Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes its subtitle seriously. While most Assassin’s Creed titles follow the unraveling of a more focused conspiracy in an open-world setting, Odyssey feels like a full-on epic that will take you from Peloponnesian battlefields to the Olympic grounds to deep caverns hiding history’s greatest myths. In some ways, the game’s scope can become unwieldy and overwhelming, and its various RPG systems can sometimes get in the way, but no other title in the series has crafted the sense of adventure and journey that Odyssey accomplishes.
The opening moments of the game make it clear how different Odyssey will be from the rest of the series. Putting players in the sandals of Spartan hero Leonidas, the introductory battle scene against Xerxes’ Persian forces showcases the large battlefields and superpowered abilities that will mark the game’s combat and scope. From there, players choose between two characters, female mercenary Kassandra or male mercenary Alexios, giving players a small taste of the subtle but significant decisions they will make for the rest of the game.
Odyssey’s epic scope starts with the game’s main narrative and branches off from there. Mining a tragic past, the story follows your character’s journey to reunite their family and, eventually, to undermine the powerful forces that broke it apart in the first place. Just like Odysseus’ desire to return home, your hero’s personal quest expands into an epic voyage, widening its net instead of burrowing into the more focused, conspiratorial bents of previous titles, and it’s all the better for it. Every Assassin’s Creed protagonist has some sort of personal stake that serves as the catalyst in their respective titles, but Odyssey puts it front and center, never losing sight of what compelled your hero on their journey in the first place.
Of course, this is an Assassin’s Creed title, so undermining your hero’s main goal is a shadowy organization that’s looking to bring order to the chaos of the world. This is where Odyssey’s ambitions get a bit messy. Unlike previous titles, your main objective isn’t to eliminate every member of the Cult of Kosmos (no relation to the Templars), but this thread runs alongside the main plot as somewhat optional objectives. Over the course of the game’s nearly 40-hour main story, you’ll run into and kill cult members here and there, but the majority of them are spread across the map as side objectives, and you most likely won’t have eliminated them all by the time you finish the central storyline. Likewise, searching for First Civilization artifacts serves as the crux of Odyssey’s present-day segments, and you probably won’t find all of them before your hero finds their family members unless you choose to hold off completing the campaign.
It’s not that this system of splitting up the three main narrative threads is bad, but it definitely creates a schism in your sense of accomplishment by the time the main storyline ends. After already putting 42 hours towards reuniting Kassandra with her family, I still don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment that I got at the end of, say, Assassin’s Creed II when I literally beat the pope in a fist fight to relieve him of his Piece of Eden and defeat the Templars, at least temporarily. I have a feeling that I’ll have to put another 20 to 30 hours into the game to achieve that kind of closure, which might be a great excuse to jump back into Odyssey’s amazing version of ancient Greece, but it definitely undermines the power of the main story’s ending when there are still so many loose threads to tie up.
Speaking of Greece, Odyssey more than lives up to the series’ reputation for crafting fantastic historical settings as its open-world playgrounds. As awe-inspiring as Origins’ Egypt was, Odyssey’s Greece blows it out of the water, pun intended. While on land, you’ll experience picturesque vistas, volcanic islands, and meticulously crafted cities, all of which is surrounded by a Mediterranean Sea that lends an immense scope to the world as a whole and presents additional dangers like pirate ships and unfriendly naval forces. Perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the horizon, the map is impressive in its scope, but even on the ground level, strolling through Athens and touring its amazing temples and statues, Odyssey’s Greece is a powerful achievement that never really lets up in creating a sense of wonder.
The same goes for Odyssey’s characters, both historical and fictional. Historical figures like Herodotus, Socrates, Alcibiades, Aristophanes, Pericles, and Aspasia not only give players the sense of time and place that the series is known for, but they’re also all compelling and likable as supporting characters to Kassandra’s quest. Socrates and Alcibiades, in particular, are two of my favorite historical figures in an Assassin’s Creed game, right behind Leonardo da Vinci in Assassin’s Creed II. This extends to the fictional characters, too. Your ship’s former captain, Barnabas, is a particular stand out, thanks to his humor, optimism, and loyalty.
Most importantly, whether you choose Kassandra or Alexios, the game’s hero is one of the more compelling Assassin’s Creed protagonists, and that’s because you get to choose more than just your character’s gender. Odyssey introduces new dialogue options to the series that go beyond the optional informational choices. You choose how your Kassandra or Alexios responds to people, and more options than you’d expect genuinely affect the story. Even when they don’t, giving players the option on how to respond to other characters both deepens the sense of connection and personality while still maintaining a consistent identity for the hero. Anchored by Kassandra’s quest for reunion, I felt a deep connection to my hero, who was ruthless when she needed to be but not entirely lacking in empathy and romantic feelings.
