It’s a strange thing seeing a game franchise like Assassin’s Creed make so many large gameplay changes like they did with last year’s Origins. The series has waxed and waned in quality over the years, so it was a refreshing change of pace for a stagnating series. The latest outing in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey continues moving the series further away from an action adventure and closer to an open world action RPG.
I really liked Assassin’s Creed Origins. Even though the series has generally implemented some new feature into most of the titles, they all felt the same, just with more and more points of interest on the maps. Last year’s title was really well reviewed, and it seemed like Ubisoft made the right call holding off for a year for a total revamp of the franchise. This year, the developer has doubled down on the things that made Origins so good. The combat is smooth and strategic, a lot of the quests are interesting, and many of the characters are animated and fit in in the world.
Odyssey takes place in ancient Greece, a time when a large war between the Athenians and the Spartans are taking place. There are actually two different main playable characters this time around in the form of Alexios and Kassandra, two siblings who are caught in the middle of a fractured family. The main focus of the story in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is much more intimate this time around. Almost none of Odyssey takes place in the present day, which I’m perfectly fine with, considering how well the mystery around the two siblings unravels.
The world built around the narrative is just as fun to explore even when not driving the narrative to explore. Ubisoft has created a massive map, with hidden secrets in each explorable area. Even the vast seas separating the countries in Greece have hidden areas to be explored. I spent so much time just investigating points of interests that I was constantly completing quests I didn’t know were available. From a technical standpoint, the exploration worked superbly as well. Even if I completed a quest I wasn’t aware of, Odyssey would automatically add the quest to my log and direct me towards the NPC that would have initially given me the quest and allow me to turn it in. One encounter around the midway point in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey had me burning the wares of a merchant in a barn. Once inside the barn, I realized he had taken prisoners captive and I freed them. After completing my objective, a cutscene played and a Spartan warrior came to my aid to defeat some enemies. It turned out he had seen the prisoners inside the burning barn and came to help free them. During the following conversation, he realized I had already freed them and he didn’t need to come help. These are the small details that helped fully realize my actions in the world, even before realizing it.
As much as I loved exploring the world, I often found myself just sitting and examining the sheer beauty of Odyssey. To this day, Greek mythology remains one of my favorite areas of study from my schooling. Hell, at one point I even got back into Magic: The Gathering during the Theros block (I haven’t played since) just because of how interesting I find the setting. While there have been plenty of games set during this time period, none of them are as realized as Odyssey, and exploring the hills of Attika is just as interesting to me here as doing battle in the Coliseum. Balancing the marvels of exploring with the intensity of adventure and combat is a tough thing to pull off, but Ubisoft has done just that.
Combat picks up where Origins left off, with a flurry of light and heavy attacks that strategically interact with enemies in different ways. While a lot of my light attacks felt like button mashing, a dodge and heavy attack fill in the gaps of enemy weaknesses. Sitting and writing this review, thinking about the combat and equipment is almost overwhelming. Combat and equipment is so versatile in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey that it’s going to be impossible to hit all the important notes needed. The biggest thing I can say about it is that Odyssey lets players play and fight how they want. Each type of weapon works similarly, but differently enough that just figuring out how you want to fight opponents is an important first step.
Most of the enemies are literal copies of each other throughout the journey but there are different classes that wield different types of weapons like powerful maces, shields to block attacks, or archers that can utilize poison or fire arrows. Standard fodder exists, but the farther players progress, the easier it is to die even from the most basic of enemies. The skills in Odyssey often play an important role in how players can handle different types of enemies. There are three skill trees players can sink ability points into that can unlock new powers, or level up previously earned ones. Early on, I bought an ability that allowed me to remove a shield from an enemy, giving me access to attack them head on without worrying about countering or heavy attacks.
The three skill trees here play an important role based on player preference. I tended to lean more towards the assassination and hunter branch, which gave my assassin damage a boost, and gave my bow powerful abilities. The more I play, the more I realize how important my bow skills are, and I found myself using ranged attacks to deal with enemies just as often, if not more, than close melee attacks. That being said, it often came down to a brutal dance of give and take as I whittled down enemy forces to allow myself space to fight stronger enemy captains or mercenaries. A quick button combination allows players to quickly switch between ranged combat, close combat, and skills showcasing just how fluid and easy it is to switch to different attacks styles quickly even during a large fight.
