Game: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Consoles: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
An Assassin’s Creed Odyssey review copy was provided by the publisher.
Review based on the launch version of the game.
I was somewhat disappointed to hear the news that a new Assassin’s Creed game was coming out a year after the last one. The extra time devoted to Assassin’s Creed Origins really made for a much better experience. However, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey had a lot of promise with its much requested ancient Greek setting and embrace of modern RPG mechanics. While the game delivered on its refined gameplay and setting, many of its other promised features simply couldn’t live up to bolder open world games.
While it was hard to remain invested in Origins’ story, Odyssey has mercenaries navigating the conflict of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta while coming to terms with the fracturing of their families. Carrying me through the bulk of the story was the main character. I decided to play through the game with Kassandra, and her constant refusal to take people’s stupidity makes for some truly memorable moments. One part involving a glass eye and an unlucky sheep is an especially good highlight.
One of the biggest changes to the Assassin’s Creed formula is the dialogue tree system. At certain points during conversations with NCPs, you can choose between different dialogue options. These options vary in magnitude, from merely giving you certain bits of information over others to deciding the life or death of certain characters. It’s hard to tell the differences between choices without replaying the game, but people will remember your choices. I once saved a group of villagers from being killed. Later when I said goodbye to one of my friends before I set sail to adventure, she commented that she’ll have plenty of company from one of the villagers I saved. The romance options do leave a bad first impression, as they first come up at the most awkward of times. One of the earliest opportunities to hit on someone comes after you fend off bandits attacking a person’s sick father.
The stealth gameplay remains much of the same as in Origins. You sneak around a base camp or fort while stabbing through guards and pilfering treasure boxes. Thanks to the tight controls and abilities at your disposal, the game really makes you feel like a Grecian ninja. I once put an arrow over a flame to burn a crate of valuables from afar. Then as the guard came up the fort wall to investigate, I hung over the edge of the wall, whistled to get his attention and then threw him off the wall. Other satisfying abilities include the ability to teleport a short distance to assassinate someone and then chain right away into another assassination as well as a smoke grenade useful for quick getaways.
While the stealth is consistently fun, it’s hard not to grow tired of the same level designs and the same enemies over and over again. It becomes hard to distinguish each fort from the next. Eventually your fall into a pattern of running along the outside walls to thin the herd of guards before closing in for the treasure and whatever other objective is there. It doesn’t help that I went through very similar gameplay and level designs in Origins. It’s still fun, but I’d like a bit more variety in the bases you stealth through. Ubisoft Quebec could have taken out 10 or 15 enemy camps and put all those resources to making a couple of the camps truly memorable and different while having plenty of other base camps to chew through.
Combat is overall tighter than in Origins. Enemies telegraph their attacks much clearer and dodging is more responsive. Something as simple as tapping the dodge button for a short hop to holding it down for a full roll opens up a lot of options for combat. You can also slow down time briefly by dodging at the last second before an attack a la Bayonetta. Your abilities also work wonderfully with the combat. The Spartan Kick ability knocks opponents over with the fury of 300 Spartans, potentially off a ledge for massive fall damage. You can also add poison and fire damage to your weapons. Unfortunately, most of your enemies are damage sponges and can kill you in just a couple of hits. This is normally fine as it incentives stealth gameplay which the game is built around. The problem is that you’re forced into combat often, either through specific moments in quests or if you fail to kill a strong opponent with your assassination attempt. This can lead to some really frustrating moments and it sucks the fun out of swordplay.
But no where is the frustration more apparent when you’re in a quest where you have to escort someone. As soon as you start a quest or free someone from imprisonment, they hightail it to some undetermined point on the map and often right through enemy camps. This is fine when the person you’re escorting can actually defend themselves, but even if the person has no weapons and has the muscular structure of stale breadsticks, they’ll still charge into battle with the fury of Ares. Unless you take care of all the enemies in the path of the person, the mission is failed before it even started. Even when the people you’re following aren’t killing themselves, they’re still annoying you; they run slightly slower than you’re running speed forcing you to constantly stop in place so they catch up.
Naval combat returns in a big way. Since the land of ancient Greece is broken up between many different islands, you need a ship to sail to them. Luckily, you get a full crew and ship early in your adventure. Combat plays a lot like that one mission in Origins. You can fire arrows and javelins at enemy ships or speed up to ram into them to open up weak points. If the ship’s damage is low enough, you can board the ship with your crew to destroy it that way. But even just sailing across the waters Wind Waker style can be fun as well.
