Assassin’s Creed has been a series that has become a cornerstone in modern gaming. After a smash hit release it went from being a hot ticket item to a little bit of a joke with yearly releases that felt hollow and more like cash grabs than any kind of advancement. It came as a shock then when the team at Ubisoft decided to take a break and return to the series with a revamped approach to the time travelling assassin simulation with Assassin’s Creed Origins. When it was announced a follow up would be coming out a year later many worried that Ubisoft was back to its old tricks milking the franchise, as a result Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was met with concern from the gaming community.
Leading up to launch of AC Odyssey the reception was tepid. The marketing machine was booming but word of mouth hadn’t really taken off like it had with Origins. However at E3 where they announced a much more Role Playing Game focus with branching narrative, interactive dialogue, a male or female protagonist and romance options not confined by gender and people began to pay attention.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes players further back then ever before, 431 BCE, and follows the child of a Spartan general that was abandoned at a young age and raised on an isolated island away from their heritage. The game will initiate by asking you to choose between which of two siblings you will helm through your adventure, Alexios the brother or the sister, Kassandra. One of these characters is expertly voice acted and is wonderful and compelling, and the other is Alexios. It seems that AC Odyssey has suffered from the same problem as Mass Effect, with an outstanding female voice actor beside a “fine” male voice actor. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t the same quality as his female counterpart.
Regardless of which character you choose, the other will make a cameo in flashbacks as your sibling before you fled Sparta. Outside of the character model and vocal change though these characters are essentially the same, and are treated the same in the world. Kassandra is treated without a male gaze and is not fragile or delicate but instead is shown with visible muscles and broad shoulders, something rare to see in the depiction of women in most media. Thankfully on top of this great depiction of Kassandra she, and her male counterpart, are extremely likeable. Fun and witty with a compelling desire, and having moved on from her trauma as a child, she isn’t driven only by grief or revenge like some of the other assassins of the past.
While the performance from our protagonists might be strong I can’t deny some of the side characters can some across as a little stilted. Normally this would be easy to brush over with an Assassin’s Creed game but as this is the game’s first foray into interactive dialog mechanics it means that if Assassin’s Creed plans to continue down this path they may need to invest in these areas further. This is not present for every character but it is enough that you’ll notice a few dubious performances.
Gameplay wise you’ll see some reminiscent ideas from Assassin’s Creed Origins. The map is a big open world where you’ll slowly unlock and discover areas as you level up your character and can venture into more dangerous territory. Combat continues with heavy and light attacks, this time you are armed not with a shield for defense but instead with the broken spear Leonidas, an Isu artifact. This means combat is more about dodging attacks and timing parries to create openings against enemies that present the right amount of difficulty.
“The use of the damaged Isu artifact from the start of the game also brings with it further changes to the combat.”
The use of the damaged Isu artifact from the start of the game also brings with it further changes to the combat. Your melee and your ranged arrow skills will bring with them 4 special moves that can be attached to a command wheel. These can include the iconic Spartan Kick, applying poison to your weapon, firing off a predator arrow and many more. This removes the reliance on multiple bows that Origins features and including them as skills instead. The upgrade tree ahead of you will not require you to unlock things in a specific order and will open up in front of you as you level up. The best thing about this is that unlike a lot of RPGs, you can reset your skills and spend your points again at any time from your menu, thus not tying you to your decisions and letting you mix and match skills as you discover your play style.
Outside of combat you’ll be exploring the world, looking for loot, missions and targets to level you up while unraveling the secret of your families history and the Cult of Kronos that seems to be obsessed with your bloodline. Previously Assassins could behave free of consequence for the most part, being mindful not to be spotted in restricted territory or kill an enemy in front of another. Odyssey has decided to place a little more importance on the idea of striking from the shadows with its new bounty system.
Heading in to a city filled with civilian NPCs you discover their belongings are all now marked with red dots and the words “Steal” instead of “Loot”. You are still able to swipe someone’s belongings or strike down an enemy if you are sneaky but if you are seen and show flagrant disrespect your Bounty meter will begin to fill as NPCs in the world put a bounty on your head. As the meter fills it will hit checkpoints that will trigger the mercenary system. This means you’ve garnered enough attention that a unique and highly skilled enemy will start hunting you down, the more checkpoints you fill, the more of these enemies come looking for you.
This system has taken some tips from the highly regarded “Nemesis System” from Shadow of War, although not as deep, with enemies having strengths and weaknesses that you’ll want to observe to take advantage. As the mercenary zeros in on you a horn will sound and you will need to make yourself scarce as they don’t have GPS on you, just a vague idea of where you are. Staging these fights in the open is often a lost cause with nearby soldiers deciding they want a piece and sticking you with the pointy end.
