BACK TO THE FU­TURE

As­sas­sin’s Creed Odyssey an en­ter­tain­ing en­try for long-run­ning fran­chise — if you have time to play it

Winnipeg Sun - - ENT-SHOWBIZ - CHRISTO­PHER BYRD

The As­sas­sin’s Creed se­ries is known for mak­ing play­grounds out of his­tory. From the banks of the Nile in an­cient Egypt to the cob­ble­stone streets of Vic­to­rian Lon­don, the games hop­scotch through mo­men­tous epochs in hu­man civ­i­liza­tion, trail­ing in­trigue and corpses in their wake.

As­sas­sin’s Creed

Odyssey uses the Pelo­pon­nesian War, which en­snared

Athens and Sparta be­tween 431 and 404 B.C., as the shell for its heroic story. Be­fit­ting its name, Odyssey is a mam­moth game, the kind one can sink a few dozen hours into and still have a stag­ger­ing num­ber of tasks be­fore the cred­its roll. Be­cause many of those things are sim­i­lar to one an­other the game strad­dles the line be­tween be­ing con­tent rich and con­tent su­per­flu­ous. (I’ve found my­self waf­fling be­tween those two per­spec­tives so far dur­ing my time with it.)

In Odyssey, play­ers can choose to play as Alex­ios or Kas­san­dra, two es­tranged sib­lings. De­pend­ing on your choice you will fol­low one sib­ling as he or she moves from the pe­riph­ery to the cen­tre of power in the Greek world — the court of Per­i­cles — and be­yond. As some­one who lived in Athens for a cou­ple of years as a child, I found my­self al­most im­me­di­ately dis­armed by the set­ting. I was so taken with the game’s evo­ca­tion of Mediter­ranean beauty — that sky! those beaches! — I for­got to un­lock fast travel, which al­lows you to zip be­tween cer­tain points in the world, un­til I was sev­eral hours into the game. Given the num­ber of Ubisoft’s open-world games I have played and my usual in­cli­na­tion to hook up short­cuts asap, I as­sure you that I was sur­prised by my ne­glect.

The de­vel­op­ers have been vo­cal about in­cor­po­rat­ing more RPG me­chan­ics into Odyssey, like branch­ing di­a­logue, un­fore­seen con­se­quences tied to play­ers’ choices, and the abil­ity to ro­mance dif­fer­ent non­playable char­ac­ters (NPCS), yet no one would ac­cuse the game of rewrit­ing the con­ven­tional RPG. Early on, I couldn’t help but think that Odyssey felt like a postWitcher 3 game af­ter I en­coun­tered a fam­ily in what re­mained of a plague-rav­aged vil­lage. The fam­ily was about to be ex­e­cuted when they begged me to stay the hand of the men who meant to kill them so as to con­tain the plague. As I left them to their fate, it seemed to me that the lose-lose predica­ment in which I’d found my­self (I’d guessed that if I let the fam­ily live they would have in­fected oth­ers) felt very much like some­thing out of the Witcher’s neb­u­lous eth­i­cal uni­verse.

Dur­ing my time as Alex­ios, I en­joyed hob­nob­bing with the lu­mi­nar­ies of an­tiq­uity. I asked Hip­pocrates an im­per­ti­nent ques­tion about his leg­endary bald­ness, I watched Herodotus draw many long faces while dis­cussing the im­broglio be­tween city-states and, at a sym­po­sium, I helped Sopho­cles prank Aristo­phanes. Though none of these char­ac­ters stuck me as par­tic­u­larly deep por­traits of their his­tor­i­cal coun­ter­parts, the clas­si­cist in me en­joyed the fan­tasy all the same. The over­all amount of his­tor­i­cal de­tails ref­er­enced in the game is en­tranc­ing.

Apart from gawk­ing at the game’s scenery and gen­er­ally wel­com­ing its con­ver­sa­tional of­fer­ings, Odyssey’s ac­tion has yet to yield many wa­ter­cooler mo­ments. In game­play terms, this year’s As­sas­sin’s Creed feels a lot like last year’s. I find it hard to get ex­cited by the num­ber of mis­sions in the new game that re­quire one to skulk around for­ti­fied ar­eas to steal things when the places in ques­tion so of­ten ap­pear sim­i­lar to one an­other. More­over, it’s easy enough to ex­ploit en­emy A.I. so that catand-mouse rou­tines quickly de­scend into folly. (A sim­ple way to cheese the game is to stand on a tall build­ing with a broad roof and pelt the en­emy pa­trols be­low with ar­rows, then lose their at­ten­tion by sneak­ing over to the op­po­site end of the area.)

Of the many scrapes I’ve got­ten into the most mem­o­rable showed how Odyssey’s game­play sys­tems can mix and, on oc­ca­sion, pro­duce a novel re­sult. Af­ter amass­ing a size­able bounty on Alex­ios’ head, I at­tracted a for­mi­da­ble band of drachmahun­gry mer­ce­nar­ies. I did my best to throw them off Alex­ios’ trail be­fore go­ing on a quest to kill a mys­ti­cal boar. While fight­ing the boar, I drew the at­ten­tion of two of the mer­ce­nar­ies that were hunt­ing me. Then I watched as the mer­ce­nar­ies tan­gled with the boar while I shot ar­rows at ev­ery­one from afar; I love it when my en­e­mies make life sim­pler for me.

Sim­i­lar to last year’s Ori­gins play­ers also take on the role of Layla Has­san who is re­liv­ing the “ge­netic mem­o­ries” of Alex­ios or Kas­san­dra in the present via a ma­chine de­signed for such ac­tiv­ity.

It has been more than a decade since the orig­i­nal game in­tro­duced this con­tem­po­rary plot­line, but I still dig the idea that the player is play­ing a char­ac­ter who is us­ing a ma­chine de­vel­oped by a cor­po­ra­tion to ac­cess the mem­o­ries of peo­ple from the past. That sce­nario has al­ways struck me as clev­erly self-re­flex­ive, a deft way for the sto­ry­tellers to ac­knowl­edge the games’ ar­ti­fi­cial­ity, not to men­tion their place as cor­po­rate prod­ucts.

In Odyssey, play­ers can choose to play as Alex­ios (right) or Kas­san­dra, two es­tranged sib­lings.

As­sas­sin’s Creed Odyssey Ubisoft Que­becPC, Plays­ta­tion 4, Xbox One

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