Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is Ubisoft’s first attempt at taking the series into a new direction. Hot on the heels of last year’s Origins, Odyssey takes the once primarily stealth-action franchise and turns it into a by-the-numbers RPG.
Story – An Epic Odyssey
With the renewed focus on RPG mechanics, the game gets you to make your very first crucial choice right at the beginning, with the character selection. You can choose to play as either Alexios or Kassandra, with the choice being locked in for the entirety of your playthrough. As Alexios/Kassandra, you’ll embark on an odyssey to find out the hidden secrets of your past.
We won’t spoil anything, as the story here is genuinely interesting. The game is long, with the average playthrough lasting about 50 hours or so if you rush through the main storyline, so expect a lot of twists. The main narrative of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey takes place during the Peloponnesian War, a time when Sparta and Athens were at each others’ throats. While the protagonist is a Spartan mercenary, the RPG mechanics lets you play from either side of the war.
Along your journey, you’ll meet (historically) famous people like Socrates, Leonidas, Herodotos and many more. Which, being an Assassin’s Creed game, is always fun. In fact, as you start the game you’ll immediately find yourself in the middle of the battle of Thermopylae. You know, the same one where Leonidas went against the Persian army with 300 Spartans? Yeah.
Also, don’t forget the modern day! Love it or hate it, you’ll once again step out of the Animus (though, occasionally) & step in the shoes of Layla Hassan. We won’t reveal too much, but suffice it to say that the modern day segments are given enough attention here so as to remain relevant, yet not step on your Greek adventures.
Gameplay Mechanics – Same, but Better?
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is the series’ first game which is a fully fledged role-playing game. What that means, above everything else, is that player choice is at the forefront of the experience. Or at least, it’s attempted. Quest structure is similar to last year’s Origins.
For the most part, you’ll be jumping, climbing, and stabbing your way through classical Greece. You know, the usual Assassin’s Creed things. However, the most improved thing this time around is the combat. Surprising right? The series has been traditionally known for its stealth mechanics, with last year’s installment shaking up the formula ever so slightly.
On the skill tree, this time around you’ll find many special abilities which can be mapped to specific buttons on the controller (or the keyboard). The shield from last year has been removed to give way to a new parry system, which further expands into the usage of said abilities. Simply hold the left bumper and smash any of the face buttons to trigger an ability. You might have seen one particular ability being deployed on multiple gameplay trailers, the Spartan kick. And boy is it a joy to use. There are tons of other abilities to use, and gone are the days when you had to pick and choose certain skills for your playthrough.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey gives you the option to reset your abilities/skills anytime you want, so you can experiment with different skills as per your wish. Certainly a welcome change. This gives combat a much-needed complexity that rewards you heavily with loot.
Naval Combat is also back, in which you can travel the Aegean seas and get into battles with other ships. The gameplay mechanics of this segment are pretty much the same as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Instead of shooting canons you’ll be shooting arrows, but the core mechanics remain the same. The boarding system also returns, along with ship customizability. All in all it’s a great addition.
Of Mercenaries and Cultists
That comes in extra handy considering the new mercenary system, as well as the cultist system that the game introduces. Shamelessly similar to the Nemesis system in the Middle Earth games, the mercenary system basically acts like a wanted level. Each time you’re seen committing a crime in front of the public, a mercenary is sent after you, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. While the game could do with giving said mercenaries some more personality, the result is still convincing enough.
Another facet of the game is the Cultists system. I won’t delve too much into the details, as doing so would spoil major portions of the main story, but suffice it to say that the system is well implemented. This is essentially the mercenary system but without the inclusion of any wanted system to trigger it. There are numerous cultists throughout the world & it is in your power to find out about them, through sidequests, and eliminate them.
The key difference between this and the mercenary system being that it encourages exploration and actually is an integral part of the story. You could not kill a single mercenary and still go about the main quest. You cannot, however, not hunt down the cultists as you are required to do so in order to further your Odyssey (i.e as the game calls it, the main story).
The Micro-Faults – You Know What We’re Talking About
In midst of all this greatness is one big problem. Yeah, you guessed it, it’s the dreaded ‘M’ word. The Microtransactions. While previous games in the series have included them, they were usually on the sidelines. The leveling system in those games never was punishing enough on players to actually make them want to purchase any of the XP boosters or money boosters or any of that stuff.
However, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey would rather have you purchase that tiny booster pack than spend time in the quests that they so painstakingly created. Just like Origins, the game requires you to be constantly leveling up in order to further the main quest. Each quest comes with its own designated skill level, and if you’re even so much as one level below it, you can bet it won’t end well. This type of leveling is crucial to a game of this size and scope, but it should never come in between the players’ own sense of engagement with it.
As said above, Odyssey’s leveling system is punishing. And to add salt to the wound, there are many times in the story where after completing a quest, the next one would require a much higher skill level than the one I’m currently at. Particularly around 12 hours into the story when I had completed a quest on level 12, I was surprised to see that the next quest would recommend me to be level 15. That’s a jump of 3 levels. And you know how much time I had to spend to jump up 3 levels? Take a guess. An hour or two? Wrong.
It took me nearly 3 hours to level up by completing side content just to go up 3 levels. Now, I would have enjoyed that time had the writing on those sidequests been on par with, say a Witcher 3, but sadly they weren’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was significantly better than Ubisoft’s past efforts, but the meagre amount of XP that was awarded for completing them was criminally low.
The game tends to direct you towards that in-game store in a rather clever ways. The first of these, is that Ubisoft automatically awards you with 200 Helix Credits (the currency with which can initiate microtransactions, to obtain which you have to pay up real money) as the story opens up to you after about 2 hours of gameplay. You think, “Yay, free helix credits. Maybe I’ll spend them on something useful. After all, it’s free rewards.” but what Ubisoft is essentially doing is making you enter than in-game store, with the intent being that you’ll spend more than you wanted to.
They also have a temporary XP and money booster available in the Uplay rewards system. I used the XP booster with which I was rewarded with 25% more XP for 2 hours of gameplay. And boy did that affect my gameplay. I went from level 28 to 30 in an hour of playtime, instantly being able to play that main quest that I’d been wanting to for hours on end. The moral? Ubisoft is clever. Very clever.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is the series’ best entry since Assassin’s Creed II, or Black Flag depending upon your preference. With a deep and personal story and memorable side quests which complement the former, Odyssey does its name justice. Not to mention the sprawling open world of Greece that Ubisoft has created, easily the most detailed, and vast, in the series.
While the aforementioned issue of level-gating and microtransactions do hold it back, the overall experience is something to sing praises about.