Exploration has two different modes. Guided Mode leads you to your destination with a map marker like in previous Ubisoft open world games, but Exploration Mode doesn’t give you this convenience. You have to find your objective by finding clues and talking to people and then heading to the location based on different descriptions of the location. Ubisoft designed this to be a more interesting and organic alternative to normal open world exploration, but it’s really not that different. All you’re really doing is listening to the optional dialogue choices (or finding the obviously marked clues all next to one another), going in the vague direction of your objective based on the highly detailed map and then summoning your eagle when prompted to have it show you the objective which is then automatically marked. It’s essentially the Guided Mode but with slightly less hand holding. It’s not nearly as interesting as we were hoping.
Side quests are also a bit of a disappointment. Most of them are just fetch quests that task you with obtaining an item and bringing it back to the quest giver or taking out a certain number of guards. From getting revenge on guards to killing animals and taking their parts, quests are more of the same you experienced in dozens of games. There are a good number of quests that offer interesting side stories or have you making a tough choice, but they’re completed almost as soon as they began which lessens their impact. Again, Ubisoft Quebec could have cut down on the side quests and put the resources into making the other quests even more intricate and memorable while having plenty of content left over.
Ancient Greece is a gorgeous place to explore. From sun-drenched cliff sides to dense, red and gold forests, the game provides plenty of eye candy that’s both technically and artistically marvelous. Ubisoft always does it’s homework to bring its environments to life, and Odyssey is no different.
That being said, I did run into a few glitches. Most of them can be overlooked easily and just take the form of visual glitches such as NPCs twitching for no reason or weapons clipping though their bodies. But I once had a glitch where the game would swap over and over between freeze-framing for a couple of seconds to running as normal for half a second. Eventually it just soft locked and I had to restart the game entirely. However the saving system is pretty generous so it wasn’t too much of a problem.
My biggest problem with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey not only lies with the game itself but in how Ubisoft conducts its business.
You see, a consistent problem I had throughout my time with the game is that the progression is slow. You’re consistently underleveled for most of the quests in the game. Most can be completed if you’re under the recommended level, but being at the proper level makes it much more doable. However you’ll often be forced to complete conquest battles, which can provide big roadblocks in the adventure as they consist of fighting spongy enemies one after another. It’s always disappointing when you complete a major mission and you still don’t meet the XP cap to get to the next level. You also occasionally get gear one or two levels above yours, forcing you to wait until you can put on that cool epic armor set. When contrasted with a game like Marvel’s Spider-Man, which levels you up constantly giving you new toys and suits along the way, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey‘s progression is at a snail’s pace.
But for the low price of $10, you can have the XP rate permanently increase by 50 percent. That’s not the only advantage you can buy. You can also get more resources to upgrade gear and your ship as well as reveal the location of certain collectibles on the map. The fact that Ubisoft labels these options in the in-game store as “Time Savers” hammers home how they mutilated the game’s progression only to charge you to fix it. In addition, Ubisoft locks some of the coolest looking gear and horse skins behind the store. This is on top of them not only charging you $60 for the base game, but offering seven different increasingly expensive limited editions of the game as well as striking a deal with Totinos where you can get exclusive gear by buying pizza rolls. The entire existence of the store is, in a word, exploitative.
I mean, just look at the screenshot above. If you told me this was from a mobile game spinoff of Assassin’s Creed, I might have believed you.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Takeaways
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey does take some steps forward for the series. The stealth and combat are tighter, and the world and characters are more breathtaking than ever. However, each good point in this game’s favor comes with at least one caveat. The exploration mode is especially disappointing.
It’s hard to appear as ambitious as Ubisoft’s marketing makes it out to be when the core gameplay is barely indistinguishable from the prequel released a year ago. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but when so much of the game is fighting the same kinds of enemies in the same kinds of places over and over again you can get tired of it easily. It tries to differentiate itself by taking elements from far more successful games but ultimately fails to stand out because it’s barely any different from not just the other Assassin’s Creed games but all of Ubisoft’s open world games over the last decade. While the game can provide some great open world gameplay overall, you really have to work for it.
Worst of all, Ubisoft compromised the game’s progression system to get you to pay more money on top of the money you already gave them. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey‘s underlying problem is not that it didn’t innovate enough, but that it innovated in ways that put the publisher’s pocketbook over its players.
Our Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Review Score: 6 out of 10