When Ubisoft made the decision to take a year off from making Assassin’s Creed games, it was received pretty well. Not only could the studio rest and come back with a tighter focus on things, but they could also take more time to craft a better game. The result, Assassin’s Creed Origins, was probably the best game the series had seen in years. Now, it seems as if Ubisoft has returned to the old formula, with their latest game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, releasing less than a year after Origins. Thankfully for fans not only does Odyssey mark another solid entry in the franchise, but it also shows that Ubisoft doesn’t have to take a long time to release another fantastic game.
Where Origins focused on the birth of the famous assassin order that has permeated the franchise throughout its history, Odyssey seems content with tossing that aside. The game is set well before (400 years, to be exact) the formation of the order, and has players taking control of either Alexios or Kassandra – you can choose which – as they navigate their way through the Peloponnesian War. As one of the many grandchildren of famed Spartan general Leonidas, you’ll quickly find yourself introduced as a mercenary and a pretty decent one. Thanks to the backdrop of an ongoing war, Odyssey takes you through many of the city-states that made up ancient Greece, where you’ll be doing your normal, stealthy moving about in an effort to complete missions as you go on your own personal journey.
Despite there not being much of a difference between the two (dialogue seems to be pretty much the same), I decided to fulfill my destiny with Kassandra, and I’m pretty happy with the choice. For one, the ability to choose is a welcomed one, and can only add to fans being able to immerse themselves into the world even more. As far as characters go, Kassandra is a surprisingly good one. Not only does Ubisoft capture her abilities as a mercenary and fighter well, but they also manage to show off a softer side of Kassandra that some Assassin’s Creed games seem to be missing. I assume it’s similar if you pick Alexios as well, so it’s good to see that the studio is branching out in how they portray characters.
Speaking of dialogue, it seems to be much improved over past games. Players can choose from a variety of speech options, which allow you to do a surprising amount in terms of results. Players can choose to lie, bribe, and even threaten certain NPCs, making each encounter seem way less boring and that much more engaging. Romance is even an option now, although that seemed to have been thrown in just to appease players; there doesn’t seem to be any sort of actual, meaningful way to romance someone, and there are no romantic scenes to be featured in the game.
As far as visuals go, things are pretty much par for the course. Pretty much everywhere you go looks absolutely breathtaking, and Ubisoft has done another wonderful job of recreating historic landmarks for players to run and climb through. While Odyssey might not feature as much variety as Origins, it’s still quite a visual marvel, and it often feels like the general scope of the game is something that has never been accomplished before in the series. Ubisoft has even offered players a chance to explore it all on their own with the introduction of two different modes of play. Exploration and Guided mode, as its called, is something players choose right at the beginning, and much like its names, it determines how you’ll be making your way through the world. Guided mode lets players see objective and quest markers right on the map, while Exploration mode tasks you with actively remembering where things are if you need to re-visit them. It’s a pretty neat inclusion into the game, especially for those who pride themselves on having the most realistic experience possible.
Also introduced in Odyssey is the ability for players to actively help out in the war. When you arrive in a new region, you’ll find that its either controlled by the Athenians or the Spartans. By engaging in various acts (taking down high ranking officials, fighting soldiers, or just generally causing chaos), you’ll be able to tilt the power in whatever direction you see fit. The battles themselves (which have been shown off at E3 and other conventions) are pretty massive in scale, and the game does a pretty great job at making you feel that you’re actually making a difference into how various regions are run. The one downside to this is that they’re all optional, meaning players can (and likely sometimes will) just flat out ignore them in favor of exploring somewhere else.
While there’s plenty of new, shiny things to get your hands on in Odyssey, a lot of the game is still very much the same. Combat and general gameplay haven’t strayed from the formula, as you’ll still be sneaking around and trying your best to take down enemies without being seen. When you do have to fight, the gameplay is still very counter-centric and pushes you to consistently move around, dodge when needed, and look for a quick opening to take down your foe. Likewise, Odyssey brings back something that many players have been clamoring for: sailing. While you could sail in Origins, Odyssey’s rendition is much more similar to Black Flag, which means you’ll be partaking in some pretty thrilling fights out in the open water. As someone who didn’t love the constant boat fights in Black Flag, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed them in Odyssey. Ramming boats, firing volleys of arrows at enemies and searching hidden islands for treasures provided some of my favorite moments in Odyssey.
Truth be told, there isn’t really much wrong with Odyssey, but there are certain things that could have been done better. As many others have noted, things take some time to really kick in with the game, which means many players won’t really be fully introduced to the game until many hours after they start it. While that’s great for some people, it’s tough for a video game to sell players on it not truly getting “great” until about 15 hours in. The problem with this, however, is that the game heavily leans on what your character is, level wise.
Unlike Origins, players won’t be able to take down enemies that are many levels above you, so you’ll need to grind a lot (and I mean a lot) in order to feel comfortable no matter where you go. Unfortunately, nearby enemies and animals will also level up with you, leaving you in this constant state of grinding and leveling up that is almost inescapable. This can even get in the way of the story, as there are moments where you’ll need to take on some pretty high-level enemies, and if you’re not on par with them, you’ll find yourself devoting many hours to trying to gain one or two levels.
What’s even more frustrating is that Ubisoft offers players a chance to permanently increase their XP by an extra 50 percent…for real money. This is nothing new in games, but it is a bit ridiculous to see a game literally make you grind for leveling up just to play through the story while also offering you a chance to buy your way out of it for $10. It speaks more to the state of microtransactions in today’s day and age then it does anything else, but as many others have noted, the Permanent XP Boost is a genuinely great thing that makes the game more enjoyable, which only makes its additional price tag all the more maddening.
Grinding and microtransaction issues aside, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is still a genuinely great game and one that Ubisoft should be proud of. Not only did they once again manage to capture the spirit and feel of an ancient city, but they did it while also opening things up for players. The ability to choose who you play as, a push to more RPG-esque dialogue and decision making mechanics, and the way the game opens up into a breathtaking world all make for an enjoyable experience. While it might not do enough to really set itself apart from Origins, it is another solid entry in a series that has been starved for consistent success, and for the first time in a long time, it feels like the Assassin’s Creed series is in a great place.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for the Xbox One provided by Ubisoft.