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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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Xbox One Review - 'Assassin's Creed Odyssey'

by Redmond Carolipio on Oct. 5, 2018 @ 12:00 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 wish I could start with some well-spun description about where the story of Assassin's Creed Odyssey wants to go, but I cannot. It isn't because the narrative isn't compelling, but because Ubisoft has managed to create an actual odyssey, which Webster's defines as a "long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune." This is another way of saying that an odyssey can't be one story; it's actually many of them — and they're all meant to serve as the building blocks of a legendary hero.

There's no way I can tell how my odyssey will relate to another person's, which nearly makes talking about the finer details of my hero's story useless.

Maybe that's the point.

This latest chapter in the venerable Assassin's Creed series washes over you with its vast options of history-bending narratives. It's overwhelming, liberating, mostly exhilarating, and sometimes exhausting.

However, there's no gray area in the game's start, where you step into the boots of Leonidas (yes, the dude from 300), and relive some of his exploits during the Battle of Thermopylae. It's a slightly choppy (but still cool) introduction to some of the game's mass-combat elements, while also establishing some underwriting for one of the overall themes: Leonidas was a badass and important to the AC universe.

A present-day scene featuring Layla Hassan (the intrepid Assassin researcher from Origins) sets up the player's ability to choose either a male (Alexios) or female (Kassandra) protagonist. Having been exposed to decades of aggressive ass-kicking white dudes in fictional interpretations of Greek lore, the choice was easy for me. Plus, the voice acting for Kassandra in all of her edgy, Greek-accented glory is too good to pass up.

Your journey begins a generation or so after the death of Leonidas. The Spartan-born Kassandra makes a living as a "misthios" (mercenary) on Kephallonia in Ancient Greece, taking on odd jobs to not only familiarize players with how the game works, but also to give us nuggets into the mercenary's personality. I found Ubisoft's commitment to the concept of the hero's mercenary freedom admirable, as her ability to essentially act however she wanted extended into every storytelling nook in the game.

To you, she might appear to be someone in perpetual conflict: She's born of Sparta, but isn't a member of their army. She is a soldier for hire and finds herself able to choose for whom or what she fights. In one sitting, she can weaken a country's Athenian leadership and help establish a new Spartan regime through violence, and then journey to the next nation and reverse it in favor of the Athenians. While that sounds insane, I keep in mind that the Assassin's Creed series has been bending toward joyfully weirder fare since Origins came out. Forget somber hiding in crowds and skulking in shadow; it's time to fight Anubis!

Odyssey is very similar to Origins and other open-world Ubistoft titles in terms of how fast and streamlined the experience can feel. Instead of offering a world in which you slowly sink in and learn, Odyssey delivers a buffet of Greek locations, characters and lore while leaving it to you to digest what you want, however much you want, and at your own pace. You could conceivably try to tear through Odyssey if you wanted to and ignore the side missions, but that leads to folly, as the series' leveling system strongly suggests that you level up before you take on certain missions and enemies — unless you want to see your mercenary hero get de-synchronized in three moves. Besides, the quests and tasks that mercenary life offers you are sometimes too tempting.

Within the cracks of the multiple main story arcs is a mercenary ecosystem, where bounties are assigned and other mercenaries can come after you if you stir things (like killing local soldiers or leaders or stealing from places you shouldn't). Each of these mercenaries has his or her own little backstory, weapons and ways of attacking. It's sort of like the Ancient Greek version of John Wick, where people with everything from poison arrows to giant axes come to collect. There are different tiers of these mercenaries, so I actually enjoyed the fear of running into and then running away from a mercenary who was 20 levels above me. There also was the satisfying experience of taking down the hired hands sent to Kassandra, which gained her notoriety along with XP and perhaps better gear. To truly get rid of the bounty, I either had to use a handy "pay all bounties" features on the map screen if I had the coin; find the bounty "sponsor" and kill him or her; or try to lay low for a while. It's a fascinating way for a character to exist, but it can also be harrowing. Nothing says you've arrived as a notorious troublemaker like when you end up having to face three or four mercenaries at a time.