Lowering your bounty is easy though; lay low for a little while and the cost will diminish. Pay the bounty on your head from your map with a quick button press, or be petty, hunt down the NPC offering coin for your head and silence them. Once your bounty is low enough you’ll be able to walk past these mercenaries, who exist in the world even when not hunting you, and they’ll give you a nod and acknowledge you as a fellow misthios.
Taking even more inspiration from Shadow of War’s “Nemesis System” you’ll be tasked with hunting down the members of the Cult of Kronos. Problem is they were all wearing masks when you met them, and with over 30 of them to hunt you’ll first need to discover their identities by completing tasks like looking for clues in a region or freeing slaves from mines. Once discovered their whereabouts is revealed and you can make a direct assault on them. There about 6 different branches to the cult and as you defeat those branches you will then be able to take down that branches leader revealing more and more about the clandestine organisation. Taking down the cult and climbing the mercenary ladder both add a lot of content to keep you busy but not in a way that makes you feel like the game is being padded.
All of this is set on a land that is in the midst of war. While bandits and the Cult of Kronos will attack you on sight, the world is littered with Athenian and Spartan soldiers who will mind their business if you do. Never asking you to pick a side in the fight, you’re able to treat this with a fair amount of moral ambiguity. Regions will be controlled by one of the forces and as the game progresses the NPCs can undermine each other and take the region from them, or, you can get involved and decide who you want in power.
In each region you’ll be given the opportunity to wrest control from the occupying force through a multitude of actions. Killing their troops, burning their supplies or even killing their general, who will begin well defended but will be open for assassination once the forces power is lowered in that region. Once low enough, two side missions will trigger, one to defend the region and keep the force in power, or to invade and force them out to place new leadership in control.
Triggering either will transport you to the midst of a battlefield with ally and enemy troops. Your aim is to lower the enemy force’s troops and moral faster than they can lower yours. Defending will always have a handicap in this instance but you’ll want to get to work quickly killing enemies, keeping an eye out for generals to do massive damage to the enemy force and always being ready for the chance that the enemy force hired a high level mercenary that only has eyes for you.
These battles are frantic and high energy and nothing like the slow methodical precision kills you would be used to in the main game. The clock is working against you and you need to figure out the fastest way to clean the floor with your enemy. Doing too many in a row can feel a little repetitive but they act as a great way to break up the rest of the gameplay if you want to just break loose and wail on some Spartan soldiers, #Athens4Ever.
Ship combat makes a triumphant return in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey after featuring in some smaller sections in Origins. As the world is set amongst the many island masses in the Greek Isles, you’ll be spending a lot of time on the open sea, which looks stunning, opening up ports and quick travel locations. The combat hasn’t really evolved from the Black Flag days but is obviously on a paired-back scale due to the historical difference, funnily enough cannons were yet to be invented in Ancient Greece. The ships also allow you a fair amount of customisation and upgrading options, all the way down to having an all female crew with Kassandra to really live that Amazonian life.
You’ll also be able to knock out any enemies in the world instead of assassinating them to invite them to join your crew instead. That character will then be available as one of four lieutenants on your ship that will boost your stats during combat and then join you as you board the enemy ship to deliver the final blows. This also works for most NPCs offering you the option to invite them along to properly curate a nice team that gives you both great stats but also again, let you really live that Amazonian lifestyle.
Probably the feature that most people were interested to see play out was the romance. After Bioware were unfairly harassed for not including romance options in the upcoming Anthem, fans became insufferable about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey joining the romance options table and lorded it over the developers. This is where some things start to show that this is a first time for the developers in this field.
So far I’ve not found any major problems for the romance options, my character flirts hard with everyone she meets and a few of them have to decisively refocus her on the life and death situation at hand. It’s fun and cute and you can tell that there are more important romances out their, but it doesn’t feel especially deep.
Either Kassandra or Alexios can romance the same characters which can feel like the playersexual problem that a fair amount of games suffer from. However it instead comes across that Ancient Greece was just a very horny period of time and everyone was just living their best sexy lives. Which is kind of historically accurate.
With close to 70+ hours of gameplay, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a game that will keep you busy, branching story lines and a likeable protagonist help to endear you to the experience so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. This is only expanded by the stunning world to explore. While Origins had amazing moments the desert could become a desolate place. Odyssey is easily the most vertical and lush environment we’ve had in an Assassin’s Creed game and the world feels fully realised and filled with mystery and maybe a little bit of magic.
The Bottom Line...
I find it hard to believe that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was created in the year gap between it and Origins because there is just so much more at work here. This game certainly has the Assassin’s Creed bones but it feels like such a different beast to Unity that many considered the lowest point in the franchise. It’s clear that Origins acted as a stepping stone for this new adventure from Ubisoft which is certainly an expansive experience. With the developers saying they are taking another break to focus on extending services for Odyssey, I’m finally back on the Assassin’s Creed hype train.