Assassin's Creed: Odyssey Review
I’ve been getting my teeth sunk into Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey [AC: O, hereafter] along with Rory Sugrue and Eric Hartmann. We’ve been focusing more on enjoying the game, and less about the mixed-reception surrounding it. Review scores are generally favourable, but opinions do range widely from “Best” AC game, to “Worst”. That makes things difficult for me, because I’m unsure what perspective I should review from. Do I speak as a fan of the series, or do I acknowledge the change the series is trying to make (such as God Of War and Tomb Raider have done recently)? Well personally, I believe that a game series is not set in stone, and can change itself and take steps in new directions if it so wishes to. If you’re a die-hard fan of the AC formula and don’t wish to see that change, you may withdraw interest here as the game is significantly different than previous entries. If however you value attempts to move franchises in new directions, or are happy trying something fresh and slightly unfamiliar, then read on.
Let’s talk graphics first. The game is astounding to look at. The lighting, technical simulations, and art design are all fantastic. What the game might lack for in terms of accuracy or historical representation (I personally don’t know much about the era academically), would be more than made up for in style. I’ve always loved the Grecian/Roman aesthetic, and the world and locales are great fun and a pleasure to explore. There’s an occasional hiccup here and there technically-speaking, but generally a beautiful game on the highest settings. Occasionally I do have to slow-down and appreciate what’s going on around me. Waves crashing on the beach with simulated froth, the ocean bending to the mass of my ship, flower petals falling from a nearby tree, the list is endless with tiny moments such as these. To explore this beautiful world, you can choose a male or female character this time around. Though the change is mostly superficial (as sexual encounters can swing either way for both gender options), I found the voice acting of Kassandra to be a little better than Alexios as many others have also attested, so I chose her. I won’t go into the story too much, as the story is fairly well-done and is best enjoyed fresh without any spoilers. Nothing award-winning, but there’re certainly some nice moments that twist the story a little. The world and its characters are more interesting however, so I found myself playing for extended hours and not really investing myself too much in the story.
Currently, I’m only 70 hours into the game. Only? Yes. If you haven’t heard already, AC:O is a behemoth of a title, with a lot of grinding and side-quests to do. I decided to play the game on one step below the hardest difficulty, so perhaps I had more grinding to do than most. Some have exclaimed that without doing side-quests, your ability to simply storm through the story content is simply not possible. They claim the grind is too long and arduous without purchasing the permanent XP boost from the Ubisoft store. I haven’t felt that the game has been lugging along due to a lack of that boost being active (I’m taking part in most side-quests I find however), but I do see why those concerns and opinions exist. I’m the kind of RPG player that explores every nook and cranny, but even for me the progression has been quite tight. You can argue that a trope of the RPG genre is the need to grind enemies and complete a plethora of side-quests, but that’s a big change for long-term Assassin’s Creed fans to be asked of accepting. Personally I love it, though I appreciate why traditional fans are conflicted on this new system.
Stepping away from quests, let’s look at the combat system. The combat is mostly level-dependant. RPG-style values govern and dictate what you can and cannot do within the world combat-wise. Having said that, you can still opt to take on challenges beyond your character’s level, should you tread carefully and keep in line with the combat’s precise choreography. Red circles indicate abilities used with an area-of-effect, such as fire-explosives or poisonous-gas clouds. Enemies glowing red telegraph an attack you cannot block/parry, but can dodge out of the way from. Enemies’ weapons emit a quick but bright white spark, indicating an attack you can block/parry and quickly follow up with your own counter. Dodging either style of attack within a small time-window perfectly will net you a brief slow-motion moment, where you can use your increased speed and reactions to quickly let off a few extra attacks.
Fighting one-on-one is simple, and is a careful dance you can play with enemies who are even a little higher in level than you. Taking on a group of enemies is a far tougher affair, and can easily end in loading your last save. The game can be exploited a fair bit though unfortunately. Running around in circles and endlessly using your longer and far more efficient dodge-roll to avoid incoming arrows etc., allows you to kite enemies around you until you’ve laid enough hits into them to slowly thin their numbers (and then using your heal ability once the cooldown has worn-off). It feels like I’m cheating somewhat. You also have the option of running away and hiding long-enough until you can lay off another stealth-attack to deal a large chunk of damage, rinsing-and-repeating afterwards. This becomes harder towards the later parts of the game. Enemies begin to heal themselves and have more tricks up their sleeve, to avoid becoming looped endlessly in this exploitation (but still exploitable for the most part).
