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Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2018

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PS4 Review - 'Assassin's Creed Odyssey'

by Andreas Salmen on Oct. 18, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Assassin's Creed Odyssey is set in Ancient Greece and is the next installment in the open-world action/adventure franchise.

Buy Assassin's Creed Odyssey

I never thought that I'd be playing a major Assassin's Creed title set in Ancient Greece while armed with a magic spear, but here we are. After AC: Origin, which proved that the series could reinvent itself, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey tries to increase the stakes with a more complete RPG experience. We go further back in time to create our own odyssey in the land of legends while we practice the art of combat. In the process, Odyssey does a lot of things right and is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but it falters often in its content and progression systems.

While Odyssey describes its experience as a deep RPG, its core is still very lighthearted, and that's apparent from the start. For the first time, we can complete the adventure as either a man, Alexios, or a woman, Cassandra. Both are direct descendants of the legendary Spartan king, Leonidas, and wield its legendary spear as a weapon. There are no deep character customizations or skill points to choose from, and the gender choice doesn't change the story or its events in any way. Whatever you chose is more about visual aesthetics than different story arcs.

We're thrown right into the action — and yes, the current timeline involves Layla Hassan from AC: Origins, but it's de-emphasized, so don't expect to leave the animus very often this time. We start on the island of Kefalonia, where we're a little-known mercenary who completes odd jobs for the local population, including the man who once took us in after we were orphaned. From there, we get our own ship and take on a contract that is rife with death, family reunions, intrigue, and twists until we reach the ending. While characters and stories in previous iterations of the franchise were rather hit-and-miss, Odyssey delivers some incredible story content that is engaging and epic — so much so that this title ranks up there the Ezio trilogy for me. Unfortunately, not everything in the game manages to attain the high bar set by the narrative, but more on that later.

Our first few hours on Kephalonia are spent learning the basic mechanics of the title, of which there are quite a few. The Greek countryside is filled with landmarks and caves to explore, and the locals are eager to employ you, so you can earn some drachmae and gain XP to level up. Every level improves your stats and, depending on the chosen difficulty level, makes higher-level content more challenging. Higher-level enemies don't take much damage although they dish out multitudes of it. The result is a very effective form of level-gating that impacts your progress through the map, quests, and story. If you're not a fan of this practice, you may find the experience to be tedious. Later parts of the game rectify this, so you can even the odds with conscious armor management, engravings, and special skills.

In general, combat feels more action-oriented and enjoyable than it did in Origins. Skill trees are divided into three types of play styles: Assassin, Hunter and Warrior. Assassin skills cover stealth attacks, Hunter skills grant abilities related to long-range bow attacks, and Warrior skills handle armor and blade combat. Players can reset and redistribute skill points for a small fee, so it's easy to experiment and find the perfect loadout. Once fully leveled, you'll have access to a variety of skills, such as ghost arrows that shoot through walls, ground shock damage, and teleporting assassinations.

Combat centers on simple button combos, timed parries, and dodging to evade damage. Unfortunately, fighting comprises about 80% of the game, and taking that into consideration, the combat doesn't feel refined enough to hold your attention after you've figured it out. There are satisfying moments when we'll Spartan-kick a random soldier from a boat or cliff, but the combat is missing an extra layer of depth and mastery. Enemies rarely get new and exciting tricks that force you to rethink your strategy; they get more health and deal more damage, with some minor buffs thrown into the mix. There's only a slight variation in enemy types and weapons, so fighting can become stale before you're even one-third of the way through the main story. It's serviceable and a step up from Origins, but it leaves something to be desired.

Odyssey features an extensive loot system, with armor parts and weapons that we can collect, enhance, and equip. You'll rarely acquire gear that is too advanced for your skill level. All gear grants a number of special improvements, depending on its rarity, elemental damage, or other traits. Engravings add additional perks to a weapon and are earned as we level up; on the other hand, upgrading raises the level of the item so it doesn't lose its appeal. If you like the look of something, you'll be able to use it down the line as long as you raise its level. It's a clever way of making sure all items you collect are relevant, and collecting more of them provides more combat options.

In addition to the core gameplay, which is sufficient to power a basic RPG experience, there are several other gameplay mechanics. One we have previously seen and heard about is the Mercenary System. As we wreak havoc, people will naturally want to see us dead and put a price on our heads. As a result, mercenaries will actively seek us out. They will find you in the most inopportune situations, such as during a minor boss fight. The only times I've struggled with the game were when a tough mission was interrupted by at least two mercenaries, one of which was three levels above me. If you want to avoid fighting mercenaries all day long, it's best to not get caught red-handed, lay low and hide, pay the bounty yourself, or kill the bounty contractor. The mercenaries can be tough and are a welcome addition, but it would've been awesome if the interactions were more dynamic.

