Final Update: (11/24/18): In Which my Odyssey Finally Comes to an End.
Looking back at my previous updates, I feel like a naive child. Despite my repeated admissions that this review was going to take a seriously long time, it still managed to spiral out of control and take nearly two whole months. During that time, I spent well over 100 hours stabbing, shooting, running, jumping, climbing, sailing and flirting, and I’d be willing to bet that I could easily go for nearly 100 more should I choose to do so.
Now I shall finally, finally, finish discussing my impressions of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
Partial as I may be to AC II‘s Florence or even Revelations‘ Constantinople, it would be patently untrue to say that any entry in the series so far looks better than Odyssey. Of course, some of that can be attributed to newer technology or a better understanding of current-gen hardware (both of which can be attributed to the passage of time), but the differences go deeper.
Areas are varied, major cities feel like they’re bursting with character and the landscapes of Greece are unbelievably scenic. Even playing on a standard PS4 and a 1080p TV, the colors pop in the foreground and eventually recede into gorgeous horizons that look as if they were painted with a photorealistic brush (which, in a sense they were). It’s clear from your first glimpse of the bloodsoaked battlefield of Thermopylai to whatever cliff’s edge or towering sculpture you choose to perch on when finally bidding Odyssey adieu, that Ubisoft took pains to make this game as aesthetically pleasing as possible. A good choice, considering how much time you’ll spend running across it.
Unfortunately, this is where yet another crack begins to appear in Odyssey‘s presentation, and threatens to sweep away the facade of depth that the game spends so long trying to cultivate. Objective beauty aside, Odyssey’s world feels stiff and unchanging. Claiming a region for one faction or another only seems to switch the armor worn by guards, and for all of the character that the visual and audio design lend major cities, its citizens still shamble around serving little purpose other than to take up space.
Another unfortunate byproduct of Odyssey‘s size is the frequent recurrence of copied and pasted temples, forts, outposts, and small towns. There’s always something to be said for architectural consistency, but I sincerely doubt that on a walking tour of these islands I’d happen across quite as much repetition. Given the scope of the project, much this is not only understandable but unavoidable. Even so, it’s hard not to feel that the size of the map cost this world many of the personal touches that help games like this come to life.
The RPG Elements
In no other aspect is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey more conflicted than in how it implements its role-playing mechanics. On one hand, it’s wildly ambitious to attempt a transition like this; linear action franchises rarely become full-fledged RPG’s with romance options and branching narratives overnight. On the other hand, the way that Ubisoft executed on these ideas feels inconsistent.
Take a much-discussed side quest available on the game’s starting island, Kephallonia. The protagonist’s young friend, Phoibe, will entreat them to help a boy in a neighboring village. It would seem that the town was ravaged by a “blood fever,” so soldiers have been sent to kill the population in hopes of stopping the disease from spreading. Upon arriving in the village, players are given the option to choose whether to eliminate the last remaining family (who claim they are not sick) or the soldiers threatening them.
I, being generally averse to murdering unarmed innocents, opted to save the family. A few hours later, my trusty first mate, Barnabas, informed me that the blood fever had consumed Kephallonia in its entirety and that the whole island was now a wasteland. I was gobsmacked. Not only was this game already shaping around my actions, but the writers were willing to go so far as to kill essentially every early-game character based on a choice I’d made in a side quest.
Another few hours passed, and I remembered that Barnabas had mentioned that I could visit Kephallonia at any time. Surely, I thought, there must be some resolution to this story, maybe a few struggling survivors looking for help to rebuild. So I set sail, and what I found was an empty island. No follow-up quests, no searching for the remains of old friends like the buffoonish but lovable Markos, nothing.
This is emblematic of the inconsistency I mentioned earlier. The initial gut-punch of razing the game’s starting area is an effective one, but beyond that singular moment, it has absolutely no significance. The same can be said of romance options, which are explicitly contained to their own questlines, and cease to exist when you’re not actively participating in a mission for that individual. They’re a fun diversion, but it’s difficult not to be frustrated with how shallow the system is when compared to a game like Mass Effect, where romance was used to raise the emotional stakes of the narrative rather than for novelty.
