It is not often that a game’s name feels perfect due to the layers of meaning associated with a word, but for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, it couldn’t be better. The first connection is Homer’s Odyssey, which is a Greek poem about ancient Greece and here we are in the Peloponnesian War. The second layer is that Odyssey has become a word to describe any epic journey and lastly, more specifically, it is about a journey home. Get ready for a long, winding path filled with danger, intrigue, family and friends as you find a home.
Odyssey follows through on the work Origins set in motion to revitalise the Assassin’s Creed franchise, while fully embracing the RPG side of things. For the first time ever you pick your hero, Alexios or Kassandra, and that choice is set in stone for the whole game. Besides considering the amount of work it takes to write dialogue to suit addressing both of these characters and having two protagonists’ worth of lines to record, Odyssey in itself is possibly the biggest, most intricate Assassin’s Creed game to date. Get ready to embark on a quest of discovery, of unpicking the web of lies and shadows that surround a massive cult and shifting the tides in a ruthless war between Athenians and Spartans. Speaking of choice, I played as Kassandra and Melissanthi Mahut’s voice acting is absolutely marvellous. I can hear her talking in my head as I type now.
I played as Kassandra and Melissanthi Mahut’s voice acting is absolutely marvellous.
Before the Assassins
Set before the Brotherhood, you play as a mercenary which allows you to choose which side of the war you want to fight on at any given time. This allows you a great freedom of movement without restricting you to who you kill; almost anyone can meet your blade’s pointy end, for the right price. Just be careful because there are other mercenaries out there that will come for you if you are caught murdering and stealing, hoping to net the bounty on your head. Mercenaries coming after you can be killed for money and great loot, and sometimes you might collect a bounty on their heads, but they can also arrive during a tough encounter and ruin everything, or shift the balance from manageable to almost impossible. The struggle with mercenaries becomes a risk/reward system based on your playstyle. Finish a fort with nobody seeing you and there will be no bounty on your head, but march into town and kill the guards with everyone watching you and very quickly there will be multiple bounty hunters coming to ruin your day (or give you their sweet loot, depending on your skill and luck).
Besides the mercenaries coming after you, the shifting tides of the war makes the areas feel much more alive. Zones will shift who is in control over time without your help (or interference) to show that life continues around you. You can be the point of the spear in those changes if you want to be and this system becomes rather integral to your travels across Greece. Strongholds, forts and other points of interest can be completed as normal, but if they belong to the occupying force of a region, you will slowly erode their hold on power. Killing their leader will let you join a conquest, which is a massive battlefield with hundreds of soldiers fighting it out for dominance, with you joining one side for big rewards. Killing a leader without attacking forts, burning supplies and emptying their war chest is possible, but they will be in a fortified location with many guards. Drop the nation’s power and those guards will get slack on duty due to not being paid anymore, or the leader will leave their fortified position to go pray for help, making them a much easier target. It also means that if you are hard up for some XP or a new epic item for your level, you can pursue conquest or a region to net rewards and replenish forts with fresh enemies to fight.
Being an RPG, you don’t have to make the entire focus on those sweet, sweet Drachmae though. You can play the mercenary with a softer heart, or even be ruthless depending on your choices. Dialogue choices will give an indication if your choice will be threatening or hostile, which means you can find the line you are comfortable with riding, without those accidental options where you tried to cast doubt but ended up slaughtering the entire village. My Kassandra had a heart of gold, helping out the downtrodden without demanding payment, but generally taking any which job for good money and treasure.
Your character will sometimes look like they have been levelling up in a new expansion in an MMO, with not a single piece matching any other.
The RPG elements of gear have increased too, with your armour now being a set of five items that you can equip and choose from, rather than just your weapons having rarity and special stats. As a result, your character will sometimes look like they have been levelling up in a new expansion in an MMO, with not a single piece matching any other, but that can thankfully be fixed with a handy blacksmith if you want to keep a specific set on par with your level. All gear, besides having DPS or armour based on level and rarity, is full of emblems. These emblems define what playstyle the gear is suited to, say increasing Warrior damage or making a certain skill 20% better. You can also engrave a single extra emblem into any gear piece, allowing you to tailor items to your playstyle or get that edge over a specific fight. Higher rarity items have more emblems and legendary items can have unique emblems. I was worried the system might feel like a hassle, but rather than picking up emblems, you learn the recipes for them and just pay the blacksmith to use them. Certain challenges will net you new emblems or upgrade older ones and the Papyrus riddles of Origins return, this time with the reward being an emblem recipe, making them feel much more rewarding (besides the non-material reward of solving the riddle). Stacking emblems towards your favourite skills, weapon types or playstyle can make the difference between being able to assassinate a heavy guard, or leaving them with a sliver of health after a stealth attack.
