Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is my first Assassin’s Creed ever. The first time I encountered Assassin’s Creed 1 I did not really like the concept. It felt weird to me that the actual interesting and cool gameplay was constantly interrupted by the modern-day stuff. It also did not help the game’s case that the German translation was atrocious. I had to revisit this series a few years later to get more interested. I did so by watching videos on YouTube where all cutscenes had been edited into one large video, effectively turning the game into a movie, sans the gameplay. Ultimately, I have come to like the presentation of the main stories. They are interesting enough and the cutscenes are of very high quality. As a result, I have seen about four or five of these “movies” and watched some gameplay of AC Origins. This really caught my attention and because Odyssey was supposed to be even more like an RPG, I snatched myself a copy once there was a good deal for it. But honestly, given the time I have spent with this game so far, the full price would have been warranted without question. I have finished the game including the DLCs, I am close to 200 hours and I think I am ready to share my thoughts.
Unlike its predecessor, AC Origins, the story is not as good. The story telling is alright, but it takes a long time until it develops a sense of purpose. It may sound weird, but it did not feel as personal to me as what I know of Origins. You are searching for your family and while you are doing that you uncover a mysterious cult that is trying to take over the Greek world. But you do not even know that you are looking for your family until a few hours into the game. It all has to do with this cult which is at the root of your family’s drama. If explained well, it may have potential to be more interesting than it plays in the game. I have a hard time describing it other than saying that it does not feel personal enough to matter. It is not terrible per se, mind you, and you might even feel differently. It is a good enough scaffold to send you traveling across the Greek world, discover places, meet people, be their personal UPS delivery person and assassinate the heck out of everyone. This game has so much for you to do that it is a gift and a curse at the same time, depending on how you look at it. Let us get into more detail.
First, there are three main story threads:
- Uncover Atlantis (yes, you read that right, Atlantis!).
- Fight the Cult of Kosmos.
- Unify your family.
Here is the first thing: I mean, why? Can’t a game, even a huge one, not do a Highlander and let there be only one story? Others manage to do that.
Next, there is the role-playing aspect. This brings with it the customary dialog options, a skill tree, and a lot of gear. The dialog system and the skills are the weakest of this list. The dialog system could have been omitted for the most part and limited to the situations where a real choice is required. Other than that, I feel that the conversations could be much more natural flowing if the dialogs were just pre-defined. I prefer a nice flow in conversations over a bolted-on RPG like system. It is not like the optional talking points provide anything that help the missions or branch out into more complex conversations. You know everything there is to know from only the mandatory talking points. There are no additional quests that unfold when you question people. It provides a bit of a background but as I said, make it a mandatory listen.
I have also mentioned that I have some issues with the skill system. I personally have an issue with how you select the skills in combat. What I mean by that is the following: skills are mapped to the four action buttons, X, Y, A and B (or the equivalent on a PlayStation controller). This presents the problem that there is a finite amount of skills that can be mapped to these buttons. To have more than just four active skills, Ubisoft implemented a system where you can use the D-Pad to switch between different “layers” of skills. From what I have tried, there are two of these layers amounting to a total of eight combat skills (excluding the bow that counts extra). To me, this is unfeasible in combat. I am not able to deliberately switch between the different layers in a hectic combat situation. Keep in mind, you must also press the “activate skill” button at the same time. I would get lost searching for what I want which would in turn mean that I would get beaten up in a fight. Therefore, I limit myself to four active combat skills and four archery skills. There is just not enough time in a fight against several enemies to be fiddling around with the controls. I am not sure how this can be solved more elegantly, but that is not my job. However, once your character reaches a certain level, you can spend your skill points on passive improvements, like 0.2% higher assassination damage or bow shot damage or any other active skill. The list of those buffs is exceedingly long, and this somewhat redeems the clunky skill layers and allows for more useful and permanent passive improvements.
(One final note on that topic: this may just be me and my inability to master a game’s controls.)
But the RPG elements are not all. The game also features a mercenary system. If you do bad in public, like stealing from people or killing someone, some random military dude in a usually faraway military camp that is nowhere near the action and thus wasn’t able to witness anything immediately puts a bounty on your head.
(Maybe the eyewitness uses a cell phone to call this military dude or something and I just never noticed that?)
And the worse your deeds, the higher the bounty and the more mercenaries are coming for your head to collect it. But wait, this medieval policing system does not stop there. All the mercenaries have a spot on an ancient Greek-wide mercenary ranking system. You can fight your way to the top of that list. And once you think you are number one: look again because it kinda starts from the bottom again, only with more powerful mercenaries. Mercenary-ranking-ception. And you do not even get an achievement for the first time you get to “the top”. Lame. The game does not even explain what this ranking system is for. It is just there because, why not?
Do you like Tomb Raider? Guess what, you can raid tombs in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as well! It is not as challenging, it is not spectacular to look at and the most dangerous thing you will encounter in tombs are snakes in the dark – they do a lot of damage though. So, it is more like an extremely poor man’s version of tomb raiding. When you find the magic glowing stone that is hidden inside, it will award you a skill point though.
