STAFF REVIEW of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (Xbox One)

Friday, October 12, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey  Box art Assassin’s Creed has always had a good base formula: Fight the bad guys (Templars), assassinate their leader, and save the world by solving a much broader scope of mystery. That is essentially the magic mix for the Assassin's Creed titles in a nutshell. Of course there’s much more to it than that, with almost each game being set in its own era, but with a ‘real world’ counterpart to tie them all together in the same Assassin’s vs Templar.

The franchise as a whole has always done an exceptional job at portraying the era and setting that the specific game is placed in, from the Third Crusade in the original game to last years Egypt. The newest game, Assassin's Creed Odyssey is set in Greece during the Spartan era. While I’ve never been to Greece, especially hundreds of years ago, I imagine this is as near perfect a representation you could find anywhere else that conveys the land and time so accurately. You’re surrounded by gorgeous scenery, bustling cities, farms, mountains and more, all which I wish I could visit in real life. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe some of the gorgeous vistas you’ll see along your journey.

If you played last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins you’ll have a rough idea of the framework used for Odyssey. Origins was a big change for the series, allowing you to access a massive landscape and giving you the ability to freely explore it however you wish. There were also other drastic changes for the series. Well, Odyssey takes this template and expands upon it tenfold. If you thought Origins was a daunting task to get through, Odyssey puts it to shame, as now you also have the seas to sail in Greece.

Overwhelming is a word I keep coming back to when I’m describing Odyssey to friends and other people. There’s so much to do that it can be daunting at times, even figuring out where to begin, but yet the game allows you to play however you wish. For example, I was about 20 hours in before I even really started to push the main story quests onward, as I was so focused on trying to complete every quest I came along and uncover each question mark on the map as I passed by it.

I know every new big AAA game that releases always boasts about how large their world is and how there’s so much to do, but kudos to Ubisoft, as there’s an overwhelmingly abundance of things for you to complete in Odyssey, should you desire to. So romance those men and women that allow it, hunt animals for pelts, try to become the biggest and baddest mercenary of the lands, hunt cultists, become a threat on the seas, or do a million other things if you wish, it’s completely up to you how you want to play.

Set in the ancient Greece just after the infamous Spartan era led by Leonidas, you begin by choosing to play as Kassandra or Alexios, a choice that cannot be undone or changed along the way, so don’t expect it to be like Syndicate where you could freely switch between the two main characters in that game. You are a descendant of Leonidas, armed with the end of his legendary spear. This is important, as this replaces your typical hidden blade that previous assassins have used in the franchises other titles. Choosing either character isn’t simply just a visual change either, as some events will unfold differently or you will be given different options during your adventure.

Regardless of your character choice, you fill the role of a Misthios; essentially a mercenary. You are given the option to fight alongside or against the Spartans or Athenians, but your main goal is a narrative that involves family and a nefarious plot that must be stopped. I honestly don’t want to give much more away, as the main story is actually quite good, and spoilers would only dampen some of the reveals and excitement I had going through it blind my first time. Your journey will begin small in scope, but like any good Assassin’s Creed, will eventually unravel into a wondrous tale of intrigue, deceit, revenge and mystery.

Greece is a beautiful landscape, and it’s actually quite difficult to fathom how large the land is, as your training area is quite large, but as you zoom out to see the world, you will notice that it’s quite a small island in comparison to the surrounding lands. As you make your way to Athens and beyond you’ll start to get an idea for how populated and how much work went into making this virtual ancient Greece a living and breathing world, filled with numerous things to do.

Like Origins, areas and quests are level gated. While you’re welcome to try them at any level, I found that trying to combat enemies that are 2-3 levels higher than yourself is a death wish for the most part, and that’s not even including the mercenaries (more on that shortly). What I loved about Origins was going back to previous areas and slaughtering everything in my way like an unstoppable force once I gained a few levels. This isn’t really an option in Odyssey, as enemies and areas level up alongside you. While I’ve come to terms with this and have altered my gameplay around it, I really wish it was an option instead of a forced default.

