Assassin’s Creed games have been a staple of the video game industry for the last decade. With annual releases as well as a movie featuring Michael Fassbender, the Assassin’s Creed series has become one of the most recognizable brands in entertainment. But as years passed, the games grew stale, and while narrative still drew the fans toward the series, the lack of gameplay innovation drove away the general gamer.
After the release of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate in 2015, Ubisoft decided to take a markedly different approach towards the series. Halting the yearly release cycle, their next game Assassin’s Creed: Origins was released after 2 years to great praise. While the older games were focused on action and adventure, with exploration being a tertiary feature, Origins was created as an open-world role playing game where fans were encouraged to play the game their way, and explore the vast world of Ancient Egypt. Crafted in the same vein, does 2018’s installment in the series, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, soar to new heights or falls flat?
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is captivating from the get-go. This game immediately thrusts the player into war, as a scene from the Battle of Thermopylae plays out. You are Leonidas, king of Sparta. Charging through the battlefield with your spear, the game introduces you to the mechanics. We see some of the abilities available to the player including the iconic “Spartan Kick” in reference to 300.
Shortly after, it’s time to decide your player character, as for the first time ever in a mainstream Assassin’s Creed game, there is the option to choose both a male and female character. The character choice is mostly negligible however it allows a lot more choice.
The controls for the game are extremely different from older Assassin’s Creed games. There is a new mode, known as Exploration Mode, which changes the way you can play the game completely. Rather than having a direct objective to go to, the player is encouraged to explore the island and find novel locations themselves. If you’ve played the games previously however, there is also the classic guided mode which prompts locations but diminishes focus on exploration.
The focus on parrying in this game is greatly diminished. With the level system, players are unable to fight off against enemies who are much higher level than them, as damage and resistance to damage are determined by level. The armour and weapons that you use are also very important, as certain enemies are more susceptible to different attacks. The only issue really is with the way you switch weapons. In older games, the weapons were tied down to menus usually on the D-PAD which selected what you were using. This game requires you to go into the menu to switch weapons, which seems cumbersome compared to the system they previously had.
Naval transportation and combat return to the series as well. Lauded as the best part of Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, the ship commandeering is extremely engaging. You are the commander of your own ship on the high seas around Greece, and can engage with pirates, Athenians, and Spartans for loot. The strength of your ship and its crew determine how effectively you can fight off stringent forces. You’re able to attack enemies with weapons, or just ram them with your ship. After weakening the enemies, you can board the enemy ships with your crew and loot them. While travelling, you also hear your “involuntary” oarsmen singing some great pump up tunes.
The player’s journey starts off in a small island and is introduced as a mercenary with the uncanny ability to control Ikaros, an eagle. The chosen character’s backstory is revealed in this first chapter, and after clearing the island, you are given free reign to explore the vast Greek lands.
While free reign may seem like a bad thing, the game balances out regions by putting in higher level enemies so the region is extremely unsafe for lower level players. This doesn’t mean exploration is impossible however, as you are able to run away from enemies quite easily. And while the map is huge, the locations are varied. The game is beautiful, and locations have diverse vegetation and architecture. You can immediately tell the difference between Kephalonia, the starting island which is sandy and dirty, and Megaris, a stretch of hilly land dotted with forests where the next story mission takes place.
The player lives through the Peloponnesian War, with the ability to choose allegiance to the Spartan or Athenian forces, with the option to clash with both forces. The regions of Greece are fought over once influence of the ruling party are reduced, usually by your own efforts. This engages a conquest battle, a special mission where you and your allied faction face off against the other faction to defend their land or take it over.
While the story takes centre stage, there are also many non player characters that the player can engage with. Some quests offered by these NPCs reward you with new armour or items, while others may allow for romancing options or new members of your ship. There is also an impressive mercenary system in the game which is directly correlated to the bounty you amass through actions taken in the game. To gain bounty, the player can go to a controlled region and attack their soldiers and supplies, as well as harassing citizens. Once a high enough bounty is incurred, mercenaries begin to track you and try and kill you. The higher the bounty, the stronger the mercenary. Once defeated, these mercenaries give great rewards, usually trademark weapons of a high rarity tier.
As I am writing this review, I’ve gotten through 70% of the game’s story. While keeping up with the level caps in certain areas however, I’ve been enamored by the vast quantity of things you can do. There are hidden locations with random encounters, as well as a variety of enemies to engage. The seas are vast, and there are certain islands with otherworldly elements. The interactions between your character and others are well written, and you end up caring about what happens. You essentially mold their personality, allowing you to be a nice dude or a not so nice dude. With the choices you make in important events, you may lose or gain a character’s questline in the future. The choices make interactions even more important.
Overall, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is technically impressive, with beautiful sceneries and a huge world. It’s narrative is captivating yet freeing enough to allow you to engage the many side quests that are available in game. The game itself is fun enough, and retains the Assassin’s Creed charm of sneaking around and, well, assassinating enemies while also being novel in its own right. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is well worth your time, and I highly recommend checking it out.