AS­SAS­SIN’S CREED ODYSSEY

Is the Greek epic a mi­nor tour de force, or does it myth the mark?

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - Chris Burke

As­sas­sin’s

Creed games are ex­haust­ing. So im­mersed have we be­come in the se­ries at times that we’ve needed a good lie down af­ter­wards. After 100-per­cent­ing it with

Broth­er­hood, we barely had the en­ergy to tackle, let alone com­plete, Ezio’s third in­stal­ment just a year later. But if the games felt big and in­volv­ing back at the start of the decade, Ori­gins and

Odyssey have opened up their worlds to be truly epic in ev­ery sense.

Just a year apart from each other (and ev­i­dently de­vel­oped in tan­dem), it’s pos­si­ble that Odyssey could suf­fer from player fa­tigue, es­pe­cially as if you spent time with Ori­gins you won’t find much in Odyssey’s me­chan­ics that you haven’t seen be­fore. So, can ‘more of the same’ be a bad thing, when the same is this good?

One fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence from Ori­gins is a choice of play­ing ex­clu­sively as ei­ther male or fe­male char­ac­ters. We chose to play as Kas­san­dra, so we can’t say too much about her brother Alex­ios’ jour­ney, though we’d imag­ine the over­all story arc and their rel­a­tive place in it to be sim­ply mir­rored.

Kas­san­dra is a Spar­tan-born mer­ce­nary with bi­ceps and beauty who was tossed off a cliff as a child, and has been do­ing paid-mus­cle jobs for a dodgy geezer on the Greek is­land upon which she washed up.

A few of these jobs (men­ac­ing lo­cal thugs, mostly) form a pseudo tu­to­rial, but it’s once you get off the is­land and into the wider world that the game comes alive – re­ally alive. Gor­geous blue skies and clear azure seas, is­lands with white sand beaches, stun­ning vis­tas of moun­tains and vol­ca­noes, rolling hills and olive groves, colos­sal stat­ues and the sun shin­ing off the white mar­ble Parthenon. It’s like be­ing on a re­ally ace Greek hol­i­day, and its breath­tak­ing panora­mas and sunny days, cour­tesy of a su­pe­rior light­ing sys­tem, in­ject sero­tonin into your neu­ral path­ways. The game also plays so in­tu­itively well, with ev­ery me­chanic and de­sign el­e­ment honed for purest en­joy­ment from the en­tire pre­ced­ing se­ries, that the best way we can put it is that

Odyssey just feels good.

Olive and let die

The RPG el­e­ment is as deep as you want, but never over­whelm­ing. Craft­ing and up­grad­ing gear is straight­for­ward, and the lev­el­ling sys­tem and skill tree al­lows you to fo­cus on your pre­ferred play-style, with tiers for ranged bow skills, melee com­bat and sneak­ery.

Melee is counter-strike weighted; dodge at the right time and your op­po­nent will slow, giv­ing you the chance to land a few good hits; parry and you’ll knock them back to al­low for a good counter. Copped from 300’ s “This is Sparta!” mo­ment is a Ger­ard But­ler-style ‘Spar­tan kick’. And boot­ing

en­e­mies off cliffs is just so sat­is­fy­ing.

The map is huge, but still scaled so that you can ex­plore it all with­out spend­ing hours in bor­ing tran­sit. For this you have a horse, and as with

Ori­gins you can press ‘A’ to fol­low the road then sit back and en­joy the view, or have it take you to your tracked quest marker. When it comes to climb­ing, ev­ery­thing is per­mit­ted, al­low­ing for free-run­ning move­ment and flow­ing ac­tion, and fast travel is avail­able to places you’ve sync’d in time-hon­oured AC fash­ion.

The An­imus is still what’s driv­ing your his­tor­i­cal so­journ, but for­tu­nately there’s no lengthy Des­mond-style sec­tions to get in the way, rather its role is ex­po­si­tion, al­low­ing you to dig into the his­tory of the time and re­gion, while the over-arch­ing sci-fi theme – this time around the alien/mag­i­cal na­ture of Kas­san­dra’s bro­ken Spear of Leonidas – is not too cum­ber­some.

There’s a lot of sea, and you’ve got your own trireme, up­grade­able for ar­row at­tacks, fire pots, javelins, ar­mour, ram­ming and lieu­tenants, who will help you board ves­sels and can be called upon in com­bat on dry land too.

This is Black Flag in the Aegean, so if you liked the sail­ing bits of AC4 you’ll be happy. Sea bat­tles are fun and ar­cade-y, and su­per­hu­man row­ers help you reach speed­boat ve­loc­ity. Hardly re­al­is­tic, but who wants to spend hours sail­ing wide stretches of un­event­ful ocean? Apart from Sea

Of Thieves fans? Talk­ing of which, among the box of toys given to you is the op­por­tu­nity for piracy, as you and your Aar­rrrr-go­nauts ter­rorise the sea for drach­mae and XP. There are storms, but mostly the seas are calm and clear. Pulling into a beau­ti­ful bay and div­ing down into its clear blue waters to hunt for trea­sure in wrecks and sunken Mi­noan palaces is our new favourite thing to do.

