ASSASSINS CREED Odyssey
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an RPG of enormous scale and substance.
Assassin’sCreed is back, and it’s an RPG now. Steven Messner gets very excited.
Of all the Assassin’s Creed games, Odyssey is the most aptly named. It’s a roleplaying game of mythic proportions, a world so vast and intricately detailed I feel lost in it all. This isn’t just Ubisoft’s usual style of open world draped over the Aegean Sea, either. Odyssey’s various activities weave into a satisfying web of interlocking systems. Many of Odyssey’s zones could host a smaller RPG on their own, but together they form an incomparably large world full of things to do. Odyssey sheds so much of what Assassin’s Creed is known for to fully embrace the concepts of a roleplaying game, and it’s all the better for it. Even though the story doesn’t live up to its premise, the extra layers of choice, breathtaking scenery, and colorful sidequests make Odyssey not only the best Assassin’s Creed to date, but one of the best RPGs since The Witcher 3.
Unlike previous Assassin’s Creed games, dialogue options now let me influence quests— sometimes with horrific consequences. I refused to intervene when a priest wanted to put a plagued family to death, incited more than one rebellion, and even spared a shamed general from what should have been a very satisfying dish of stone-cold revenge. And, yes, I’ve also bumped uglies with quite a few willing characters.
The wonderful sidequests are spread out over a world that is almost incomprehensibly large for a singleplayer RPG. Normally, size doesn’t matter, but the scale of Odyssey’s ancient Greece is to its benefit, especially because each area feels so detailed. It’s a vast world that I want to explore, and each zone has a subtle aesthetic that makes it unique, from the arid badlands of Crete to the verdant plains of Arkadia. This isn’t just Ubisoft’s biggest game ever, it’s also its most beautiful.
This isn’t just Ubisoft’s biggest game ever, it’s also its most beautiful
The new ‘Exploration’ mode makes that world a lot more immersive. Enabled by default, this turns off most of the quest markers, and instead provides me with vague directions to objectives, like saying it’s located north of the agora in Athens, leaving me to suss out the exact location on my own. Sometimes that’s as simple as using my eagle, Ikaros, to scout out the location from above, but other times it means speaking with characters or taking on extra quests to get more information. If you have the patience for it, it’s a system that makes exploring more involved and satisfying.
If there’s one casualty of Odyssey’s world, though, it’s the main story. No matter which of two siblings you pick, Kassandra or Alexios, there’s a lot of heart in their journey to reunite their family. True to Assassin’s Creed, Odyssey tries to tell a story that sees the protagonist (in my case Kassandra) rub elbows with all of the big names in Greece, but the end result is a story that has charm, but feels disjointed and confusing. It tries to do too much, whisking you from the backwater island of Kephallonia to the heights of Athenian society and then to audiences with Spartan kings.
This frantic pacing doesn’t leave much time to really know or appreciate these characters, and the reasons I was pulled from one area to the next sometimes felt paper thin. It’s still an enjoyable tale, but The Witcher 3 this is not. That’s pretty standard for Assassin’s Creed, but having agency in the story has done wonders for making me more attached to Kassandra’s journey. Even if certain revelations left me confused or rolling my eyes, I felt invested in what was happening.
I don’t really mind that the story doesn’t always work because Odyssey is an RPG that thrives thanks to its diverse and excellent activities. Black Flag’s ship combat makes a return as a central feature, though it’s slightly less of a grind. I love the feeling of boarding the Adrestia and sailing the open waters, cleaving pirate triremes in half, or pulling alongside to battle their crews in melee skirmishes.
Then there’s the new Mercenary system, which is inspired by Origin’s Phylakes but, again, is bigger and better. There are 39 partially procedural mercenaries who wander about and, if I cause too much trouble, will try to collect the bounty on my head. These mercenaries remind me of Shadow of Mordor’s Nemesis system, albeit without personalities that evolve with each encounter I have with them. But they do have distinct looks and a way of showing up when I’m already vulnerable, like Skiron, ‘The Crazy Lover’, who had a sixth sense for sabotaging my stealthy infiltrations and getting me killed.