Along the main storyline, though, decisions to seem to have a tangible effect on where things ultimately end up, even if it’s not always made abundantly clear which decisions are important and which are frivolous. Overall, the addition of narrative RPG elements is a good thing for Assassin’s Creed and helps make the story feel far more personal, but for Ubisoft’s next stab at the genre, I’d love to see them take it further. The foundation laid by Odyssey is generally strong, and given a few years and a more focused approach the series could become a major player in AAA RPG’s.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a game that lives and dies by the idea that more is better. It’s the biggest game in the series, but how does that impact the quality? It has dozens of interlocking systems, but does that complexity necessarily guarantee depth? It throws an insane number of quests at players, but how many are memorable? Even the inventory is flooded with dozens of weapons and armor pieces, few of which are worth keeping.
If Odyssey impresses the most in only one sense, it’s just how close it comes to balancing the mentality of “more is better” with “better is better.” Clearly, it is more, a lot more. But in many ways, it is a dramatic improvement on most every Assassin’s Creed game in recent memory. The world is beautiful and unique, the story is far more interesting than the series has managed in years, and a stunning number of optional quests are just as (if not more) engaging than the mandatory ones.
That having been said, certain parts of the experience are still just as messy and flat as some of the worst games in the franchise. The Mercenary system is a dud, inventory management is a hassle, the level gating is unnecessarily strict, naval combat falls flat, and for every outstanding side mission there’s at least one mundane chore or repetitive objective.
But the same can easily be said of Dragon Age Inquisition, a game that recieved numerous awards when it released. Even The Witcher 3 struggled with some of these issues; it just seems to come with the territory. Would I put Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on the same level as The Wild Hunt? No. With Inquisition? At the very least I’d say they could both learn something from each other.
If nothing else, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a bold new direction for a franchise in desperate need of one. Not everything works, but what does is both impressive and exciting. For the first time in years, I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Update Three: (10/25/18): In which I Have Even More to Say.
After yet another twenty hours, I can confirm what I had suspected from the start: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an unreasonably large game. Each time I think I’ve got a handle on the story, it veers off in unexpected directions and fractures into geographically distant but narratively related paths. Similarly, every time I begin to suspect that the end is in sight, I’m beaten over the head with another dozen-plus side quests filled with compelling characters, difficult choices and gripping political intrigue.
On the whole, I’m still very much enjoying my time in this behemoth of a world, but despite Odyssey‘s myriad strengths, it has more than its fair share of weaknesses.
The Naval Combat
There is a strong case to be argued for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag as the fan favorite of the series. Following AC III‘s over-serious, tepid, and ultimately unsatisfying story, players were thrilled by the freedom afforded to them as pirates. Edward Kenway, a dashing (if stereotypical) young rogue was the embodiment of this new devil-may-care attitude; he cared as little about the Assassins as most of the audience. Standing head and shoulders above every change implemented in Black Flag, though, was the heavy emphasis placed on the naval combat.
Ever since 2013 (with the exception of the largely overlooked Rogue), players have been clamoring for the return of ships to Assassin’s Creed‘s core gameplay. In keeping with Odyssey‘s unstated mission to please as many customers as possible in as many ways as possible, it was confirmed during the game’s E3 reveal that once again the series would take to the high seas. So, how well do design elements from Black Flag and Origins mesh together?
Fine, but not spectacularly.
While hurling a barrage of javelins into the hull of an opposing trireme is still technically as satisfying as launching a round of cannon fire was five years ago, Odyssey’s naval combat lacks vitality. Origins, as previously mentioned, was something of a soft reboot for the franchise. It introduced unprecedentedly massive swaths of land for players to explore on foot or horseback, and in doing so upended the established order of things.
Black Flag functioned on a modified hub-and-spokes framework where the meat of the world was navigable only via your ship, The Jackdaw. Meanwhile, landmasses were self-contained areas where players would disembark to engage with story missions, scavenge for crafting materials (or the monumentally more precious sea shanties), and gather helpful tips from friendly bartenders. While this was also a departure from previous games’ “only one city” approach, it was short-lived. Subsequent games abandoned the modular approach in favor of sprawling renditions of locales like Paris or London.
