Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Games TM - - REVIEW -

Let’s get it out of the way: yes, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey looks a lot like Assassin’s Creed Ori­gins.

Yes, it plays like it, too. Yes, the mu­sic stings, in­ven­tory scene, and maps are all pretty sim­i­lar, too. But for ev­ery sim­i­lar­ity, we can in­dig­nantly counter it with a dif­fer­ence, too. So yes, Odyssey looks like Ori­gins, but the lat­est game has branch­ing di­a­logue trees when Ori­gins didn’t. Yeah, me­chan­i­cally they’re pretty sim­i­lar, but Odyssey lets you play – and re­main – a fe­male assassin (un­like giv­ing us just a measly taster of it when we played briefly as Aya in Ori­gins). And yes, the mu­sic, in­ven­tory and map will feel fa­mil­iar, too, but there’s ro­mance op­tions, con­quest bat­tles and Na­tion Power to tackle, too. So yeah, we get why some play­ers might take one peek and think it’s a half-baked fac­sim­ile, but take it from us; Ubisoft’s kept all those el­e­ments that made Ori­gins so achingly bril­liant and built upon the oth­ers to craft Odyssey. Dis­miss­ing it as any­thing other than yet an­other stel­lar in­stal­ment in the Creed fran­chise is sim­ply a dis­ser­vice.

But good grief, it’s over­whelm­ing. The first time you pull back that map, and see how tiny and in­signif­i­cant Ke­falo­nia is in the sea (lit­er­ally) of other places… And that’s be­fore you even clock the rec­om­mended ranks of some of the re­gions around you. “Am I even go­ing to play it that much?!” you think, not­ing neigh­bour­ing is­land, Achaia, is ranked level 42-46. Like: what’s even in Achaia, any­way? Who wants to go there? “I like it in Ke­falo­nia,” you think to your­self. “I might just spend the rest of the game here, where I won’t get bat­tered by a boar just for ac­ci­den­tally stray­ing into its field of view.” (Pro tip: AVOID ALL BOARS.)

The se­cret is to shrug that stuff off and just get stuck in. Like Ori­gins, there are plenty of main and sub-quests to keep you go­ing. And like Ori­gins, they vary just enough to avoid fall­ing into te­dium. Yes, it all fol­lows the same rigid tem­plate that all Ubisoft games do these days – vast open worlds rich for ex­plor­ing, bal­anced with fair com­bat me­chan­ics that let you stealth­ily take down the forts and camps you hap­pen upon. And yes, while we’ve no doubt some peo­ple are get­ting bored of this tight mould, we’re not, and that’s the hon­est truth. There’s just too much fun to be had, scram­bling up those moun­tains and creep­ing through those tombs.

But while Odyssey has taken many cues from its pre­de­ces­sor, its story – which gen­tly pulls in some of Assassin’s Creed’s wider lore – is all its own. You play as Alex­ios or Kas­san­dra (hereby re­ferred to col­lec­tively as “Kas­sios”). Yes, you ac­tu­ally get to pick from a male or fe­male assassin this time around – but the con­tents of their pants doesn’t af­fect the story, your gear, their perks and abil­i­ties, or… well, any­thing, re­ally. And rightly so, right?

It’s hard to touch on the story with­out be­ing spoil­ery, so we won’t do that, but where Bayek’s story was a slick tale of fa­mil­ial re­venge and he was very much The Wronged Man, Kas­sios’ plight is… well, let’s just say it’s a lit­tle more com­pli­cated than that. A merce­nary, Kas­sios’ al­le­giances are less de­fined, which makes their bat­tles – both pri­vate and pub­lic – more opaque and, if we’re hon­est, just that lit­tle bit more ex­cit­ing. Kas­sios isn’t as both­ered about Do­ing The Right Thing as they are Get­ting The Right Re­sult For Them­selves… and some­times, that re­sult is just get­ting paid for the work they did, god­dammit.

There’s now a mod­est se­lec­tion of di­a­logue op­tions in most of your con­ver­sa­tions, but aside from a cou­ple of in­stances, we’re not con­vinced the choices you make have any mean­ing­ful bear­ing on the game’s out­comes, and it’s not like you can only make one choice; like Mass ef­fect, if you’re so in­clined, you can of­ten hear all di­a­logue op­tions. We’d rec­om­mend it, too, given you’ll some­times only get the full low­down on your next ob­jec­tive by click­ing to hear ev­ery op­tion avail­able.

And it’s as­ton­ish­ing, this world. It’s stuffed with colour and depth, flora and fauna, and life and death. It’s ev­ery bit as breath­tak­ing as

Bayek’s egypt was. It ticks on, re­gard­less of what you do, or do not, choose to do. While Odyssey of­fers a suit­ably epic main story cam­paign, it’s just one pil­lar in a colos­seum of con­tent; there’s so much to do and ex­plore out­side of that main cam­paign, and it would be a (Greek) tragedy to ig­nore it.

