Over 68 hours in to my attempt at forging a tale grander than any Homer ever wrote, I have become an Olympic champion, hunted down and destroyed every member of a secret cult, dueled with the likes of Medusa and the Minotaur, saved democracy, and fetched countless herbs and animal pelts for random villagers. The last major cutscene has played following completion of the final of the 3 major quest lines, yet there are still places in the massive 230 km2 map that I will never set foot on.
There’s almost too much going on in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but fortunately the world is charming enough that I didn’t mind taking on the challenge of it all. Here are my thoughts on both the triumphs and flaws that made this one of the best open world games I have ever gotten lost in.
At the start of the game, you get to choose which of two siblings you want to control. Thanks to significant buzz heading in to the game about how fantastic the female protagonist was, I decided to play as Kassandra, which undoubtedly added endless amounts of enjoyment to my experience. Kasssandra is a certified bad ass whose eye rolls are just as deadly as her spear. It’s a shame that each new Assassin’s Creed game features a different protagonist because I would happily sign up for the new adventures of Kassandra every couple of years.
Being a Starting Off Point
I haven’t played an Assassin’s Creed game since the original on PS3, and I was quick to quit that one as I found it pretty boring and confusing. Despite my 11 years away from the series, I felt immediately at home in this sometimes overly-complex world. There’s no real need to know even the slightest thing about the many games that came before it.
Embracing the RPG
My natural inclination in games like this is to forgo stealth in favor of a more quaint and traditional all-guns blazing approach that tends to be both mindless and effective. Early on, I found my brute force methods were no match for the damage–sponge enemies I was up against, so I decided to adopt Kirk Hamilton’s assassin build, which almost instantly made my journey more enjoyable, less daunting, and helped it stand out from other games.
Even if being an Assassin isn’t your thing, you can get deep into the RPG elements of the game to hone in on the exact character build you want. By choosing the right gear perks and focusing on one of the three skill trees (hunter, warrior, or assassin) most to your liking, you can tailor your character to your playstyle’s strengths.
The Cultists System
As much as I loved being an assassin in my day-to-day battles and fort infiltrations, I never felt more like a legendary agent of the shadows than when I was hunting down and dispensing of cultist scum. By completing quests, dispensing of known cultists, helping locals, or following clues, you slowly uncover the identities of the 44 members of the Cult of Kosmos. This system kept me fully invested and helped keep things fresh during the late-game grind.
The Mercenary System
The most insane scenarios you will encounter during the game will most likely be the result of the Mercenary System, which is this game’s version of the standard Grand Theft Auto “Wanted” system but with a twist. Not only will your misdeeds lead to mercenaries coming after you to collect the bounty on your head, but you can advance up the ranks of the mercenaries, collecting rewards like discounts from blacksmiths along the way. Sure, this can on occasion be annoying when you find yourself having to hide in the bushes to avoid a big battle ruining your meticulously planned stealth infiltration, but it more than makes up for it when you find yourself running for your life from 5 pissed off mercenaries and 2 lions because you accidentally killed the wrong person when trying to loot a chest.
The romances in this game are fairly simplistic and amount to choosing the correct (and clearly marked) romance speaking option after completing a quest or two to gain the NPC’s favor. You then share a cute cut-scene, an off-screen night of passion, and, if you’re lucky, they don’t turn into a cultist and try to kill you the next morning. I really enjoyed how this fairly simple but amusing system allowed me to further flesh out my thoughts on the character Kassandra. My Kassandra has been hurt by all the loss and abandonment she has suffered throughout her life. When she makes a connection, she goes with it, but she’s too afraid to have it turn into anything serious. Now, don’t take this to mean she’ll just hook up with anyone. For the most part she favors fellow females as lovers, but she did let one poor, over-burdened male doctor in. P.S. Kyra is without a doubt the true love of Kassandra.
Despite completing dozens of random side quests throughout my adventure, I have yet to get tired of them. While some standard fetch and kill quests do pop up, there are plenty of phenomenal stories told throughout to keep you wanting more. In particular, the challenging hunts of the Daughters of Artemis, the mythical creature battles of the Gates of Atlantis, and the triumph and tragedy of the Mykonos Rebels questlines are well worth your extended time.
The World at Its Most Random
Maybe 10 minutes after finishing one of the previously mentioned Daughters of Artemis hunts, I realized I had forgotten to snap a pic with my trophy (because my Kassandra is that asshole). When I ventured back to its now vacant lair, I discovered a giant bear chowing down on its carcass. This little weird detail of the animals just doing animal things blew me away. Couple this with the endless machinations of war playing out in cities and on the sea, and the world of Odyssey feels as lived in as any I’ve experienced in a game.
Whether calmly breaking up against the shore or hammering your ship during a storm, Poseidon is at his finest with the unbelievable physics behind the never-ending waves of the Aegean.
The Spartan Kick
Aside from possessing her dear grandfather Leonidas’ spear, Kassandra also inherited the slain king’s Rockette-worthy kicking ability. Hilariously, the details for this ability mention that it doesn’t kill your opponent. Now tell that to all the enemies I knocked off of buildings or in to shark infested waters.
All the Statue Penises
This game has by far the highest number of penises on statues per capita of any game I’ve ever played. Hell, it might even have a greater concentration than actual Ancient Greece did. The first moment I realized I loved this game was about 4 hours in when I climbed the giant statue of Zeus and discovered I could dangle from his dingle. When Kassandra chimed in with “maybe I shouldn’t be on this”, I was 100% in.
