I am in a pickle. Last year I reviewed Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and I gave it a 10/10. The first-ever perfect 10 of my reviewing career, too, and I stand by it because Origins was just so damn good, a breath of fresh air for a franchise that badly needed it.
But now this year’s Assassin’s Creed is out, and by all metrics, it’s an even better game. And I mean all metrics.
- It’s longer
- Two protagonists to play as
- Meaty, engrossing story
- Combat tweaked to be even more fluid
- Characters are more likeable than ever
- Many, many (many) side-quests
- Top-notch voice-acting
- Faster, more focused arena
- Sailing controls are tighter, ship combat is quicker
- The skill-unlock process is lengthy but satisfying
- The Mercenary system is cool
- An entire cult to assassinate
- The engine is more refined and thus less janky
Everything that worked in Origins has been dialled up to 11 in Odyssey, so if you liked the changes brought to the AC franchise in last year’s game, you’ll adore this one. You can stop reading this now and just go and buy it, I promise your money will be well-spent.
And hence my pickle: how do I evaluate the sequel to a game I gave a perfect score to? I don’t know quite yet; let me just write and see what happens.
A sweeping epic of an adventure
Odyssey is set way, way back in history, the furthest-back setting of any Assassin’s Creed game to date: 431 BCE, at the start of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta.
It offers plenty of opportunities for conflict, a breathtakingly beautiful location that is its own reward to explore, encounters with mythical creatures from Greek folklore, and a storyline that is more about laying the foundation of the events to come than it is about anything you might expect based on past Assassins’ Creed experiences.
Here’s the official trailer:
You are one of two siblings who get themselves caught up with a shadowy cult that seems unhealthily obsessed with controlling the Greek world, and for reasons unknown, your family. You spend the game discovering and eliminating them, one by one, and slowly uncovering what’s going on, and why.
I won’t spoil any of it, suffice to say the story is epic, and the conclusion deeply satisfying. Well, the one I reached, anyway – more on that later.
Odyssey is a very, very long journey to the end: expect to pour a minimum of 80 hours into it, and that’s without trying to do everything the game has to offer. Basically, there’s a reason this entry is called Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey – it’s not merely a journey, it’s a broad-ranging, sweeping epic of an adventure that will leave you breathless and exhausted but happy you made the trip.
Odyssey’s key differences over Origins are the option to play as a male or a female character, a much bigger world with even more side-quests to do and things to find, an RPG-like dialogue system that introduces player choices that affect gameplay (and the game’s ending), and a tweaked combat system that’s more fluid and slightly more challenging than it was in Origins.
The game’s central premise is that a ruthless cult has infiltrated the power structures of the Ancient Greek world and is working on a sinister plot to take it over entirely. Here, Odyssey shares some of Ghost Recon: Wildlands’ DNA, in that this cult’s structure resembles that of El Sueno’s cartel, with branches made up of members, each of whom needs to be discovered and taken out before you can truly cut the head off of the snake.
And that’s what you’ll spend most of your time doing as either Alexios or Kassandra: hunting the less-important peripheral cult members, gathering clues as to who’s above them in the food chain, and working your way to confrontations with the cult’s inner circle, and finally its ultimate master.
Since there are a lot of cult members, it’s a long, long process, but it wasn’t one that I found myself resenting. Quite the contrary, I enjoyed the slower pacing this encouraged – I couldn’t just charge in gung-ho and go kill whoever I wanted, I had to be at a similar level to whoever I was targeting before I had a chance of success.
Which brings me to the game’s character development system. Like in Origins, you earn XP for doing things in Odyssey, unlocking skill points with each level achieved. And like Origins, these points are used to unlock skills, except this time some of them are locked behind the level of your character’s secondary weapon – the broken-off end of Leonidas’s spear – which is itself leveled up with tokens obtained from assassinating cult members.
This forced me in to a cycle of doing side-quests and story quests for general XP to the point where I’d unlocked all the skills I could, then going after cult members for their tokens so I could level up my spear, then doing more side-quests and story quests for more XP until I hit the next spear-related skill cap. And so on and so forth.
It sounds a bit restrictive now that I’ve written it out, and to a degree it is, but it also gently but firmly encouraged me to experience a bit of gameplay variety so that I never felt bored with whatever I was busy with. It was a subtle, but very deliberate way to motivate me to go and experience a little bit of everything the game had to offer.
And boy, does this game offer a lot. My time was spent journeying across Ancient Greece just looking at things – my God, this game is beautiful – fighting my way through forts, encampments, caves, settlements, running away from the Mercenaries who were sent to hunt me down when I did bad things, fighting in large scale-battles for Sparta or Athens, killing legendary creatures, doing quests for NPCs that ranged from simple fetch-and-deliver tasks to complicated help-me-with-my-love-life ones, main stories, sailing the seas, ship-to-ship battles, and more.
