Assassin’s Creed stories almost always have three main narrative threads going at any time: the hero’s personal quest, the need to eliminate members of a shadowy group, and a mystery involving the First Civilization’s sci-fi artifacts. But where most of the games in the series somehow tie all three of these threads together into one cohesive whole, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey separates them entirely, and I think I’m glad.
(Seeing as how I’m going to be talking about the game’s main story, there will be some minor spoilers in here, but I’m going to try to leave out any details that might ruin some key moments.)
Kassandra’s (or Alexios’, if you’re wrong) main quest in Odyssey is tracking down her family and discovering the truth behind her traumatic past. Along the way, you’ll uncover a plot involving a nefarious group known as the Cult of Kosmos that wants to control Greece, and you’ll find out that your real father is guarding secrets that the First Civilization left behind. The weird thing is that, while you’ll inherently run into Cult members over the course of your journey, finishing these two main story threads is actually completely optional, sort of.
What I mean is that there isn’t a grand finale that ties all three of these threads together. In fact, if you want to eliminate the Cult and complete the First Civ questline, it helps to have a max level Kassandra, or at least something close to that, and reaching that plateau is a weirdly satisfying way to experience Odyssey’s epic journey.
When it comes to long, drawn-out RPGs, I generally put in the minimum amount of effort to get me to the finish line. I stopped playing Fallout 4 as soon as I blew up the Institution. My Geralt was only level 35 or so by the time I brought down the Wild Hunt. Ditto for Bayek, who was a mid-30s Medjay when I killed Caesar and subsequently abandoned ancient Egypt.
By the time I “finished” Odyssey for my review, I’d put 42 hours into the game and my Kassandra was level 41 or so out of a max level of 50. I reunited her with her family, saved Sparta, and avenged Athens. Along the way, I befriended Socrates, slept with Alcibiades, started a few rebellions, and became an Olympic champion. I’d completed all nine of the game’s “chapters,” and that would have been enough in most games. That’s usually when I’d be done playing the game, discarding it like a half-eaten piece of pizza.
The problem was that there were still cultists out there, working in the shadows, and there were still artifacts out there, guarded by mythical creatures. I wanted to find out what happened after I eliminated the cult, and I wanted to see how the First Civ stuff connected to the game’s modern day segments. (I’m fully on the side that likes the Isu-related storylines.)
Thirty hours later, I’ve defeated the Cult of Kosmos and I’ve found every First Civ artifact. Along the way, Kassandra hit level 50 and earned an awesome set of armor that makes her look like an ancient Greek Wonder Woman, and it feels great.
I still think that the narrative feels a little disjointed. The three main threads don’t really come together in a way that’s completely satisfying, but each individual storyline on its own (especially the First Civ stuff) wraps up nicely. I admit that Ubisoft Quebec’s decision to basically lock two of the three main storylines in the game behind max level requirements is a really odd choice, but it gives players a great excuse to stick around and experience more of the world.
There really is a lot to see in the game, and the smaller, more intimate stories to discover on some of the map’s outer islands, where I spent most of my time late game, are alternatively quirky, tragic, melancholy, and sometimes hilarious. The First Civ quests are extended, multi-part mini-epics, and hunting down clues to uncover the cult members’ true identities gave me true globetrotting assassin vibes. Leveling up Kassandra into an unstoppable demigod and becoming a champion of the arena and the highest-ranked mercenary in ancient Greece felt like real achievements, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten there without the real motivation that Odyssey’s trifurcated story offered. I’m not saying that withholding major elements of a game’s story is the best way to keep players engaged, but other open-world games could learn a lesson from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey about raising the stakes even after the main credits roll.