You can even engage in conquest battles. Those are available when you have weakened a state leader by destroying their supplies, raiding their forts, being generally destructive. Then you can pick a side you wish to fight for, Athens or Sparta. You are a mercenary after all, so you go where the money is. The result: the leader changes and you can start the whole thing anew. You can do this for all eternity if you are so inclined. Does this have an impact on the story or the world? Nope. What does it provide you? Allegedly some legendary loot and experience. Are these battles fun? Not really. Why is it there? Because. Some of those battles are necessary though, to advance the story or dispatch all the cultists.
What else could there be? Ouh, I know. Naval warfare! Why not add some boat fighting to the game? Granted, Odyssey is not the first Assassin’s Creed to feature that and you do need some way to travel between the various islands. It also makes sense that you are being attacked at sea by pirates and as we all know: everything is better with pirates. I, however, find these skirmishes rather annoying and apart from a few story related combats that cannot be avoided, you can luckily outrun your enemies at sea, basically ignoring them.
How about quests that only seem to be available for a specific time? You know, it is what online service games are about, right? Random events that are only there for a short period? Alright, I think I am almost done mocking the game. The thing about these kinds of quests is that they are as equally boring as all the other non-essential side quests. It rarely goes beyond traveling to A, steal thing X and bring it back. Sometimes you might have to virtually kill someone. The variety!
In general, when it comes to side quests this game does a horrible job. As mentioned above, you are like the only UPS delivery person in Greece. I often wondered how people in this world managed to survive given they cannot even walk 100 meters and look after their children. And while I am on the topic of stupid people: they do jump in front of you riding your horse and sometimes that kills people and if there are soldiers around, they start to attack you. Happens in every Ubisoft game. Annoying every time.
However, AC Odyssey is not just about “I’m a moron, collect my groceries for me” quests. Ubisoft has also added a few more complex questlines, "The lost tales of Greece", which are way more than that. They all contain more or less interesting adventures, but since the game mechanics are rather limited, you often end up doing the same dumb things, only in a more elaborate context. This is not necessarily a bad thing because I really like the game mechanics. The game feels great. Traversing the country is quick, even on foot. Hills and mountains are no obstacle. Walls are not either. This game really manages to create a feeling of freedom. You can go almost anywhere you want, however you want. This truly is an open world game. Its only flaw is that this huge world does not provide a lot of interesting stuff to do. I would like it to be smaller, but with higher quality. A good example is The Wither 3. I do not know how CD Project Red managed to create a world that feels coherent and real, despite all the fantasy, and where every quest is an adventure, not a delivery job. The only thing Witcher 3 has over Assassin’s Creed are Geralt’s Witcher Senses. With regards to game mechanics there is not much more. It is the story telling that matters and how the gameplay mechanics and characters are integrated into the story.
What the Assassin’s Creed games always do a good job with is how they incorporate just enough correct history so that you recognize real characters from our world’s past. In ACO you will meet Socrates and Hippocrates, to name just a few popular ones. The game sometimes does not even take itself too seriously and adds a bit of comedy and slapstick into the mix. There is so much to like. The main story missions overall are fine. This game works very well when you confine yourself to what is necessary. You cannot avoid having to do side quests, simply because you need the experience and increase your character’s level to continue to the harder parts of the game. Some of them have funny moments in them. One time you are supposed to bring a basket of wine to a military camp (UPS Express delivery). This, of course, results in a boozy session and the next day your hero and the soldiers wake up, hungover as hell and wonder why there is a Trojan Horse. Looking past the mostly stupid quests, it is a ton of fun to run up to a military camp or a huge fortress and pick off enemies one by one, quietly, and undetected. And once you are done and nobody is left you stroll out the main gate with your head raised high, feeling like the king of the hill. This feels so great. Ultimately, in my second playthrough I uncovered the whole map and all its locations and ignored the story for as a long as I could. The core gameplay mechanic is very entertaining and that is what led me to just do it all over again, only with a different character – and because I wanted to get the happy ending. There are some conversation pieces that do matter in the end. However, they are not the optional ones the game could get rid of if it were up to me. Visiting all places also resulted in my character already having a lot of those go-fetch quest items when I talked to people. I would not recommend playing this way though. It is kinda nuts and it did not even reward an achievement. It was its own way of fun and a nice way of turning off your head and relax.
I know I have made fun of the game a lot. You must wonder why all these “features” exist in the game. The truth is, most of them are not in the way and can simply be acknowledged and that is it. I do not think all of them make for a better game, but I still spent way too much time playing than is reasonable so it cannot be that bad, right? The game is a lot of fun and there is much to like about it. If there is anything you do not like, well, the good thing is that in this open world you can probably ignore it most of the time and do whatever the hell you want.
I can definitely recommend Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. The only thing you should stay away from are the DLCs. In my opinion they are not worth the money.