We’ve (and by “we” I mean “me”) really been looking forward to Assassins Creed Odyssey ever since it was leaked online back in March of this year, and then formally announced at this year’s E3 conference in June. The bits of information that trickled out following those two events did quite a bit toward building anticipation for this title from one of Ubisoft’s seminal franchises, and now it’s finally here. While this is still an Assassins Creed title, prepare yourselves: there have been quite a few changes – some good, some…not so good. Today, we’ll dive into all of these and more when it comes to this chapter in the war between the Assassins and Templars.
Full disclosure: Since I pre-ordered the Gold Edition of the game, I have been playing since Tuesday, October 2nd. Therefore, this review may have some story elements sprinkled into it that players may not have gotten to see yet. So, as always:
**POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD**
Still with me? Good. Let’s discuss this one, shall we?
Ok. Here’s the thing. Before I say anything about the way this game looks, bear in mind that I am coming off the heels of just finishing God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man. Two visually amazing titles, both having been released this year. That being the case… I’ve got to admit, I was not as jazzed about the way Assassins Creed Odyssey looked when compared to its predecessor, Assassins Creed Origins. The motion capture on the faces didn’t quite synch up to the voice acting as well as I would have liked, some of the world’s colors looked muddled, and there just didn’t seem to be as much fine detail as I am used to seeing from this franchise. There was even a cutscene I experienced after playing for a bit where a person of color was featured prominently, and her skin looked as if it was simply made of dark brown wax.
Then there’s some of the armor and weaponry. Another place in which I felt a bit let down. For as good as the trailers made things look, I felt that there was quite a bit of detail that was lacking in how the armor and weapons looked. As someone who has been fascinated by martial weaponry and armor of pre-firearm times, I felt like there could have been more done to show off how these things looked.
Finally, there’s the cutscene animations. As I mentioned earlier, the motion capture in these scenes didn’t quite match up to earlier iterations, and I think that that’s due to the fact that the characters seem to make unnecessarily sweeping gestures for…well…almost everything. Watching Kassandra (I picked her to play as) move her arms as if she was gesturing to a crowd, when she’s talking to one person right in front of her, is a bit jarring, and felt like it didn’t quite fit the mood of the conversations.
All in all, this game’s visuals didn’t quite hit that mark for me. The look of everything is kind of underwhelming, if I do say so. And this is coming from a fan of the series since its inception! It almost hurts me to be this critical of any Assassins Creed game, but I feel that I need to be honest with you, dear readers.
Those of us who have stuck with the Assassins Creed franchise for the last 10+ years, have done so for several reasons. One of the main ones being the story of two clandestine factions who have been at war with one another for millennia (even longer, if you think about the lore in the story). Therefore, one expects great writing from such a narrative-driven series. This chapter of the story is a bit different, however. Rather than get you invested early with tales of familial love and loss, the story just kind of dumps you into the life of an already established mercenary, who has grown up on a small island in Greece. Running errands for the man who raised you, it’s clear that your character (whether that be Alexios or Kassandra) longs for something more, and wants to experience the world that’s out there – even if he/she doesn’t know it yet.
Still, as I progressed through the first couple of core missions in the game, I couldn’t help but feel like the writing was somewhat…off. Even a few missions in, it just didn’t feel like there was a lot of motivation for Kassandra to do the things that were being put before her to do. Sure, go here, take out this person, deliver this message, rescue a grizzled captain… It’s all well and good, and slowly begins to set up the story; but it just didn’t feel like there was any sense of urgency or push to get these things done. I’m hoping that’ll change as the game progresses, but for now, the writing just feels a bit stilted. There are even some anachronisms in a couple of the earlier cutscenes (when your friend tells you to “Bring it in” for a hug, for instance). However, the addition of dialogue options (a la The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt) does make for some interesting conversation with various NPCs, and I am looking forward to seeing how choice affects the game overall. Ubisoft is taking a leap here, and I am still rooting for it to pay off for them.