Egypt, on the other hand, was one gigantic playground comprised of multiple cities, deserts, oases, and cliffs. Structurally, this has far more in common with the Brotherhood/Syndicate/Unity/ approach to world design, but scale and emphasis on optional missions make it feel vastly different. Running through Unity‘s Paris, the most you were asked to do was follow the waypoint on your minimap and occasionally tackle a purse-thief. The world was mostly empty of things to do between point A and point B.
The same can’t be said for either Origins or Odyssey, both of which throw such a mountainous volume of content at players that during the first time they enter a new region it’s difficult to go forty-five uninterrupted seconds without finding a fort that needs liberating, a cave that needs exploring, or a citizen with errands that need running.
The most substantial thing to consider when trying to compare Black Flag (a game based on naval combat) and Odyssey (a game that includes naval combat) is that in the former, sailing around and pillaging felt like the entire point of the experience. In the latter, it just feels like a way to get across the map, not so different from your trusty horse.
Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that Odyssey‘s factions are never particularly well defined, so I struggle to decide whether or not it would be a betrayal to my heritage to ram that Spartan ship on the horizon. But if that’s the case, would it not also be a betrayal to the many Athenian friends I’ve made throughout my journey (including but not limited to Perikles, the father of democracy, and his wife)? A mercenary with innumerable personal connections feels like a fairly limp replacement for an independent pirate vis-a-vis giving the player an excuse to run rampant on the high seas.
Of course, none of this is meant to imply that the sailing component of Odyssey is a weakness to the game at large. There are times where it ties in beautifully to some of the other systems, and sending out a volley of flaming arrows is uniquely satisfying. Instead, it simply feels like another mechanic in a game so jam-packed with mechanics that no single one has a chance to define the experience in a way that compares to Black Flag.
The Skill Tree and Inventory
Another returning feature in Odyssey is the inclusion of skill trees comprised of increasingly powerful abilities to be unlocked as the player levels up. The twist this time around is that the categories into which each ability falls (Warrior, Assassin, or Hunter) now have a tangible impact on the gameplay outside of reinforcing certain playstyles.
Proficiency in each of the above categories is now denoted by a number listed at the bottom of the Abilities and Inventory screens, and determine how well the player is able to perform certain actions. Stealth attacks and assassinations are governed by Assassin Damage, ranged attacks are based on the Hunter Damage level, and damage dealt during regular melee combat is reliant on Warrior Damage.
There are several ways to change these values. The first and most obvious is to level up your character and purchase skills in the corresponding branch of the tree. For as visible as this method is, it ultimately feels less impactful than the second approach: rigorous inventory management.
Each piece of weaponry or armor players collect is given a level, a rarity rating, and up to three special attributes. These characteristics usually amend one type of damage by a certain percentage, (e.g., Plus 16% Assassin Damage, or Plus 9% Hunter Damage, etc.). In addition to being vague and frustrating to balance given the frequency with which new sets of superior gear drop, this system virtually ensures that unless players want to be woefully under-leveled in two of the three categories, they’ll have to be content with mediocrity in all three.
The practical repercussion of this idea is that players will be unable to successfully assassinate most of the beefier enemies (even if their level is lower than that of the player), non-elemental arrows will feel underpowered to the point of near-uselessness, and enemies can feel irritatingly spongey. It’s never quite enough to derail the experience, and the core combat mechanics are fun enough to keep things from feeling like a losing proposition, but it does make inventory management a chore and heavily deemphasizes the only mechanic featured in the title of the game.
The Character Progression
Using the mechanical dissonance of the skill tree as a jumping off point, it also seems worthwhile to discuss an issue that plagues far too many RPG’s, Odyssey included.
