When Assassin’s Creed first launched back in 2007, the consensus among many was that it had a lot of interesting ideas and potential, but simply needed refinement. Those ideas were then later expanded upon and made considerably better a few years later in Assassin’s Creed II, the entry in this series that is still cited by many as their favorite. Nearly a decade has passed since this time and the Assassin’s Creed franchise has once again found itself in a similar position.
Assassin’s Creed Origins launched last year and served as the first soft reboot that this IP has ever really had. Much like the original game, Origins had some fantastic elements, a great location, and a memorable character, but was still a bit rough around the edges in certain areas. It is with the follow-up entry to Origins though, this year’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, that Ubisoft has once again refined those new ideas from Origins for the better and as a result has created one of the best games in the series.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey this time takes you to Greece during the Peloponnesian War, a historic clash between the Athenians and Spartans. You play as either Kassandra or Alexios, which fits in line with one of Odyssey’s most significant new elements: character choice. Not only do you get to decide which of the two Spartan mercenaries you will play as at the beginning of Odyssey, but a new dialogue system allows you to shape how you want that character to respond to the situations they are presented with.
For the most part, the dialogue system and the ability to make your own choices is a great addition to Assassin’s Creed and I found that it made me far more invested in the story. It’s not without faults though and sometimes it felt like there weren’t enough options to choose from in a given situation. Occasionally I was also surprised by the reaction that my character would have in-game (ex. being too aggressive despite choosing what seems to be a passive option) from the dialogue choice I made. Otherwise, this addition is one I thoroughly enjoyed and would love to continue seeing implemented in Assassin’s Creed games moving forward.
I think the one thing I’m still surprised about the most with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is just how good the throughline narrative is. Not only is it made better because of the ability to make your own choices, but it contains far more twists and turns than I would have imagined. The personal arc of your protagonist is excellent, but what I also enjoyed about the story is the many different throughlines that make up the larger story. Some of these deal with the widespread conflict of the Peloponnesian War, discovering the remnants of the First Civilization, and uncovering and hunting down the many members that make up a wide-reaching shadow organization. Plus, the modern day sequences featuring Assassin’s Creed Origins’ Layla are back again, and that plotline isn’t too shabby either. The way in which all of these different aspects interweave with one another is what makes the narrative that much better.
As good as the story is though, it does tend to suffer at times due to just how large Odyssey is. I often find that open world games tend to struggle narratively due to the confines within which the storytelling is taking place, and that’s true here as well. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a downright massive game that will surely take you dozens of hours to complete even if you mainline the story. The problem with this is that there will be large sections where you’ll be running around doing repetitive missions and grinding up your character’s level rather than hitting the next large story beat. When you do come across these big story moments, the payoffs are almost always worth it, but it’s the journey getting to those instances that can be drawn out at times.
That said, I never once found myself hating spending time within this world due to how gorgeous Ancient Greece is. Whether it be traversing on the Mediterranean in my ship or riding my trusty steed Phobos through a valley, nearly every location within Greece was breathtaking in its own way. Not only is this world just pretty to look at, but there’s a ton of variety within its landscapes. I certainly didn’t grow tired of running around Greece and I imagine many won’t.
As for what you’ll be doing within this gigantic world of Greece, prepare for your usual slate of missions, contracts, and side quests. Many of the missions within Assassin’s Creed Odyssey became a bit too fetch quest-y for my liking, especially those on the main path. Side quests within each region are where things tend to get a bit more enjoyable and involve some hilarious characters. Level gating is still kind of an issue in Odyssey much like it was within Origins, but luckily, I enjoyed a fair amount of the side quests that I would run across just because of how wacky some of them tended to be and more often than not wanted to do them anyway.
Greece is also filled out with a variety of other tasks that include hunting mythical beasts and climbing up to synchronization points — an Assassin’s Creed staple. Additionally, each region in Odyssey typically allows you to kill key members of factions or destroy war supplies to lessen a group’s power within the area. Once their grasp on this region has dropped far enough, you can then kick off giant conflicts featuring hundreds of different characters clashing on screen at once. These moments are pretty novel and unique the first few times you do them, but they begin to grow a bit stale after you’ve done them a couple of times.
