When Odyssey was first announced, I had my doubts. Assassin’s Creed Origins hadn’t even been out for an entire year yet (though it was close) and we were already getting another sequel. This came after the positive feedback Origins had received and many believed this was due to the extra year of development time. When I first got my hands on the Odyssey demo at Gamescom however, my faith had already been restored thanks to the introduction of elements like dialog options and a returning focus on naval combat.
In this review, a few months after release (because this game is HUGE y’all!) I aim to delve into every little detail, so strap in because this will be quite the ride.
The story in Odyssey is multifaceted and ever evolving. Just like in the previous game, you’re actually playing through everything as Layla in the real world/current time. Unlike last time, from the very start of the game you’re already presented with a choice as you’re asked if you want to play as Alexios or Kassandra. From what I’ve seen in a second playthrough I’ve started, the choice doesn’t impact as much as you would think with each sibling just switching roles for the entirity of the game. For me, Kassandra was the correct choice here:
- Her voice acting is a lot better
- It feels good to play as a badass female
- If you consider that you’re entering the Animus as Layla, it makes more sense to play as a woman.
- She just looks plain awesome!
In the real world the plot still revolves around Templars vs Assassins, but in the Greek setting you’re diving into, it all starts as a pretty default “revenge story”. A common motivator for Assassin’s Creed protagonists if you think about it: whereas Bayek was looking to kill the people who were responsible for the murder of his son in AC Origins, Kassandra is after avenging her brother. Her father blindly followed the oracle of Delphi and threw him of a cliff when you were still young (Spartans are known for this weird & cruel practice). After a scuffle at the top of the mountain, you even ended up falling down yourself. When you’re given back control, it’s already many years later and you’ve become a misthios: a blade for hire. Surprisingly enough, not that far in, you’re already face to face with your “father” and the story takes a big turn from there.
*A bit of a Spoiler Alert from here on out*
Turns out he’s not your real father, your brother is still alive and your mother is also still around. There’s a whole bunch of cultists looking to mess around with the Greek world, pitting Spartans vs Atheneans for their own profit and there are supernatural elements at play as well, with mythological monsters and locations from ancient myths & legends for you to explore. And that’s just the main questlines…
Above: you have to fight a Minotaur, a Cyclops, a Gorgon (Medusa) and answer the riddles of a Sphinx. Face them all and the secrets of Atlantis will be revealed to you.
Below: Killing all the cultists is a daunting task and the one that took me the longest to complete. A lot of them are tied to the other story quests, but some of them can only be discovered by finding well-hidden clues scattered across the world or by killing other cultists. There’s even a few that require you to lower the influence of either a Spartan or Athenean leader in a certain area, kill them and then fight in a conquest battle for the opposite side. This takes a considerable amount of time, planning and following the correct steps.
*End of Story Spoiler*
As mentioned before, choice plays an important factor in AC Odyssey. While your dialog options may not be as far-reaching as a Fallout, Dragon Age or Mass Effect game, it’s a nice thought that you get to experience a (slightly) different game than other players or that you get to play the game again and choose a different path.
Some of these options clearly lead to the same result in the end though, but I can appreciate that they not only added this feature into the main quests, but even into the side quests. Sometimes even with hidden options. Take the example below: you have to choose which of the two lovers you want to spare, but if you kill the attackers first and don’t even enter the dialog, you get to save both. Does it impact the game in some way? No, you’ll never meet these NPC’s again. But for a fraction of a moment, I cared about the outcome and that’s already an achievement.
Then there is the comedy. I’ve seen the voice acting of both Kassandra and Alexios and I feel like you’d really be missing out if you’re not playing as Kassandra. Her quips are snappy, every “Malaka!” delivered perfectly and she just oozes bad-assery in a way that feels more natural than if the same lines were to have come from Alex.
At an early point in the game, you come into the posession of the fake eye of a bandit leader aptly called “The Cyclops” and this interaction plays out:
Cyclops: “Give it to me!”
Kassandra: “You want it?”
*Sticks it in a goat’s ass and slaps it*
Kassandra: “Go get it!”
Dialog’s aren’t the game’s strong point however. The game is massive and near the end I found myself skipping past the non-vital quests. In part also to avoid truly strange interactions that seem like they haven’t been playtested. I’ll give a few examples:
Random questgiver: “Here’s your payment”
Kassandra: “Happy to help!”
Questgiver: “You must die!”
or this one, where the sentiment felt completely inappropriate:
Woman: “My son deserted. He must die”
*Kassandra kills the son and comes back*
Woman: “Thank you. You are a blessing from the gods.”
Kassandra: “It was my pleasure.”