Consider Dragon Age Inquisition for a moment. A grand, epic fantasy that takes place across a wide range of scenic locales. A character-driven role-playing game that seeks to give players the means to fight the way they want, love the way they want, and see the repercussions of their choices. True as these descriptors are, Inquisition is also a complete inventory management nightmare and mess of numbers, status effects, and mostly unnecessary crafting materials. The same can be said for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
In many ways, this speaks to the realization of Odyssey as an RPG worth comparing to the work of one of the most respected purveyors of the genre. It also stands as an example of the fact that much of AAA development is blind to the mistakes of previous games. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the single most frustrating shared element of Odyssey and Inquisition: the sense that no matter how high the number next to your weapon climbs or how many skills you unlock, you never feel like you’re actually getting any better.
Early on in Odyssey, I attempted to take down a mercenary who was one level higher than myself, and on my third attempt, I finally succeeded. It was a hard fight, but through judicious use of flame attacks and a generous dose of dodging, I prevailed. For my efforts, I leveled up from 10 to 11. Surely, now, I would feel more prepared to take on those level 10 fools behind me, right?
Nope, not really.
Fighting a level 43 enemy when you’re at level 42 provides exactly the same challenge as fighting a level 11 enemy at level 10. However, challenging that same high-level fellow at a low-level guarantees a one way trip to Hades (and a lengthy loading screen). There is no sense of progression or improvement, only the distinct feeling that the number at the top of the screen suddenly makes enemies squishier.
The same issue plagued Inquisition, which also level-gated off certain areas with enemies who could eviscerate players in one shot should they be foolish enough to stray within eyesight. However, once the player comes within an acceptable level range, that Shade who destroyed your entire party in nine seconds somehow becomes manageable.
Compare this system to something like Breath of the Wild. BOTW shirks leveling and XP altogether, instead opting for upgradable stamina or health as rewards for engaging with the environment and puzzles. As you move through the world, you steadily improve, meaning that facing down the Moblin that nearly killed you at the start of your adventure is now barely worth the effort to dispatch with that sweet sword you just found, and that Guardian who – let’s be honest, is still pretty intimidating – is no longer practically invincible.
In Odyssey, the strategy you use to fight a brute during the game’s opening hours is exactly the same after more than seventy. Sure, you’re over level 40 and your sword gives a boost to your fire attacks, but it seems like nothing’s changed. Rather than feeling empowered to take on challenges the more capable you become as a fighter, the endless incrementation of your level feels like a breakneck race up a flight of Penrose steps.
The Cliffhanger (Pt. 2)
And thus concludes another incremental update. Stay tuned for more in the coming days and (hopefully not) weeks.
Update Two: (10/21/18): In which my Overlong Hiatus from this Review Comes to an End.
By my count, it has been thirteen days since I last updated this “Review In Progress;” a duration lengthy enough to make my impressions of Ubisoft’s latest adventure all but useless to any potential buyer. Even so, it has become increasingly clear to me that to actually complete Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in anything resembling a reasonable amount of time is effectively impossible.
To date, I’ve clocked around fifty hours of gameplay, and I suspect that I’m still well within the first half of the campaign. The downside of this figure is that this review will absolutely be sharing space with both Red Dead Redemption 2 and upcoming films, which I suspect will make the next month slightly cluttered. The upside is that I have increased my understanding of what is and is not working in Odyssey by fifty hours.
Given that this is such an enormous game, it stands to reason that I have a trireme-full of impressions to dump out. For simplicity and ease of organization, I’ve decided to do so by separating my thoughts into a number of categories.
The Story and Characters
In my last update, I referred to Kassandra as “one of the most compelling protagonists since Ezio Auditore.” I would like to amend that statement by striking the phrase “one of.” Not only do dialogue options allow players to project themselves onto their hero of choice for the first time in the series, but even if this feature were removed entirely, Kassandra would stand confidently on her own as a charismatic, driven lead with believable motivations.
Altair, while retroactively given far more personality in Revelations, was little more than a bland-voiced conduit used by AC I to slide players into the role of an assassin while barraging them with conspiracy theories and lore. Connor was absolutely nothing more than a bland-voiced angry-boy with a cool hatchet and some grievances. Edward Kenway was a stock photo of a pirate who happened to move like a living being between vague flashbacks meant to make him seem pitiable, if not relatable.