An equally advertised feature of Odyssey are the conquest battles. With the story taking place during the Peloponnesian War, Athens and Sparta are at each other's throats, and we, as a mercenary, are here to profit from the conflict. Any region on the map has a leader who can be weakened to the point where a conquest battle becomes available. The leaders can be weakened by taking out a key person in the area, destroying resources, or plunder. The feature is underwhelming, as it requires you to go to great lengths to weaken a leader, get in a large-scale fight, and receive some rare loot. While the battles can be pretty epic, they can also be frustrating since they don't have a lasting impact. After a few conquest battles, we avoided them altogether because the time investment wasn't worth the payoff, and the fun factor wore off rather quickly.

Naval battles are back, with more manual firepower via bows and javelins. We also have the option to ram our opponents. If you loved Black Flag, Odyssey will provide you with enough gameplay to fulfill your desires, even though it doesn't go out of its way to add to or enhance the gameplay. We have a recruitment feature, where we knock out enemies and recruit them for our ship to gain special enhancements or perks, which aren't necessary for in-game progress, so they're easy to ignore. It's serviceable and about what we expected it, but unfortunately, there isn't much information here.

At the same time, your ship is an important part of the Odyssey experience, since the extensive map is mostly comprised of islands and one larger chunk of the landmass. New islands and lands are discovered by sea until you climb a viewpoint and synchronize your surroundings to gain a fast-travel destination. It's a journey that is somewhat enhanced by the way the game handles traversal. As in Origins, our protagonist has an eagle, Ikaros, that can scout the surrounding area. With a new feature called "exploration mode," we get general indications about the location of mission markers.

As I'd mentioned, the story is strong and features interesting characters, good character development, and multiple endings that feel satisfying. Odyssey highlights choice, and the option to choose dialogue and minor story options increases the investment in characters and events more so than a purely linear storyline. The quests are equally interesting, with some good set pieces and missions that kept the motivation going.

Ancient Greece is a gorgeous place that is incredibly well re-created. It's simply stunning at times, with colorful vistas, interesting structures, and verticality. Unfortunately, it can still feel pretty empty at times, with side content that is plentiful but rarely unique. We'll stumble over an abundance of camps, caves, forts, fortresses, patrolled houses, and underwater shipwrecks.

We already mentioned that progression in Odyssey can be tough, depending on your play style. If you want to complete the story as quickly as possible, you'll likely run into a wall and be forced to complete an extensive period of grinding up to the required level to continue. If you're somewhat of a completionist, this may not be as noticeable, since you regularly complete side content and don't require as much time to catch up. Regardless of your play style, grinding in Odyssey can become repetitive due to the similar tasks and very basic combat. If you need to desperately level up, it's better to seek out some of the bigger side-quests that give you more XP, some cut scenes, and atmosphere, but those are limited.

Odyssey features a gorgeous and expansive world that is overwhelming in size but sometimes doesn't offer enough interaction or rewarding content to repay the investment. It also mentions that there are in-game purchases present, some of which even grant an XP boost. It's a worrying inclusion, especially regarding the inevitable grind.

From a technical standpoint, Odyssey is beautiful but flawed. The base visuals have a few moments, mostly in connection with certain characters, where they look pretty dated. Once you go out into the world, Odyssey shows its strength with an incredible lighting system, colorful vegetation, and a draw distance that makes travel enjoyable. There are few games that manage to capture the mood and essence of a country and era to such an incredible degree — and they had to because Ancient Greece lacks some of the immediately recognizable structures, like pyramids in Origins, but it makes up for it by blowing it out of the water in terms of design and visual fidelity, especially when playing in 4K with HDR enabled.

When we started out with Odyssey, we were impressed with the low number of bugs we encountered, but we found a few in the end, and some of them are severe. We started the "And the streets run red" quest, but it ultimately completely glitched out, deleted our complete quest journal, and failed to trigger a cut scene to progress while trapping us in an enclosed mission area that we couldn't leave. It took us several reloads and about an hour to restart the quest and continue, at which point the game froze and crashed completely.

Those two instances weren't the rule and only happened once during our long playtime, however, they were beyond what I'd call acceptable or a minor bug. I hope a future patch will resolve some of those issues for good.

As a sum of its parts, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is a big adventure that has its highs and lows but ultimately provides an enjoyable journey through Ancient Greece. The story is great, and the world is breathtaking, which is arguably the most important part of the game. Unfortunately, it is held back from achieving greater honors by repetitive and shallow gameplay that is sometimes forced upon you through level-gating and grinding. There is lots to do if you put your mind to it, but it's also very far from a masterpiece. Maybe some of the post-launch content and updates can improve the game further to make it a better adventure to play through down the line.

Score: 7.9/10

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