The Mixed Bag
When forced out of your assassiny comfort zone, the combat quickly devolves into unleashing your strongest abilities then engaging in dagger-hell button smashing and dodging until they refresh. There are actually quite a few great fights to be had against boss-type characters including certain mercenaries, arena adversaries, and mythical creatures. It’s just a shame that the more frequent battles are kind of lame.
At first, I thought the ship combat and travel was a nice change of pace, but once you master the basics of ramming other ships while alternating shooting arrows and throwing javelins, it quickly descends into a repetitive slog. This reminded me a lot of the Ni No Kuni II‘s skirmish battles, which is not a compliment. Still, those incredible waves and some great travel banter help redeem this flawed piece.
Plenty was made about the micro-transactions in this game and how players worried that the developers might have made the level gating more strenuous to encourage you to purchase some leveling help. Personally, I didn’t find the grind to be even noticable until about 35 hours in or ~ 80% through the main campaign. Suddenly the recommended levels were shooting up 2-4 levels per quest, and I was spending hours doing side quests to get stronger. Despite this annoyance, I’m kind of glad it happened because it forced me to tackle some of the more memorable storylines that I may have otherwise missed.
Conquests, the system by which you engage in a brief war battle to change who controls a region, have a lot to offer in terms of sheer drama as probably 90% of my battles required last second heroics to emerge victorious. They do however take you a little out of your assassin comfort zone as they’re fully out in the open. Additionally, I found it strange that the story doesn’t really allow you to choose full allegiance to either the Spartans or the Athenians as you are made to do conquest battles for both sides. Often, my decision to oust the leader of a region came down to whether or not the soldiers pissed me off while I was trying to explore.
More often than not, this game will cause you to feel like absolute shit for making the wrong choice. This leads to tons of interesting storytelling twists (and some great ethics lessons from Socrates), but it can also be somewhat overwhelming as there consistently doesn’t seem to be a “good” choice to make that allows you to play as a true hero. While a few decisions do impact the ending of the game, for the most part your choices are inconsequential to the game world at large outside of making you feel like a bad misthios. Even more annoyingly, you will occasionally run into a situation where the dialogue seems to incorrectly indicate you had pursued a different course of action earlier in the game or ignores events that happened entirely. This is very clearly the first game in the series with any sort of system like this, so I would imagine future entries get this a little tighter.
It’ll probably be a while before any game comes close to topping the spectacular photo mode in Marvel’s Spider Man, and Odyssey doesn’t even come close. There are some cosmetic settings that can be adjusted when taking a picture, but it’s mostly bare bones. What does salvage photo mode, though, is that the game automatically shares your photos on other players’ maps. Sure, I was offended that no one ever liked my images, but it was really fun to see the crazy things other players discovered, which inspired me to go explore more and even sometimes provided useful tips. Now, if only those picture icons didn’t sometimes cover up other important map icons….
As with any big open world game, there is no shortage of bugs and glitches to be found. Usually, these are amusing like the above picture where the fallen in a conquest battle got stuck in the ground or when I had to reset after a quest was telling me my objective was 200 meters undersea. The worst of it was about 2 or 3 full game crashes that happened, but luckily the game auto-saves a ton meaning I never lost too much progress. My favorite bug, though, wasn’t actually a bug. After I unknowingly unlocked a second ability wheel, I accidentally switched to the new empty wheel and became convinced that the game had bugged out. Even after a reset it didn’t go away, and I spent about 30 minutes worrying my save was fully corrupted only to realize I was an idiot.
For as large as Odyssey is, it’s surprisingly easy to get around thanks to Breath of the Wild-style climbable surfaces, fast travel waypoints, the ability to summon your ship from any port, and your trusty steed Phobos being only a whistle away. However, there’s plenty of jankiness to struggle through along the way including a horse who has some trouble near rocks and a weird thing where you get stuck parkouring from surface to surface instead of falling down holes.
As great as Kassandra is, her brother is equally as bad. The character is a generic muscle-head with bad voice acting who could be the star of any action game from the last 20 years.
Quest management is, in a word, cluttered. There are filter options, and Ubisoft added some better selecting tools post-launch, but it still is well behind some open world titles from 5+ years ago. It lacks key features like seeing completed quests or being able to jump to find your current objective on the map.
Okay, I’m not a regular to this series, so I have no attachment to the idea of the Animus – the machine that allows someone in present time to experience the happenings of the past (if you’re confused think of it like super serious historical VR which is how you experience the game through an adventurer replaying Kassandra’s life). I found myself just wanting to get lost in Ancient Greece, and not have to worry about the seemingly inconsequential present day story. Even more annoyingly, there were several times when I had just made a massive discovery and I wanted to dig deeper into only to be forced to take a 30 minute sojourn into the much less exciting present day. I know it kills the lore of the series, but I think it’s time to let go of the convoluted mess that is the animus.
The Sense of Closure
Completing each of the three major quest lines results in some impressive cinematics, but as soon as they’re over, it’s back to the massive world of Ancient Greece. As I know I have to let this game go to focus on the latest contender for biggest game of the year, Red Dead Redemption 2, I kind of wished the game would have stopped for a second and spent a few minutes rolling credits and showing the name of the hundreds of people who spent years making this game, so I could get a natural sense that I had reached the end instead of feeling like there’s still more to do.
My Ability to Spell “Assassin”
About 85% of the time while writing this, my first attempt resulted in typing “assasin”.
There’s an over-abundance of games out there right now to make you neglect your major life commitments. I don’t know that I can recommend this over Spider-man or Red Dead Redemption 2, but Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a thoroughly engrossing adventure that has the largest scale I’ve ever seen and is well worth your time. It’s full of fantastic characters, messy systems, glitches, joy, and tragedy. Chaíre, Kassandra, and thanks for all the memories.