Another early choice you’ll need to make is if you want to play on Guided or Exploration Mode, both of which drastically alter how you’ll experience Odyssey. Guided Mode is very traditional, where you’re given a quest and an icon appears on your map and HUD to indicate where you should be heading or where your target is, just like in previous games.

New however is Exploration Mode, seemingly how the developers suggest you should play. Here, you’ll be given a quest but won’t be given a direct marker of where you should go. Instead, you’ll need to find clues to figure out where your target or objective is. For example, if the person gives you a quest telling you that they last saw some bandits by a waterfall, you’ll need to speak around and ask people about bandits, or where a waterfall is. You’ll have a certain amount of clues needed before being given the direct marker, so it adds a lot more to the exploration of the world, making you pay attention more and interact with the game's environment and NPCs more deeply. While I prefer the Guided Mode, my buddy swears by Exploration and loves having to figure out where he needs to go next, so it’s a preference.

Combat feels somewhat similar to Origins, yet abilities have been changed, for the better, and it allows for many more types of playstyles. Combat isn’t necessarily harder, but you’ll need to dodge and parry more often rather than going in swinging wildly. Perform a perfect dodge or parry and time will slow, allowing you to get some heavy hits in on the enemies.

Skills and abilities are broken into three separate categories: Hunter, Warrior and Assassin lines. Each time you level up you’re able to spend an ability point on any skill from either of the trees, though some are story or level locked for progression. These separate skill trees allow you to build a Misthios to suit exactly how you want to play.

Hunter abilities focus on your bow skills, allowing you to do massive damage with headshots, shoot multiple arrows, or even concussive arrows to stun enemies. The Warrior line of skills is your brawler, allowing you to take and deal more damage, break shields and even perform the iconic Spartan Kick to enemies. I preferred to play like a traditional Assassin’s Creed game and went down the Assassin’s line mostly, though I supplemented abilities from across all three skill trees. I’m able to do massive damage from hidden areas, apply poison to my blade and even completely disappear if needed.

Your gear plays a large part into your skills too, as each weapon and piece of armor will have an amount of Hunter, Warrior or Assassin damage on it, along with other bonuses or even massively useful set pieces for the best gear. Much like the system from Origins, every item will have a required level and vary in quality from common, blue, purple or even gold quality. You’ll need to keep your gear updated as you level though, given that enemies scale with you, so make sure to visit a blacksmith and upgrade your best pieces to be in line with your current level. This of course takes many materials, things you’ll find along the way doing quests and hunting, like stone, pelts, wood and more. Once you get to about level 30 or so, the requirements for gear upgrades becomes massive, again, adding to the overwhelming feeling, knowing you may have to grind for a bit to gather the supplies.

Then comes the quests. This is where I became overwhelmed quite quickly. In the beginning you’re given a handful of simple and easy quests in progression, and once you’re released into the world, BOOM. You’re going to have so many quests that you won’t know where to start. I myself always try and go from closest to furthest, but you are given a bunch of quests that will also last you until the end of the game as well, giving something to always work towards. While you’re not forced to do any side quests if you don’t wish, keep in mind that areas are heavily level gated, so if you don’t, you’re going to be very underpowered as you progress through the story. There are daily quests, and other quests as well, that will reward you with a special currency that can be saved up and exchanged for some of the best legendary gear available.

Many games boast the choices you make change the world around you, and sure there are some that live up to that claim, but Odyssey does this very well, and naturally. For the first time in the series, you’re actually given dialogue choices. Sometimes these are superficial choices, but they are choices nonetheless. For example, me and my friend did the same quest but chose completely different options, and both choices played out drastically different. He stopped a plague from spreading whereas I did not, and it’s changed other things in the world because of it. It’s not always clear what impact your choices will have, but they can be radically different based on your decisions.