We’re de­lighted to re­port that com­bat’s im­proved from Ori­gins, too. It’s not that Bayek was bad, ex­actly, but while there’s a sim­i­lar as­sort­ment of long-, mid- and short-ranged weapons to ex­per­i­ment with, the con­trol scheme cer­tainly feels more re­spon­sive this time around, and fight­ing less frus­trat­ing. Build­ing up your skills and abil­i­ties is eas­ier than ever, as well, so while they’re still loosely grouped into three cat­e­gories – hunter, War­rior and Assassin – there’s fewer now, and your choice is greater given you don’t al­ways need to have un­locked all of the skills be­low to get to the good­ies at the top. That said, the ones you get early on – such as the meaty and mag­nif­i­cent Spar­tan Kick – are so fun to play with that it’s hard to swap them out for any­thing else.

Talk­ing of com­bat; Odyssey de­buts Con­quest Bat­tles, which are ex­actly as they sound: huge, com­plex, alarm­ing scuf­fles with dozens and dozens of sol­diers, all bat­tling it out for the same turf. While it’s great to have some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, we’re not a huge fan of them, and de­spite Kas­sios’ re­fined CQC skills, it’s easy to be over­whelmed by the sheer num­ber of en­e­mies, and ac­ci­den­tally strike a sol­dier on the same side as you.

Plus, the con­stant shift of al­liances from the Spar­tans to the Athe­ni­ans and back again means that when we stum­ble across a pair of sol­diers duk­ing it out at the side of the road, it’s not al­ways clear who we’re sup­posed to jump in and save – or even if we should jump in and save at all. Un­like the Far Cry uni­verse, which of­fers a sim­i­lar dig­i­tal play­ground of good­ies and bad­dies to ex­plore, your en­emy is not so clear-cut here. Yes, it makes for a much more di­verse story – both morally and lit­er­ally (af­ter all, if Kas­sios cares only about Kas­sios, that’s all pretty much in keep­ing with what we con­sider a merce­nary to be, right?) – but at the cost of clar­ity. It also meant that on more than one oc­ca­sion, we am­bled un­hur­riedly into what we thought was an al­lied camp… only to get bat­tered in the door­way.

You’ll have ac­cess to many of the same tools you had be­fore, too. Where Bayek had Senu, Kas­sios has Ikaros, who of­fers all the same fea­tures as Bayek’s bae bird, such as tag­ging en­e­mies, spot­ting trea­sure, hunt­ing for small prey and so on. Kas­sios has Rev­e­la­tion, or Athena’s Sight, which – some­what in­ex­pli­ca­bly – gives you a brief boosted glimpse of all the good­ies in the im­me­di­ate area, sim­i­lar to a sixth sense skill Bayek had. And, of course, you’ll also have your trusted steed Pho­bos. Yes, you’re given some spiel at the be­gin­ning about the dif­fer­ent skills that each of the three steeds have, but from our ex­pe­ri­ence, it doesn’t re­ally seem to mat­ter which one you plump for, and they’ll all share the same skins, too. Oh, and you can still ex­pe­dite your trav­els by in­struct­ing your pony to Fol­low Road – au­to­mat­i­cally trot­ting along a pre-set route and sav­ing your trig­ger fin­ger – as well as whis­tle each time you can’t be both­ered to dou­ble back and go look­ing for your hor­sie.

We’re also not su­per fond of the naval as­pects, ei­ther. Yeah, yeah we know - plenty of you lot do like it, and that’s grand and all, but for us, it’s just all a bit… well, un­nec­es­sary. Kas­sios is

with A TIMELINE so CLOSE to ORI­GINS, It’s DIF­FI­CULT to AD­MIRE Odyssey On Its Own MERIT

na­tion POWER

In each ter­ri­tory, your map will in­di­cate which of the war­ring fac­tions has “con­trol” of that par­tic­u­lar zone. Both sides will chiefly leave you alone if they see you out and about (pro­vid­ing you don’t fla­grantly rob the poor towns­folk in front of their eyes, of course), but nei­ther are su­per keen on you wan­der­ing into their re­stricted ar­eas. to weaken a fac­tion’s hold, you must steal/burn their war sup­plies, dis­patch of their troops, and help your­self to their trea­sures. Do this, and you’ll find the na­tion Power gauge will slowly de­crease un­til the leader is deemed vul­ner­a­ble. Find ’em, kill ’em, and the re­gion will be lib­er­ated… right up un­til some­one in­vades and you have to do it all over again. sigh. a merce­nary. They kick-ass in all the right ways, so to sud­denly plop them into a ship and have them shout­ing out or­ders to a crew they’ve never seen be­fore? In fair­ness, the game isn’t sat­u­rated with the ship bits, and for that we’re grate­ful, but hav­ing to in­vest vir­tual monies and ef­fort into up­grad­ing the ship for tougher skir­mishes when all we wanna do is get from one place to the other and start ex­plor­ing… well, we have other places we’d pre­fer to spend that money, that’s all. It’s one of few el­e­ments in Odyssey that feel like it’s busy work for busy work’s sake.

