Assassin’s Creed : Odyssey Review
Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” is famed for the sheer scope of its voyage, the excitement of the adventure and the epicness of a tale filled to the brim with intriguing characters, in-depth mythology and rich lore. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey may wear its name proudly because once you embark on the journey, this is exactly what it is.
Set in Ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian War opposing the military-driven Spartans and the democracy-founding Athenians, the game puts you in the shoes of none other than the grandchild of the legendary Spartan King Leonidas. For the first time, you must pick your main character Alexios or Kassandra for the remainder of the game.
Kassandra is bold and sassy. Unlike many RPG female characters, she is not hypersexualized, even in armor, which is a welcome and much needed change. As for Alexios, he is gruff and rough around the edges, which provides a very different experience for the player.
The plot is a bit slow to pick up but once it does, it grips you till the very end. With the Assassin and Templar plotline to the backburner, it allows for a refreshing and surprising narrative. And once again, the historical plot intersects with a present times storyline, but it is not nearly as intrusive as in previous titles. Ubisoft took notes from fans and it shows.
Ode on a Grecian Antiquity
On the PlayStation 4, the Grecian landscape looks absolutely stunning. From its sandy beaches, autumnal forests, arid volcanic islands, barren battlefields, lush olive groves and luxuriant cities, this entry is hands-down the most diverse in the entire series. Running on the same engine as Origins, environments and architectures may seem quite familiar and recycled at times but the plethora of biomes all offer a unique atmosphere that keeps surprising the player even a dozen of hours into the game. I have run into some clipping and texture popping over the course of my playthrough but nothing too distracting and honestly, when sailing alongside a pod of dolphins on a sea shimmering under a golden sunset, all was forgiven.
As for the music, the score fits the time period well with an emphasis on chants. It usually blends perfectly with the action or area on-screen. The voice acting sounds pretty convincing, especially for Kassandra, whose voice actor conveys just the right amount of snark and fierceness in order to make her a loveable badass. While most of the dialogues are well-delivered, some vocabulary anachronisms seem to have slipped out, such as the “f word” that gets thrown around quite a bit. They can prove unsettling at times as they take you out of the immersion but I guess you could always blame it on the Animus’ contemporary interpretation of ancient dialects.
Difficult Roads Lead to Beautiful Destinations
Taking notes from its predecessor, Odyssey improves upon the Origins formula and takes it a mile further. The difficulty setting can be changed at any time in the menu, just like the new Exploration mode. As opposed to the Guided mode, the Exploration mode displays very few quest markers and instead offers clues to your next destination based on conversations with the NPCs. This absence of handholding grants you more agency than any previous AC titles and the freedom is empowering. Exploring every nook and cranny and taking in the environment without having to constantly follow a flashy overhead arrow awakens the real adventurer in you. To top it all, exploration is almost always rewarded with hidden quests, loot and secrets.
Character customization is also deepened. Your character may wear up to 5 gear items (head, torso, wrists, waist and legs) of four categories: common, rare, epic and legendary. Weapons can be upgraded as well as engraved at a blacksmith’s shop, which adds useful perks to vary gameplay and makes good use of the resources scattered in the world. Speaking of which, the tailors and stable masters have been combined with the blacksmiths who now provide you with all your mercantile needs. It is worth noting that you cannot purchase a multitude of mounts like in Origins and are instead gifted with one trusty steed Phobos whose cosmetic skins can be purchased at the blacksmith. As for your pet eagle Ikaros, much like Semu, he can take to the skies and scout an area to identify enemies, secret passages and loot.
The side quests are numerous and well-crafted, having you care about your task at hand instead of mindlessly following a marker. Notice boards also display quests to pick up on the fly. To my great surprise, some side quests can be failed with no possibility of retrying them later, showing direct repercussions to your actions and raising the stakes of success. Also, the quests and regions level up with you so that you will never be at a ridiculously high level when tackling enemies or missions in the earliest areas.
Furthermore, moral choices are introduced this time around. For instance, will you kill defeated thugs or let them flee, risking the chance of running into them later on? And for the first time, citizens can be stolen from or even murdered! A bounty will be put on your head and to erase it, pay up, kill your bounty hunters or simply wait for time to pass.