The lack of emotional investment is something I’ve felt on other ocassions as well. The game was clearly trying to make me feel something: happiness, rage, sympathy, sadness. While the facial animations and voice acting were usually on point, the build-up or timing of the moment caused me to care less. Forcing the player into more of a lineair story could have helped here (I guess this is the curse of an open world game)
What did manage to make me *FEEL* was the soundtrack. By Apollo, the music direction is perfect in this game! Epic swooping tracks after a powerful story moment, songs being sung while travelling on your ship (You can even choose a female or male crew and get different songs! – though I did miss Black Flag’s chanties)…You know the audio is perfect when even the freaking menu music gives you goosebumps!
I’ve mentioned the voice acting a few times before and it does deserve praise that EVERY single character is voiced. Please don’t underestimate how much work is involved here in a massive title like this one. It becomes even more impressive if you consider that you can choose your gender at the start, so a considerable amount of lines had to be recorded twice (though they cleverly refer to you as misthios or eagle bearer to avoid this when possible).
This is the first time I list “world” as a seperate topic to discuss but it bears mentioning: What Ubisoft has managed to create here is nothing short of a miracle: hours upon hours of gameplay and things to discover in such a massive area and it never felt too boring or repetitive (safe for some re-used camp layouts). I spent about 6-8 hours on the opening island alone, doing 100% of the possible quests.
Coming back to how meaningful some of the more impactful choices can be: On Kephallonia you get the option to save a sick family. I did. Only to return later on in the game and find that the entire island had been struck by a terrible plague… Spread by the ones I saved earlier.
The various quests and points of interest on the map do a good job at motivating you to discovering most of the world, but even the area’s that seem completely blank on your map can still have something interesting (like say, a hidden easter egg referencing a legendary weapon 😉 )
Completing the game 100% (including post-release free updates) took me 167 hours in total. It’s an amazing feat that the world is so densely packed with things to do and the progression flow has never been more addicting. There is always a question mark just within reach or a quest you can take on. Even the road to the next point of interest can pay off as you can scavenge wood, iron and other valuable minerals along the way.
Usually each location has an entirely different look to it, but they did get lazy sometimes with a few camps having the EXACT same layout, not even spread that far apart. But overall, I’m satisfied with the variance of things to do and discover. I especially liked the tombs, large underground temples full of traps, puzzles and hidden passages.
A great deal of the time I spent with the game went into photo-mode to be honest. Every area had a few interesting locations to photograph, from tiny details to colossal carved statues telling a story in and on themselves.
You can even get very meta and take photos of the ingame photos… (I think it brings out the colours even better as showing 4K/HDR footage to people can be difficult to get across, yet a picture of it on a TV screen seems to do that better)
This Statue of Zeus doesn’t necessarily tell a story. Other than the fact that Kassandra hanging of his instrument makes for a funny picture.
Exploring the world already took me a considerable amount of time, and I even went with Guided Mode. What’s that you ask? At the start of the game (and in the settings) you can choose to play the game in:
- Guided mode – with points of interest highlighted on your map and the next step in a quest just requiring you to move to it in a straight line
- Exploration Mode – requiring you to find clues and pay close attention to descriptions of items, notes in your inventory or by interrogating NPCs.
If you opt for Exploration Mode, I’m sure you can add 10 more hours at least to the total experience, but I chose not to spend too much time looking around, even though that could have probably lead me to appreciate the world even more.
And if you’re unsure where to go to next, there are always the synchronization points (+ corresponding leaps of faith!) and your trusty eagle, Ikaros to scan the environment and tag everything worthwile.
When I reviewed AC Origins I spoke very highly of the move from stealth game to a more Action RPG open world. AC Odyssey saw this feedback and doubled down on this, making it one of the greatest games of its kind I’ve ever had the pleasure to play. More abilities were added, so you could really make a custom built character to suit your gameplay preference (at first at least, near the end of the game you’ll have unlocked all abilities and you’ll be an unstoppable force).
Early on I went for the hunter build: headshot damage & distance multipliers on my bow and using the returning “steer-arrows-in-slowmo” ability from Origins to one-shot even the toughest of enemies. Another favorite of mine was the warping assassination strike that you can eventually chain up to four times. The flow of combat never felt greater.
My only gripe is perhaps that the enemies’ levels scale with yours. I personally like returning to a previous area and plowing through lower level enemies but with the level scaling active you’ll encounter quite a few damage sponges (mostly captains and other mercenaries) that take a while to beat. Not the biggest issue, but the fact you can’t take them out in one strike also means they’ll alert other enemies of your presence when you attack them.