Oh, there’s An­i­mus stuff too, of course. Un­like its pre­de­ces­sor, Odyssey chucks you right in there at the be­gin­ning – just so we know from the off that we’re in a sim­u­lated en­vi­ron­ment. We know veteran fans love these bits, and so we don’t be­grudge them too much, but we can’t help but ad­mit that ev­ery time we’re yanked out of Kas­sios’ world, it feels lit­tle more than an un­nec­es­sary in­ter­rup­tion, not least be­cause Layla’s lack­lus­tre “easter egg” nods to other Ubi IPS just feel clumsy and unimag­i­na­tive.

The mi­cro­trans­ac­tions? Yeah, Ubi’s push­ing these pretty hard this time around. There are the as­ton­ish­ingly brazen “Time Savers” add-ons which – for a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment of your re­al­life moolah – will let you ap­ply a per­ma­nent boost to your ex­pe­ri­ence points (XP) and Drach­mae (in-game cur­rency). Can you play with­out it? Cer­tainly. Will your game be slower and less re­ward­ing with­out it? Yup, pretty much.

And most ir­ri­tat­ingly of all, call­ing it a “Time Saver” sug­gests that it’s a short­cut, or per­haps some­thing to help tem­per the grind, when re­ally, Assassin’s Creed’s grind has never been the is­sue, at least not to us. We like ex­plor­ing, seek­ing out new places, trea­sure, and col­lecta­bles that all trickle de­li­ciously into our lit­tle XP pot. We like work­ing our way across a re­gion to clear out the forts and camps. Call­ing it a “Time Saver” sug­gests the time we spend do­ing that stuff isn’t wor­thy, when it re­ally chuf­fin’ is. Why on earth would Ubisoft make such a claim about its own game, when we – the peo­ple pay­ing and playing it – don’t?

The up­shot, though, is that how­ever you play this – stealthy, swordy or some­thing in-be­tween – you’ll find a rhythm and pace all of your own, in a way that melts away the paralysing fear of the sheer size and scope of the game.

It’s just such a shame it’s set in a world so sim­i­lar to Ori­gins, though. In many ways, Odyssey is a bet­ter game than Ori­gins – both me­chan­i­cally and nar­ra­tively – but by lock­ing it down in An­cient Greece, and a timeline so close to Ori­gins, it’s dif­fi­cult to ad­mire Kas­sios’ story on its own merit, and in the iso­lated glory it de­serves. Sadly, it’s that, cou­pled with the ag­gres­sive mi­cro­trans­ac­tions and the umpteen vari­a­tions of “spe­cial edi­tions” that make it dif­fi­cult for fans to own them all, that takes the shine off what is oh-so-nearly a flaw­less ex­pe­ri­ence.

left: Yes, the Black Flagesque ship se­quences are back, and there’s much more of them in Odyssey than Ori­gins, plus a whole sec­tion of your in­ven­tory ded­i­cated purely to up­grad­ing your boat.Oh, and yes, the sea shanties are back as well…shadow OF the TOMB RAIDER

FOR­MAT: PS4OTHER FOR­MATS: Switch, PC, Xbox One ORI­GIN: Canada PUB­LISHER: Ubisoft DE­VEL­OPER: Ubisoft Que­becPRICE: £54.99RE­LEASE: Out now PLAY­ERS: 1On­line RE­VIEWED: N/A

left: We’re kind of in love with the Photo Mode. Yes, ev­ery triple-a game pretty much of­fers it now, but with evoca­tive scenes such as these, it’s so hard to re­sist tak­ing a cheeky selfie or two as you ex­plore An­cient Greece.

Mass EF­FECT 2

Be­low: See that dude with the yute? He’s been out­side that house for a while now. That’s ’cos Kas­san­dra’s in the house be­com­ing in­ti­mate with his wife. It’s all part of a pretty fast and loose ap­proach to ro­mance in the game. Right: See that? There’s a non­lethal ap­proach to ev­ery at­tack, which means those who pre­fer lovin’ to fightin’ can still safely ex­plore.

left: Nah, we didn’t ac­ci­den­tally in­clude a Tomb Raider screen here, we prom­ise. Like Ori­gins’ Pyra­mids, Odyssey has tombs; small, con­tained puzzle cham­bers with rich re­wards. Just keep an eye out for snakes – it’s sur­pris­ing how quickly they can take you out. Be­low: Your fly­ing com­pan­ion Ikaros can do most(well, some) of the hard work for you; send him up to scout nearby forts and re­stricted ar­eas and he’ll tag un­sus­pect­ing foes and key items. Great for see­ing around cor­ners and scout­ing for se­cret en­trances, too.

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