Title: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Released On: October 5, 2018 Genre: Action-Adventure Reviewed On: Xbox One X Also Available On: PC, PlayStation 4 Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft MSRP: $59.99USD / $79.99CAD


 

Back before there were Assassins. Before there were Templars, or Hidden Ones, or any order to follow. There was choice. Choice to forge your own path in the way you saw fit, unshackled by preconceived narratives or destinies set in stone. The ability to write your own epic tale, crafted by action and inaction, and your personal desire to create change and affect the outcome of one of the greatest wars in history.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is just that: an epic tale following in the footsteps of the poet Homer, except crafted by your own fingertips. Your character’s destiny is yours alone to forge, and the layering of choices and their effects on the narrative create a plethora of possibilities, ensuring that the likelihood of your story evolving like another players is very unlikely.

The real beauty behind Assassin’s Creed‘s narrative is that it’s a fictional story set within historical, and historically accurate, context. Odyssey tells the story of a Spartan outcast, left to their own devices to make their way in the ancient world after tragedy cast them out from their family. With conflict between Athens and Sparta brewing on the eve of the Peloponnesian War, you find yourself wrapped up in a whirlwind of deception and longing, with only the spear of Leonidas, a mysterious cult, and some would-be allies to drive your journey.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes everything that was introduced in Origins which helped to starkly differentiate the title from all previous games, and improves upon each system in ways that helps Odyssey to feel unique beside its predecessor. Much like Brotherhood and Revelations worked to solidify and improve upon Assassin’s Creed 2’s mechanics, Odyssey has fleshed out all of the new systems to create the most engaging and entertaining gameplay to date. There is a more substantial focus on high-profile combat, implementing an entirely new ability system alongside improved parry-dodge mechanics to create a much more visceral and weighted feeling whenever you break from stealth to enter a melee.

There are also many things that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey introduces that are completely new to the series, as well as a departure from narrative-driven video games more broadly. The way in which you tackle quests is much less pointed than in previous games, creating a more organic system which requires exploration and investigation to find your target or location. You are given the option between ‘Guided Mode’, which offers a traditional experience with objective markersand ‘Exploration Mode’, which ultimately puts the story in the player’s full control, requiring them to investigate and interact with the world to uncover targets and quest objectives.

I played through the game on Exploration Mode, as Odyssey recommends this is the way the game is “meant to be experienced”, and I was keen to try this form of quest-hunting. You have the option to switch between these two modes after you’ve started your campaign; if you’re having trouble figuring out certain hints for a quest, for example, but I never found it to be an issue. While the new mode certainly requires a bit of extra legwork to figure out the location, the hints are usually clear enough that you can track your target down.

In another first for the series, you are also given the option to start with one of two characters: Kassandra or Alexios. The core difference between playing as one character or the other comes down to the characters themselves, and possibly just as much the voice-actors who play them. Your choice will not affect the storyline of the game, but comes down to the characters’ personalities which are in many ways expressed best by their actors. Regardless of whose story you chose to embark on, you will start your life as a Spartan outcast, tossed away at birth and left to fend for yourself.

I chose to play as Kassandra, partially because it was far less often that I got to play an entire Assassin’s Creed narrative as a female character, but mostly because the prospect of a female Spartan outcast held even more intriguing possibilities than her male counterpart. I was immediately thankful for my choice, and found Kassandra’s character to be exceptionally witty and sly, while at the same time harboring a serious no-nonsense attitude which served her well as a mercenary for hire on the island of Kephallonia. The voice actor, Melissanthi Mahut, brought forward so much personality in her acting that really made Kassandra feel like a fully-fleshed out three-dimensional character.

The core narrative is one of the most heartfelt stories that I’ve experienced in some time, and it really makes you feel for your protagonist and the weight behind the decisions that you have them make. At its very center it’s a story of belonging, but the power comes from the fact that you get to choose how you want your character to find that sense of purpose. It’s also one of the most gripping Assassin’s Creed narratives I’ve become engrossed in, with layers of intrigue stemming from every plot twist, calling to me to search for their answers.

I should probably take a moment to preface this review with the fact that I obtained a Major in Greek & Roman Studies during my undergraduate degree, which is much of the reason I’ve been anxiously awaiting an Assassin’s Creed game set within this time period. It’s clear from my time with Odyssey that the developers familiarized themselves with the core works of classical Greek authors from Thucydides and Herodotus, to Homer and Aristophanes, as even the smallest details are accurately portrayed both in narrative and atmosphere. History aficionados will undoubtedly find themselves enthralled with the layers of complex factual history which have been woven into the fictional narrative.

