A broken spear, a Greek tragedy, and a whole lot of choices make Odyssey one of 2018's best games.
It wasn't without a sense of disbelief that we learned just prior to E3 that Ubisoft were preparing another massive action-RPG in the Assassin's Creed franchise just one year after the series landmark that was Assassin's Creed Origins. Was there enough time to innovate on the new concept debuted in Origins? In some ways, the game felt very familiar to Origins, but once we went beyond the surface we found a title with plenty of features to make it stand out on its own.
Ancient Greece is perfectly suited for an Assassin's Creed game, and in many ways, it's a far better fit than Ancient Egypt thanks to its geography. Letting the player get around using a ship (that also serves as your home base) once more is a great design choice, especially after Black Flag made it so popular, and the open sea brings more variation than the fairly barren expanses of deserts and mountains that made up large parts of the Origins map. The likes of a city like Athens with the Acropolis and its Parthenon, and the lush green valleys of the mainland, the volcanic rocks of some of the more barren islands - it all made for a wonderful world to explore, and one rich enough that we never had time to grow tired of an area - a massive feat for a game we've easily spent a hundred hours in.
Odyssey is a game of choice, and your first is whether to play as Alexios or Kassandra. Now, while it does change some things, regardless of who you pick you'll play as the older sibling in a Spartan family which is struck by tragedy, and as a child you're exiled and forced to flee. You grow up on a small island called Kephallonia and become a Misthios, a mercenary, that is until the bigger world lands on your island and you're forced to deal with your past.
This entry offers a three-stranded narrative made up your family story, the Cult, and the First Civilisation, and we have to say they work well together to create a memorable narrative. You do make choices that affect how the story plays out - a first in the series - but the narrative isn't as flexible as in say a Bioware title, even if there are some neat twists you may experience depending on earlier choices. There are also several ways in which the game can end that change with your decisions and who is left alive.
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There are plenty of memorable moments along the story as Alexios and Kassandra learn more about their past, and the people you met during your adventure are fascinating. It's one of those games where you'll feel like taking a Wikipedia plunge or search out a history book after playing to learn more about the events depicted or referenced in the game. It was a time of war, but also of remarkable discovery. The family tragedy at the heart of the story has more twists and turns than we can count, and you're going to have to make some tough choices about how to deal with the truth or half-truths as they surface. Some of our favourite bits of the game had to do with the first civilisation, and this also ties into the mythological creatures you'll encounter towards the latter half of the game. We particularly enjoyed solving the riddles of the Sphinx and dodging Medusa's gaze.
Originally the Assassin's Creed series was all about stealth, but with this instalment in particular, stealth isn't the only way forward. In fact, you're unlikely to kill any of the stronger enemies simply through sneaking up behind them and sticking your broken spear in their backs. What's different between this game and Origins is the fact that you're mapping active abilities to your face buttons and that these have cooldowns. It gives the combat even more of an RPG flavour - a conscious decision from Ubisoft when considering the game as a whole - and while some of the abilities remind us more of a superhero game than a historically somewhat correct assassination title, they sure are fun to pull off.
As always, great attention to detail has been used to try and replicate the culture of the era, but with a setting this far back in time, it's harder than say the French Revolution or Victorian London. For example, the sea shanties your crew is singing as you sail the Aegean Sea are modern interpretations of poems, and songs created with the sort of themes we can only guess Greek sailors would have sung in those days.
After completing the three narrative strands of story there wasn't a terrible amount of endgame content in Odyssey beyond the neverending supply of bounties and fetch quests, but Ubisoft soon launched an ambitious program of free updates including plenty of questlines and new mythological beasts to slay, in addition to the two major DLC drops (each with three chapters) that make up the season pass (with the added bonus of a remastered Assassin's Creed III).
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With Origins and Odyssey proving that Assassin's Creed could evolve quite dramatically, we're keen to see where the series heads next and how the concept of choice is furthered in future chapters. What we do know is that Odyssey was among our favourite games in 2018, and is still expanding with further tales to keep you hooked into its adventure.