Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the latest in the now huge series of free-running, hood-wearing, templar-stabbing epic titles has finally released on PS4, Xbox One and PC. This time, being set in the world of Ancient Greece.
With it being Ancient Greece and all, the game takes place in 431 BC, making it the earliest chronological setting for an Assassin’s Creed game to date. Ironic, considering the further back you go, the more limitations you’d imagine there to be when it comes to game design. Less technology, fewer accurate accounts of events, less historical figures to play with, etc.
Odyssey shatters that notion almost immediately, however, as within even the opening hours, I found it to be one of the most mechanically advanced, well designed and immersive worlds to come out of not only Ubisoft but any video game developer to date.
This is truly saying something when earlier this year the very same company released Far Cry 5, a stellar entry in another long-running franchise that was praised for very similar reasons. Vast open worlds, memorable characters and the like.
What sets Odyssey apart from its competition, predecessors and other games in the genre, however, is the sheer level of detail and choice it presents to the player from the get-go.
You’ll no doubt remember the controversy of Assassin’s Creed Unity and the criticism Ubisoft was faced with due to the lack of playable female representation in its games. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a technical point in the game’s favour, Odyssey finally gives players the choice of a Male or Female protagonist in the form of Alexios and Kassandra, respectively.
Both of whom are extremely likeable characters, but when it comes to quality of performance your mileage may vary. I played as Kassandra for my first playthrough and immediately fell in love with her feisty attitude, that I could magnify and expand upon with the new dialogue system.
It’s been some time since a game, let alone an Assassin’s Creed game managed to make me care about a character, their motivations and their struggles. But the performance given by Kassandra’s voice actress Melissanthi Mahut was superb in the role.
Boy, what a playthrough it was, too. The beginning of the story takes place on a small island called Kephallonia, designed to introduce the player to the mechanics of the game and to teach them all they’ll need to know when it comes to navigating the rest of the open world, before finally opening up once you acquire a ship for sailing the high seas.
As someone who has played every entry in the series, I immediately fell right back into old habits, running over rooftops, partaking in sword fights, buying and selling equipment and occasionally stopping to take in the sights with the wonderful returning Photo Mode.
If you played last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, you’ll feel the mechanical similarities fairly quickly. It’s fair to say that Odyssey takes a lot from Origins, with the control scheme, inventory system and general gameplay loop being almost identical.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, Origins was a stellar game in its own right. But one thing Odyssey does right that a lot of open world games get wrong (including many past Assassin’s Creed titles), is how it manages to take the player through the majority of its map organically with the story.
I explored roughly 80% of the map by the time I had finished the main story, which I feel is a definite plus. The game is named “Odyssey” and I feel like I’d truly been on an adventure, seeing various environments, different towns and cities, jungles, volcanic islands and more. Variety is definitely in abundance here, another thing so many open world games fail to provide.
A large part of my experience was spent aboard the Adrestia, the new ship players will use to explore the oceans this time around. I was pleasantly surprised to see Naval Combat return to the series after it’s notable absence since Black Flag.
I have a large amount of praise to give to these segments. It’s obvious how much fine-tuning was done with the Naval gameplay, with certain things like wind direction being completely removed for the sake of simplicity, but other things like reloading times, new attacks and special abilities being explored in more depth. Gameplay finally feels unified between both on foot and on boat thanks to the refinements made here.
Innovation doesn’t stop there, either. New to this entry is the Mercenary system, an expansion on a concept first seen in Origins. Now, depending on your actions in the open world, you can accumulate a bounty on your head. A bounty that other NPC’s will attempt to claim, by actively tracking you throughout your adventure. Each with their own strengths and weaknesses that you can discover, similar to Shadow Of Mordor’s Nemesis System.
A criticism I do have, is that Viewpoints feel quite spread out this time around, being the only way to quickly travel from one end of the map to the other, I often found myself having to hot-foot it by horse for minutes at a time to get to a town or city that previously would’ve been a quick button press in Origins.
This is a step backwards, true. But a clearly minor criticism next to the Odyssey’s pile of achievements and innovations.
On the flipside, however, the new dialogue/choice system brings Assassin’s Creed closer to RPG territory than ever before.
Finally, players have the ability to take the reins on not only the story at large, but also on a smaller scale than ever before, with interactions ranging from threats, lies and love making opportunities all the way to actual choice with real-world consequences that shape the story path and determine details later down the line.
This is a welcome feature, especially in the context of your character, with Alexios and Kassandra being mercenaries that pre-date the typical Assassin Order by 400 years. They’re not fully loyal or dedicated to a single creed or nation, it’s your choice on how to live.
That choice extends as far as being able to participate in events around the world that culminate in large-scale battles, with you choosing who to back and allow you to take an active role in defending or conquering nations for either Sparta or Athens.
When you look at the advances made in Naval Exploration with 2013’s Black Flag, Parkour in 2014’s Unity, Combat and Gear in 2017’s Origins and now the dialogue, choices and story systems in Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed has become far, far more than the simple, repetitive formula that it’s been often criticised for in the past. It’s almost unrecognisable but in a good way.
I’d say it’s gotten to the point where it doesn’t matter if you’ve ever played an AC game before. Odyssey is a love letter to returning fans and a great entry point for those new to the series. I’d recommend this game to fans of The Witcher 3 or Shadow Of Mordor, vast open world titles that beg for your time but deliver wholeheartedly on immersion and quality.
Ultimately, all of the time and effort spent on this game shines through. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Odyssey as it reminded me of what made not only Assassin’s Creed games but Open World games so enjoyable in the first place.
It’s clear that Odyssey respects the player in every way a game can. It respects your choice to a playable character. Your choice of where to go next. Your choice of which weapons and armour to use. Your choice of how to handle a conversation.
I found myself sad at the end of my 60 hours of time with the game. I can’t remember the last time something gripped me and immersed me so strongly, keeping me glued to my PS4 for 7 hours at a time. All I have left to say is well done Ubisoft, you’ve created a wonderful game that I couldn’t have enjoyed more.
This is what Assassin’s Creed is meant to be.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*