Or Assassin’s Crete As They Say…
This time last year, Ubisoft took a big gamble with one of their most notorious franchises. Assassin’s Creed: Origins gave the series a massive overhaul and turned its sights towards being more fully fledged RPG. It’s since become a resounding success, garnering both high critical and fan acclaim. Fast forward one year and here we have Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, looking to further cement the new template carved out by last year’s entry. I am pleased to say that Odyssey doubles down on everything that made Origins special and then goes some to hone and perfect the new direction of the franchise.
First off this game is absolutely massive. The sprawling open world offers up a large portion of mainland ancient Greece, with several small and large islands to explore and the rich open sea in between. It’s quite possibly one of the largest open world maps I’ve had the pleasure of playing, or at least it certainly feels that way. Most of that is down to your boat being your main mode of transportation between different regions. As you sail the beautifully detailed waters of the Aegean Sea, it’s hard not to be impressed by how jaw dropping the world looks. And it truly is absolutely gorgeous. No matter where you are, what you’re doing or what time of day it is, Odyssey’s graphics are magnificent to behold.
Sun rays permeate through the ceiling of a forest, waves lap up smoothly on the shores and vistas look as stunning as ever. It’s actually very impressive when you think just how ginormous this world is. Couple that with the fact there are no load times once your in game, and the fact the FPS was consistent throughout, just adds to the marvel here.
I can honestly say that I’ve encountered little to no performance issues with Odyssey, the frame rate holds up remarkably well, I only noticed a slight drop during hectic sea battles, but even then they were negligible, and didn’t effect the experience at all. I also encountered a strange glitch/bug where the game would freeze for seconds at a time, but the moments that played out between were fractions of seconds. This issue could only be resolved by a hard reset. But considering the scale of this game and those being the only two real issues I encountered, the latter only occurring once too, it’s more than excusable. Some odd things do happen from time to time though, like when enemies are sent flying with a basic stab of your spear.
The story follows which either Alexios or Kassandra, which you choose at the start of the game, and their struggle to find themselves and their family against the backdrop of a bloody civil war. Without going into spoiler territory, I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional pull some of the “big” moments had. It’s helped by the fact the facial animations and direction are on point so you can’t help but to feel invested. I will admit certain threads of the story do feel a bit padded and bloated, sometimes it asks you to do a fair bit in order to push the story forwards. I can’t help but feel this was perhaps done intentionally to artificially extend the length of the game. Something they perhaps didn’t need to do as by the time I finished I’d clocked in over 40 hours in Odyssey.
But that’s only because there is so much to see and do. By the time you’ve fully explored a region, you can expect the mini-map to be littered with icons. Whether you decide to to clear out a fort, spend your days pirating or pick up a few side quests you’re never short of things to do, and if you were to do everything your save game could well tally into the hundreds of hours territory. The side missions, as with all games, vary in quality, but overall they seem to be better than your average. Often containing interesting plot points and often times a decision to be made by yourself about how to hand the situation. Some side quests lead you down a spiralling rabbit hole, opening up more quests relevant to the one you started on. Others end up with you recruiting the quest giver into your own ship crew.
You can also go out of your way to hunt down cultists. This involves finding clues before narrowing down their whereabouts, find their identity, then turning up to end them rightly. These are a great inclusion and feel more inline with the old games, so anyone craving that classic Assassin’s Creed action is well catered for here. Along side this are the mercenaries. If you’re being bold and running in swords twirling you can expect to attract a bounty on your head. This will cause mercenaries to hunt you down and depending on the extent of your crimes you may end up with up to four of them tracking you down. One on their own is not too bad usually, depending on your respective levels of course as some are more powerful than others, but when four of them turn up whilst your in the middle of a mission, it can really throw a spanner in the works. They really add a sense of mystery to the world as even when they are not after you, you can encounter them walking the streets, writing down contracts at job boards. Having them as a persistence in the world makes it feel more alive.
One of this year’s new additions is the dialogue options. This could single handedly be the best addition to the series, particularly now that it’s in RPG territory. Depending on the situation you can decide how you want to proceed, sometimes you can threaten a person and on occasion you can even begin a fight from dialogue. There are a few dialogue moments in the game where you are given a time limit to respond. These moments were great, but ultimately seemed under utilised. I would have been happy if Ubisoft added more of these quick dialogue situations to the game. To give you an example, I didn’t encounter my first instance of this until around 20 hours into the game. It’s also worth mentioning that across the board the voice acting is very decent and consistent. I never met a character who took me out of the experience with a dodgy Greek accent, except maybe the Gerard Butler rip-off Spartan warrior at the very start, but I put that down more to a nostalgic feeling of the 300 movie than anything else.
The levelling system is back and is mostly a joy to work with. Enemies are scaled by region, so although the whole map is open from the beginning, you would literally be killed with one hit in most of it at the very start of the game. This is cool as it keeps the games challenge well balanced throughout, and ultimately leaves the ball in your court in regards to what you try to take on. As you go up levels you’ll gain points to spend on abilities like the spartan kick or the shield disarm. There are a host of ways to upgrade your character and if you like you can tailor them to a certain play style.
The combat feels visceral and fluid this year. It will never “look” as good as the animation based combat systems of old but by golly does it feel good. When you are hacking away at a camp full of bad guys, ducking and dodging incoming attacks and mixing up your abilities it all feels great, and there is a marked sense of achievement from beating a difficult encounter.
There are several weapons on offer here, and they all feel distinctly unique. From swords to daggers, to staffs and spears, to heavy blades and heavy blunt weapons, there is something here to suit everyone’s play style. Swords and daggers seem to be the quickest weapons with the heavy blunt/blades types being the slowest and staffs and spears somewhere between. All come with unique range advantages/disadvantages too. But all of them felt great to swing around and take the enemies to task.
Conquest battles are also new to the series. These are supposed to be large scale battles between the Athenians and Spartans. They can be instigated by lowering the Ruler’s power throughout the region by burning supplies, killing captains, robbing nation chests or even killing leaders. Although these were fun to partake in, beyond rewarding you with high level gear, I was disappointed to discover they affect little to nothing else. You can fight on either side and you can force another conquest battle in a particular region as much as you like. If they could have tied these into the narrative somehow, they could have felt more consequential.
When you’re not causing trouble on land, you can stretch your sea legs in the waters of Greece. The ship sailing is great, and the combat is fairly decent too. Consisting of firing arrows, throwing spears and ramming boats, the former two have a powered up flame variant that you can use once you’ve built up your ship power bar. I must admit that I still believe that Black Flag has the series best ship combat. Having the distinct advantage of being set much later allowed the inclusion of cannons, which for me you can’t beat the thunderous booms as they fire off shots into the distance, leaving a wash of residual smoke looming low over your ship. Regardless it’s still fun and serviceable.
The music in the game is fitting and appropriate, if a little uninspired. Everything sounded decent but I can’t think of any particularly stand out piece in the OST compared with some of the war tunes in something like The Witcher 3. The sound effects however are very good. From the subtle things you notice like crickets in the woods, the bustling ambience of a busy street it’s all perfectly fitting and transitions so well from area to area. The combat noises are good and help the combat to feel frantic and weighty.
Assassins creed odyssey does well to carry the torch of its predecessor, adding fuel to the fire as it goes. It was a joy to play from start to finish. Make no mistake, this is the best entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise to date, and besides that, it could just be one of the best open world RPGs of modern times.