About a couple dozen hours into Odyssey, I started to notice a trend with many of the side quests. Many will simply be fetch quests, ‘go kill this guy’ or investigate an area, but they alter enough to avoid becoming stale, and given that I’m rewarded with money, gear and experience, I opt to always do them regardless. There are also numerous romance options, and while nowhere near as involved as say Mass Effect, you’re not limited to one person or pairing, so sleep around if you wish, virtually speaking, even if it is mostly meaningless (but that’s half the fun, right?).

Origins utilized Phylakes as badass bounty hunters that would hunt you down and try to kill you. While a cool idea, it always frustrated me as they were extremely challenging and relentless. This has been improved in Odyssey, replaced with Mercenaries. If you kill too many highly ranked people, or cause too much of a ruckus or murder, your wanted bounty level will rise, causing these randomly generated mercenary hunters to track you down. These are essentially mini-bosses that can be a great challenge and give you some fantastic gear if beaten.

As your bounty level rises (think wanted star levels from Grand Theft Auto), more and more menacing bounty hunters will start to track you down. What makes this mechanic so interesting though is that they can appear all over the world and at any moment. So, it doesn’t matter that you’re in the middle of a story quest, dispatching enemies, as they show up randomly, or even in pairs. You are able to pay off your bounty if you wish to be left alone, but that cost rises steadily, so it’s up to you how you want to deal with these baddies.

Eventually you’ll unlock a Cultist menu, showcasing special targets that relate to the main story and unlock some of the best gear and set pieces. You won’t simply know where all of these cultists are though, and will need to do some investigative work to uncover their identities before they can be marked on the map.

To add even more things to do in Odyssey, Conquests play a large part in ‘freeing’ a specific region or area. These are epic clashes with Spartans versus Athenians where you choose which side you wish to fight for. To unlock these battles you’ll need to lower the regions control by clearing out forts, burning supplies and killing specific targets before they are available. These battles have a heavy 'For Honor' vibe to it (another Ubisoft title for those who may not know), as you need to lower the enemies’ count in battle, facing off against numerous enemies and captains at once.

Lastly, a series favorite, ship battles, make a return. This is not only how you’ll traverse from island to island, but you are able to openly engage in naval warfare should you desire. While the core gameplay is mostly familiar, you are now able to not only upgrade your ship, but you can also recruit lieutenants to your crew (instead of assassinating them), which will help in ship battles. Your lieutenants are even able to be summoned on land (if you purchase that ability) to distract and fight for you for short period of time. There are naval quests for you to take on if that’s what you wish to focus on as well, so there’s a ton of options for you to play however you desire.

Odyssey still has the core Assassin’s Creed gameplay to it, and while I play it that style, you’re able to play in a completely different way should you desire. You can decide to play as a Hunter/Warrior hybrid if you want and it actually feels like playing a Witcher title at times. Yes, quests eventually become slightly repetitive, but they are completely optional and you can play them however and whenever you desire. While I almost constantly feel overwhelmed with how much there is to always do, it goes to show how much content has been included, only adding to the value and replayability.

During my first week of playing, I was hard crashing and freezing at least once or twice a day, which obviously became very frustrating. It seems this has been fixed with the latest patch, but it happened enough in the beginning to be noteworthy. There are a ton of smaller bugs riddled throughout, though nothing I’ve personally experienced that’s game breaking, though a friend of mine had one of his main quests glitch out on him pretty badly at one point.

Even with a few hiccups, Odyssey is one of the best Assassin’s Creed games to date. It allows you to play it nearly however you want, doesn’t intrude too often with the ‘real world’ segments (even though I quite enjoy that aspect), and it is simply a better product overall than previous entries. While Black Flag may still be my favorite in the series for its pirate setting, and Ezio as my favorite protagonist, Odyssey tops my list for overall experience with all of its additions and improvements. If you enjoyed Origins, Odyssey is a vastly improved version, and if you’ve fallen out of love with Assassin’s Creed over the years, this is the one to reel you back in with an overwhelming amount of stuff to do however you wish.

Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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