The last Assassin’s Creed game that I played was Assassin’s Creed Unity, almost half a decade earlier. Since then the only time I dabbled in the war between the Templars and the Creed was when I reviewed the Ezio Trilogy, widely accepted as 3 of the best (who are we kidding? Revelations was bad) in the entire franchise. Last year though with Assassin’s Creed Origins, Ubisoft decided to take a new direction with the franchise, moving away from the classic Assassin’s Creed experience to a more traditional RPG feel. By most accounts, and by our own review, that experiment was successful to a large extent. And as is commonplace, when something works, companies tend to repeat it. So here we are with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, set in ancient Greece, building upon the groundwork laid by the Egyptians. Does it work, let’s find out.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an action role-playing video game developed by Ubisoft Quebec and published by Ubisoft. It is the eleventh major installment, and twentieth overall, in the Assassin’s Creed series and the successor to 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins. The game is available for the PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch and on Google Stream, and was released on October 5, 2018.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Story & Narrative
For the first time, an Assassin’s Creed game gives you the option of playing as a male or female protagonist. It might as well have not. Apart from different voiceovers, the story for both the characters play out the same way. They are offered the same choices, the same consequences, and even the same cut-scenes. In fact, in some places playing as Kassandra (the female protagonist) creates historical inaccuracies such as a Spartan girl being trained in combat, and females taking part in the Olympics. For a franchise, that has done painstaking work to keep true to history in some of their earlier entries, this small folly hits me the deepest.
While the tree of the story may be the same for both characters, the path that you finally take can be vastly different depending upon the choices that you make in the game. In another first for the franchise, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey offers far-reaching choices at critical points in the story, resulting in various multiple endings that can be achieved. There are other short-term choices too, one of which is in effect as soon as you start the game, perhaps reminding you of the impacts your decisions have on the game. A small nod to whoever thought of that.
The idea of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is to create an epic journey, much like the one by Odysseus. The fact that one of the pillars of the franchise has always been exploration, the two do fit together nicely. The story is divided into chapters, each chapter starting with you arriving at a new location which is for you to traverse and explore. The theatre is set in the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta and is spread over 10 years (another parallel with the original epic). Right through the game, there are battles to be won, oracles to be visited, people to be romanced, and mercenaries to be assassinated. Finally mixing up ship travel in between land exploration makes the story feel even more like a traveling tale.
Gameplay & Mechanics
With Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Ubisoft continues the trend of making an RPG out of the franchise. You level up as you gain experience by completing quests, exploring locations, defeating enemies and other such activities. With every level, you get a new skill, increased damage, and increase health, plus the confidence and a license to take on stronger enemies and areas. In spirit of that, almost every killable NPC/enemy in the game has a level assigned to it (I even saw a level 18 chicken). This kind of traditional progression makes the game easier to understand and play and also warns you well in advance regarding which enemies/quest to avoid until later.
This, however, does lead to some jarring changes if you are an old-time Assassin’s Creed fan. Synchronization spots no longer lift the fog of war, instead, they are used as fast travel points when unlocked. With the upgrading equipment, you are no longer limited to the iconic hood and cape of the Assassin, and would regularly find yourself in an eclectic mix of armor. Finally, as was in Origins, one shot assassination (irrespective of the level of the enemy) is now a thing of the past and every attack has limited damage. I didn’t necessarily mind it, because playing RPGs is second nature to me, but I can see why others might be a little upset with this change.
The combat too takes the more traditional route of attacking, dodging and parrying. Easy to pick up and learn but there is not a lot of depth here. However one should mention that different weapons do play differently with spears offering range, the knives offering a high rate of attack, maces offering high damage, and swords offer the opportunity to get your ass handed to you like a little bitch every time. I am kidding, swords are alright (Seriously though swords can go to hell). Range combat is similarly simple and but lacks impact and importance in my opinion especially at lower levels. It’s after some serious grinding and investing in Ranged skills that archery becomes a viable combat/assassination option in the game.
One of the better things happening in the game is the horse. Perhaps the best in-game horse implementation I have seen (and this includes the Regalia in Final Fantasy XV). First up, the horse or any other beast that you domesticate rarely glitches out, you will rarely find him stuck in a tree, or half appearing through a wall. Secondly, it marks the perfect balance between on-road riding and controlled free roam, allowing you to head towards most of your objectives, and take a detour on the way if you feel like it.
Of course, there are other things to like in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey apart from the horse. The foremost is the option to hide objective markers on the map. Instead of filling the map up with literally 100 of icons, you can now follow general directions given in the objectives, and try to find your way. This mode superimposes the need for exploration, and once you get comfortable with using Ikaros for scouting (The eagle who gives you a bird eyes view of your surroundings including the lay of the enemies and treasure locations), would make the game feel even more balanced when it comes to exploration versus questing.
And while we are discussing exploration, we should talk about scaling. Ubisoft has not only managed to create a huge open world, but they have also managed to make it feel big. Distances which show up as 100 or 200 meters on the map, which on any other game you would have run across too, feel objectively longer and further. Which stops you from being lazy and swimming/dashing across and instead either rely on your horse or a boat to quickly cover distances.
Finally, the naval travel system seems to be inspired by its predecessors and for the most part works. Anyone who has played Assassin’s Creed Black Flag would immediately feel at home here. The upgrading, the looting, the combat, all work in essentially the same way as they used to earlier and is one of the few things that would make Assassin’s Creed longtime fans feel nostalgic.
Graphics Sound & Performance
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey replaces the brownish palette of Egypt with the more vibrant strokes around the Mediterranean Sea. Forests, bay, islands, plains, farmlands, hills, battlegrounds, abandoned cities, populated cities, forts, camps. The entire map is dotted and bustling with life, with the terrain changing with an un-noticeable gradient. Then there are hidden coves, underwater lagoons, and caves to discover all of them increasing the overall acerage of the playable terrain. Its impressive how big and alive the game feels at every single point, populated with people, animals, and even jellyfish at times.
Within all that effort it does come as a disappointment when you notice that almost all NPC faces look familiar. It’s like the terracotta army in China, each face is different, but mostly it just a scar or a mustache or a beard on a very similar looking base model. Even the voice acting for most NPC seems to be done by the same person just trying different pitches for the fun of it.
Deja-vu is not the only problem, and as expected with an open-world game there are some optimization issues. Loading times are an issue and are considerably long even on the PS4. There were frequent frame drops, sometimes the texture loaded late, while other time I saw people disappear while their armor stood there like phantoms. It’s not as bad as Unity, and mostly occur after you have spent over 2 hours with the game, but they are present, and while I am sure they would be ironed out as time goes on, frequent saving is the way to go for now.
So faces and textures disappoint. But boy does the music deliver. The background music is an alluring classic mix of the original Assassin’s Creed, and you often find yourself humming it when the game goes into loading mode. Maybe its because it touches somewhere deep and relatable but I could play that soft instrumental loop on my headphones for hours.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a lot of first for the franchise. And for someone picking the game after a while, those changes felt easy to integrate and refreshing to experience. It’s a good solid RPG, with a strong narrative, robust game mechanics, and a vast fun to explore world. There is no reason for you not to pick up this game unless you want to vote with your pocket and bring back the classic Assassin’s Creed.