As­sas­sin’s Creed Odyssey is an RPG of enor­mous scale and sub­stance.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Steven Mess­ner

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

Get Lost

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.

Hired Swords

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

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