The romance system is also a nice touch but don’t expect a Mass Effect level of emotional depth. However, since your romance interest can be recruited for your ship and will fight alongside you on your naval romps, there is still an incentive to seduce a special someone.
Beware the Toils of War
Odyssey would not be an epic tale without its share of warfare. Once you arrive in an occupied region, a purple meter shows you the nation power in the area. You must weaken the region leader by tackling side quests and conquering forts. A conquest battle will then unlock in which you must increase the power of a faction among that certain region. You may choose to defend the region, which is easier but grants you less rewards, or to attack it, which is more challenging but more rewarding in loot and XP.
Combat is fast and quite brutal. Weapons in your arsenal range from swords, daggers, maces, axes, spears, staves and bows. There are three specialization trees in which you spend perk points: Hunter, Warrior and Assassin. Each tree has its share of great perks although the best is to just combine them to suit your preferred playstyle. They can then be assigned to button shortcuts on your controller. The Spartan kick may be the greatest perk not only due to its “300” reference but to the pure and utter satisfaction of ferociously blasting an enemy off a cliff.
The mercenary system acts similarly to Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system. Mercenaries hunt you down and each time you defeat one, they are immediately replaced by a newer stronger one and this goes on indefinitely. While this concept is great for grabbing better loot and gaining XP, it can prove irritating to have a randomly spawned mercenary ruin your stealthy takeover of an enemy fort.
Fair Winds and Following Seas
The naval missions are back and better than ever. Dynamic, fast-paced and at the mercy of the occasional tempest, sailing the Aegean Sea is exhilarating. You still aim at enemy fleets to shoot a volley of arrows. The introduction of the boost button allows you to traverse the waters faster and ram into ships. The boarding mechanic is back as well. Once a ship’s health meter has been depleted, you may board it, kill all crew on deck and loot it before it sinks.
A menu is specifically dedicated to upgrading your ship, from the cosmetics to your arsenal, ship crew and lieutenants. The latter give perks such as more fire power, increased speed boosts or ramming damage.
With the gigantic game map littered with a myriad of islands to explore, you are certain to spend some quality time riding these rolling waves of deep azure.
With its 40 to 60 hours main campaign, Odyssey is the longest in the series yet. Add to this all the side quests, activities and question marks and you are easily looking at over a hundred-hour game time. The branching narrative mechanic offers a variety of choices that actually matter, ranging from choosing the tone of your answers to making game-altering decisions that will impact the resolution of your storyline because indeed, there are multiple different endings depending on your choices throughout the campaign!
It is evident that indulging in a second playthrough is encouraged by the developers and why not with the character you didn’t pick at the start? You can store up to 10 save files, allowing you to make different choices and see how they impact the story outcomes. Completionists are in for a treat.
The game is not yet perfect though. At times, story progress is halted by a high level recommendation and thus, the inevitable grinding becomes mandatory in order to progress. Most of the time, acquiring XP will feel intricately woven into the campaign but it could feel tedious and repetitive on some occasion, especially later in the game once the plot thickens. This might put off those who are absorbed in the story and seek answers fast.
The loading times can also be long at times, especially before a big cutscene. I also noticed some display and collision glitches, although nothing game-breaking. Some ragdoll effects were actually quite amusing. I am not worried that they will be fixed in the coming patches.
I must admit that I was worried at first that Odyssey would feel like an Origins DLC. Fortunately, my doubts were cleared as soon as I took control of the character in such a gorgeous world that I was itching to explore. The story was gripping, the mechanics were almost all improved upon and the overwhelming amount of choice truly makes it YOUR own personal odyssey. Also, photo mode provides way too much fun for being yet so simple.
I have been an Assassin’s Creed fan from the very beginning (collecting every AC article in my Montreal’s newspaper) and have always moved through the motions of the franchise’s ups and downs (Unity wasn’t THAT bad, was it?).
But now. If this is not the peak of my beloved series, then it sure is pretty damn close.
- Ancient Greece is truly breathtaking
- Choices actually matter
- Engaging characters and plot
- No handholding
- Some collision bugs
- Controls are a little capricious at times
- Level grinding is mandatory
- Lasting Appeal9.5
- Fun Factor9