather than mainly snakes and darkness and sliding under or destroying a wall.
It's been a while since we read up on ancient Greek history and mythology, but Odyssey certainly sparked our interest. It's difficult to imagine a place and time in history where there was such an incredible development in terms of medicine, politics, philosophy, and society, all in one place. That is perhaps the greatest takeaway from Odyssey, and while it fails to live up to the high bar set by Origins, it still manages to excel in some areas. It's clear that Ubisoft is trying to build a more systemic Assassin's Creed, one with a lot more busy work, where mercenaries create emergent gameplay, and where there's lots to do beyond the end of the main story and reaching level 50.
8 / 10
A massive and varied game world to explore, Choice is a meaningful addition to the AC formula, Brilliant time period for a game, Builds on the great foundation of Origins, Some truly memorable characters.
Lacks the same level of polish as Origins, Some may feel it strays too far from the Assassin's formula, Weapons upgrades cost too much, Tombs disappointed us.