While I don’t think that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey would qualify as a spiritual journey worthy of an epic poem, it’s a pretty good game to say the least. While I didn’t care for the changes made to the Assassin’s Creed formula, like the change of combat to use the bumpers and triggers instead of the face buttons (a weird place to draw the line, I know), I did actually get used to the new control scheme with Odyssey.
Assassin’s Creed has grown on me yet again, and while it isn’t the series I remember it being, I’m actually kinda okay with it.
As I stated in the intro to this review, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (like its predecessor) does away with the traditional controls of the original games. In lieu of the usual blocking and parrying, and the ease of which you can do so, you’re forced to make better use of dodges and active parrying. It takes some getting used to, but I think it works. Like the previous games however (pre-Origins, that is), there’s a great emphasis place on stealth. While it’s entirely possible to play through it all just cutting your way through enemies without a care in the world, things can quickly get out of hand.
Just jumping into an enemy fort and going toe-to-toe with the soldiers inside can rapidly devolve into running for your life, even if you manage to avoid triggering any alarms. Luckily, it’s possible to rig fort alarms to explode… somehow… But like I said, even if you manage to keep Athenian, Spartan, or bandit reinforcements at bay, you’ll likely always have hordes of mercenaries hunting you down.
Mercenaries make up Assassin’s Creed Odyssey‘s checks and balances of sorts. You know, to keep you from going on pointless rampages. Well, more like a deterrent from going on rampages that is. They make up boss-level enemies, and they’re worth not taking lightly. Dealing with one mercenary of your own level is enough of a task, but if you’re a bit of a rebel, you can easily find yourself fighting off or avoiding up to five separate mercs.
Interestingly, the mercenaries function much in the same way as the orcs and uruk-hai from Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War, giving you an ever expanding list of unique enemies to cut down or recruit for your own cause. The problem I’ve experienced however is that they generally aren’t that fun to fight. The enemies themselves lack the unique abilities and traits of the aforementioned Tolkien races, instead only providing a larger pool of health to whittle through, and tons of resistances to almost every one of your character’s abilities; the abilities that actually make playing the game, fun.
Speaking of abilities, you’re gifted a litany of skills that range from things like Overpower Attacks which functions like a flurry attack, to the inevitable Spartan Kick. The latter is something that while it’s a little cringy that Ubisoft went there, it’s so incredibly useful and entertaining to use. I’ve officially lost count of the number of times I’ve defeated groups of enemies just because I kicked them off cliffs to their deaths. Sure, it’s borderline cheating, but who said that assassinating people was sportsmanlike conduct in the first place?
Skills themselves are earned by spending ability points, and your combat capabilities are further honed through equipping more powerful gear. You won’t need to fret much about being massively overpowered though, because while you’ll sometimes find yourself far below the level of your opponents, you’ll likely never be much higher than them unless you choose a difficulty mode that handicaps your enemies. Still, I can appreciate Ubisoft taking a different approach with their series, and it definitely feels like a worthy change; and one that meshes to the series well.
I will say though, while I do have my reservations about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the gameplay is pretty damn fantastic. Getting around is a breeze, and it’s incredibly easy to get lost in being an assassin again. Well, sorta an assassin… but spoilers!
It’s safe to say that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey looks absolutely fantastic, especially on an Xbox One X with a 4K display and HDR enabled. It plays smoothly, to the point that there’s a jarring difference if you end up switching to an original Xbox One. Higher-end PCs and PS4 Pros have similar results, and this is definitely the best way to experience the game. The level of detail that Ubisoft has been able to cram into Odyssey is astounding.
It’s also worth noting that contrary to Ubisoft’s reputation with Assassin’s Creed over the course of the series, Odyssey is actually very stable. Not once during my lengthy playthrough, have I experienced a crash. Well, if you don’t count the game failing to proceed past the introductory cutscene… Other issues are ones that I’ve experienced in countless other games as well, such as objects stuck in walls, pathing issues, etc. Assassin’s Creed has come such a long way since Unity.
My quick note to Ubisoft: Thank you for including a photo mode!
My quick note to other developers: If you make a pretty game, include a photo mode!
It’s obvious that Ubisoft has altered the long-standing series to be more of an RPG in nature, but it’s difficult to look past some of their missteps. For instance, the introduction of more varied equipment is welcome, but where most other RPGs have a tendency to offer meaningful upgrades as loot, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey doesn’t. In fact, it’s entirely possible that you’ll find yourself completely decked out in legendary gear within the first 20 levels, which makes anything you pick up the equivalent of MMORPG “vendor trash”. While most other RPGs do better to make early acquired high-end gear less powerful than lower-end gear you find later in a game, Odyssey doesn’t due to a small bit of self-sacrifice.
You see, Odyssey features a few neat mechanics that allow you as the player to pick and choose what armor and weapons you want to use. It’s entirely possible that you could play through the game while never changing your gear set, because you can just continuously upgrade your equipment to higher levels with some crafting materials and cash.
Ubisoft also included another neat feature that functions as a double-edged sword too, which is the ability to change the appearance of your equipment to look like anything else you’ve picked up from that same class of item. Part of what convinces me to change from my current gear in RPGs to others is the cosmetic component, so I can wear cooler looking stuff. That motivation doesn’t exist in Odyssey though, because you can always just keep your current gear, upgrade it, and change its appearance to something else.
