The opening moments of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are as pure 300 as you’ll ever see in a video game as Leonidas and his Spartan warriors come under relentless attack from the engulfing Persian army. With rain-battered cliffs, showers of arrows, roaring Spartans and liberal sprays of crimson as metal tears through Spartan and Persian flesh alike, Ubisoft are counting on the fact that you’ve seen Zack Snyder’s 300 adaptation, so thoroughly does its latest effort appear to be inspired by it.
Indeed, the presence of the meme-famous Spartan Kick in the game lends further evidence to Ubisoft’s love affair with Zack Snyder’s movie – even if Gerard Butler’s shouty Leonidas can’t quite match the frankly comical distances that enemies can be Spartapunted in Odyssey. Beyond such initial cinematic sweep and spectacle however, Ubisoft’s latest effort is, at its heart, much more of a true RPG than it has ever been and one that also happens to usher in the best entry the Assassin’s Creed franchise has seen to date.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Is The Most Ambitious Title In The Series
Last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins was a clear statement of intent from Ubisoft – one that rung aloud the French publisher/developer’s intention to develop its long-running historical stab-a-thon beyond its previously defined boundaries and nagging restrictions. As such, threaded through Assassin’s Creed Origins were open-world RPG elements that made last year’s effort feel much more akin to the likes of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Embracing the RPG elements that were seeded in last year’s game, gone are the ultra-tedious tailing missions, the insta-fail stealth bits, the need to collect a hundred different feathers or sparkly triangles – and just about everything else that made you roll your eyes up into the back of skull where the traditional Assassin’s Creed template is concerned has been exorcised here.
Doubling down on this newfound creative direction, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey travels farther down that road, deeply interweaving open-world RPG beats throughout its DNA and in the process dramatically shifting the series away from its overexposed stealth and parkour trappings. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is, in short, the Assassin’s Creed game we’ve always wanted.
Primarily set in 431 BCE against the backdrop of the Peloponnesian War which pitted the forces of Athens against those of Sparta, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey immediately pulls a series first; it allows you to choose between the main characters, Kassandra or Alexios, to take on your journey. “Aha!” You might say – “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate let you switch between the male and female Frye twins at will” – and of course you’d be right. Where Odyssey exceeds the series Victorian London-set offering however, is in how the story feels tailored to these characters in ways that I can’t divulge here for fear of spoiling the story.
And what a great narrative it is too. Mixing in mysteries of Kassandra’s and Alexios’ familial background alongside the intrigue of the Assassins Brotherhood in both period and modern day settings (the latter of which is dramatically toned down against series standards), Ubisoft’s team of story scribes have fashioned no less than three storylines that each correlate and intersect each other throughout the game’s substantial duration.
Equally, if you wanted to know whether or not this latest entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise earns its ‘Odyssey’ allow me to assure you – it most certainly does and if you’ve had one eye on the myths and legends of Ancient Greece then you’ll be very pleased with what Ubisoft has wrought here.
Everything Is Permitted, Everything Is Connected
Tying directly into Odyssey’s substantial and many hours long spanning narrative is the new conversation system which has been introduced into this year’s game. For the first time ever in Assassin’s Creed title, players can now talk to characters and decide how that dialogue proceeds – asking questions, divining intentions and more importantly, shaping story events and the world around them.
As such, many encounters can now be resolved with words rather than violence. In one early example, our protagonist is told to take money from someone who has defaulted on a payment to a friend. When you get there however, you seemingly have two ways to resolve the situation – kill the merchant, or, destroy his produce and force him to handover the money that way. Then, surprisingly, a third option appears out of nowhere; you can simply say you’ll leave him alone and go back and speak to lender and plead for better terms.
Likewise, another mission has you coming across a family in a plague destroyed village who are about to be killed by a group of soldiers who are eager to prevent the plague from spreading. Do you kill the soldiers and let the family go, or, do you let them be executed and prevent the plague from spreading afar? Later on you find out that the plague has decimated your home country. It’s this sort of disruptive effect on the game world that the series has long needed, and the manner in which Ubisoft has implemented such dynamism brings variety to the proceedings in a way that perfectly underscores the series newfound RPG aspirations.
Then of course there is the romance side of things, where our hero/heroine can neatly seduce their way through the story assuming they say and do all the right things for their potential bedfellows. Case in point – playing as Kassandra, I was able to seduce an 70 year old (or so) woman while her husband watched gormlessly on because he couldn’t match her sex drive; and this was after I had completed a quest to create the Ancient Greek version of Viagra for him too. Poor chap.
Bolstering Odyssey’s well crafted tale and cast of characters is its evocative depiction of Ancient Greece. A seemingly boundless world where artistic beauty and technical finesse stunningly coalesce, Odyssey might not look much better than its predecessor Assassin’s Creed Origins on the surface, but its rendering of endless forests, dizzying peaks, dusty tombs and the intricacies of Ancient Greek architecture and city life all help to elevate it above last year’s game.