The mercenary system does bring a lot to the table. There’s an entire tab dedicated to them in the menu, and you can see which ones are near your own level. You go up in the ranks as you kill more of them and this can provide benefits like discounts when buying weapons from blacksmiths all across Greece. They’re among the best ways to gain experience to level up and they can sometimes drop legendary loot.
Speaking of loot, it’s important to keep your gear updated at all times if you hope to be able to face enemies of an equal or higher level than yourself. Your gear comes in multiple rarities and it speaks for itself that you’ll want to equip mostly legendary ones as they provide the biggest (and often unique) buffs. They usually drop at a level that’s near yours, so you may have to level up a bit before you can equip them. In the endgame you’ll need to visit a blacksmith to level up your preferred weapons and attach new upgrades to them.
It feels especially rewarding when you get rule-breaking upgrades like Poseidon’s Trident which lets you breathe underwater indefinitely or when you equip an entire set of armor granting you skills like a one-time-revive.
While you can create your own character build as you see fit, I would still advise to keep sufficient stats geared towards Warrior Damage as well: You can sneak around or shoot enemies from afar in the regular game, but a new gameplay variant requires you to get down and dirty: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey introduces us to Conquest Battles. Large battlefields filled with Spartans fighting Atheneans and you have to pick a side in advance. You’ll not only have to kill the enemies, but make sure you keep the balance of the fight in your favour as it’ll be game over if too many of your companions die. This has proven to be rather challenging when the game is set to a harder difficulty and your own team isn’t quite pulling their weight. Some of these conquest battles also take place on the ocean.
That’s right, another returning gameplay element is naval combat. While it’s not quite up to par with Black Flag, it’s a few steps up from what was on offer in Origins and you can now roam the entire ocean on your ship again. You can use ramming attacks, regular arrows & spears or fire arrows if you’re feeling particularly nasty.
You can increase the stats of your ship by upgrading it, but it will require A TON of resources to do so. My advise is to never sell equipment but to scrap it as you’ll need the wood, leather and iron. A nice touch is that you can recruit special lieutenants to join you on your ship, they each give a unique boost to your stats and they’ll even join you when you board another ship.
It might be tempting to buy resources with real money because the progress can be slow (especially at the start of the game), but I found that you can easily acquire what’s needed near the end, when each victory on the ocean rewards you with a ton of exp & loot. If you’re like me, what’ll really feel rewarding is when you get legendary cosmetics.
You’ve seen a few screens by now and if you’re anything like me: this game has blown you away. The colours are vivid (thanks to the HDR), the textures look amazingly crisp (4K on Xbox One X) and the water physics are godlike. Giving me a photo mode to play with in a game like this is plain cruel as I’ve easily spent 10-20 hours with it…
It’s clear that no attention to detail was spared when making this game. Kassandra’s clothes get drenched, she touches the top of the crops when running through them, waves break on the beach in a natural looking way. I’ve often found myself just staring at the world in motion and being amazed at it all.
Seriously, discovering the world and snapping pics could be a game in its own right and it’s incentivised a bit more by Ubisoft’s regular photo contests.
The lighting deserves particular praise, the way fire casts a warm glow on textures near it, the sun making a marble quarry so bright you almost can’t look at the screen without squinting, how the moon lights up an otherwise dark scene…
If there is one thing Ubisoft truly does right, it’s the continued support they are bringing to their titles. I’ve been playing AC Odyssey almost non-stop for the better part of the last 5 months and they have introduced continuous quality-of-life improvements to the title. Which I feel require a highlight here:
- Increasing the level cap (with the latest update it’s up to 99, I was at lvl 72 when I 100% beat the game)
- Adding an extra level of upgrades to your ship (giving you something to do with your money & resources in the endgame)
- Adding a New Game + option
- Adding additional free quests
- Adding effects (spiderwebs now burn again when they’re touched by your flame, just like in Origins)
- Making it easier to buy resources in bulk (it used to take ages to buy 500 wood for example)
- Adding upgrades you can spend extra ability points on
And my personal favourite: the possibility to make any weapon or gear look like another one you already own. Effectively letting you equip the best gear stat-wise, but still looking exactly the way you want it to. Because you can’t become a legendary assassin if you don’t have a bit of class 🙂
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an amazing achievement and would have been a definitive contender for game of the year if 2018 wasn’t such a mind-boggling year for video game quality. It improves in almost any conceivable way upon the previous entry in the series, something I wouldn’t have dare dreamed was possible. The setting is more enjoyable (more colour in it too), the world is bigger yet still filled with tons to do, the combat and progression have never felt better. Everything that was added brings enough to the table to make it differ enough from Origins making any claims of it releasing too soon invalid. If only the story would have had a better flow to it and managed to grab my emotions more effectively, we would have been looking at a perfect game.
(Review Copy provided by Ubisoft)