Don’t get me wrong, the changes that Ubisoft introduced are welcome, and I love that I don’t have to run around wearing one of those stupid helmets constantly. I also enjoy not needing to lose gear I like to some green or blue garbage. It’s just that it’s a little weird that I’ve been wearing all legendary gear relatively early on in the game.
I’d be lying if I said I could make sense of the Assassin’s Creed overarching story at this point, but I don’t believe I’m alone in that confusion. I’d venture a guess that most people who’ve played through the series even care about the present-day component of the storyline.
I can tell you more about the story of the main character though, so there’s that. Ubisoft actually gave players a real choice this time, seemingly carrying things a step further from Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, where you could play as either Evie or her brother, whose name I can’t remember and don’t care enough about to look up. In Odyssey, you can choose between Alexios or Kassandra, though I chose the latter.
You’re driven through the exploits of a misthios whose skills lie in the realm of combat expertise; essentially, the main character is a merc who has been abandoned as a child. The world opens up to you with a contract to take part in a war between the Spartans and Athenians, and your task is to eliminate a prominent military commander to weaken the Spartan war effort. Of course, it should be fairly obvious that things quickly get complicated as the curtain gets pulled back to reveal the influence of the Precursors/First Civilization/”The Ones Who Came Before/Isu.
As a lover of sci-fi, I find the setting and lore of the series to be supremely interesting, but it’s held back by poorly paced storytelling and ineffective quest structure. Odyssey‘s quest log is ludicrously ineffective, giving the player little-to-no semblance of order to make sense of what quests are meant to advance the story without spending time reading the quest logs one at a time, and they aren’t sorted in a manner that’s conducive to assigning priority. Instead of being organized as main and side quests, along with tasks and activities, the quests themselves are lumped together by the Odyssey Chapter they’re part of, which isn’t helpful at all.
Actually, I may have misspoken a little. You can filter out Odyssey quests, World & Character quests, and Bounties & Contracts separately, but you can’t look at all of them at once, by category. Furthermore, it’s quite common to end up gathering quests that will remain multiple levels above you for the majority of your time with the game. Also, while it’s nice to play a game that allows you to proactively complete objectives for future sidequests, it’s remarkable how many times I’ve completed an activity’s objective before even accepting it, which resulted in my quest log getting crammed full of quests that I needed to show up to collect on.
As someone that loves games with a well-told story, along with quests that are designed to tell said story, I find it hilarious how often I’ve cleared out an enemy camp, only to later run across a quest giver who had the task to wipe out those enemies, then have my character nonchalantly claim to have already completed the task. I don’t think I’ve yet to actually accept one of these missions without already having completed the job ahead of time.
Perhaps my issue with Odyssey‘s quest design lies with the freedom afforded to you as the player. Admittedly, the openness is amazing, but good stories require at least a little focus, which is lacking here.
WILDCARD: MIXED UBI-BAG
Remember earlier when I mentioned the bit about the ongoing war between the Spartans and Athenians? It’s a common thread throughout the game, and you have the ability to sway the conflict in one way or another as you see fit. The issue is that there’s little discernible reason to do so aside from collecting more loot.
Odyssey attempts to punish you for wanton bloodshed by throwing mercs at you, but they’re more of an annoyance than a challenge, and you’re able to simply pay off your own bounties from the map screen anyway. Their proximity is also advertised to you, which means that it’s very unlikely you’ll run into situations like you would with the orcs in Shadow of Mordor/War, where your nemesis… nemesisses… nemeses? Where your nemeses surprise you in the middle of something.
Then you also need to contend with tracking down cultists to unravel a massive conspiracy that is infecting Greece, though I won’t divulge any more of that, for fear of ruining plot points. However, both the Mercenaries and Cultists systems feel tacked on, as they aren’t very fleshed out.
Those cultists, as well as all of your objectives and targets, are spread out all over the sprawling map; and when I say it’s sprawling, I’m not exaggerating. Odyssey‘s map is gigantic, which can be a godsend to folks to people who love exploration, but anathema to people like me who don’t have tons of free time to spend just travelling somewhere in a game, just to turn in a quest. Thankfully, Ubisoft had the presence of mind to include fast travel, and the ability to summon your horse and ship to yourself, meaning that your modes of transportation don’t need to be within earshot to get them to you.
I will say however, that despite the landscape of ancient Greece being littered with camps that are all within a javelin’s throwing distance from each other (for some reason), it’s still fun to roam around just tearing things apart. A common weakness of mine are games that give you a ton of things to do, and Odyssey does that without making it feel like I’m screwing myself over for not doing everything. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I’m not given the task of finding pages from a Farmer’s Almanac or fill a box with twelve tons of feathers.
And Ubisoft had the wisdom to include one of the things I absolutely loved from one of the best changes introduced to the series, the naval combat from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Once again, you’re given a ship to sail around and terrorize the high seas to your heart’s content, except now when you board ships to wipe out the crew, you can kick people overboard!
I’m glad that I listened to the praise that I’ve heard about Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and took the plunge. It marries together many of the best features of previous games in the series, along with many of the improvements brought in from other games from Ubisoft. Perhaps more importantly, all of this is strung together into a gorgeous package that actually works. It’s an amazing game that’s definitely worth playing.
Actually, there is no but to this. I just wanted to show Zeus’ butt. I know I’m a child; don’t judge me!
If you like Assassin’s Creed, and you haven’t already played Odyssey, you’re doing yourself a disservice for not playing it. Especially since you can easily get it much cheaper now.
What’s your take on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey? Are you waiting, passing, or playing? How many butt pictures have you taken?
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