Ubisoft took one step forward with Shay (whose inner conflict at least provided a change of pace), but ultimately let his individual characteristics be overshadowed by the necessities of tying together three other games. Similarly, Jacob and Evie Frye had some enjoyable chemistry, but each was drawn too much like a caricature to be taken seriously. Bayek was pleasant and affable, and his motivations tied far more neatly into the narrative of Origins than most any other character I’ve thus mentioned, but his tragic past was so hyperbolic and excessive that it made his frequent joviality seem at odds with his penchant for explosive anger. Despite this, I would have to argue that he had (until now) taken the reigns of “best character since Ezio” simply on the basis that I’ve already devoted the majority of this paragraph to his traits and could easily continue.
Arno Dorian, though, I will see in hell.
Finally returning to the topic of Kassandra, I’ve found myself consistently impressed. Yes, she does have a tragic backstory, but it seems entirely believable within the context of the world at that time. Yes, she is still defined by parental issues, but her struggles with family are so intimately weaved into both the narrative and her interactions with some NPC’s that they feel far more like a theme or a motif than a cheap way to elicit emotions.
The story itself is, without a doubt, the series’ most twisty-turny to date. I’d love to go into detail about how few of the surprises I could have predicted (another series first), but to do so would rob players of the opportunity to experience them first hand. Suffice it to say that Odyssey is home to what could become, depending on how things unfold over the next several hours, the best campaign of any Assassin’s Creed.
As a final note on the events of the story, it seems that Ubisoft has finally dropped the idea that players should be placed directly at the epicenter of major historical events rather than on their periphery. The former was the case in AC II, where Ezio was adjacent to a number of famous figures but wasn’t responsible for inspiring Brunelleschi to build il Duomo. Soon after, though, protagonists found themselves seated on the same horse as Paul Revere during his famous midnight ride or helping to explode the eponymous prison on Bastille Day.
While Odyssey takes place during the conflict between Athens and Sparta (and prominently features men like Herodotos and Sokrates), it has yet to task me with singlehandedly putting an end to the Peloponnesian War.
If there’s one thing that has surprised me the most during my time in ancient Greece, it’s how detailed and well thought out almost every single mission has been with very few exceptions. Quests fall into one of three categories: Odyssey (Main Story), World and Characters (Side Missions), and Bounties and Contracts (missions obtained from message boards).
I will forgo explaining the first denomination too thoroughly, both because I have confidence that if you’ve made it this far into the review then odds are you know what a story mission is, and because I described the strength of the main questline in the section above. I will say, however, that the way these particular story threads are doled out and resolved is fascinating. For instance, during an extended period where Kassandra must search for a missing person, her sources give her the option to pursue her target via three separate avenues.
Each option will result in the acquisition of valuable information, and each will take the player to a completely different area of the map, ensuring that the expansive world will receive its fair share of exploration. Even more impressive is the fact that each of these locales is home to memorable characters embroiled in their own, region-specific conflicts. Eventually, of course, these fractured story elements bottleneck back into one cohesive narrative track, but the idea that one questline can branch out so widely without falling apart altogether is remarkable.
The real stars of the show are Odyssey’s side missions, though. The vast majority of them act as their own self-contained narratives, introducing characters and struggles, and occasionally even romance. While the individual tasks being undertaken usually boil down to clearing out an enemy base or sinking a fleeing ship, doing so for characters you actually care about keeps them from feeling repetitive in the slightest. In Origins, these missions were almost always one-offs offered to Bayek by a random individual around Egypt. They had no backstory and no defining traits, only something that needed to be done. In Odyssey, these people are frequently given dimension, and their stories unfold over the course of multiple quests.
As for Bounties and Contracts, they act as the series staple checklist tasks. Go to this place, kill this person, come back. Set sail, sink X number of Athenian ships, collect your reward. Wash, rinse, repeat. The mechanics at play are fun enough, but with little motivation other than XP and money, these objectives are largely skippable.
