Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Review
Few franchises can claim to be as prolific over the past decade as Assassin’s Creed. And hey, why not? The concept of the Animus peering through a looking glass into the past is incredibly enticing. And we’ve got plenty of history to work with, so a new story and backdrop should be enough to bring home the bacon every year, right?
To a point, yes. The formula eventually got stale, and after Syndicate the series took a year off before dropping the overhauled and well-received Assassin’s Creed Origins in 2017.
This year we visit ancient Greece in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and one of my takeaways is that there’s a big gap between the best and worst this title has to offer. For each feather it sticks in its cap, there’s a pigeon flying over and taking careful aim with its smelly bird ordinance.
Odyssey isn’t the first Creed game to include multiple playable characters, but it is the first to let players be a lady the entire time. Alexios and Kassandra are the two options, and I went with Kassandra in my playthrough. She’s energetic and principled, but also unafraid to bend the rules if she thinks it’s necessary.
That attitude is a product of her upbringing – which I won’t spoil – but suffice to say there’s a betrayal of epic proportions that results in Kassandra being involved with the wrong people on the isle of Kefalonia. What made the tale easier to connect with this time around is the addition of choice. At various points you’ll be able to select an action to take that branches the story – sometimes in pretty dramatic ways.
It’s an engaging if predictable storyline, and was more than sufficient to pull me through the massive world of Odyssey. Ancient Greece, as it turns out, is absolutely humongous too. The scale of the map is staggering, and if you wanted to check out every corner you’d likely be in triple digit hours territory.
There’s almost no better place to stage a historical action RPG than the Greek Empire, and the setting is generally put to great use; Odyssey is visually striking. The hills and coastlines of the Greek isles look fantastic, and the locations manage to feel unique despite being in close proximity. Conversely the “climb-anything” navigation mesh is broken in places, and you can’t scramble over an edge that you’re clearly meant to.
Stuff to do, and lots of it
One point that’s impossible to argue about Odyssey is that there’s a f***ing lot of it. The stream of location discoveries, on screen icons, and notifications makes it feel like you’re in a Vegas casino. You’ll be hitting the inventory screen after almost every encounter thanks to the loot treadmill. The stimulation is constant, and the lack of downtime really works against the experience. By the third or fourth chapter my quest log felt endless, and decision paralysis really started to set in.
Nothing felt worth doing outside of the main questline simply because there were too many things. That’s a shame, because there are some great story beats to be found in the side areas. Family lineages that pull interestingly from history, bear scrotums, you know. That sort of thing.
Ubisoft has also been touting their new exploration mode for Odyssey. Instead of the traditional follow the map marker to your destination style of navigation, Odyssey lets you puzzle out where you need to go based on clues you find. That sounds incredible, but in practice it’s little more than a hassle. Finding clues almost exclusively boils down to buttoning through the optional questions you can ask in conversation or examining a few areas that are marked on the HUD. From there, it’s a game of Where’s Waldo to take a fleshed out clue that says something like “The Bandits are at XYZ Fort” and find that spot on the map. It’s a promising feature, but it’s woefully underdeveloped here.
On the other hand, I really liked the implementation of Mercenary hierarchies and trying to track down members of the cult. Hunting down and wiping out a nemesis felt deeply satisfying most of the time, and reminds me a lot of the Middle Earth series’ Nemesis system. I’d been wondering when that idea would crop up in other titles – and here it is.
If you raise enough shit in a region, one of your fellow mercenaries will come after you to collect on your bounty. That’s cool. Come at me bro/ette. What isn’t cool is that the bounty hunters have not only a sixth, but a seventh and eighth sense for your location. There were plenty of times that I’d never been spotted by the bounty hunter, and yet they quite literally ran hundreds of meters to stop and investigate the bush I happened to be concealed in. It was comically obvious, and pretty irritating to boot.
I get that the devs are trying to shake things up by throwing monkey wrenches into your plans, but blatant rubber banding like that has no place in a game that fancies itself as a serious title.
All along, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something – that special sauce that I so desperately wanted to find. After some soul searching, I think that’s because this is more or less the same game as Origins. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m at a point where I’m looking for better experiences, not just more of them.
This. Is. SPARTA!
Take combat for instance. Origins overhauled how traversing the world and fighting worked to make Assassin’s Creed more of an action RPG than a true action game. Almost nothing has been changed or tweaked for Odyssey, or if it has I couldn’t detect it. You’ll still spend ample time circle dodging and parrying enemy attacks in a semi-clunky way, you’ll still assassinate dumb enemies from a bush after whistling at them, and you’ll still summon a magic eagle to tag enemies and see through walls.
One extremely welcome addition, and probably the single funnest thing one can do in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, is the Sparta Kick. Yep, it’s straight out of 300, and it’s absolutely glorious. I Sparta Kicked everything, all the time. Tough mercenaries off of tall buildings, bears off of cliffs, you name it. It’s hilarious. Ridiculous, but hilarious.
Ships are back this year and Odyssey is definitely a candidate for best water simulation of the year, showcasing really impressive waves and boat physics. I’m not sold that a volley of arrows does damage comparable to broadside cannonballs in previous games, but there are some great Greek sea shanties, and sailing around is just as fun as ever.
It’s pretty rad when sharks eat the crew of the ship you just busted in half too, but the dolphins that often swim next to the ship look like greasy grey potatoes. Performance was tolerable on PS4 Pro, mostly hovering in the 30 FPS range but getting a little chunky at times. I’ll also note that load times were painfully long for fast travels and reloads, and even pulling up the map or inventory often meant a 2-3 second pause.
I’ll also note that AC Odyssey has a real currency shop, but it wasn’t active during the review period. However, I did see options like XP boosts that players can pay real money for. Take that information however you like.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, for better or worse, feels like a palette swap of Origins. There’s a huge new world full of historical coolness and infinite things to do, but the enhancements are few and far between. If you loved Origins and want more of that you’ll gobble Odyssey right up, but Ubisoft needs to be diligent about making changes to these games if they’re going to continue pumping them out year after year.
*** PS4 Code Provided By Publisher ***
- Sparta kicking fools
- Huge, interesting world and history
- Engaging storyline
- Shark attacks
- Little to differentiate from Origins
- Glitchy climbing and AI
- Iffy performance and load times