After Ubisoft told the story of how the Assassins Brotherhood came to be in 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, few expected the series to go further back in time. After witnessing the birth of the Brotherhood, you would have been forgiven for thinking that the only way to go was forward, so when we found out that with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the series would be taking us to 400 years before the secret war between the Assassins and the Templars even began, there was no shortage of skepticism among fans. As it turns out, though, this was probably the smartest thing Ubisoft could have done. Free from the shackles of the structure and conventions that have defined this series since 2007, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey successfully does new things, both in narrative and in gameplay, while also feeling like a familiar experience for veterans of the franchise.
In a lot of ways, Odyssey builds upon the strong foundation that Origins put in place for the franchise’s new direction last year, following a similar structure, similar mechanics, and a similar look. But the structure that it builds on those foundations feels significantly more fleshed out and refined. Though the game is still framed within the modern-day Abstergo storyline, with Origins’ Layla Hassan returning for another outing, Odyssey isn’t beholden to the eponymous Assassin’s Creed anymore. The tale of Kassandra (or Alexios) is a deeply personal one, with a tone and flavour that feels unlike anything else the series has ever done, and it’s almost consistently interesting.
"Free from the shackles of the structure and conventions that have defined this series since 2007, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey successfully does new things, both in narrative and in gameplay, while also feeling like a familiar experience for veterans of the franchise."
The writing falters a bit at times, though, such as in instances where characters seem all too willing to throw in their lot with each other for no reason other than to serve the narrative, and it does hurt the credibility of the story a little bit. Of course, there’s a larger story to tell here as well, with conspiracies, secret organizations, and massive wars – the usual Assassin’s Creed shenanigans – all acting as the backdrop for this personal tale, but they never feel too overbearing. Odyssey manages to strike the right balance between its two halves, and seems to know when to focus on which side of its tale. It also helps that the larger stories it does tell are quite interesting, with perhaps the most forward momentum we’ve seen in this series in many years.
One of the biggest additions Odyssey has made to the Assassin’s Creed formula is that of player choice, steering the series completely into RPG territory. In everything from dialogue to even which protagonist you want to play as, the game offers you choices. Dialogue choices in particular feel meaningful, not because they significantly alter the course of the story, but because they let you role play quite effectively. Do you want to be a cold-hearted mercenary who cares only about money, or do you instead want to fight for what’s right? Or perhaps you want to strike a balance between the two? Either way, the game enables you to make whichever choice you see fit, and even though the protagonist you choose to play as has their own pre-defined personality, Odyssey gives you plenty of freedom to add flesh on top of those bones. The disposition and general outlook of Kassandra or Alexios is yours to define, so at least in terms of a more personal and zoomed in perspective, it feels like your choices have actual weight.
When it comes to the larger narrative, the choice and consequence mechanics don’t hit quite so hard, and a lot of the broader story beats play out more or less the way they would have either way (at least on the critical path). Every now and then, some of your earlier choices might rear their head in interesting ways, especially in some of the meatier side quests, while how the game ends is also impacted by some key choices you make throughout the course of your journey, but other than a few instances, the weight of your choices isn’t nearly as pronounced as in something like, say, The Witcher 3, which is what Odyssey so clearly tries to emulate a lot of the times.
"Dialogue choices in particular feel meaningful, not because they significantly alter the course of the story, but because they let you role play quite effectively."
For the most part, the choice and consequence mechanics still work out, by impacting stories and arcs on a more microcosmic level. When viewed in isolation, it’s easy to pinpoint the impact of your decisions on single quests or questlines, and what this does, more than anything else, is inject a heavy dose of much needed variety to quests and how they’re designed. That little bit of unpredictability and the added layer of player agency keeps things far more interesting and far less rote than what fans of Assassin’s Creed games are probably used to. Hunting down and finishing quests doesn’t feel like busywork anymore, and the majority of them offer small little stories that usually do enough to hold your attention. It also helps that quest design is inherently stronger too, even if you take player choice out of the equation- just as an example, the trailing missions that have plagued this series on so many occasions are now mostly nothing more than a memory.