Pleasingly, Odyssey’s Ancient Greek realm is also riddled with far more nuance and little surprises than one might have readily assumed. Far from a listless expanse of pretty flora, vibrant fauna and detailed historical architecture, its the various denizens of Ancient Greece that really help to bring it to life in a number of different and sometimes very unexpected ways. People go about their daily lives, impromptu clashes between Athenian and Spartan forces occur with alarming frequency, and you even get odd situations like a bear casually watching a group of people having a nice chat by a campfire.
Stands Shoulder To Shoulder With The Biggest RPGs
Like all the better examples of the RPG genre, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey not only absolutely fills its world to the brim with a massive range of quests, side-quests and other activities for you to do, but more crucially it makes these numerous quests and missions compelling to play too. It also doesn’t hurt such trips off of the beaten path are deftly written – the aforementioned Ancient Greek Viagra quest proving to be one such example of how on point the writing is for these enjoyable escapades.
Certainly, much like Insomniac’s Spider-Man, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s world is so rich and the action so compelling that its myriad of side missions and content is something you’ll want to do, rather than feeling forced to do it in order to meet some sort of arbitrary completion quota. It is simply too easy to lose yourself entirely in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s frankly mountainous amount of things to do.
In addition to what adds up to hundreds of additional bespoke quests and daily content are a range of new systems that Ubisoft have implemented into Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to bolster its offering. One such addition is the Mercenary system which bears hallmarks of the Nemesis System that Monolith employed in their Middle: Earth Shadow of War and Shadow of Mordor games.
In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, you can become infamous by both murdering folk and stealing which will cause bounty hunters of various disciplines to try and hunt you down. Though you can pay off your pursuers, it is often much more rewarding (though highly challenging) to dispatch them by more violent means, because doing so increases your standing among the Mercenary community and provides you with special buffs and other bonuses.
The especially interesting thing with the Mercenary system however, is that the folk who hunt you down can literally show up anywhere – on the road, in the middle of a mission or even on the high seas. As such it adds a level of distinct level of unease to the proceedings that no Assassin’s Creed title before now has ever really been able to boast.
Speaking of the high seas, naval warfare returns to Assassin’s Creed after a brief stint in last year’s Origins. But owing to the time period and the fact that naval combat wasn’t nearly so sophisticated in 400 BCE as it was in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag‘s 18th century, there’s much less depth to it than in that game, which means a lack of fort sieges or similar activities of that nature.
That said, sailing on the Aegean Sea and laying waste to all manner of pirates, Athenians and Spartans remains a massively compelling pursuit and it’s one which is bolstered by the ability to hire anybody you defeat in combat. As a result, there’s a real incentive to fight and subdue stronger enemies because the more powerful the crew member, the stronger the buffs that they will provide to your ship.
Another new feature is the Nation War system which neatly dovetails into the Peloponnesian War that sits at the heart of the narrative. As a mercenary, players can lend their stabby talents to either the Spartans or the Athenians in order to capture territory for the side of their choosing. However, capturing territory is very much a longer-term engagement as enemy supplies must be destroyed, key figures assassinated and reserves of wealth depleted before more dramatic action can be taken.
Once one side has been sufficiently weakened, a Nation Battle can be activated whereby you an active role on the battlefield – the idea being that you need to slaughter as many high-ranking enemy soldiers as you can before the other side does in order to be victorious. Oh and victory carries with it a substantial incentive too, because if you’re attacking rather than defending in one of these battles you stand to gain a whole host of money, resources and epic loot. The mere presence of the Nation War mechanic then meaningfully makes the stakes in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey feel greater than they ever have before.
Then there are the three main styles of combat that Ubisoft have accommodated with this year’s game. Broadly split between Warrior (straight combat), Hunter (ranged and pet based combat) and Assassin (stealth focused assassinations), both the gear and the abilities that you can unlock throughout the game figure directly into each of those disciplines. Likewise, the new engraving system which allows players to buff their weapons and armor with extra abilities also helps to provide a substantial amount of creative latitude carving a unique approach to murdering folk.
One last notable feature that deserves mention is being able to play Odyssey in the new Exploration mode. Stripping away all the objective markers and other UI elements, playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in Exploration mode gives the game an extra layer of discover and challenge that we just don’t see in many contemporary efforts. By having to navigate yourself to your objective, you very often find yourself leaving the beaten path to investigate an inviting cave or a hidden camp that can, very often, lead to additional quest opportunities in turn. It’s a beautifully implemented feature that I hope becomes a permanent staple of the series going forward.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Is The Best In The Series
In the end, the shift to a more ambitious RPG style of play makes complete sense. After all, history is much, much more than just a parkour playground – it’s an interconnected amalgam of stories, characters, conflicts and daily life that all combine to author key events in the chronicles of humanity.
And now, at last, with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, we see the series finally delivering on that promise, turning in not just the best game in the series, but a thunderous and muscular open-world adventure the likes of which we haven’t seen for a good long while. If you’re a fan of Assassin’s Creed, or just massive open world adventures in general that have choice, spectacle and longevity at their core, then Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an absolutely essential triumph that you really shouldn’t miss.
This is the one.
Review code supplied by publisher.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey from Ubisoft is set to release for PS4, PC and Xbox One on October 5, 2018. Players who buy the Gold, Collectors and Ultimate editions of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will be granted access to the game three days early on October 2, 2018.