Additionally, every task you accomplish within a region goes towards weakening the nation that currently controls it. For instance, if you burn war supplies in a city controlled by the Athenians, their hold on that region begins to weaken. If you can lower their influence enough, you can prompt a “Conquest Battle,” wherein you decide whether to help the invading army conquer the area, or aid the occupying force in defending their land. In theory, this adds to the sense that you, the player, are helping to shape the world. In practice, it has so far had very little bearing on anything whatsoever aside from the name of the nation running the show.
Another theory I suspect Ubisoft may have had is that these large-scale battles would be epic undertakings massive enough to satisfy players’ open-war fantasies. Again, in practice, the arrow didn’t quite make it to the target. While the scale of the fighting is technically impressive, the actual act of engaging in them is surprisingly limp and made unnecessarily difficult by the game’s lock-on camera. The only action you can engage in is the exact same melee combat you’ve used in every other mission so far, over and over and over again. This would be disappointing enough if it wasn’t for the fact that the camera will switch to focus on one of the forty-five enemies that surround you at all times if you so much as flick the right control-stick to adjust your perspective, making it extremely difficult to both manage your camera and tackle one target at a time.
Padding and Conquest Battles aside, the mission structure on Odyssey is a vast improvement over last year’s Origins and proves that Ubisoft (long known for their stale and repetitive sidequests) still has a few tricks up their collective sleeve.
The Ground Combat
If you’ve played Origins, you know exactly what to expect. Players will lock onto one target at a time, and deal out a flurry of attacks while dodging or parrying enemies. Successful parries, dodges, and attacks all add to an adrenaline bar, which once filled can be used to unleash more powerful attacks. It’s remarkably similar to the model that most third-person action games have adopted in the post-Dark Souls era, and it works just fine.
The only real addition this time around are the activated abilities I mentioned in my first update. These attacks, including the bone-crunchingly satisfying Spartan Kick, consume one segment of the adrenaline bar, although if you can amass three or more, you’re able to execute a devastatingly powerful “Overpower” attack that deals extra damage. Not only do these additions help combat feel like more than button mashing, they also give the adrenaline bar far more purpose than in Origins, where its only function was to fill completely and be used to Overpower an enemy.
All in all, both melee and archery remain nearly untouched from the previous game, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you enjoyed the way Bayek fought, then odds are you’ll have a similarly satisfying time with Kassandra or Alexios.
The Cliffhanger (Pt. 1)
Around 1500 words into this update, I began to realize that if I intended to put down each and every one of the thoughts I accrued during my last fifty hours of Odyssey-ing at once, it might take nearly that long to read. And so, as a method of keeping my updates from being as intimidatingly gargantuan as Ubisoft’s rendering of Greece, I will be parsing out the content originally planned for this one update into several. Keep an eye out for the first installment of the continuation some time in the next few days. Certainly not thirteen, though. That would be ridiculous.
Update One (10/08/18): In Which I Find Myself in Way Over My Head.
My decision to review Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has been, in itself, something of an odyssey. In the weeks leading up to release, it seemed like a no-brainer. AAA game with a built-in audience? Check. A series with which I have an extensive history? Check. A game I was going to purchase anyway? Check. A ton of positive buzz leading up to launch? Check. A Ubisoft title that seems hell-bent on out-Biowaring Bioware in this post-Anthem world? Big ol’ check.
With this incredibly positive outlook towards the review process, I set out on my journey with not so much as a thought towards the plentiful headlines discussing how massive Odyssey’s world is, or the unimaginably stuffed fall release season. And so, I began.
Right out of the gate, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey impresses by allowing its players to live out their Spartan-kicking, Battle of Thermopolai, 300 fantasies by casting them as King Leonidas, the leader of Sparta, as he and his army repel the Persian onslaught. History buffs, action junkies and Zack Snyder enthusiasts must have collectively rejoiced at being given such an epic, if brief and linear, role to play in one of the most infamous battles of antiquity. At this point too, I was entirely confident that this review would move along as smoothly as any I’d yet attempted.