Another layer unique to the Odyssey experience was the idea of helping armies "conquer" nations. If Kassandra ends up discovering the leader of a particular nation in Greece, she can either try outright assassination or attempt to weaken the overall leadership's power by taking out soldiers. Do that well enough, and you can engage in a "conquest battle," where you can sign on with either the Athenians or Spartans and help their respective armies gain or regain control of the area. The battles are massive affairs, where you are charged with helping take out the opposing army's captains and heroes to turn the tide. If you succeed, you end up getting a solid chunk of change, experience points and dope gear — because like any good merc, you're just doing it for the coin.

That doesn't mean Kassandra is without morals. That's really up to you, and in true odyssey fashion, some of the choices you make can have far-reaching consequences. For example, I went to a disease-ravaged village to find a group of religious zealots ready to kill a family they believed to be sick. After a short conversation where the leading priest tries to tell me that killing the family would help stop the disease, I decide to play hero and take out the priest and his group. The family was grateful, and I moved on my way. Later on, during a different play session, one of my characters tells me that a disease spread through Kephallonia — it turns out that the priest and his group were right. I liked the flexibility of every conversation. Not only did the dialogue options offer me chances to accept or decline side missions, but I could also elect to threaten people, find balance, or even flirt and try to hook up with certain people — no matter the gender. I had Kassandra put the moves on an effective female archer in one sitting, and then friendzone a conflicted but good-hearted healer in another. It's not Mass Effect-level romance, but it's a glorious distraction.

Speaking of necessary distractions, the series' awesome ship combat and sailing makes its return, complete with upgradeable ships and weapons, along with the ability to recruit people to your crew, board ships and straight up cut ships in half if you build up enough speed. I especially like getting close enough for my crew to hurl javelins, some of which would find the chest of the enemy ship's captain and "bust" the ship immediately. The points-based, ability-upgrade system helps maintain the game's pacing, giving your hero a range of attacks that include being able to shoot extremely powerful arrows to special attacks that can waylay shielded foes. I also liked how I could either upgrade the gear I had through a blacksmith or buy/find new stuff in my travels.

Combat took some time to get used to but felt intuitive once I mastered the "parry" feature, which is done by pressing the two shoulder buttons together at the right moment to throw your enemies off balance when they strike. This actually helped me survive fights against higher-level fighters, along with pressing the left shoulder button and hitting one of the face buttons for a special ability. There were times when fighting in Assassin's Creed has felt like a chore, and there are still times when it happens in Odyssey — but I liked feeling that I always had a chance.

If I have any nits to pick about my experience, it's that I sometimes felt the game descend into chaos when I was simply trying to walk around and explore the city. There were more than a few times when a simple trip to the blacksmith turned into a violence orgy involving a bunch of money-hungry mercenaries. Early during my playthrough, I spent more time running away from a high-level bounty hunter who refused to leave an area I was investigating. I still think the combat, while diverse, lacks the kind of smoothness you see in other games, especially when it comes to group combat. It could look a bit cleaner. You have options to cut down a little on all the visual iconography you see on the screen in real time, but I still sometimes struggled with destination points, objective points, distances, waypoints and other things seemingly bumping into each other. It can make the screen look a little too busy, and I ended up getting tied up sometimes as I was climbing mountains and trying to find specific things.

With that said, after dozens of hours, I still have yet to really scratch the surface of the true Odyssey narrative because as I mentioned before, there are multiple story arcs to follow. One concerns Kassandra and her true family roots, another involves a massive conspiratorial web that spans all of Greece, and yet another involves the greater picture of the pieces of Eden and the Assassins' mission. Windows into each of those arcs are found throughout the map — within the missions and into the cinema scenes and dialogues. This is the kind of game where you could wipe out days of time paying attention to one piece of the greater story, with the true joy coming when you get to take a step back and see the story you've built.

Score: 8.8/10

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