As­sas­sin’s Creed Odyssey

PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One


As­taid but el­e­gant epic that might com­fort­ably ex­ceed 100 hours of play­time, de­pend­ing on your tol­er­ance for grind­ing, As­sas­sin’s Creed Odyssey is of­ten at its best when it leaves things out. Among its qui­eter feats is Ex­plo­ration mode, which sees you tack­ling the same quests with a lit­tle less guid­ance, find­ing your way to the goal us­ing a set of rough di­rec­tions. Styling this as “ex­plo­ration” is over­selling things some­what – the game’s map has all re­gions al­ready marked on it, and you’re en­cour­aged to sum­mon your ea­gle, Ikaros, to lay down way­points (and tag nearby foes or trea­sures) when you’re close. Still, it’s a wel­come in­cen­tive to be­come in­ti­mate with ar­chi­tec­ture and ge­og­ra­phy that, in prior Creeds, were a lit­tle too easy to treat as back­ground static. And 5th cen­tury BCE Greece is cer­tainly worth the ex­tra at­ten­tion, from the fluted, cur­tained tem­ples that top each is­land to the marks of civic life and in­dus­try that an­i­mate its vil­lages and cities.

The game casts you as ei­ther Kassandra or Alex­ios, two chil­dren of Sparta thrown into ex­ile. Who­ever you pick, you’ll be­gin the game as a young but bat­tle-scarred mer­ce­nary on the isle of Ke­falo­nia, which serves as a tu­to­rial area. In short or­der, a brush with a masked cult pro­pels you to the main­land and be­yond, where you’ll help Athens and Sparta con­test own­er­ship of re­gions – a ques­tion of de­stroy­ing sol­diers and re­sources un­til you’re in a po­si­tion to ini­ti­ate a clash be­tween armies – while search­ing for your par­ents.

As hardened killers, Alex­ios and Kassandra are en­dowed with a cer­tain ruth­less­ness from the off. This is vi­tal in a game which, its new­found taste for paci­fist out­comes not­with­stand­ing, gen­er­ally de­faults to good old mur­der­ing and loot­ing. Both pro­tag­o­nists are fine com­pany, thanks to spir­ited voice act­ing and writ­ing that strikes a deft bal­ance of dark­ness and hu­mour, and you’ll en­counter some vivid per­son­al­i­ties as you roam, from con-men pos­ing as crea­tures from myth to clas­si­cal celebri­ties such as Sokrates and Perik­les. Their sto­ries of­ten, how­ever, feel like a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a cam­paign frame­work that con­sists of check­ing off re­gions and lev­el­ling up. Ori­gins had a sim­i­larly work­man­like air, but sparked in­trigue by al­ter­nat­ing be­tween the per­spec­tives of a hus­band and a wife, each with their own, semidis­tinct agenda. Odyssey has an equiv­a­lent for this – es­sen­tially, a fa­mil­ial re­demp­tion story in the vein of Star Wars – but it’s much less en­gross­ing.

Where Ex­plo­ration Mode owes some­thing to Breath Of The Wild’s lightly in­stru­men­talised coun­try­side, Odyssey’s mis­sions learn from BioWare, with a branch­ing di­a­logue sys­tem and mul­ti­ple quest out­comes. Some of the bet­ter ex­am­ples bor­der on the trans­for­ma­tive, though most of them rest atop the fa­mil­iar Ubi­world struc­tur­ing prin­ci­ple of the for­ti­fied out­post. One quest sees you rid­ding a heal­ing bath of some sa­cred snakes – slaugh­ter­ing the crea­tures will up­set lo­cal cler­ics, but there’s an­other so­lu­tion hid­den away in one char­ac­ter’s op­tional patter. A lit­tle later, you’re sent to fetch a physi­cian from a fortress to save a dy­ing man. Your mark, how­ever, in­sists on treat­ing one of his own pa­tients first. You might agree to wait, where­upon you’ll be asked to re­cover a sur­gi­cal in­stru­ment from else­where in the (well-guarded) fortress, or knife the pa­tient to hurry things along. Or you could knock your quarry out and throw him over your shoul­der, which en­tails try­ing to es­cape the area while be­ing too en­cum­bered to climb.

Few of these choices have last­ing reper­cus­sions. Key char­ac­ters will usu­ally find ways to for­give you if you be­have vi­o­lently, which makes di­a­logue branches more a ques­tion of strik­ing the pre­ferred tone than chang­ing the plot. All the same, there’s a rich­ness and an ex­cite­ment to Odyssey’s quest de­sign that As­sas­sin’s Creed’s way­point-rid­den worlds have been cry­ing out for, and if many of your de­ci­sions don’t leave a mark, there are enough that do to keep you on your toes. Al­low a plague suf­ferer to es­cape the purge, for ex­am­ple, and you may find nearby towns less pic­turesque on sub­se­quent vis­its.

You’re pre­sented early on with your very own, up­grade­able war trireme and a horse (which tele­ports to your side at a whis­tle), and syn­chro­ni­sa­tion points al­low for fast travel across a world roughly twice the size of Ori­gins’ North Africa. Your for­ays are checked, how­ever, by the re­turn of Ori­gins’ lev­el­ling sys­tem, each re­gion hav­ing its rec­om­mended level. As in Ori­gins, this also tips the em­pha­sis to­wards brawl­ing when fight­ing above your level, be­cause stealthy at­tacks no longer guar­an­tee a kill: plunge blade-first onto a com­par­a­tively sea­soned guard and you’ll have to set­tle for a chunk of health bar. For­tu­nately, the game’s melee com­bat is much im­proved, if straight­for­ward, split be­tween var­i­ous weapon cat­e­gories and backed up by a deca­dent suite of up­grade­able abil­i­ties. Kassandra and Alex­ios can’t block but are adept at dodg­ing and coun­ter­ing, with a gen­er­ous parry win­dow and a slow-mo trait that trig­gers when you nar­rowly avoid dam­age. The three un­lock trees bor­row co­pi­ously from other Ubisoft games, but the abil­ity to re­spec char­ac­ters with­out penalty means you are bet­ter able to en­joy the breadth of ideas in play. The com­bat shines bright­est when du­elling other merce­nar­ies.

Odyssey was de­vel­oped along­side Ori­gins and thus isn’t so much a se­quel as a par­al­lel med­i­ta­tion on the same ideas – hence its lack of real sur­prise. It also com­mits a few of the same sins: in par­tic­u­lar, the del­uge of gear drops feels vaguely in­sult­ing, con­di­tion­ing the player to lust af­ter items ex­clu­sive to the in-game store. It’s lifted, how­ever, by the rel­a­tive wit and in­tel­li­gence of its quest de­sign, and the del­i­cate notes of un­cer­tainty and cu­rios­ity in­tro­duced by Ex­plo­ration mode. The series would do well to build on the lat­ter fea­ture, if its land­scapes are to be as in­volv­ing as they are grand.

It’s lifted by the rel­a­tive wit and in­tel­li­gence of its quest de­sign, and by the Ex­plo­ration mode

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