Despite having gamers wait two years between the release of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Ubisoft have once again adopted the annual release formula for the newest entry in the series Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. What that’d typically mean is that the game would feel very similar to the one which came before it, and in many ways that is the case – I mean, Assassin’s Creed: Origins saw the game essentially re-invent itself anyway, so players just expected to see more of the same here.
Fortunately, last year’s game just so happened to be bloody brilliant, so the fact that Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey offers more of the same is only a good thing. It even manages to improve the successful formula in some places too, with the game offering a truly meaty adventure that’s full of things to do, wondrous things to see and, most importantly, plenty of baddies to kill.
Despite Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ narrative showcasing the beginnings of the Assassins themselves, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey actually takes place a good four-hundred years beforehand, sending players further back than they’ve ever been in the series. For the first time you’re given a choice of who you play as too, with players either taking on the role of Alexios or Kassandra (and this isn’t like Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate where you constantly switch between the two either) as you help out in a war between the finest warriors of Greece (it’s a battle between Sparta and Athens), all whilst taking down a shadowy organisation that are doing naughty things behind the scenes. I won’t spoil anything here, but just know that there are mysterious elements and conspiracy theories aplenty throughout the game’s lengthy narrative.
In a similar vein to RPGs like Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey actually sees you making decisions that can determine how events pan out in the game. This could be something simple like deciding how a mission plays out, how you respond to a character, or who you romance (there’re plenty of ‘oo-la-la’ moments through the game), but it always gives the player this extra sense of involvement that’s been missing in previous entries of the game. It also gives a lot of the side characters an extra ounce of personality, especially since their response to your actions can be so varied – you won’t be able to please everyone after all, and it’ll tell in the way that they end up treating you.
As I said, it’s the most involved players have been in dictating how the story pans out and your actions can have some real lasting effects. It really strengthens the RPG-turn that the series has taken since the last game and it’s something I was a big fan of. Here’s hoping we’ll see more of it in the series in the future… maybe when we *finally* end up exploring Feudal Japan, Ubisoft?
On the gameplay side of things, Ubisoft have done something really interesting this time around by offering the players two different playstyles: ‘Guided’ and ‘Exploration’.
‘Guided’ plays just like previous entries in the series, with player’s objectives and points of interest clearly marked to them. It’s the easiest way to play the game and it’s the way you would’ve been used to (plus it’s a whole lot less intimidating given the scope of the world).
‘Exploration’ puts the whole world in your hands, meaning you have to discover everything yourself. Markers telling you where your mission is? Gone. Want a clear indication of where to go next? Tough luck, find it yourself. This is the more purest way to play the game and almost makes it less video-gamey in a way (yes, I’m sure that’s a word) – you’re not left completely aimless though, with NPCs and mission-givers giving plenty of instruction as to where you need to go next. It’s just up to you to find it.
Honestly, for the sake of writing a review I stuck to ‘Guided’ mode – I knew the game was massive anyway, so I didn’t need the stress of aimless wandering to go with the sheer wealth of content I had to uncover. Still, there’s something undeniably intriguing about ‘Exploration’ and I could imagine it offers one of the most purest adventures seen in any video game. It’s definitely something I’d be intrigued to try in the future and it shows that sometimes all games need is a minor change for them to essentially re-invent themselves.
As per any Assassin’s Creed game, there’re plenty of missions to complete and villains to kill in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Like Assassin’s Creed: Origins though, each mission has a recommended level that you’ll ideally want to be if you hope to have any success. Completing story missions alone won’t help you achieve this though, so you’ll have to partake in the many side quests of the game.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’s world is bloody massive, so you can expect to stumble across side quests just about anywhere. Now some of them can be a lot of fun and offer these little narratives that unfold in what are often weird and wonderful ways – these are definitely the pick of the bunch and there are plenty to find scattered across Greece. However, there are a lot that are a bit dull and could break the pace of the game too. Don’t get me wrong, they’re never outright boring; rather, they send you on glorified fetch quests whilst not offering an intriguing narrative hook to motivate you to do so. You can’t avoid a lot of these dull quests either, since you need to level up in order to keep your skills on track with the game’s mainline quests.
Fortunately, there’s a lot more good than bad, whilst the sheer volume of things to discover in the world means that if you’re not doing something interesting, you’re at least seeing something neat. There’s a heck of a lot to do in the world too, so if you’re not a fan of a particular quest you can always find something else out there to help increase your level – just know that you can expect to spend well over fifty-hours with the game just to see most of what it has to offer.