Even outside of the main story missions, the simple act of playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey feels a lot more varied and enjoyable than most other Assassin’s Creed games in recent years. Thanks to the fact that you’re not playing as an assassin anymore, but as a mercenary who is bound by no code but your own, you can basically do whatever you want in the open world. Doing so, however, leads to people putting bounties on your head in a Wanted level system similar to GTA games (but a lot more permanent). You can lower your wanted level through various means, such as by killing mercenaries that are hunting for you, killing whoever put the bounty on your head, or by simply laying low for a while. It’s a fun system that doesn’t radically change anything, but mixes things up just enough to keep them fresh and interesting.
Later on in the game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey also adds another meaty arc that forms a significant (yet separate) part of the larger story, which essentially entails an entire web of targets for you to take out, scattered across the entire map. To assassinate these targets, you’re required to first uncover their identities, which you do by gathering clues about them. Killing more targets gives you more clues about other targets, allowing you to move toward the centre of the aforementioned web. It’s all too easy to get addicted to this loop, which is bolstered by a constant sense of progression and forward momentum, while the fact that you can continue this large and mostly separate quest even after the main story has finished, making it as compulsory as you want it to be, serves as an added bonus.
"Hunting down and finishing quests doesn’t feel like busywork anymore, and the majority of them offer small little stories that usually do enough to hold your attention."
The setting of Ancient Greece is another one of Odyssey’s biggest strengths. Even at its lowest points, this series has featured some of the best, most beautiful, and most immersive settings one can find in open world games, but Odyssey’s world is perhaps Assassin’s Creed’s highest point in its eleven year history. The world is large and beautiful, full of colour and visual variety, and unlike, say Origins’ Ancient Egypt, it doesn’t get too same-y in terms of its environments. There’s a lot to see here, and almost every new area you visit feels distinct, with a strong identity of its own. Exploration is also a lot more enjoyable as a result, and also because it’s broken up regularly by naval sections. And though ship exploration and combat isn’t nearly as much of a focus as it was in Black Flag, it doesn’t feel out of place, and feels like a valuable aspect of the game, thanks mostly to how much it contributes to the entire experience’s diversity in terms of visuals, combat, and exploration.
Yet another area where Odyssey proves to be a high point for the series is combat. To be fair, combat hasn’t ever really been one of Assassin’s Creed’s strong suits, and even though Origins did make some much-needed improvements in the area, things were still far from perfect. In Odyssey, they’re still not perfect, but combat feels a lot more visceral and enjoyable than it ever has. Several encounters can be legitimately challenging, and the game constantly demands the player’s attention and involvement. Odyssey builds on the hitbox-based combat system that Origins introduced, but makes things quite different by speeding things up considerably- duels are a lot more fast paced than they ever have been, enemies are a lot deadlier (especially in larger numbers), and you constantly have to be on your toes. Dodging is key, and making use of all the abilities and special skills you unlock is even more important. Additionally, each weapon type, from daggers and swords to axes, spears, and hammers, also feels suitably unique and fun to use.
Certainly, in the first couple hours or so, Odyssey’s combat can feel a bit button mashy, with the dodges, light attacks, and heavy attacks being the only options available to you, but bit by bit the game adds layers on top of layers. You unlock more skills and newer moves, and making use of these becomes almost central to fights. These moves are executed by landing hits or executing dodges, which fills up your adrenaline bar, and each special skill or move that you use eats away one section of your bar. As such, relying completely on your skill moves isn’t ever an option, and you constantly have to make sure you have enough adrenaline for when you might have need of it. Healing is also no longer done by consuming potions, but is delegated to being one of these special moves that you need to unlock yourself- in crucial moments, deciding whether you want to use that last bar of adrenaline to heal yourself or to execute a devastating strike can also mean life and death. Parrying at the perfect moment also opens up a window to land a flurry of attacks, and in a mechanic that is quite similar to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, executing a perfect dodge slows down time for a few seconds to land a series of satisfyingly devastating hits on your enemies. Using all the moves and options available to you in conjunction turns combat into a deadly, exciting ballet that offers a lot more player agency than this series has been known for till now.
"Using all the moves and options available to you in conjunction turns combat into a deadly, exciting ballet that offers a lot more player agency than this series has been known for till now."