“No one is so senseless as to choose of his own will war rather than peace, since in peace the sons bury their fathers, but in war the fathers bury their sons.”

In many ways Odyssey is a much more complex Assassin’s Creed game than previous titles, as even compared to Origins you are forced to put a lot more strategic thought into how you may want to tackle any given situation. For example, even when I was the same level as a normal guard, there would be times when I wasn’t able to assassinate them, which meant that certain missions or strongholds required more careful planning.

This is where the new systems for Assassin’s Creed force the player to start to dip into the more RPG-centric strategies, instead of just relying on cover and quick reflexes to tackle every situation as was possible in previous games. Often times it would be necessary to grind out a little more experience before tackling an Odyssey Quest, or make some more drachmae (Greek currency) so that you could better upgrade your equipment to increase Assassin and Warrior damage. I chose to upgrade my abilities to supplement my more stealth-oriented gameplay, but in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey one could just as easily focus on a more confrontational build and be just as successful.

This also means that it has become a lot harder to fully stealth every mission, especially if you are equal to or under the required level; sometimes you have no choice other than to enter the melee and show your prowess with parrying and dodging enemy attacks. Even then if you find yourself up against a group of enemies that are equal to your level, especially if you’re dealing with Commanders or Mercenaries, retreat often becomes a logical option until you’re better prepared both in level and equipment.

Other than using an RPG “numbers-based” strategy, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey forces the player to think outside the box and use factors like the time of day or other environmental aspects to better situate your attack when you’re outnumbered and overpowered. There are almost always multiple ways to tackle any given situation that you come up against, much like there are multiple ways to affect situations through dialogue choices. Need to take down a fort to help weaken Nation Power and claim new territory? Look for underground/underwater entrances or hidden paths. Nation leader too strong? Take out some vital infrastructure before attacking them.

Rather than the usual juxtaposition of ‘stealthy’ vs. ‘high-profile’ actions that have become commonplace in the Assassin’s Creed series, effects from previous dialogue choices, the time of day and weather, and even just the lay of the land offer a multitude of options when deciding how to surpass an obstacle.

The combat in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an evolution of the combat style that we saw first showcased in Origins, using a combination of light and heavy attacks alongside a more complex parry-dodge system than we’ve seen previously. On the whole combat feels much more fluid than it did in Origins, and once you have mastered the timing for successful parries and learned when to dodge away from an attack, the combat almost becomes a dance as you weave between enemies carefully considering which abilities to execute amidst the fray.

The addition of special combat abilities — be they Hunter, Warrior, or Assassin — and the evolution of the Adrenaline bar from Origins further solidify Odyssey‘s combat system as the most malleable and comprehensive combat that we’ve seen in an Assassin’s Creed game to date. While it was easy to become detached from the monotony of the combat in some of the previous iterations, with Odyssey everything feels very personal and visceral. Other new effects — including the brief window of slow time when you execute a perfect dodge or parry — also show that Ubisoft is not content with riding the coattails of Origins‘ new combat system; they are continuing to evolve and push the series in new directions, both thematically and mechanically.

Your character gains experience and levels as you progress through the game, which increases your core health and damage, as well as unlocks an ability point for you to put into one of the aforementioned trees. In Odyssey special abilities are no longer relegated to specific weapon-types, and instead are separated into Hunter, Warrior, and Assassin branches which allow you to further customize your play-style. It’s necessary to spread points through each of these trees if you want to be a well-rounded combatant, but careful allocation of ability points can give you the necessary edge to create your own preferential style.

The parkour and free-running system have improved from Origins, allowing you to climb not just on obvious ledges and cracks but to traverse stone walls, trees, and other natural structures with more fluidity than had previously been afforded. It made it so that there were many less frustrating moments trying to escape enemy attention or struggling to find my attack point; I was able to easily navigate using the improved up/down freerunning, and situate myself exactly where I wanted to be.

There are still hiccups here and there when you’re trying to quickly freerun to a particular spot; occasionally I would find myself not able to climb in areas where I felt I should have been — including once when I was trying to board my ship from the water — or move in a specific direction, but these issues occurred only a small handful of times during my playthrough. While I undoubtedly entered frustrating moments where I was trying to grapple a certain ledge and continuously missed it, in retrospect most of these instances were bred from my own hectic escape attempts, and not issues with the parkour system itself.

Apart from the new systems and mechanics that have been introduced in Odyssey, the real wonder of the game comes from its verisimilitude; that it feels in every way like you have been dropped into a living, breathing simulation of what Ancient Greece was like before the Peloponnesian War. As a misthios with no allegiances  an Ancient Greek mercenary very common during the Peloponnesian Wars for their loyalty to money alone — you can choose to fight for either side in the war, but it’s not a choice you should make lightly. Choosing a side can have far-reaching consequences in certain situations, but the game makes it so that you can change your allegiances as you move through the world, assisting Sparta or Athens when it benefits you best.

