Assassin's Creed Odyssey Review
Ubisoft is the fourth largest video games company in the world, which is some going when the only ones in front of you are Activision Blizzard, EA and Take-Two. The point of note is that with this comes resources, and the opportunity to take risks which to others would sink the company if the result was total failure. With Assassin’s Creed Odyssey we have the result of a three-year and two-game change which is as big as anything since the move from two dimensions to three. Yes, it really is that big. You see, what Ubisoft has done is take their biggest and most well-known franchise — the Assassin’s Creed series — and completely changed the game. Where once we had a narrative-focused action adventure built around parkour and clean assassinations, we now have a gigantic open-world RPG that mimics pretty much everything good in mightily well-regarded RPGs (and other genres) such as The Witcher 3, Mass Effect, Destiny and more. The very fact that Odyssey sits on a par, at the very least, with all other similar titles is testament to what the devs and the company overall has done. That I — a longtime fan of the series and protestor to the change — have been won over in totality demonstrates it even further.
Although there is no character creation you do have a choice of two at the start of the game. The pair are siblings — you can choose to be Alexios or Kassandra and the game will play out the same regardless of your choice. So it’s a purely cosmetic decision but one which is well received regardless. The voice acting of both is engaging throughout, which for such a long game is important to know. The length of the game is hard to state as it wholly depends on how you play, what you do and how you do it. There’s probably around thirty hours of gaming if you’re interested in the main story only but you can double that if you look to do a sizeable chunk of the side quests and extra content. There are a great many varied things to do. If you wanted to 100% the game you’re looking at a hundred hours.
That is, unless you spend some real money. You see, microtransactions are here and although totally optional, stand-out as part of the single biggest negative around the game. Whatever you choose to do on your journey you will need to be at the right level. Playing on normal difficulty means if you’re level twenty-five, you can have a proper fight against an opponent of the same level, but will struggle against anything even one level higher. If you are very good, and happy to take the time, you can defeat an enemy one-on-one who is a level above you, but multiply the opponents or ramp their level up further, and you’re wasting your time. It’s the very definition of futile.
Now, given this it means that a lot of the time you’ll have to do side quests, collect bounties, or more, whether you want to or not. For some, then, the game can at times become a grindfest dependent on how you’ve got to where you are, or what you’re really compelled to do. However, if you’re willing to drop some monies, you can get an XP timesaver from the in-game store which means you receive 1.5 times the standard XP for all activities for the duration of the game. It just so happens that with this activated you’ll be at the right level the majority of the time, only having to do a couple of things every now and then before you can tackle what you need to. In my opinion this immeasurably improves the game as I find I’m doing nearly always what I want rather than what I have to. For many it might not be an issue but I wonder if the XP rate should have been set at this higher level from the start for anyone who owns the game, rather than an unlockable timesaver.
Despite this negative, it doesn’t overwhelm given the significant quantity — and quality — of game. We’re in Ancient Greece and the world map comprises various land masses separated by seas. It all looks wonderful, with a lot of varied landscapes and detail in all of them. On the PS4 Pro the whole thing moved at a constant framerate as far as I could tell, except for one instance when the game seemed to hang and stutter mid-quest. A restart fixed the issue and it wasn’t seen again. Whether moving on foot, horse, or ship, it all works brilliantly with the right options to make any transportation mode as simple as possible. Improvement could come from the addition of a true run button, although this isn’t a major issue as Kassandra (whom I mained as) moves quickly anyway, but I still kept wanting that extra boost.
As mentioned earlier, Ubisoft has really assessed the landscape for RPGs (and more) and the team has implemented excellent versions of key mechanics throughout this game, many of which are carried over from the clearly in-between old and new Origins, as well as some stellar new additions. Examples of some excellent and prominent systems include the opportunity to play the game in full exploration mode, or with it helping you. Basically you can talk to folk to gather clues and get directions as to where to go and what to do, or the game can do it for you. You can still have the same conversations but you don’t need to — the quest marker will be there for you and you’ll know what you need to action. This is fundamentally a gaming choice, one which I tried and quickly moved to the ‘tell me everything’ mode, if only due to a lack of time. The fact the option is there, rather than either being enforced, is marvellous.