This, friends, is where some of the biggest changes have been made. While climbing and free-running in the game function much the same as they have in previous chapters, Assassins Creed Odyssey brings in some new mechanics when it comes to combat. Much like in Assassins Creed Origins, there are three ability trees: Hunter, Warrior, and Assassin. However, with those ability trees, the skills and perks that you select as you level up can be mapped to the controller buttons. On the PS4, for instance, abilities get mapped to the triangle, square, circle, and X buttons for use during combat. The kicker is, that 2 skills can be mapped to each button – depending on whether they are for ranged attacks or melee. The use of the L2 and R2 triggers denote which of the attacks you use on any given button at any given time, and each of these skills are made to suit different play styles. If you want to be stealthy and silent, you may appreciate the Rush Assassination ability – allowing you to launch the Spear of Leonidas at a single enemy from afar, and immediately follow up with a close-up kill shot. Conversely, if you would rather go in to a battle with sword swinging, choose the Bull Rush or Spartan Kick (I had a lot of fun with this one). With these new controls, though, comes a learning curve. Those of us used to simply attacking and dodging in Assassins Creed games may take a bit to get used to the new scheme. With some practice, though, you’ll be slicing and skewering your way through the Spartan and/or Athenian Army.
Another new addition to Assassins Creed Odyssey that I thought was really clever, isn’t really even a “new” addition. Remember the posters in Assassins Creed II that showed what amounted to your “wanted” level? In that chapter, you had to kill those who accused you, tear down posters, and bribe people to look the other way. Well, the notoriety system is back, only this time, you’ve got bounty hunters who trail you whenever you reach levels of notoriety for doing things that society deems unacceptable (e.g. sinking merchant ships, stealing in towns, killing innocents, etc.). You can lower the notoriety in one of three ways in this game:
- Kill those who accuse you (they mainly hang out in forts).
- Wait it out without raising it further. It’ll eventually go back down to zero.
- (Try to) Kill the mercenary that comes for your head. These guys (and gals) are tough, and they each have specific strengths and weaknesses about them. The first one I encountered was resistant to ranged attack (i.e. arrows), but had a small weakness to poison. Picking and choosing how (and when) to approach these mercs is going to be one of those things that could mean the difference between a life of wealth for your character, and a painful death.
Speaking of Sparta and Athens, it should go without saying that this game is set in Ancient Greece. We all kind of figured this out when the game information leaked on to the internet, and when an Ubisoft employee was seen handling a Spartan helmet keychain. The bulk of Assassins Creed Odyssey takes place during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Both armies are prominently shown in the game, and as a bonus to the player, you kind of have an opportunity to lend your skills to either side of the fight.
But, I digress. As usual, Ubisoft has done their homework on the setting of this title. Greece feels like a bustling world all its own, with soldiers, merchants, civilians walking around, and farm animals grazing in their fields. There are temples featuring the gods of the Greek pantheon that dot the cities and towns, and even a giant statue of Zeus right near the beginning of the game (it’s actually the first of the game’s famous Vantage Points you’ll get to synchronize with). Even with the aforementioned graphics issues, I really liked the way the developers were able to capture the feel of not only a place like Ancient Greece, but the time period as well. So, while there are the occasional anachronisms (like I mentioned above) in the dialogue, everything else looks and feels like it was plucked right out of the time of Odysseus and Heracles (that’s how the Greeks spelled it).
Now, let me not forget to mention that Greece. Is. HUGE. The map for this game is enormous, with a ton of areas to visit and explore. What’s interesting about this, though, is that even with a map of such a daunting size, it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The landscape feels easy to traverse, and getting from place to place doesn’t ever feel like a slog. There’s a lot to do, and a lot to pick up, yes. Still, you always have that ultimate goal of where you need to go marked clearly on your compass, and it never feels too far away.
This is one of Assassins Creed Odyssey‘s biggest saving graces. With the fact that the dialogue choices affect the game in both immediately visible and invisible ways, I can’t help but wonder where the paths I didn’t take will lead me. I know that, once I finish this run-through of the game, I’ll be back to start another playthrough of it; just to make different choices than I did the first time around. I just hope that by that time, Ubisoft will have patched some of the issues that I’ve encountered.
All things considered, Assassins Creed Odyssey is a good game, but not my favorite chapter in this franchise. It has some kinks that probably should have been better ironed out in the quality assurance phase of development, and the character models could have used a little more polish. Coming from a die-hard fan of the series, it almost hurts me to be this critical about an Assassin’s Creed game. However, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I weren’t being honest with you, dear readers. Still, the game is fun, and I look forward to seeing where it takes us in the Assassins vs. Templars story.
4 Spears of Leonidas out of 5