Ubi-like should really be its own genre by this point in time. Over the last decade or so, the talented dev groups that make up Ubisoft as a whole have been chipping away at their beastly open world games, trimming the fat and cutting to the core of what can make those experiences really fun. It’s heartening to see a series such as Assassin’s Creed constantly refine a winning formula in risky, meaningful ways, especially when laurel-resting is so in vogue when it comes to triple-A game development.
In last year’s Origins ,(review here) AC reached a new zenith and it became a personal favourite in the series – one I honestly didn’t expect to see toppled anytime soon – but the Greek flavoured sequel Odyssey has challenged those expectations confidently only twelve months later.
In a move that should have felt obvious long ago, Assassin’s Creed finally allows you to choose between a male and female protagonist. Thankfully, whilst the move certainly feels too late, it doesn’t at all feel too little. Instead of a reskin and hasty switcheroo of all the pronouns, Kassandra genuinely feels like a different protagonist from her male counterpart Alexios – Ubisoft have taken the time to make the inclusion meaningful here, and it helps make up for a lack of such options thus far. Not only does Kassandra feel unique, but the choice of who to play as feeds into the main story going forwards and, without spoiling anything, is played with in really interesting ways.
The story as a whole is an absolute riot this time round. Set long before Bayek and the Assassins were ever really a thing, Odyssey sticks you in the sandals of a Misthios – a sellsword with a penchant for Drachmae above all else – and quickly tasks you with a long list of no good bums to dispatch in the most violent (but stealthy) way possible. But the story is a lot deeper than you might initially think, with a triple threat of juicy narrative threads pushing you through the opening hours with a real sense of urgency, before settling into a more relaxed story that begs you to leisurely explore its world. I wanted to find out Kassandra’s past and deal with her demons, and refreshingly the game allows you to do so often, and in a satisfying manner. The fact that you can also play her as a complete rude dude is just the icing on the sundae.
A new morality system allows you to make big choices that can come back to haunt you hours and hours later – and these choices feel genuinely meaningful and impactful as you make them, too. I was surprised by just how much Ubi allowed me to play with the game’s structure in this way, even though the façade has some nasty side effects. Employing plenty of multiple endings – which will send sufferers or videogame-FOMO such as myself into a frenzy of spoiler-filled google searches – has its downsides.
The game clearly has a ‘correct’ way of playing and the true end can only be achieved if you follow very specific steps – steps that you’re likely to screw up if you’re just having fun with the game and making the choices you want to make in the moment. Because I didn’t know this going into the game, and the fact that some of the ‘bad’ choices are so badass that I made them (and absolutely loved them) fifty hours ago, I wasn’t privy to Odysseys’ best ending. But the journey is more important than the destination, and it really is a killer journey – excuse the pun.
When I played through Origins last year, I was overwhelmed by its scope and the sheer size of its world. When I loaded up Odyssey I immediately went into the map screen – a tradition in any open world game – and pulled the zoom back as far as I could. To say I was intimidated would be a gross understatement.
Odyssey is huge, attempting to fit the entirety of Ancient Greece and its myriad of fractured islands into a videogame with great success. Throughout my time with the title, I was floored by just how impressive this world was and how much effort had clearly been poured into almost every square foot of it.
Of course, a big game world would be for nought if it was no fun to mess around in. Luckily Odyssey – as the receiver of every lesson the team has learnt over the last decade of Assassin’s Creed games – feels tighter and more fun than everything that’s come before, despite the vast world that can often muddy gameplay in lesser titles. Whilst the core loop of missions, looting and levelling is stretched out over a bigger world, the heart of those systems is somehow more instantaneously gratifying than those of previous adventures. Side quests begin and end quickly, doling out generous rewards and wasting less of your valuable time than ever, whilst overarching plot points and major missions require more of the player but in fun ways. A single goal can incorporate several involved missions but each one manages to feel like you’re progressing earnestly. Nations weaken as you tackle their activities, leaders scatter and big, multi-man battles allow you to fight for geographical dominance with a team of your choosing at your side – as long as the price is right.
When Odyssey attempts these bigger set pieces is when the game unravels slightly and its simpler systems show through the cracks in ugly ways, but even these clumsy exercises in button mashing aids the games pacing if nothing else (and always offers meaty rewards to boot). Creed has always excelled at up-close-and-very-personal assassination missions, and Odyssey is no different. Open fights are hectic affairs that can be gamed in reductive ways (though Spartan-kicking enemies from ledges literally never gets old) but its stealth is better here than ever. The AI is satisfyingly dumb, there’s a fluidity to base-clearing that – at its best moments – enters you into a zen-like trance of invisible death, and Ubi have a really brilliant upgrade tree to make all this grinding feel worthwhile. I was very excited to get my hands on plenty of the new skills, and each level up brought with it exciting new possibilities to my murder game.
My favourite has to be the long-distance assassination, which – when chained – can see you warping across maps on a super-speedy spree of stealth-kills.
However, there were moments when my motivation dipped in Odyssey’s incredibly lengthy campaign. If you played Origins as much as I did, a lot of what’s here is going to feel familiar to you, despite all the shiny new bells and whistles. Side quests are still just fetch quests with varying degrees of disguise, base-clearing and treasure hunting is still your crutch for experience gain (and consequently the most replayed content in the game) and even your kill list is just a reskinned version of Bayek’s own shopping list of ‘people I would like to murder’. Odyssey ultimately succeeds because of the myriad enticing carrots dangling at the end of the game’s many strings. Main missions are fun enough to be worth grinding for, level ups are always desirable, tier-based loot makes every drop drip with potential, and the story is engaging and driven. But the biggest success here is the fantastic world building on display. I wanted to keep playing Odyssey because it allowed me to explore more of its lush, diverse, history-rich world. It’s quite possibly the series’ best setting to date, and the team aren’t afraid to lean into its myths and legends to give the game even more flavour. And whilst there’s less verticality here to really sink your teeth into (as opposed to more vertigo inspiring titles such as Syndicate, Unity or ACII), clambering up the stony genitals of the various Gods and Godesses enshrined about Greece in statue-form somewhat makes up for this shortcoming.
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