Yes, more. There is a lot going on in Odyssey, and all of it is worth pursuing. At no point did I feel I was just doing busy-work – whatever I was doing, was fun. Even if that was just running around and soaking in the scenery.
I killed a lot of things in my journey across Ancient Greece, and it wasn’t always easy. But it was satisfying, meaty, and fun, particularly because of the Spartan kick I unlocked early on – kicking tough enemies off high places just never got old.
And holy cow, the visuals are brutal! While there isn’t graphic dismemberment or anything, the finishing moves are nonetheless bloody and dramatic, and always satisfying to pull off. These moves vary per weapon and how you’re positioned when they trigger, and play out like a ballet of death.
Weapons also handle very differently to each other; it appears Ubisoft put a lot of work into setting each weapon type apart. My favourite was the dagger set, a fast but low-damage-per-strike weapon that helped me stay agile and out of reach, but it was equally as satisfying to equip myself with a heavy blade and curb-stomp the crap out of enemies with it. Spears, too, do a great job of crowd control.
Point is, there’s plenty of choice on offer here when it comes to how you want to fight, and I appreciated the flexibility Ubisoft provided.
Sometimes, though, the game wouldn’t respond to my controller presses, and Kassandra would finish her last move and then just stand there, waiting to be pummelled, rather than executing the next move I was going for. That could have been my own fault, I guess, but it happened enough that I don’t think it is.
Also, enemies way above my current level were straight-up no-goes – they meant instant death from a single hit. This was fair. But I could, if I wanted to (and was good enough), whittle their health down little by little with hit-and-run tactics. Also fair.
Overall, the combat in Odyssey is smooth, fun, and rewarding to get right.
World-building & art
The world Ubisoft built for Odyssey was, for me, the star of the show, and a good part of the reason I often kept on playing hours after I should have gone to bed – it’s gorgeous.
It has so many beautiful things to see: exquisitely-built Greek cities and towns, beautiful doric columns to climb and leap from, weathered ruins, god-worthy temples, mountain ranges, salt flats, eerie tombs… all rendered in stunning 4K and running at a rock-solid 30 frames per second on my Xbox One X.
Everywhere I went, I fell a little more in love with Ubisoft’s representation of 431 BCE Ancient Greece. Just recounting it now has me feeling a swell of affection in my chest for this place I will never physically visit, but which I feel I’ve already lived in.
This is all thanks to Ubisoft’s AnvilNext Engine 2.0, whose rendering of Ancient Greece is simply breathtaking. Just take a look at the many screenshots I captured in my time there… seriously, I feel like Odyssey was making sweet love to my eyeballs while I played. It made me very happy.
And as I’m a sucker for beautiful visuals, I was immediately drawn in, I wanted to explore the world and see what the artists had created for me, to climb just one more hill, visit one more location, see one more tomb.
That’s a big deal for me – games need to work to keep my attention given how much there is to play these days, and in that Odyssey certainly succeeded.
Massive kudos to the art and design teams – they did an astounding job here creating not just a game, but a world I wanted to spend time in. Very much like they did in Origins, but taken to the next level.
And what better way to let players appreciate that than with a built-in photo mode? I used it a lot – every image in this review but the header was captured with it.
Not only could I freeze the game at any time to take a snap, I could move the camera around, tilt it, and apply filters.
Every image taken ended up on Ubisoft’s AC: Odyssey website, under my profile. I have left them all at their 4K resolution (instead of resizing them to be bandwidth-friendly), so readers can see each scene in their full detail, as displayed on the Xbox One X.
Honestly, I have never been as much in love with a game’s visuals as I am with Odyssey’s. This game is freaking gorgeous.
Less RPG-lite, more RPG
Odyssey is much more of an RPG this time around than an AC game has ever been, since you can now choose how your character replies in conversations in addition to earning XP and unlocking new skills. These choices can lead to vastly-different outcomes during story missions and side-quests, giving some much-needed player agency when it comes to how things work out.
You will be asked to make decisions at key moments in the game, too, and these determine which ending you get; me, I mostly chose options that reflected a kind, caring Kassandra, and I was rewarded accordingly.
There are nine different endings to this game, but I recommend not paying any attention to that and just playing however you like; if you really don’t like the one you get, you can always just YouTube the others… or re-play all 80+ hours again.
I really liked that I had a say in how things turned out, and I wasn’t just along for an on-rails outcome pre-determined by an unseen storyteller. We’ve done that plenty in other AC games, so this was a welcome change.
