Assassin’s Creed Odyssey ReviewNovember 1, 2018
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has officially dethroned Assassin’s Creed II as my favorite entry in the series. With a charming and likable protagonist, a vast open world filled with interesting quests, overhauled naval and land combat and so much more, it’s incredible how much quality content the developers have managed to pack in here. There is so much detail in its beautifully rendered rendition of ancient Greece, and none of it ever feels empty. Every new quest serves a purpose, inching your character’s stats higher and unlocking new shiny armor, but beyond that, the quests are, for the most part, fun. Ubisoft has created a satisfying loop of gameplay that makes you constantly feel rewarded and is thus very hard to put down.
The game’s massive map full of icons can feel daunting at first, as you first set sail from the tiny island of Kefalonia on the majestic open seas. But never once did I feel bored. Even now while typing this, I feel a strong urge to pick up my PS Vita return to Odyssey’s world (via remote play, since I’m in outside on my laptop).
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes place in Ancient Greece — 2,400 years ago during the Peloponnesian war, a brutal conflict between Athens and Sparta for control of the region. At the outset (after a crowd-pleasing intro featuring a certain legendary Spartan hero) you get to choose between a male or female avatar – a first for the series. Just choose Kassandra and don’t look back – she’s amazing and adds so much more fun to the game than her brother Alexios. The story, for the most part, is engaging and interesting, with some unexpected twists along the way. The modern day Animus story pops up briefly, but it’s so convoluted at this point, with no clear resolution in sight, that the series would be better off just trashing it.
Last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins retooled the series from the ground up, reinventing the combat system and adding RPG-style skill trees to suit your own style of play. It also worked well as a jumping off point for newcomers, as much of the old Animus and Templars stuff was put on the backburner to focus on a more personal story. Odyssey goes one step further towards full-RPG mode, incorporating dialogue choices that impact the story like those seen in Mass Effect, The Witcher, and others. There’s even a good amount of romance options. In short, this feels like a completely different game than the one Ubisoft launched way back in 2007.
One of the biggest problems in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is that it really does not value your time. The map is vast and packed to the brim with things to do and see, but you’re going to have to grind like crazy to see them, and even just the game’s ending. The fact that the game has a micro-transaction system where you can buy things like double XP is telling. You’re going to hit a brick wall late in the game that can only be overcome by extreme grinding or ponying up some cash for experience boots. Even your skill doesn’t matter – an enemy one level above you can almost instantly kill you. It’s all about finding and equipping the best armor and weapons.
Some would argue that playing the side quests regularly throughout the game would make this a lesser issue, but at that point, it’s no longer side content. It’s mandatory. At one point, I had to grind for 10 hours to finally be able to activate the next quest. By that point, you’ll likely forget most of what even has happened with the story.
While the side quests are fun for the most part, people who just want to complete the story should not be punished for not doing side quests. And if you ignore them for most of the game, you’re going to hit a point where you have to do nothing but side quests for many hours, which may just make you give up and trade the game in for something less demanding of your time. I feel that the extreme level lockout should have been for the very last side quests, that way completionists get their feeling of “pride and accomplishment” but casual players don’t have to suffer. Developers have to realize that players don’t have an eternity to spend on one game – look how many other great titles have released this year that gamers will want to experience.
The RPG-like skill tree system allows you to unlock special moves for both your melee and ranged weapons, which have a cool-down period and can do a lot of damage. Some of them offer temporary buffs, such as flaming swords (awesome), and others give Kassandra or Alexios new moves like the iconic Sparta Kick and a shield-breaking combo. Combat feels relatively simple, yet it’s fun and intuitive once you wrap your head around the controls. You’ll be switching between your arrows and swords pretty often, and once you master the dodge and parry systems you’re good to go.
Odyssey introduces a system similar to the nemesis system in Shadow of Mordor, where mercenaries will hunt you down if you kill too many people and break too many laws. This can lead to some cool confrontations where multiple mercenaries can even attack you all at once. And if they’re a level or two above you, you’d better run like hell. They’ll even chase you across the sea and engage you in naval combat. Eventually, I ended up just filling my bounty meter so that I could take out as many mercenaries as possible in one go so that they couldn’t interfere with my missions. It’s a fun system, but unfortunately, you don’t get to learn anything about the mercenaries, and they’re all basically just faceless goons.
Odyssey brings back naval combat, and it’s quite fun in the first few hours sinking enemy ships and kicking opponents into shark-infested waters. The open sea is rendered in beautiful detail, with waves undulating and sea foam spraying as dolphins swim alongside your boat. It’s quite a majestic sight when the waters aren’t running red with the blood of your enemies as sharks tear them to pieces. You have the option of boarding a vessel when you’ve overtaken it, or you can just shoot some more arrows at it and instantly claim your treasure.
While Odyssey is absolutely gorgeous, with realistic character models, well-animated faces and breathtaking vistas, load times are an issue. Between cutscenes and when respawning after a death, you’ll be waiting quite a long time. It’s the same for when your character switches to your eagle Ikaros. What should be an instant swap can sometimes feel much longer. It should be noted that I reviewed Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on a standard PS4, and the load times may be improved on systems like the PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, and PC.
Even with its issues, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey remains a must-buy for fans of the series and genre. Most of the package is very polished, and the combat and traversal systems are as intuitive as ever. The sheer amount of content on offer here is enormous, and completionists will have many hours worth of content to hold them over until the next big RPG release. With an intriguing narrative, interesting characters, and an entire world full of content, this is easily the best entry in the series since Assassin’s Creed II.