Acrop­o­lis now

There is a ver­i­ta­ble mezze of dif­fer­ent mis­sions, quests and ac­tiv­i­ties served up, from the vi­brant cities like Athens to the lush vine­yards and ham­lets high up in the hills. And call it FOMO, or just be­cause it’s all so much fun to do and the re­lated cut-scenes and di­a­logue so en­ter­tain­ing, our Kas­san­dra

never says no. Which in­cludes in the ro­mance op­tions. Ooh, be­have.

As a merc in the mid­dle of the on­go­ing Pelo­pon­nesian War be­tween the Spar­tans and Athe­ni­ans, work is plen­ti­ful. Sim­i­larly to pre­vi­ous ACs, you weaken a fac­tion’s side by killing cap­tains, burn­ing sup­plies and nick­ing ev­ery­thing they’ve got from fortresses and mil­i­tary camps, where good old fash­ioned as­sas­sin-ing is re­quired. Your ea­gle, Ikaras, can aeri­ally tag en­e­mies and lo­cate tar­gets. En­emy

AI is no pushover, and sneak­ing can ac­tu­ally be pretty dif­fi­cult as your foes ac­tu­ally have good eye­sight. Un­less you’re in a tiny patch of mag­i­cal As­sas­sin’s Creed shrub­bery, that is.

Once a fac­tion’s hold on an area weak­ens, you un­lock a bat­tle to change or main­tain the re­gion’s controlling power – an im­pres­sively large scale melee be­tween Spar­tans and Athe­ni­ans. But there are also ut­terly in­volv­ing side-quests such hunt­ing leg­endary beasts or rare trea­sures from sketchy maps or cryp­tic clues, and these never feel rep­e­ti­tious or a grind.

Apollo creed

Make a nui­sance of your­self with ei­ther war­ring fac­tion, or by mur­der­ing in­no­cents, and lo­cal lead­ers will put a bounty on your head, in­creas­ingly bring­ing more ri­val mer­ce­nar­ies to seek you out. It’s the most im­me­di­ate con­se­quence of your free­dom to play how you want, and pro­vides yet an­other meta-game in ris­ing through the mer­ce­nary ranks as you take them out of the game. These guys can re­ally dog you though, as they will of­ten turn up while you’re mid-fight with a fortress full of sol­diers and add to your trou­bles. You can call off the heat by seek­ing out the per­son who put a bounty on your head, and stick­ing your Spear of Leonidas through their eye socket. You’re also track­ing mem­bers of the Cult of Kos­mos, a shad­owy or­gan­i­sa­tion who have been forc­ing Or­a­cles to give cit­i­zens false prophe­cies, and are controlling the war for their own ends. With progress you un­cover clues as to the iden­tity of these masked pup­peteers – and Kas­san­dra’s own story very much in­volves get­ting re­venge on them.

With the game’s sand­box na­ture and the sheer amount of stuff to do in its world, you might ex­pect the nar­ra­tive to be spread thin­ner than the Greek econ­omy, but it’s pos­si­bly only ri­valled by The Witcher for its com­pelling story beats and dra­matic punch. The di­a­logue feels nat­u­ral, de­spite the dodgy Greek ac­cents, and the fa­cial an­i­ma­tions in the many, many cutscenes are beau­ti­fully ex­pres­sive. De­spite the de­vel­op­ers’ ob­ses­sion with di­a­logue branch­ing and vari­ant out­comes, how­ever, it mostly comes down to a friendly ver­sus more bel­liger­ent re­ply, but piss­ing peo­ple off is nei­ther pro­duc­tive, nor par­tic­u­larly ob­struc­tive. Kas­san­dra her­self is a well-drawn char­ac­ter, like­able enough to care about, and there are loads of great NPC en­coun­ters, in­clud­ing with his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters such as Sokrates, not to men­tion the oc­ca­sion­ally hi­lar­i­ous ro­man­tic dis­trac­tions. And when it comes to pathos there is plenty from Kas­san­dra’s ori­gin story, and a dra­matic re­veal fairly early in the game had us ut­terly cap­ti­vated – not sure we can re­mem­ber too many videogame char­ac­ters con­vinc­ingly pull off such smoul­der­ing in­ten­sity and gen­uine men­ace. It all adds up to an im­pres­sive achieve­ment, a near flaw­less gam­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that doesn’t so much in­no­vate as just get ev­ery­thing right from the se­ries so far. And as it plays so ef­fort­lessly, maybe we won’t be ex­hausted by the end of it.

“A dra­matic re­veal fairly early on in the game had us ut­terly cap­ti­vated”

Above The Uber app said it would be a Greek trireme, driven by Themis­tok­les, and on fire.

Left “That’s for mak­ing fun of my skirt!”

left You have your own horse, that you can whis­tle up, or you can just steal one that some­one’s parked nearby.

be­low It’s all so pretty that the game al­lows you to take your own tourist snaps.

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