Islands are sectioned into level-based regions and clearly marked on the map, so you’re able to distinguish where is safe to explore and where is not. There’re plenty of quests to take part in, and every quest-giver and character is given at the very least, some level of charm and interesting dialogue. Whilst it’s not accountable for 100% of the time, it is present for a majority of it with some exceptional stand-outs in the mix. I watched a YouTube video explaining how one quest involving a son locking himself away to avoid fulfilling a prophecy that says he will kill his parents, is actually a close parody of an actual story from the time period (I will link it at the bottom of the article). Upon further research, it turns out this is not the only quest AC:O has that is self-referential to the material of the time period in which it’s set. So to call the game a “grind” or “boring” as others have stated is a bit unfair. After the 70 hours I’ve currently invested in the game, I haven’t gotten bored of endlessly wandering the beautiful landscape, in search of new interest points and people to help.
The A.I is mostly solid. Enemies will efficiently and ruthlessly corner you, attacking you from all angles. Rarely do they line up neatly for a single spear attack to hit multiple enemies at once. One-on-one engagements could be a lot more exciting, as they mostly tend to be a waiting game until they unleash a weak attack you can parry and follow-up with a counter, or reacting to a heavy attack by dodging and then trying to wait again for a regular attack to parry/counter once more. While these singular confrontations are a little mediocre at times, group fights are exciting and more engaging. Depending on your location, these fights have one further exploit; the spartan kick. Simply put, most enemies (with the exception of heavy-types and some special enemies with an anti-flinch/anti-stagger perk) can be kicked towards an edge to be toppled of a high point on the map (i.e cliff of some sort), and they take ridiculous fall-damage as a result. Some bosses and more elite enemies can be taken care of with a single kick, if lured into particular spots. Normally not an issue, but within certain areas of the map, the technique is all too accessible and tempting to take advantage of. Speaking of abilities, there are plenty of abilities to level up your character with. I won’t ruin all of them for you, but becoming invisible and shooting guided arrows are among the most interesting.
Quickly glossing over the parkour system before I begin wrapping things up, it’s basically a far more simplified version of what we’ve already had before. For me, the pinnacle of parkour in the series was Assassin’s Creed: Unity. It gave players the ultimate freedom in how they performed every manoeuvre, to a high-degree of accuracy, nuance, and expression. In Odyssey however, the contrast is clear. Very little can be done to subtly nudge your character into a preferred route, as it has devolved back into the first game of the series (though it lacks the ledge-grab command mid-fall to extend your hands outward). If you’ve come to Odyssey seeking more parkour-style gameplay, I recommend you stay away as it’s almost completely lacking this time around. A few signature movements are retained such as jumping through v-shaped trees and swinging on lanterns to turn around corners, but the degree of control I have over the character is severely limited compared to previous entries. Not a bad thing if you’re a more casual player searching for accessibility, but deeply disappointing as someone who loved the various nuances of the systems in earlier titles. An option would have been nice to include between a simplified system with less controls, and the old Unity system. I can understand its removal/simplification however, especially as Odyssey is a combat-heavy game in focus.
So that’s it really. A game that further pushes the RPG elements of its pre-predecessor to what I would say is a positive and exciting direction for the series to take, that alleviates the boredom I’ve felt since playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity. The combat system continues to improve and offer more variety to its approach, as does the character progression system and equipment bonuses/statuses. For all of its shortcomings and retractions from previous entries, I’d say the change overall is for the better. Personally, I skipped most games after Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (the quasi-standalone, expansion title to Assassin’s Creed 2), with Unity being the one that brought me back for one more round. The formula had dried up for me, and I didn’t feel like the series had anything new in store for me to warrant another purchase. The game remained the same every-time bar a few improvements/tweaks, but nothing substantial other than a scenery change. Odyssey’s follow up to Origin marks a turning point for the series that I think is long overdue, and I personally welcome the change. If I miss the parkour shenanigans of old, I can simply boot-up Unity again if the urge takes hold. Both Origins and Odyssey lack the architecture and locales to offer any engaging parkour anyway compared to the other densely packed urban-settings of previous titles, so its inclusion is not sorely missed in that regard anyway. Looking ahead, I can see a few interesting directions the game can take from here on out, and I hope they continue to innovate and change the way the series plays on its journey forward. Replacing one repetitive and completely-dried formula with a new one, is not what I’m hoping for in the future of this series.