I also appreciated that my character this time around was cast as a literal mercenary, someone who fights for whoever pays her. That helped to justify my flexibility in who I supported in the game’s regional skirmishes, Athens or Sparta, which I chose according to which side offered the best rewards.
I don’t have many complaints about Odyssey, and the ones I do have aren’t enough for me to tell people to avoid the game… not by a long shot. Hence “quibbles”.
The first is that upgrading Kassandra’s ship and weapons requires a lot of resources, some of which aren’t easy to come by. Take olive wood, for example, used to make my weapons and ship better: it’s very hard to gather in sufficient quantities to make upgrading everything to the max anything but a long, long slog.
This drives the “Odyssey” aspect of the game home, to be sure, and maintains the slow overall pacing, but it’s galling as hell as it seems to be kept deliberately scarce to not-so-subtly encourage people to shortcut the collection process by buying it in the game’s store with Helix Credits that are bought with real money.
Add in the availability of XP boosts through the same store and additional resource packs (all under the guise of “Time Savers”) to the option to straight-up buy full armour and weapon sets, and you can see how Ubisoft creates a problem they then offer a solution to in exchange for more cash over and above the R900 you’ve already shelled out for the base game.
The upshot of this is that these microtransactions aren’t mandatory – you can unlock most of what they offer (excluding the cosmetic items on sale) by simply playing the game, but it’s extremely galling nonetheless
My inner microtransaction-hater was extremely annoyed by this, even though my rational brain understands that Ubisoft isn’t in the game-making business to make friends, and nobody is forcing anyone to buy anything.
But come on, R319 for 2000 Helix Credits? Are they drunk?
The second is the weapon and equipment system. While there is a butt-ton of different weapons and armour in the game, all of which appeared lovingly-crafted by very talented artists, their bonuses always seemed underwhelming and so I’d seldom get excited about finding new items or unlocking new “engravings” which grant additional combat bonuses.
I’d just look at whatever I’d collected and only equip it if it made my combat numbers go up enough, but no matter how “good” the item apparently was, I never felt like anything I picked up dramatically improved my abilities.
And while there are armour sets that offer enhanced combat abilities when all pieces are equipped, in my 80-hour playthrough I didn’t find more than 2 pieces out of 5 for any one set, so it’s not an organic process. Finding a specific set requires some kind of guide, and really, ain’t nobody got time for dat.
As a result, all game long I felt like I was in a constant struggle to maintain parity with my enemies’ abilities – I never quite felt like an over-powered demi-god, and almost always felt challenged by combat encounters even with all of the most powerful skills unlocked.
While this means enemies are always close to the player level and the game therefore offers an even challenge throughout, I missed reaching a point where I felt like I was an almost-untouchable badass. When I spent a lot of time in any game, that’s the sort of payoff I like, and it’s definitely absent here. Your appreciation of that fact will vary, of course – some people don’t like feeling OP and appreciate tough combat all game long.
But all of this, added to the fact that I could have stuck with an early-game Epic weapon by simply upgrading it at a blacksmith every time I levelled up so that its stats kept pace with my own, robbed the items I found of any “specialness”.
In the end, while they looked nice, the weapons and armour in the game proved ultimately a bit “meh” for me, and I missed any sense of there being Epic Loot™ possibly waiting for me around the next corner.
Lastly, while Odyssey’s stability and bugginess is much improved over that of Origins, I still encountered the typical Ubisoft open-world jank – Kassandra’s feet often hovered in mid-air when standing on things, ragdoll physics were sometimes a bit wonky, and on one occasion I finished a big battle only to be left with a field of “corpses” in, er, rather odd positions.
So technically-speaking, Odyssey is certainly not perfect.
So… about that score
While I firmly believe Odyssey is better than Origins in every way that matters, because the format is no longer new I’m better-able to spot its flaws than I was when Origins flashed into town last year, and I am thus more critical.
Throw in my distaste for microtransactions, the seemingly-deliberate forcing of grinding for resources like wood, and the occasional jank, and that means, ladies and gentlemen, that Odyssey – while being an improvement on Origins in every way – won’t be receiving a perfect score.
It’s ironic, but also fair, I think.
Even with its less-than-perfect score, Odyssey remains brilliant and a must-play entry in the franchise. While there is less Creed here, and more of a world to live in and explore, it’s still a damn fine Assassin’s Creed game.
Go play it, get lost in its world, fall in love with its characters, bask in its beauty, and appreciate its epic length like I have done. But also know that it isn’t immune to criticism.
At the end of the day, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is a game that’s absolutely, positively worth the full price of admission, and essential playing for any Assassin’s Creed fan.
Where Ubisoft will take it next, though, is anyone’s guess. And I can’t wait to find out.