Attacking the core infrastructure of a province by destroying or stealing supplies, as well as killing integral Leaders, takes away Nation Power from the ruling faction of a given province. If you’re looking to tip the scales of power these types of actions eventually present an opportunity for the player to enter into a Conquest Battle; a grueling war of attrition and a style of open warfare combat unseen in previous Assassin’s Creed games. Participating in these special missions gives you unparalleled influence over the fate of the Greek world, allowing you to essentially decide how the Peloponnesian War is decided.

“War is a matter not so much of arms as of money.”

Athens and Sparta aren’t the only two powers at work in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. A mysterious group called the Cult of Kosmos comprised of influential people throughout the Aegean has risen to power and is attempting to use the war for their own personal profit. Hoping that the cult could provide answers as well as another opportunity for a misthios to find work, you can track down the members of the cult similar to the Hidden Ones from Origins, and use them to help acquire Legendary gear and upgrade the spear of Leonidas.

Bounties are another new feature in Odyssey, which are similar to a modified Phylakes from Origins. Taking actions against the Nation in power, as well as performing generally unscrupulous actions like stealing or killing civilians can earn you a bounty, which are sponsored by rich aristocrats who wants to put a stop to your mayhem. While killing the Bounty Hunters sent after you is a surefire way to delay your judgement, you have to deal with the Sponsors either by force or coin to permanently remove them. Bounty Hunters are selected from other misthios — Mercenaries who inhabit the world — and pose a substantial threat if you are unprepared or caught off guard.

Even when you don’t have a bounty on your head you’ll often come across these powerful figures as you journey through the Peloponnese and across the Aegean, and taking them out voluntarily and progressing through the Mercenary Tiers is a great way to earn experience and rewards to assist in your adventures.

In Exploration Mode, you have to use the information that you can glean from conversations with characters — often involving geographical hints such as references to landmarks — to find your quest objectives or bounty targets. It’s not an exceptionally difficult system, but the extra effort makes it feel like you are genuinely invested into each quest instead of blindly following objective markers.

You won’t spend your entire game tracking down hints for every single little thing though; some quest objectives do have waypoints when it’s something that your character knows or that would be common knowledge; like the location of a blacksmith or a specific port. Your eagle makes a return in Odyssey, and the aptly-named Ikaros is easily the most useful tool in your entire repertoire for locating objectives and scouting an area.

Every location that you visit additionally has one or more objectives that you can complete, typically involving looting the area and killing any Commanders, which reward you additional experience for completing. One could easily lose themselves working their way from marker-to-marker and completing all of the optional objectives for each location. Not only is this a great way to level your character up and find rare equipment, but it also gives you a closer in-depth look at many of the detailed sites.

Regions are summarily level-based as well, and stepping into an area that you are substantially under-leveled for is a quick way to meet an immediate desynchronization. Luckily the map is designed in such a way that you don’t often find yourself wandering into places that you shouldn’t be, but this may still come as a slight irritant to players who want to freely explore the entire map from the get-go.

With the right equipment, delving into the more precarious regions becomes far less daunting, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has a very similar inventory setup as Origins had, opting for a more RPG-oriented system utilizing DPS, weapon effects, and rarity levels. You can engrave your weapons to change or modify their effects — assuming you’ve collected the requisite materials — and you gain access to new engravings every time you level up. Paying attention to the level and modifiers of your equipment is absolutely integral to success in combat; ensuring that you’re using the proper equipment for an Assassin, Warrior, or Hunter build.

All of your equipment has an aesthetic effect as well, and much like the entirety of the game no effort was spared in the detail of each piece of armor or weapon. You can see everything from the pock marks of the imperfect leatherwork, to the complex etching of battle scenes carved into metal breastplates. At points it was hard to give up certain pieces of equipment for those with better stats, but luckily the game lets you improve any of your equipment to match your level so you can keep wearing your favorite style armor or wielding the most vicious looking blades.

The vast majority of consequences in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey don’t come from the tip of a spear. The choices that you make in conversations can have some far-reaching and often unforeseen circumstances. It’s smart to think carefully before making any decisions as the ramifications can be severe and immediate, or a slow ripple that will echo through your narrative. Some of the actions I took as my compassionate Kassandra ended up coming back in the most unexpected ways. There was one instance where I opted to save a family from sure death, only to find out that in doing so I unwittingly unleashed devastation across an entire island.