Abilities have also changed up since Origins, which had a tree which was mostly passive skills. Now you will have activated abilities that you use to shift fights. Instead of having three different bow types, you just use an ability to fire off a spread of arrows, or a sniper arrow that you can control mid-flight. For melee, you have a healing skill, or you can apply poison or fire to your weapons, or deliver a massive kick to your enemies just like Leonidas did in 300. There is something so satisfying about giving someone a good kick off of a high place, or into shark-infested waters when boarding a ship at sea. The skills you use will greatly impact the way you tackle the game’s many challenges and quests, but you can reset the tree for a few Drachmae whenever you want if you ever feel you don’t like a skill or need a change of pace.
Before the Order
Assassin’s Creed would be sorely missing something if there wasn’t a shadowy group pulling the strings and while The Order doesn’t rear its head, there is much trouble in Greece. A cult has wormed its way into the inner workings of Greece, finding positions of power to influence and profit from the current conflict. These cultists hide well, using codes and a single initial to communicate with each other. They also operate in clusters, with each cell focused on a specific area of influence. Finding clues about cultists, revealing their identity and hunting them down is an intricate, beautiful system that offers a fun, varied experience. Sometimes a cultist is easy to hunt down, or they will try to kill you, making them all too easy to discover, while others have dark, intricate webs that will require a whole chain of quests and possibly a conquest of a region to uncover and kill. Each cultist has a legendary reward for killing them and will often have a clue that points to the next cultist in their cluster, or a message that will let you glean information about the head of their cluster. This loop of finding clues, sniffing out information, acting on it and finally revealing an opponent to cut down is the most natural feeling system of finding targets I have seen in an Assassin’s Creed game and while hunting down each and every one of them to finish the main story, you want to because it is fun and because there is some story hidden behind it and solving the big mystery of who is trying to run Greece.
Finding clues about cultists, revealing their identity and hunting them down is an intricate, beautiful system that offers a fun, varied experience.
To help you keep track of what needs to be done, the quest system has some neat reminders of what you are doing, split between several key tasks, and reminders of which quests relate to those tasks. Bigger quests are grouped by chapter and some quests will have nested support quests that remind you that these quests supplement the main one, so that you don’t try them in the wrong order or feel confused about how to progress. It helps to keep the quest log organised because it ends up with a whole lot of quests. Thankfully quests are also sorted in a way that makes you realise which is important and which isn’t. For example, contracts net you big rewards, but you will finish them by doing other tasks, while bounties will require you do them soon as they expire after 24 hours. Some quests progress only affect a certain region of the world and others are related to one of the many friends you make in the world.
Speaking of friends, there is an interesting cast of characters straight from the history books that will tickle many people’s heart and funny bone. These characters are charming and delightful and I always made sure to stop and do the quests of the lusty Alkibiades, or the forever questioning Sokrates. Having these people along gives your character more chance to shine and seeing the many friendships you make along the way makes the journey so much sweeter. In fact, I started getting slightly annoyed with using fast travel because getting on the Adrestia and talking to my ship’s crew while sailing around just felt so much better.
Long, intricate, beautiful
Along with the RPG nature, a new way of doing quests has been introduced in Odyssey. Called exploration mode, this gameplay option makes you look, think and explore a bit for many quest objectives. People will tell you where a camp was and besides listening to their descriptions and following a few hints in the quest objective box, you are no longer given a marker and a yellow area to go explore to find the objective. You need to know the lay of the land and have a fair idea of what is where, or you will have to go exploring a bit to find your objective. This change doesn’t sound so big but it made a world of difference. Suddenly I cared about big landmarks, about provinces in a region, because I might get a quest that would require that I know where a fort is on the map because someone is waiting north of it for a quest. I paid attention to the world around me and so many zones and hours later, I can still remember the places I have been and what the difference is between two regions. I was invested in this big, beautiful world.
Odyssey is a rich, complex assortment of systems and moving parts and it works wonderfully. This first foray into the genre of RPG is done so comfortably, it feels like Ubisoft has been making them for years. Just be ready for a long journey and don’t try to sprint to the finish. The beauty is in the details and my word, did they put a lot of detail here. From close friendships to intricate plots, from historical landmarks that aren’t necessarily marked on your map to going on quests to hunt several legendary creatures, this is a trip through history(ish) that you do not want to miss.