Mercenaries play a big role in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and function like Phylakes did in Origins. As players murder, steal, or do anything else that the citizens frown upon, the mercenary bar fills up similar to Grand Theft Auto. There are five tiers, and there can be up to five mercenaries hunting Alexios or Kassandra at any one time. In the beginning of my journey I would hunt them down to get rid of them, but later as they got stronger, I would instead put my focus on hunting the sponsor of my bounty. If players kill the sponsor of the bounty, the mercenary bar depletes and starts over. The first couple tiers aren’t as important, but around the fourth mark I would end up in large battles to take over a fort, and would consistently get two or three mercenaries joining the fray towards the end, making a large battle even more difficult.
Loot comes fast and heavy in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Players will find a plethora of all weapon and armor types, but they quickly become underpowered. Odyssey has an easy to use system of allowing players to upgrade weapons and equipment to their current level, but this comes at a pretty high cost of use. Engravings allow powerful perks to be equipped to favorite weapons and equipment. These two in-game tools give players the opportunity to continue using their favorite weapons and armor throughout the whole game, but keep in mind a lot of resources will be used.
Because a large portion of the map is engulfed in ocean, naval combat players another key role in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. All of the naval combat and navigation will feel similar to anyone that has played any of the Assassin’s Creed titles that feature it. However, this is probably the most accessible version of it featured to date. Upgrades are easy to equip and utilize, and it quickly becomes apparent how important upgrading your ship is to survival.
I think the biggest hurdle, and one of my only complaints about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is how much effort it takes to actually move the story forward. Players must explore the world and take on the random fetch quests and unimportant side missions that some of the NPC’s have to offer. After a certain point, levelling up slows way down, and those side missions provide needed experience boosts to continue. Due to the politics and war ravaging Greece, the main story quests are as personal as they are politics driven. Some quests require players to kill a ton of enemies, while others require stealthy approaches to infiltrate buildings and rig votes or steal attack plans. The story missions are more diverse than a lot of the side missions, but a few of the side missions really stand out.
Some of the coolest moments in the entire 60+ hour journey came at the hands of side quests. The first one that stands out came from the daughters of Artemis. These missions task players with defeating extremely powerful legendary creatures. These work like the rare animal hunts from other Ubisoft franchises but the combat and intensity from Odyssey make this work better than other titles. The second stand out group of side quests I want to bring up are the cultist side missions. These are actually a main point of the entire journey, but since they aren’t part of the personal journey, they feel more like side quests. As players hunt members of the cult, they earn clues to identify the main leader of each cult branch. Each cultist has a clue that helps players locate the members, but they’ll need to explore a large portion of the world to track them all down.
For the first time in franchise history, Ubisoft has given players options on how they want to explore the world of Greece. Upon first starting up the game, players can choose guided or exploration modes of gameplay. Guided mode works a little closer to traditional Assassin’s Creed gameplay, with quest markers and objective markers showing them where to go. Exploration mode is more immersive, and requires players to listen to NPC’s and clues on where to go without objective markers. Exploration mode is how Odyssey is meant to be played, and is the best way to naturally uncover the world and all of its secrets.
I played through Odyssey on PC, and didn’t really experience many problems. Most of my issues arose from the actual uPlay service, which would sign me out after long gameplay sessions. This wasn’t a real problem though, because I never lost any progress. Checkpoints were a little hit or miss, which caused a little lost progress, but I never missed anything due to uPlay. While PC requirements are pretty steep for Odyssey, my GTX 980 ti ran at 2460x1440p at a steady 45-60 fps. Online benchmarks put my rig on the lower end, but after really digging into the settings, everything ran better than my initial expectations. Ubisoft Kiev actually took over PC duties from the main developers at Ubisoft Quebec, giving players a full suite of customization and performance options. They’ve done a really commendable job at giving players a full range of options on such a varied platform.
I thought I enjoyed last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, but I hadn’t seen anything yet. The team at Ubisoft Quebec have done an incredible job bringing the world of Ancient Greece to life, with teeming cities, and widely varied environments. Even the sea is fun to explore, both on a boat and while swimming. This is an intimate tale of a broken family, and focusing on that story benefits the franchise as a whole greatly. This has been my favorite Assassin’s Creed title since the second one in the franchise, and it seems like Ubisoft as a whole is starting to hit a peak on how to create a varied open-world RPG from the ashes of the previous gameplay style of Assassin’s Creed.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review was based on a PC copy of the game provided by Ubisoft. Purchases are available here.