Another pair of mechanics which are introduced, or built upon here, are the relationship and combat mechanics. In Assassin’s Creed games past our avatars entered into carnal relations at times. Ezio Auditore, for example, made a life of it. Here though, you have a choice. When you interact with characters, dialogue options at times will be focused on trying to bed each other. Through your interactions with them, and whatever quests you partake in which involve them, you might end up spending the night, or you might lose your chance through bloody-mindedness or perhaps just doing the right thing in order to complete the quest. It’s great to have this in there though, given relationships are a key part of real life. In all dialogue options, or quests in general, there’s a way to complete it the right way (don’t kill all the people) or another way (kill all the people). There’s no moral scorecard as yet, but I’d expect this to turn up in the expected Ancient Roman sequel.
Which leaves the final mechanic I wanted to draw attention to: the combat. Oh my word, the depth here now is far more than has been seen previously in an AC game. Building on the revamped system from the previous title, things just keep getting deeper and deeper. Your base stats are determined by your own level, plus the armour set and weapon outfitting you choose. You can only wear or yield items of a level equal to or lower than your own, but outside of that you can equip whatever works best for you. There are normal, epic and legendary items which is just cool, and the colour coding will be familiar to any Destiny player. For some reason everybody wants all the shiny and being able to wear the Boots of Ares, or swing a legendary sword is just awesome. There’s no hidden blade anymore (one demonstration of the move away from traditional Assassin’s games) but in its stead you do have Leonidas’ spear. Madness? This is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
The biggest depth enhancement this time around is the skills tree and how it really impacts the in-game motions. There are three trees in reality — warrior, hunter and assassin. A skill available early on in the Assassin tree is that of booting people away a la Gerard Butler’s dispatching of Xerxes’ messenger in 300. A good way of staggering foes ahead of taking them on with your melee weapon of choice, it can be levelled if you chose to expend your ability points (obtained by levelling up) to ensure it takes off even more health points, too. Each skill you can obtain leads to different tactics in your battles, and strategies as you try to complete missions, or defeat bosses. A lot of the cooler skills are locked until a certain story is beaten, or particular level is reached. It doesn’t matter though as you can reset ability points and rebuild your character's skills in return for just a few of the standard currency, drachmae.
Given the length of time the game takes to complete, and the amount of quests you’ll have to complete, there’s still no need to concern yourself over whether it will become tedious. It won’t, as there are so many different things to occupy yourself with, and the quests are wildly varying in terms of what you need to make happen — and how you do it, leveraging your skills. For instance, quests may require you to go and see person X, save person Y and steal item Z. Another one will see you burning down the controlling militaries’ supplies, or finding secrets from the leader’s house. You might need to take down warring ships, or join in conquest battles with your aligned faction. This is all in addition to the hunting, the bounties and the personal contracts. The world is alive, ensuring any travel is entertaining, and you can take on so many things at once that you can easily chop and change to make sure any boredom or repetition is alleviated. The breadth and depth of content is mindblowing.
Three years ago I spent significant time with the last of the old-school Assassin’s Creed games, Syndicate. It was great fun with some elaborate and involved assassinations requiring planning and choice upfront. It’s a shame that’s gone, and was greatly missed last year when the world was introduced to Assassin’s Creed Origins. There were other aspects of the game which I and countless others loved and missed, with the new game hitting and missing a pretty equal number of its targets. In true Ubisoft fashion the second game resolves a lot of those issues. Ubisoft took a big risk with this series, as indicated only they and a few others could. Given the time and space to breathe and develop it’s fair to say they’ve absolutely nailed it. I would love an old-fashioned AC game again, but I don’t miss it, not any more.
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