Odyssey retains the same MMO-style leveling system of Origins, meaning enemies who outrank me by even a few levels will be practically invincible no matter how well I fight. That’s still annoying—especially when it leaves me unable to progress—but in the case of mercenaries I like how it establishes a food chain. When I saw Exekias the Legend, a level 50 merc, roaming around Delphi with his pet bear, I felt like I bumped into a celebrity. The merc pecking order is just one of half a dozen secondary progression systems in Odyssey. It might sound like feature bloat, as if Ubisoft’s open world games needed even more things to do, but each of these systems overlaps and influences the others in a way that makes Odyssey a dynamic world.
Across most of the zones, for example, Spartan and Athenian armies clash for control of territory. When one faction controls a zone, I can destabilize its grip on the region by killing soldiers, or burning and stealing supplies found in their heavily-guarded camps. When a faction’s control of a region is all but lost, a Conquest Battle opens up, and I can enlist to fight on either side in exchange for powerful gear.
In these setpiece battles, hundreds of soldiers take the field at once in an all-out fray to see which side is the last standing. It’s a serious challenge made even more brutal if the opposing faction enlists a mercenary to ambush me. It’s in these moments that Odyssey’s combat really shines. It’s functionally the same system from Origins, which means it can sometimes feel a little mushy and unresponsive, but new abilities that slot into an action bar give me so many cool tools to use in combat that it doesn’t get on my nerves nearly as much.
Normal attacks build generous amounts of adrenaline, which can then be spent unleashing any one of these four abilities, like the Spartan Kick. It’s an even cooler Fus-Ro-Dah from Skyrim as Kassandra launches a foe backwards with a detonative punt. There are some clever combinations too, like using Rain of Destruction with explosive arrows to unleash ancient Grecian carpet bombing. Even if the combat system could be more responsive, I like that Odyssey embraces combat over stealth more than any other Assassin’s Creed, because these new abilities make me feel like a god of war.
My favorite punching bags are the Cult of Kosmos, the conspirators who tore my family apart. It’s a lot of legwork hunting down these 44 cultists across Odyssey’s map, but it’s a testament to how well Odyssey’s systems talk to each other that this is one of the best parts of the game. Many cultists are unmasked as part of the story, but the rest require scouring the world for clues to their identity. Sometimes I might have to complete an out-of-the-way sidequest, while others require reading stolen letters to deduce their location.
Hide and Sneak
Fans of older Assassin’s Creed games can rest easy knowing that stealth is still big part of Odyssey. Sneaking into heavily guarded forts and estates is how I’ve spent a good half of my time, but the system remains largely unchanged from previous games. I still use my eagle to mark enemies and objectives, and there’s still that familiar tension of trying to slink through an enemy camp unseen.
My only problem with stealth is that it too often reveals how dumb and inconsistent Odyssey’s AI is. More than once I’ve had guards get stuck on objects or have had to sit back and watch as they run around in a panic seemingly caused by nothing. And nothing ruins the immersion of a leisurely horse ride through Athens like civilians desperately diving out of the way like they just dodged an incoming train. So while Odyssey is easily the best Assassin’s Creed I have ever played, and a damn good RPG to boot, there are still some parts that could have been improved.
When I look back on all the fun I’ve had, these complaints feel minor. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is huge and beautiful, and it effortlessly ties action, stealth, sailing, faction control, mercenaries, and cultist hunting together in one cohesive game that, even after 50 hours, I want to keep playing. Odyssey is a lot more than just another Assassin’s Creed; it’s an RPG of unparalleled scale supplemented by satisfyingly deep progression systems that each play their part in bringing ancient Greece to life.
I like that Odyssey embraces combat over stealth