Last year, Ubisoft Montreal impressed me with Assassin’s Creed Origins after being down on the series for a couple of years. Now Assassin’s Creed Odyssey sets to continue what Origins started, moving away from the deserts of Egypt to the rich and bustling locales of Ancient Greece. Previous entries have had minor RPG elements, but this time Odyssey puts those elements at center stage, where your choices will significantly impact the outcome of the story. Not a unique concept, but a series first for Assassin’s Creed.
Near the beginning, you are given the choice between two characters: Kassandra and Alexios. No matter who you choose, the other will appear in the story in ways that I won’t specify here. I chose Kassandra and I don’t regret my decision one bit. She gives off a persona that I haven’t seen from any other Assassin’s Creed protagonists, not even the fan-favorite Ezio. No matter the dialogue options you choose, her sarcastically snarky attitude remains intact. You’ll be able to recognize key dialogue options by the label next to them, initiating a chance to lie, battle, intimidate, romance, or assassinate. Don’t worry about making the wrong choice during regular conversations, chances are you’ll know when an important decision needs to be made. As a result of player choice, Odyssey’s story is as interesting as it is engaging (literally), brought to life by some talented actors.
Odyssey’s main quest is deserving of the name “odyssey.” It’s long, filled with many branching paths, and it takes you all across the vast land of Greece. Gazing upon the map for the first time made me feel overwhelmed and excited. Excited to explore this massive open world and overwhelmed trying to find the time to play it all. As you can imagine, Greece is much different from Egypt. Here you’ll find more tropical environments, bustling city streets, and a vast ocean that will require you to travel by ship. Odyssey introduces a new mode of exploration, aptly named Exploration mode. Previous titles (and most open-world games in general) place the waypoint on the map directing the player where exactly to go. While that is an option here, the game recommends playing in Exploration mode to incorporate a less-than-obvious way to find your goal. This will give you hints in the form of directions based on landmarks on the map. It’s not as innovative as it sounds however, because when you get close to your objective, it’ll notify you to call your eagle to scope out the waypoint. Still, it’s better than the traditional method, if only by a little.
Earlier I mentioned that you’ll be doing a ton of traveling by ship, so if you’re a fan of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, you should get excited! Sure there was naval combat in Origins, but it only took up an extremely small chunk of the game. Now in Odyssey, it has returned in full force, with options to customize your ship, your crew, and your weapons. However, it’s not as polished as it was in Black Flag. I encountered one battle where I was stuck in front of a dock, so me and the other ship were having a battle without moving. Even though it was one time, it was jarring. Still, you’ll be able to take on a variety of ships from Athens, Sparta, or even pirates. When you weaken their defenses with arrows and spears, you can finish them off by ramming or boarding them for some extra supplies. It admittedly doesn’t take up as much of the game as it did in Black Flag, but you’re still given the freedom to explore the ocean at your heart’s content.
My main objective while playing was to fulfill as many story quests as I could, but that would prove to be difficult without completing sidequests and world activities. Leveling up your character feels more important in Odyssey than it ever has in other Assassin’s Creed games. Kassandra at level 5 doesn’t feel nearly the same as Kassandra at level 20. Near the beginning, I was frustrated at how many times I died at an enemy’s hand, that is until I unlocked the ability to replenish 25% of health during battle. Now enemies with even a slightly-higher level count than me feel like fair challenges.
The combat system in Odyssey is based on the one from Origins with some well-implemented tweaks. The game’s skill tree is divided up into three categories: Hunter, Warrior, and Assassin. Hunter applies to your bow skills, Warrior for combat, and Assassin for stealth. Because I do much more combat and I’m bad at stealth, I’ve been considerably generous to my Warrior tab and it shows in my play-style. Your first few hours in this game will be about learning your way around the combat to figure out moves that make you a better fighter. Ability points also unlock for you special skills accessible during fights by holding the left shoulder button, allowing you to kick foes on the ground or take their shield and throw it back at them. At first I was frustrated with the combat, but as I got better, I’m going to find it hard to go back to the combat in other Assassin’s Creed games. Even Origins.
“Choice” is the key term when it comes to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Dialogue options are one way to incorporate this, but the real fun comes with its gameplay. Regions in the game are controlled by different factions, the main two being Spartans and Athenians. Because you’re a mercenary, your allegiance lies with whoever is paying the most coin. Therefore you can weaken the nation’s power by destroying supplies, killing VIPs, and recruiting enemy soldiers onto your ship. When the region is at its weakest, you can either choose to defend it from the opposing forces or help them invade it. You’ll be rewarded with special gear depending on which task is the hardest. It’s a fun addition to shake up the Assassin’s Creed formula, and I’m personally rooting for the Athenians in this battle.
By now you’ve realized that I have a lot of positive things to say about Odyssey, but where it could use improvement is in its polish. This continues to be annoyingly commonplace in Assassin’s Creed games. Textures don’t always load properly, animals and other objects are found floating in the air, and the worst offender is the AI. One minute the enemies are having trouble seeing you right in front of them, and the next minute they have superhuman peripheral vision. I was quite surprised at how easy it is to get spotted in this game, which is not something I’m used to with Assassin’s Creed. Normally I would be more impressed about this, but the inconsistency of the enemy AI makes it hard to do anything except shrug.
Lack of polish is unfortunately something I’ve learned to accept when it comes to Assassin’s Creed games, but Odyssey thankfully does more right than wrong. I loved Assassin’s Creed Origins for what it did to revamp the series, and Odyssey continues where Origins left off in that regard. The leveling system makes progression actually mean something, and the emphasis on player choice only served to the game’s benefit. Personally, I still need more time to dwell on and dig deeper to see if it is truly the best game in the series, but there’s no denying that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is already high up there.