A new mercenary system within Assassin’s Creed Odyssey replaces that of the Phylakes from Origins and makes for a fun sort of meta-game that finds you killing off various mercs in the world in the pursuit of climbing to the top spot. Some of the most enjoyable situations that I found myself in over the course of my time with Odyssey would occur when multiples of these mercenaries would descend on me at once and I would have to do battle with them all simultaneously. The closest thing I would compare this system to would be that of the Nemesis system from Shadow of Mordor series and it works to great effect here as well.
Lastly, for those looking for more of an “assassin’ angle within Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, one of the largest side-tangents to the main story finds you going about all of Greece in the pursuit of killing the many members of an organization known as the Cult of Kosmos. These members’ identities are hidden and only by uncovering who they are can you then seek them out to kill. In a time where I know many are saying that Assassin’s Creed has lost its way because it doesn’t even focus on assassination, this pillar of Odyssey stands out and makes you feel more like an assassin than many entries have within the past few years.
There’s an insane amount of content packed into Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and almost all of it is enjoyable in some way. Since there is so much of to do, some of it can become derivative at times, but for the most part, I never found myself bothered to run off the beaten path and discover what might lie around the corner. If you thought that Origins was massive last year, then prepare to be awed by the sheer of stuff to do here in Odyssey. It’s honestly staggering.
As far as actual gameplay mechanics go, everything is roughly the same as it was in Origins outside of some key changes to combat. Even though core attacks are once again the same, you now have the option to use certain combat abilities like the iconic Spartan Kick to launch people off of cliffs. These new abilities add a considerable amount of variety to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and help liven things up whereas, without them, I felt like combat got stale after a certain number of hours in Origins. It still can be pretty repetitive after a decent chunk of hours, but unlocking and learning new abilities and how to utilize them makes it a fresher experience over the long haul.
It’s also worth noting that you can gain abilities in one of three skill trees — hunter, warrior, and assassin. As you likely expect, these skills are tied to your combat prowess in ranged, hand-to-hand, and stealth-based combat respectively and again enforces the throughline theme of choice within Assassin’s Creed Odyssey by allowing you to build out each of these skill trees within the way you’d most like to play. You can’t gain all abilities from all skill trees at once even after maxing out your character, so picking and choosing what to upgrade and how you want to play will always be at the forefront of your mind.
Another “new” element to that of Odyssey compared to Origins sees the return of your own ship to command. This feature has been seen in the past, most notably with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but its use here in Odyssey is mainly more for travel than that of combat. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many naval battles to be had within Greece, but these engagements are rather trite compared to what we’ve seen from this series in the past. If you’re a massive fan of Black Flag like I am, don’t come into Odyssey expecting that same depth within ship combat because you won’t find it. Still, I never found myself dejected to have to jump back onto my ship and sail about Greece.
As for some notes on performance, I played on Xbox One X and found the graphical fidelity of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to be amazing. Despite this, there are some seriously long load times in Odyssey. Even when not running the game at 4K, load times to get back into the world were taking minutes for me rather than seconds. I’m sure this is something that will be fixed in a patch down the road as is usual nowadays, but it was still somewhat annoying. I fear what these load times will be like for those not playing with the higher-end consoles or PCs.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is one of the best entries in this franchise’s over decade-long history. It wonderfully improves and iterates upon all of the new elements that were introduced in last year’s Origins while simultaneously taking you to one of the most breathtaking and vast locations that I’ve seen in any video game in quite some time. While it might have more in common with a series like Mass Effect compared to what Assassin’s Creed once was, the sheer amount of content and depth to everything within Greece is impressive as can be.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey isn’t just one of the best Assassin’s Creed games there has ever been, it’s one of the most exceptional action RPGs that I’ve played this console generation. While only a few years ago I was left wondering what this franchise’s future would be, now I’m more excited than I have been in quite some time to see where Ubisoft continues to take Assassin’s Creed from here.