One of my favourite kind of side quests were the newly introduced ‘Conquests’: epic battles you can partake in as you join the side of either Sparta or Athens in varying conflicts throughout Greece. You initiate them by clearing a region of the influence of either army through disruptive side-tasks, with the player then deciding which side they want to take when the animosity between both armies hits its limit. You end up on a battlefield that’s full of destruction and taking on hundreds of enemies in showdowns that you’d expect to see in Dynasty Warriors rather than an Assassin’s Creed game. They’re just a heck of a lot of fun and show off the sheer scale of the world – plus, they show just how far the Assassin’s Creed series has come since its initial release.
Another interesting feature that has been introduced this time around is the fact that illegal actions have genuine repercussions. Like a cross of Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls, every illegal action you perform is noticed in the game and helps see the bounty on your head grow – the more notorious you become, the more bounty hunters you can expect to see hounding you and trying to bring you down. The only ways in which you can stop them is by hiding out, paying the bounty yourself, or simply killing the person that put the bounty on you to begin with.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that these bounty hunters can really jeopardise a mission if they aren’t dealt with. Not only will they continually hunt you down (and believe me, they can be tough), they’ll also be lingering on the streets of Greece whilst keeping a close eye out for you anyway. One time I needed to reach a mission-giver, but he had bounty hunters around him so I couldn’t do so without getting into a tough fight – seriously, they certainly make their presence known. It’s a neat system, though I’ll admit that there were a few occasions where it could annoy. Sometimes you just want to play and proceed through the game’s story without having to think about anything else, so having bounty hunters constantly hounding you could break the pace a bit and force you to do deal with something else other than genuine progression.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’s combat will feel familiar to anyone who played the previous game, which means it’s deep, tactical and a whole lot of fun. It’s had some refinements this year too, with all-new skills to unlock that are more powerful than ever (and that require adrenaline to use) often proving to be game-changers. You can recharge your adrenaline by killing enemies and dodging attacks, so as long as you keep fighting you won’t find yourself in short supply.
The epic-scale battles of the aforementioned ‘Conquests’ demand more precision when swapping between targets, and thankfully the game delivers in that regard too with it never being easier to take on multiple foes at once. Everything feels a lot quicker this time around too, though that could be owed to the fact that you’re not equipped with a shield but actually have to dodge incoming enemy attacks. It just comes together nicely to make for a combat experience that doesn’t only look stylish in-game, but is also a hell of a lot of fun.
Of course, you can always try to avoid conflict and take the stealthy approach if you prefer. Once again, you have an eagle who can scout ahead for you (who is fittingly named Icarus), whilst you also have plenty of abilities at hand that’ll allow you to take out foes without getting noticed. There are just so many ways to approach just about everything in the game, whether it be going in all-guns (or swords) blazing or by simply climbing across rooftops and sneaking your way around whilst silently killing your prey without anyone noticing. Whatever approach you decide to take, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’s varied and finely-tuned gameplay ensures you’re always going to have a blast.
I didn’t think Ubisoft would be able to top the work they did in designing Assassin Creed: Origins’ Egypt, yet with Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey they’ve crafted a beautiful world which isn’t only spectacular to explore but also full of mesmerising sights and secrets. You just never know what you’re going to find hidden away across Greece, whilst the fact that it’s spread across environments that feel alive with both animals and people getting by with their lives (often with hilarious results) means that you’ll actually feel like you’re exploring a living breathing world. Plus, you can climb the penis of a giant statue, which never stops being funny no matter how many GIFs you see of people doing it on Twitter.
Unlike the last game though, you’re not just exploring one big landscape in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It’s actually spread across a variety of different islands, which means you’ll have to head out and explore on a boat once more. This isn’t only a lot of fun (even if it is missing the good ol’ fashioned sea shanties of Black Flag) but actually adds a bigger sense of grandeur to the whole adventure – it genuinely feels like you’re exploring this mighty piece of ocean that has a lot of historical significance. Of course, you’ll also take part in battles at sea too, and even the boats come with more impressive attacking abilities than before.
There’s just a real sense of progression to exploring the game’s beautiful world, and whilst everything is open from the get-go, the recommended level that comes with each region warns you not to stray too far too early if you want to stay alive. It means you get rewarded for progressing and levelling up, and when that reward is seeing more of a beautiful Ancient Greece that’s full of impressive sights, it’s hard to complain. It’s just stunning.
Oh, and one more thing that I have to mention. You remember Leonidas’ iconic kick from the movie 300? Yeah, you can do that here too (though the accompanying scream of ‘This is Sparta!’ can only be done in real-life, I’m afraid).
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC