October 01, 2018
Assassin's Creed Odyssey has a genuine video game first. You can actually climb the huge stony butt cheeks and dangly bits of a vertiginous Zeus statue in Kephallonia, and shimmy your way up his crack or ball sack. I can't think of another game that allows you to do that. It's also difficult to think of another game that crams so much into its ludicrously massive open world, throwing side-quests, contracts, bounties, dialogue options, romances, and oodles of exploration into its metaphorical big Greek vase.
While Assassin's Creed Origins's world proved almost too large, Odyssey seems even bigger, with the vast Aegean sea to navigate as the story takes you from island to island across Ancient Greece on an epic adventure to track down your lost family. Choosing from either Kassandra or Alexios – armed with the legendary Spear of Leonidas rather than a hidden blade - events can unfold in quite markedly different ways based on your choice of protagonist, while decisions made during the course of the narrative can also have far-reaching consequences.
Many games tout choice and consequence as a feature, and often fail to deliver on that very promise. Assassin's Creed Odyssey doesn't come up short in that regard, the fallout of some of your choices becoming immediately apparent at certain junctures. And it's not always clear-cut what sort of an impact it'll make, but you get a real sense that your decisions carry proper weight. Romances on the other hand are largely throwaway, kept as more of an amusing aside rather than anything that has any influence over the story. It's a nice touch, and you can have as many partners as you like and sleep with whoever you want, but it's all fairly meaningless.
It's more a representation of Greek culture that it was often seen as preferable for a male to be with an attractive man, for example, that you can choose to romance anyone, and indeed, Odyssey does a fantastic job in conveying a sense of time and place. But then, Assassin's Creed has always done that incredibly well, rendering each period in history in incredible detail. Odyssey is no exception. Across Ancient Greece you'll find imposing temples, beautiful olive groves, pink cherry blossom trees and grassy mountain peaks, all giving you pause to stop and admire the scenery. It's a stunning game to behold.
Of course, Odyssey ostensibly appears like it's more of the same following last year's Origins and its complete overhaul of the entire series. This latest entry is obviously more iterative, but there's still a lot of new stuff in here to warrant delving back in. The previous game's Phylakes have been replaced by mercenary bounty hunters, for instance, which spawn all over the map and fall into a tiered hierarchy that you also fit into. Go around thieving and murdering, and you'll gain a wanted level, prompting more and more bounty hunters to set about relentlessly tracking you down. And as your level increases, you'll attract the attention of even scarier mercenaries who'll tear you a new one. They don't necessarily always travel alone either and prove a constant thorn in your side.
You can pay off your bounty with enough drachmae, but if your wanted level is through the roof, you're in for a rough time. Mercs will also randomly turn up, even if you're in the middle of a story mission, making life considerably harder. It works almost like Shadow of Mordor/War's Nemesis System, no two bounty hunters being the same. Enemies now level up alongside you too, an option that was patched into Origins - which is now the default for Odyssey - making the game and its combat far more challenging. Remember going back to a region you'd previously conquered in Origins and smashing all the low-level enemies? Yeah, you can't do that anymore.
That means you need to be better prepared when steaming into battle, and to that end you'll quickly accumulate a formidable arsenal of weapons and armour. All of these can be upgraded to match your current level or imbued with additional buffs through engravings purchased from the blacksmith, expanding the number of options to bolster your abilities. Obviously, you can unlock new skills as you level up, enhancing your bow skills (under the Hunter category), Warrior abilities and Assassination prowess.
Combat is ever-so-slightly different to Origins' too, placing an increased emphasis on parrying and evasion, prompting a short, slow-motion window upon performing a perfect dodge to execute a counter attack. It feels a bit faster too, Alexios and Kassandra both accomplished warriors capable of holding their own in even the most chaotic of battles. You can time a parry to turn the tables, while the dodge roll is crucial if an enemy is bearing down on you.
Ancient Greece has its own leadership within each region too, and you can side with the Spartans or Athenians, burning war supplies, dispatching captains, clearing out forts, and ultimately tracking down the leader to put him out of the picture. Weaken a nation enough, and you'll be able to trigger a Conquest Battle, attacking or defending your chosen faction. What ensues is a massive melee between Spartans and Athenians, and to the victor go the spoils.
In your role as the 'eagle-bearing' Misthios (a mercenary, for all intents and purposes) you're free to work for whomever you like, but the story always comes back to your ongoing search, and the nefarious cult you'll cross paths with at every turn. Your odyssey is a compelling one, laced with political intrigue, Greek tragedy, and raging war, with you at the heart of it all. From humble beginnings, Odyssey's epic yarn swiftly gains momentum, sweeping you up into its grand tale of family and vengeance. From Phokis to Keos, Andros and Argolis, to the seat of democracy in Athens, becoming embroiled in the place where western civilisation was birthed is hugely engaging.
Sailing and naval warfare is also back in a big way for Odyssey, boasting all of the ship upgrades and such, with lieutenants that can be recruited to your crew and summoned during skirmishes on land. Battles at sea are fairly few and far between aboard your mighty vessel, the Adrestia, unless you actively go out looking for them or take on quests that demand destroying rival ships. You can take or leave it, for the most part, according to your own preferences. Just how we like it.
Despite everything aforementioned, Assassin's Creed Odyssey isn't without a handful of minor issues, and with increased player agency comes a slight lack of variation in the type of quests you're given. Most require fetching something or other, killing soldiers or maybe investigating an incident of some kind. They're presented in a such a way, however, that they don't necessarily feel samey, but the game is somewhat light on proper set-pieces that mix things up, bar the occasional, very brief sojourn into the present day with Layla Hassan returning once more. This being an AC game, it's also prone to the odd bug here and there too.
Embellishing every facet of what Assassin's Creed Origins' brought to the table, Odyssey raises the bar with even prettier visuals, a colourful, varied and immersive world, refined combat, and more freedom to shape the narrative. Quantity is never a substitute for a lack of quality, but happily, Assassin's Creed Odyssey deftly balances both, giving you more than ample scope to get swept up in Kassandra and Alexios' epic adventure.
Superb voice acting, rapturous music, and the return of sea shanties make Assassin's Creed Odyssey sound like the stuff of legend.
If you thought AC Origins looked good, then you're in for a pleasant surprise, because Odyssey looks even better. It's almost like going to Ancient Greece for reals. Almost.
Various refinements to the mechanics introduced with Origins make for a smoother experience overall, with slightly more nuance to the combat and a range of additional abilities to experiment with. There are a few teeny, tiny issues, mostly revolving around traversal when you're in a panic situation, but these seldom crop up.
A colossal open world stuffed to the gills with quests, secrets and enjoyable naval warfare. You'll ride for miles on your faithful horse Phobos, soaking it all in for countless hours. It's mostly well-polished too, save for the occasional bug that crops up now and then, They're mercifully rare, however.
A list that adds extra impetus to dive headfirst into everything that Ancient Greece has to offer. There are some genuinely exciting activities tucked away too that will only emerge if you invest the time and effort to dig them up. Great stuff.
A case of refinement rather than dramatic change, Assassin's Creed Odyssey nonetheless injects even more depth and detail into the series, with dialogue choices and the ensuing consequences that follow proving a worthwhile addition. If you enjoyed Origins, Assassin's Creed Odyssey will scratch the same itch, and then some. A sensational sequel that's thankfully not a Greek tragedy.