Other choices have instant and dramatic consequences, immediately altering the direction of the narrative in ways I never expected to see from the largely linear history of Assassin’s Creed narratives. Some of these effects may be as small as offending someone with a comment you make, to completing removing a core character from the entire story. While I chose to play as a largely caring individual, another player could just as easily have played a more cold-hearted, true Spartan version of Kassandra — or Alexios — choosing instead to pursue her character’s drive to once again be a Spartan and valuing honor over things like human life.

“Of all men’s miseries the bitterest is this: to know so much and to have control over nothing.”

You can really shape the type of character you want to be and the impact you’ll have on people just from your dialogue choices. It also helps you to more deeply form a connection with the character you are playing, which is important for this style of narrative. My Kassandra was a caring, compassionate and charitable person who went out of her way to help others. I chose to play her this way largely because of my belief of how her past tribulations and life as a misthios may have affected her attitudes towards other people who have fallen on hard times.

There were only a handful of instances where I felt that my options were limited; in one case I wanted to tell the truth but I was not afforded the ability to do so. I could only follow-up on a previous lie, or concoct a new one. I knew in my heart how my Kassandra would have responded to the question, with a truthful statement, but I was not given the ability to. It wasn’t a seriously detrimental instant, but for a game that is so open with choice, this moment felt restrictive.

There are some intriguing and just downright hilarious characters that you’ll meet along your journey, all trying to forge their own destinies and survive the brewing conflict between Sparta and Athens. Take Elpenor — the mysteriousman who gives you the purpose to leave your home of Kephallonia — or Barnabas, who provides you with the means to travel away from the island; something you’ve never been able to do before. The only thing that drives your character, other than your own will for self-discovery, is drachmae, the currency of Ancient Greece. At one point Kassandra even asks “How do I know you’re on the right side,” to which Elpenor casually responds “because I’m the one paying you.”

There are also some historical, and even mythical, encounters that you’ll have throughout your journey, some which sent tingles down my historian spine. The world of Ancient Greece is one where the lines between reality and mythology were blurred, and this is represented in the histories that were written contemporaneously about Ancient Greece by authors such as Herodotus.

The sidequests are where Assassin’s Creed Odyssey really shows its heart, and you’ll meet some of the most endearing and personable characters just off the beaten path. Take the story of Odessa, the descendant of Odysseus who had traveled across the Aegean to make a pilgrimage to the home of her ancestor in search of greatness. With Kassandra, I chose to remind her that greatness comes from within and not from your namesake, and after a series of quests ended up with a romantic relationship, and a new crewmate for the Adrestia.

The optional quests in Odyssey are often closely intertwined with both the main narrative as well as with your hunt to track down members of the Cult of Kosmos. Often completing side quests can give you the necessary information you need to track down the next member.

There is never any shortage of things to do in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Message Boards are another great source of quests, and you can typically find them in most urban areas, brimming with contracts, bounties, and naval adventures. The only caveat is that many of these quests have a timeline; once you have accepted one, you only have one day (real-time) to complete it. There are additionally special missions which are only available for a set period of time before they expire, and reward the player with special materials to spend on rare equipment.

“human prosperity never abides long in the same place”

Sea battles are back in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and in the most spectacular way. The systems from Black Flag and Origins have been tweaked to take into account the very different type of battles that took place in the 5th century BCE, and the new mechanics works wonderfully creating some fast-paced and close proximity battles that were previously unseen on the high seas. This is in large part because the Adrestia handles very differently from any of the ships you previously captained in AC titles, as the twenty-oared smaller version of a trireme — a pentakontor — was a much more maneuverable ship, able to make sharp turns to make it a versatile combatant in the small channels of the Aegean.

Your main weapons consist of arrows and javelins, which can be fired in quicker succession than cannon shots, but require more finesse with aiming and have far less reach. You can of course upgrade your ship’s capabilities — including adding additional projectile volleys and fire-coating — using resources that you gather across the lands, as well as any you may abscond with from Nations or defeated ships. Your ship also has an ‘Adrenaline’ bar — another series first — which allows you to launch fire attacks at your enemies once you’ve upgraded your vessel sufficiently.

You can also recruit people from across the lands to serve as Lieutenants on your ship, which allows you to bring them when you board a ship for more substantial reinforcements. You have the option to knock out almost any NPC to coerce them onto your crew, but the best shipmates will come from characters that you complete side quests for. When you finish certain storylines, you can choose to bring characters with you on your journey, once again linking the side quests to your overarching Odyssey. It’s the sum total of all of these little aspects which serve to build such a complex and interlocking world.

