ASSASSIN’S CREED ODYSSEY
Is the Greek epic a minor tour de force, or does it myth the mark?
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.
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.
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.