Odyssey’s skill tree is also a lot more balanced than what we saw in Origins. The game provides a great deal of variety in these special unlockable skills. From iconic Spartan kicks (which you can use to great effect if you experiment with it during both, combat and stealth sections), to rushing at enemies with charged attacks, to raining down a flurry of arrows at them from a distance while you hide in a bush, Odyssey’s skill tree provides extremely effective options across several disciplines of combat, making melee, stealthy, and ranged approaches almost equally viable. The fact that you can re-spec whenever you want – in case you want to tailor your build to meet the requirements of a specific task at hand – adds another layer of agency. This is something I can speak to myself, since doing so and subsequently changing my approach helped me out with at least three boss fights in my playthrough.
Sadly, for all the improvements that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey makes in combat, it still remains something of a disappointment in terms of stealth. Thanks simply to its varied progression system and skill tree, stealth is a more feasible approach than it has been in years. The problem, however, is that the mechanics the stealth centres around just aren’t convincing enough. Enemy AI seems to have very a short memory span, while running out of enemies’ line of sight and returning a few seconds later also almost always remains a perfectly viable option, making the stealth sections extremely easy to cheese. Is it an improvement over Origins and other previous Assassin’s Creed games? Certainly- but then again, that isn’t necessarily a high benchmark to begin with.
In the visuals department, Odyssey is a stunning beast- not one without flaws, but a remarkable achievement nonetheless. Ancient Greece’s colourful and visual variety is something I’ve already mentioned, but its vibrant and vivid look cannot be praised enough. Standing at the edge of a mountaintop and looking out at the vast world as it stretches out in all directions around you can be truly breathtaking. Furthermore, Odyssey’s skybox also deserves high praise- it’s a weirdly specific thing to point out, but one that bears mentioning nonetheless. During nighttime, you can see the stars glimmering and glittering in beautiful clusters; out at sea, you can see a fearsome looking storm rolling in toward your direction from a distance; as dusk falls, you can physically see the large, orange sun sinking into the sea and setting into the horizon.
"In the visuals department, Odyssey is a stunning beast- not one without flaws, but a remarkable achievement nonetheless."
There are a lot of moments of visual splendour in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which are also backed up by a solid soundtrack. That said, like most other Assassin’s Creed games, Odyssey is also lacking in polish. For instance, with conversations no longer being scripted cutscenes, thanks to dialog options, there are a lot more canned animations in the game, which are used way too much. As such, characters have exaggerated movements that can often feel off and pull you out of the experience every now and then. Additionally, there are also a few minor bugs in the game, such as Kassandra’s (or Alexios’) hands going through the geometry when climbing surfaces, or horses making some strange jumps. Additionally, there was also one glitch in particular that saw me getting stuck inside the geometry of my ship. After floating around in the innards of my ship for about five minutes and realizing there was no way out, I was forced to restart the game (thankfully, though, due to the game’s autosaving, I didn’t lose much progress).
Last year, Assassin’s Creed Origins laid down a solid blueprint for the series to follow as it sought to reinvent itself in the wake of a serious case of fatigue, and Odyssey not only follows that blueprint to great effect, but also expands upon it significantly. This is one of the best Assassin’s Creed games Ubisoft has ever made, joining the likes of Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood at the very top of the franchise’s hierarchy. While its choice and consequence mechanics aren’t radical reinventions, they add a great deal of agency and variation to the proceedings, while a beautiful and varied setting, a meaningful progression system, a ton of enjoyable content, and the series’ best combat system all come together to deliver a memorable odyssey.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Dialogue choices allow you to role play effectively; An intriguing story that strikes the right balance between personal and large-scale arcs; Ancient Greece is a large and beautiful setting with a lot of visual diversity; Exploration – both naval and on land – is a lot of fun; Quest design and variety has been improved significantly; Lots of meaningful and enjoyable content; Satisfying, visceral combat that demands constant attention and involvement; Meaningful progression that gives access to several varied and effective moves and abilities; Stunning, vibrant visuals; Great soundtrack.
Writing can be inconsistent; Overused canned animations; A few bugs and glitches; Stealth mechanics feel half-baked.