These choices are just the beginning of how Odyssey has fully transformed the series into an action RPG. Building upon Origins’ leveling system and gear stats, Odyssey digs in its heels when it comes to its more RPG-related mechanics. Gear has additional stat buffs beyond its base damage or armor levels that can significantly affect the kind of playstyle you’re going for. Attack damage is divided into three types—Hunter for bows, Warrior for melee, and Assassin for stealth attacks—and you can increase the effectiveness of your attacks by wearing gear that complements damage type. Decking yourself out in gear with Assassin buffs, for instance, can mean that you’re stealth-killing guards with higher levels than you, but your basic melee attacks might not be as powerful as they could be if you were wearing Warrior-friendly gear. If you like a piece of gear but don’t like its buffs, you can build additional engravings that will give you the buffs you want. It’s all good in theory, but in practice you probably won’t pay much attention to it, at least until you get to the higher levels. Engravings seem especially useless at lower levels, as you will constantly get new gear from completing quests or looting treasure chests, so spending drachmae and resources to build engravings will seem like a waste on gear you’ll use for a half-hour.
The basic leveling system is also a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, leveling up will not only give your hero a higher damage output and more health but also gift you with an ability point that you can spend on Odyssey’s upgrade system. Unlike Origins’, which basically unlocked passive buffs, Odyssey’s system lets you unlock new abilities linked to your Spear of Leonidas. These include a powerful Spartan kick that can send your opponents flying, a guided arrow that functions like Origins’ predator bows, a chained takedown that you can use to stealthily clear an entire group of guards, and more. The spear abilities you unlock are the highlights of Odyssey’s combat system, which is the most visceral and fun in the series. Usually in these games, I try to stealth as much as possible, but mixing up spear abilities with Odyssey’s more dodge-and-parry focused fighting style made me want to jump right into the fracas.
The downside to Odyssey completely leaning into its more RPG-focused mechanics and leveling system is that it can severely disrupt the game’s pacing. In Origins, you could pretty much play straight through the main story without having to grind to level up Bayek. Unfortunately, that isn’t really the case in Odyssey, which experiences a severe spike in recommended levels for the main story about two-thirds of the way through the game. Just as it starts to pick up steam, you’ll most likely have to stop what you’re doing to grind out a few levels before you can continue on. These spikes don’t just happen before you take on a quest, either; at some points, you’ll run into enemies during these quests that are several levels higher than the recommended quest levels. It probably won’t be a problem if you already plan on taking your time with the game and doing a bunch of side quests, and going on quests that are a couple of levels higher than you is definitely doable. But running into an enemy that’s five levels higher than you on a quest that’s only two is a nasty surprise and disrupts the game’s otherwise careful pacing.
Fortunately, there are plenty of rewarding side quests and objectives to complete that serve the dual purpose of leveling up your character and deepening your sense of connection the game’s world. Jumping into a Peloponnesian battle between Athens and Sparta is a fun, quick way of earning a ton of experience points, even if having to choose a side seems narratively inconsistent with the rest of the game’s story. Hunting down mercenaries and rising in the ranks to get cheaper goods and better deals on engravings won’t get you a ton of XP, but it is fun. Standard side quests generally involve compelling mini-tragedies that are fun distractions from the main story, and hunting down mythological beasts and creatures gives your overall journey a larger-than-life feel. Ubisoft Quebec has pretty much eliminated any useless collectible hunting in favor of more rewarding (both literally and emotionally) side objectives, and they combine to give Odyssey that sense of embarking on a grand adventure. Odyssey gives you the choice to play the game in either Guided or Exploration modes, the latter of which pretty much eliminates map markers, leaving you to rely on actual context clues from conversations to find your next destination or assassination target. I mostly played in Guided mode just so I could get through the game fast enough to review it, but Exploration mode added a level of immersion and adventure that Odyssey deserves.
If Origins was a great first step in shifting the perception of Assassin’s Creed games from stealth-action games with an historical backdrop to a full-on epic RPG, Odyssey is an Olympic long jump. The game feels like an odyssey. Sure, the main story parallels Odysseus’ long journey home, but it’s also an outward adventure, exploring the unknown and discovering what the series can actually be. As the most recent title in a series that’s run for over a decade now, Odyssey takes an admirable number of chances. Not all of them completely work, but none completely fail, and everything comes together in the end to plant a flag in uncharted territory.
|Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Quebec • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.05.18|
|8.5||Assassin’s Creed Odyssey lives up to its namesake. By fully investing in becoming an action RPG, Odyssey’s characters, combat, story, and scope are beyond anything the series has accomplished so far. Its ambitions might get the better of it sometimes, like in how it divides its story moments or in how the leveling system can get out of hand, but the overall experience is, simply put, epic. Even when the game’s pacing hits a speed bump, there are plenty of engaging and rewarding side quests and distractions to keep you busy.|
|The Good||Combat, characters, and setting are the best they’ve ever been in an Assassin’s Creed game.|
|The Bad||Some of the RPG mechanics can throw off the game’s pacing, and the ending isn’t the most satisfying.|
|The Ugly||Ubisoft seriously needs to upgrade the series’ dialogue animations.|
|Bomb Chicken is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC Review based on Xbox One version. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|