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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is huge. But beyond the enormity of it’s scale it’s also a very dense game. Every minute a new location is discovered whether it’s a cave, sunken temple or massive fort. This density is one of the game’s greatest strengths but also it’s greatest weakness. In making sure we see every lovingly detailed inch of Ancient Greece Ubisoft have packed the latest game in this sprawling franchise with too much to do. With that said almost all of it is worth doing.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey brings players back the furthest they’ve ever been in the Assassin’s Creed universe. Set in 431 BC at the beginning of the Pelopennesian War between Athens and Sparta and their respective allies the game follows either Alexios or Kassandra – the child of a Spartan General – left to fend for themselves as a misthios (mercenary) after some family drama turned sour. From there they embark on their titular Odyssey in the hopes of finding their estranged family, winning the war and defeating the evil Cult of Kosmos.
As Kassandra or Alexios – I chose Kassandra – you can fight, flirt and talk your way around Ancient Greece’s many islands. Whereas Alexios comes across as a bit of a meathead with a tendency for yelling Kassandra can be as loud or as subtle as the player demands. From what I’ve seen of Alexios the story is better played as Kassandra whose actress, Melissanthi Mahut, does an excellent job of portraying her as a tough-as-nails but vulnerable mercenary making the most of her new life and destiny.
As with all Assassin’s Creed games various historical figures pop up. The Pelopennesian War was a uniquely vibrant time in Greek history with philosopher Sokrates, historian Herodotos and physician Hippokrates all joining you at various points in your journey. Even Leonidas of the 300 Spartans appears now and again as your character possesses the spear he fought with at Thermopylae in place of the famous hidden blade. Still some of the best characters are originals including your plucky young friend Phoibe and the ever-positive captain of your ship Barnabas.
Ship combat and travel plays a big part in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Where it was reserved for several missions in Origins it comes to the fore in Odyssey. Your ship – the Adrestia – can be upgraded and personalised. Ship combat often takes place on the high seas and consists of ramming the enemy ship and filling it with as many arrows and flaming javelins as possible before boarding. From there normal combat ensues and, for me, it mostly consisted of kicking every enemy into shark infested waters. Without proper tactics and maneuvering the Adrestia can often find itself caught between ships so out-maneuvering enemy galleys while contending with rolling swells and incoming storms often proves just as challenging as land combat.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, like Origins before it, cleverly takes it’s combat cues from the likes of The Witcher 3 and the Dark Souls series. The hit box based system is varied and quick but not without it’s challenges. Even basic enemies are incredibly diverse and the more armour they have the better they can resist your stealth attacks. Still provided you know the limitations of your character and their abilities the combat can be mastered.
Most enemies are leveled to your own level meaning combat is never a complete walk in the park. Unless, that is, you find yourself positioned on a tall building or cliff. Whether you prefer the ranged or stealth attacks or the straight-up hack-and-slash style of combat the Spartan Kick ability is an absolute necessity. This entry level ability enables you to kick your enemies – Gerard Butler in 300 style – a fair distance. Fall damage doesn’t discriminate in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and even the most powerful enemies can find themselves broken and bleeding on the rocks below.
No matter your preferred playstyle Assassin’s Creed Odyssey accommodates. I like to sneak around and only engage in combat when it either suits me or everything goes pear-shaped. Things go pear-shaped a lot but Odyssey provides the tools should this happen. Time slows when a soldier notices you allowing you ample time to chuck your spear and silence him. At later levels you can even chain the attack which can clear out small camps in no time. Other abilities allow you to shoot guided arrows, poison your enemies or fire five arrows at once like Legolas. Axes, swords, spears, clubs, daggers and maces make up the weapons and each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. I’m a spear and sword guy but I know that if I were to switch Odyssey wouldn’t punish me for it.
The only punishment in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey comes in the form of the leveling system. Though it posits itself as an open world game enemies in a good deal of the islands and mainland are often far above your own level. Admittedly it’s not a huge problem but the leveling system is just slow enough that you’d almost consider buying what the game calls ‘time savers’. Essentially microtransactions in the form of experience boosts they are entirely optional but the grinding nature of leveling up is occasionally irritating enough that I can see why it’s there. It shouldn’t be though. Often I found myself draining areas of even their dullest features just to get the experience I needed to move on to the next area. It doesn’t help when certain parts of the main quest line are five or six levels above your own.
Still Assassin’s Creed Odyssey compensates for these irksome features with some fun new ones. One part of the main quest line has you hunt down members of the Cult of Kosmos. The Cult is a more developed version of the Order of Ancients from Orgins. A branching tree displays all the discovered and hidden cultists. Some are revealed through the investigation of clues related to them. Others are directly connected to the main story. It’s a lot of fun tracking the higher up cultists down especially when you factor in the hefty reward for each cultist killed.
Again taking a cue from a popular Action RPG, this time from Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Odyssey introduces its own version of the Nemesis System. Kassandra (or Alexios) aren’t the only mercenaries in the Ancient Greek world. Occasionally bounties are placed on you and on other mercenaries and though it rarely ties into the main story hunting or avoiding them provides a tense challenge. As a mercenary you’re often called upon by various people to help out not least the Spartans and Athenians. Destroy enough of their supplies or kill enough of their soldiers and you’ll trigger a Conquest Battle.
These pitched battles are fine for the most part but they lack the originality of the open world that surrounds them. The objective is pretty simple: kill enough enemies and you win but simple doesn’t necessarily mean good. The uniform terrain means you’re often stuck running in circles away from the half dozen soldiers chasing you desperately looking for a yellow marker signifying a commander. This part of the game – a few story missions aside – is pretty easy to avoid and I don’t really see why they put it in at all.
In some of the best games war functions merely as a backdrop as in The Witcher 3. Why then should players participate in a cyclical and – at the time of this review – seemingly never-ending war? Admittedly these battles are handy for some experience points or better gear but you can find these things anywhere else in the world. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey would not be worse off without this feature. In fact I’d say it would be better off. It’s just one more distraction in a game full of them.
It’s pretty easy to get distracted in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey just by staring at things. The game world looks beautiful. From vast deserts to jungle to wide open plains Odyssey offers plenty of moments for you to luxuriate in the sheer gorgeousness of its visuals. Erupting volcanoes, thundering squalls and starry, starry nights all play a part in making Odyssey one of the best looking games this year. Though the static scenery might look brilliant some of the characters outside of the main cast can look a little off. Whether it’s a too-wide smile or just bad animation the engine is beginning to show it’s age which can lead to some breaks in immersion.
As the story progresses it branches out into three different paths from your main familial Odyssey to the cult hunting to some late game artifact quests. Through these you can meet some of Ancient Greece’s most famous mythical monsters from the Sphinx to the Minotaur which offer some of the most demanding fights in the game. Elsewhere side quests are in abundance. Some are your average fetch-and-grab, others have you hunt legendary animals or compete in the Olympics. One was downright Oedipal and it was a cool but still twisted spin on the famous story.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s massive open world is one of the most detailed I’ve seen. From the sapphire blue waters of the Adriatic to the hustle and bustle of Athens the game makes history come to life around you even if you are technically a 21st Century woman looking through the eyes of a 5th Century mercenary. Aside from the overstuffed feel of the game and some texture loading and the odd game shutdown Odyssey knows how to tell a deep, sensitive story with plenty of guts and glory. It’s just takes a while to really get there.