Moments later, I was introduced to what has easily proven to be one of the most compelling protagonists since Ezio Auditore. Players are given the option to choose between two siblings: the male Alexios (a character thoroughly in line with AC‘s history of sad white-appearing dudes with daddy issues), and the female Kassandra (a character saved from becoming another sad white-appearing dude with daddy issues by the grace of not actually being a dude). Kassandra (my personal choice), despite falling into the AC protagonist trap of parental hangups, feels like a fresh, unique, and expressive individual that I’d be happy to follow through several more games, as opposed to essentially every playable character since Ezio (none of whom, incidentally, have been given more than one mainline entry).
At this point too, I was convinced that my attempt to review this game in any sort of timely manner was anything but foolhardy. The very moment I was able to zoom out and see the sheer, overwhelming scale of the world Ubisoft has built for Odyssey, I began to doubt that my venture could be completed within a reasonable timeframe. This worry was only exacerbated by the fact that the opening title of the game only rolled after nearly fifteen hours of exploring the island of Kephallonia.
Since then I’ve navigated the ocean between three Greek islands, fully completing two and barely beginning the third. During this time, I’ve realized that not only is each individual region so jam-packed with objectives, challenges, and self-contained stories that they put almost the entirety of AC III‘s world to shame, but completing at least most of these tasks is simultaneously imperative, enjoyable, and addictive.
And so, I arrived at a choice. Should I turn AC Odyssey into a game that I’d only play for leisure for fear of taking a thoroughly unprofessional length of time to actually complete the story, or should I take a thoroughly unprofessional length of time to arrive at a conclusion and risk needing to stagger intermittent film reviews with multiple ongoing game reviews? Eventually, as should be evident based on the preceding five hundred and seventy-four words, I ended up siding with the former.
And so, I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed my extremely long-winded manner of explaining that this review is going to take a good long while to fully complete. By my best guess, I’ve completed somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty hours of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which accounts for a minute fraction of the available content that ships with the base game. For fear of replicating my Spider-Man shame, I’ve decided to withhold a full rundown my impressions up to this point in favor of a brief summary of how I’m feeling.
A Brief Summary of how I’m Feeling:
- If Assassin’s Creed Origins served as a quasi-soft reboot of the franchise, then Odyssey feels like an “Al dente continuation.” There are a plethora of reused assets, mechanics, UI systems, and gameplay ideas. The control scheme is nearly identical, the protagonist still has access to a drone-like eagle that seems to possess X-ray vision for no discernable reason, missions are acquired in much the same way, inventory management and leveling are nearly identical, and map zones are still differentiated based on recommended player level.
- I’ve found the story to be far more compelling than Origins, the combat to be more strategic, and the naval exploration/confrontation element to be a welcome addition.
- The way that unlockable abilities are utilized is extremely interesting. Rather than simple upgrades or passive abilities, a great many skills are meant to be activated via the face buttons during stealth or melee/ranged combat specifically. This makes enemy encounters far more interesting, as each is directly impacted by your equipped abilities, and they’re all meant to support specific playstyles.
- If there’s one thing Assassin’s Creed has been missing (that I’d never realized I wanted), it’s dialogue options. Choices like accepting or rejecting quests seem perfunctory at best, but deciding how to woo an NPC, choosing which faction to side with during battle, or even determining whether or not to demand payment from someone you’ve just helped really makes allows players to express themselves in a way that feels meaningful. Kassandra feels far more like my character than anyone else in the series, and considering that AC is well past its tenth game (not counting the innumerable spinoffs), that’s pretty remarkable.
Hopefully, I’ll have some well thought out ideas to present during the next update, but so far (despite how many hours I’ve already sunk into Ubisoft’s gorgeous rendition of ancient Greece), it feels like anything I could say would be premature. I also intend to include will what will ideally be a contextually informative (and condensed) outline of my opinions of each main-series game I’ve played. In the meantime, I plan to continue my Grecian odyssey, which I suspect will overlap with my old-west adventures in Red Dead Redemption 2 and possibly even my award season film coverage. Regardless, Odyssey is certainly not a misnomer, nor is it simply a title; it’s a description, or maybe even a disclaimer.