The sea feels much more alive than in previous games, which adds a certain weight to the battles. After sinking an enemy ship, you’re likely to see bodies floating in the ocean and possibly even a curious shark coming to seize its own spoils. It’s not just the ocean which is absolutely brimming with life though; the entirety of the Aegean is alive with all manner of species which you can hunt for materials or just enjoy the sight of.

The entire purpose for your journey through ancient Greece comes from a previously undiscovered text of the historian Herodotus and a fragment of Leonidas’ spear, uncovered by your main character outside of the animus, Layla Hassan. There are lines out of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey which have been ripped right from Herodotus’ Histories, such as the discussion of the fate of Leonidas at Thermopylae and the reasoning that the 300 were alone that day. As both a gamer and historian, it delighted me to see such detailed research had been done to thoroughly construct the game’s narrative around what was not only an accurate historical depiction; but one that used the primary source texts which were written contemporaneously with the narrative itself.

Everything feels alive in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. It’s not just the story that acutely follows the annals of history though; the architecture and atmosphere have also been dutifully lifted from the history books, down to the smallest details that I can still recall from my third-year Archaeology course. Ubisoft spared absolutely no effort in the construction of the Ancient Greek cities, landscapes, structures and monuments.

The map is a thorough reconstruction of the 5th century Aegean and Peloponnese, including a stunning recreation of the ancient cities and their buildings, right down to the depictions of battles on the facade of specific temples. I could go into detail on some of the aspects that most gamers would never notice, but points which speak to Ubisoft’s thorough attention to detail. For example, the pillars of the Athenian Acropolis are constructed using the proper Ionic method of the time period; much different from those which had come before (Doric) or after (Corinthian), noted by the curved scrolls on the top of the pillar where it attaches to the roof of a temple.

I know to many people this sounds like a menial detail, but it’s the sum total of all of these minor aspects which have created such an accurate representation of Ancient Greece circa 431 BCE. Apart from the wonderfully refined gameplay, and the gripping fictional narrative, in my opinion this is where the team at Ubisoft really should be heralded. It takes no small amount of effort to recreate a world this carefully, and I continuously found myself geeking out at the dutiful recreation of characters and buildings from antiquity.

This faithful reconstruction would have far less impact if it wasn’t rendered so beautifully, and without a doubt Odyssey is one of the best looking games of the year. I played through Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on the Xbox One X in 4K, and the game looked absolutely gorgeous, although having seen gameplay on other systems it’s clear that the game provides a high graphical fidelity regardless of what system it’s played on. The attention to detail, character models, and textures are all on point, enhanced by stunning lighting effects that fluctuate with the movement of the trees in the wind, or people in the crowded streets.

One of the only criticisms that I can levy against Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is that very occasionally you may experience a graphical hiccup or collision issue, but these were so minor and few and far between — especially for a game of this size — that they barely registered.

Speaking of its size; the map for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is over 60% larger than Origins, which boasted the largest explorable map to date in the series. Now you may be thinking that with all of the open sea that there would be a lot of wasted space, but every square metre of the world is teeming with activity. From the Attic Peninsula to the island-dotted Aegean Sea, there is so much life breathed into every corner of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I can say without a doubt that it is one of the most lived-in feeling worlds that I have ever played in, and it’s easy to find yourself getting lost in the bustle of the Agora market of Athens, the teeming shipyards of Argolis, or the beautiful temples at Delphi.

“Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal, while others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before”

With all of the time that I put into Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in many ways I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the world. The core narrative of the game is only one piece of a massive interlocking puzzle, and one that I’m going to likely be spending weeks uncovering every piece of. There is easily over 100 hours of content within the game already, and Ubisoft has committed to providing free content updates which will ensure the livelihood of the game long after its initial release.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a juxtaposition of series’ firsts alongside a refinement of the systems we’ve known for so long. The addition of new gameplay features has helped to propel the Assassin’s Creed series to a new plateau, offering a style that is familiar yet wholly new, against a narrative that is yours to create and shape.

Odyssey has once again skyrocketed the series to new heights, and only minor mechanical issues stop the game from being a perfect title, both in terms of narrative and gameplay. There is enough content to keep even the most avid completionist entertained for dozens of hours after the main story is complete, and a world so engrossing that one can’t help but become lost within it. I realize that I may be a little biased — how many people get to experience and play through an accurate depiction of the topic they spent years studying — but there is truly something special about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

In a world where the Oracle of Delphi is obeyed as the voice of the Gods, you can choose to write your own story in the most comprehensive narrative set in the most complex setting that Ubisoft has ever created.

 


Final Score: 9.5/10

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a triumph across the board for the series, pushing its combat and world exploration to new levels while implementing a way to shape your own Odyssey.

 

The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.

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