Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
Kassandra exits her ship in Athens and slowly makes her way through the crowded streets with her eyes on the Parthenon. She has a contact there who can help her unravel her history and truly discover who she is. Left orphaned at a young age she is Spartan in her heart, but raised as a Mysthios or Mercenary. As she makes her way through majestic Athens she is struck by the beauty of this city, called the birthplace of democracy. Temples to the gods, statues of heroes, and finery surround her, but her focus is on finding Perikles and resuming her journey of discovery. The key is her spear, rumored to belong the great Leonidas, and she needs to know what it can do and why her family had such an artifact.
This is the world of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, the latest and most refreshing take on the Assassin’s Creed universe since Syndicate a few years back. In this installment the character for the first time ever can be chosen as a male or female and played that way for the entire adventure. Knowing that she is canon in the novel and preferring the voice actor playing Kassandra, she was the obvious choice. Plus it is pretty epic playing the entire game as, in essence, Wonder Woman, with Kassandra kicking ass and not giving a crap the entire time.
I will touch on mechanics and cool new features of this game shortly, but what has impressed me most about Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is that I am not playing it like I ever played a previous AC title. I am playing in Exploration Mode and that has transformed the experience into something truly wonderful and magical. While I have always been a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series I generally get fatigued about two thirds of the way through the story as I am diverted over and over to all the side quests marked on my map. I always want all the flags or chests or notes or whatever the developer stuffed into the game and generally that took me away from the marvels in the game itself.
With Exploration Mode, missions are not queued on the map with a marker. Instead there are a few hints given that outline a location. This made me actually listen to the quest dialogue when they say something is at the top of a peak, or in the cove by the bay I needed to pay attention. It made me actually look at all the sculptures, statues, and monuments scattered around and lovingly created by the developer while I explore. It made me truly enjoy the art of discovery which in previous games I took for granted.
It also makes me want them to patch this in to ALL their recent games. Imagine London in AC: Syndicate where you actual enjoy the city, or Egypt in AC: Origins where the land comes alive. There are still question marks all over the map that nag at my OCD senses, but because I am wandering to find my accepted mission I generally run over these sites anyway.
For the first time since the first Assassin’s Creed game I am truly getting an experience and real wonder, as I explore the incredibly realized splendor of ancient Greece. Every ridge I top or city I explore is a new treat for my senses and I wonder why this change was not implemented long ago. I am fully immersed in this universe and this change truly enhances the RPG scope Ubisoft has shifted the series into. Now that I am invested in exploring the world, I want my character to grow and develop within that sphere.
For example, even though Sparta rejected Kassandra I was determined to side with them as often as possible. I don’t take Spartan bounties, I leave their ships alone, and if I see a Spartan camp I may steal from their chests, but I will avoid killing them as much as possible. This was never something I did in previous games; a soldier was a soldier, an officer was an officer, I generally did not care as long as I could get the loot or objective marked on my map. With these markers gone, unless I find them myself I can free myself to play in the role I craft for myself.
Regarding the RPG shift, it is more firmly in focus here after being introduced heavily in Origins. Kassandra levels up and can choose skills, her strength and hit points go up, and gear is found, equipped, and upgraded. Side missions as you level can award rarer and rarer gear and as in RPG’s like Diablo there are matching sets that convey bonuses if equipped together.
Skill points can feed into Hunter, Warrior and Assassin branches to really change the style of play to suit what you want. Even the weapon types vary greatly, from swords and ultra-fast daggers to long-range spears and slow but deadly heavy weapons. These weapons, plus a bow that can be upgraded, and her spear of Leonidas that also contains the potential to grow in power, make Kassandra a deadly force.
Combat is slightly further refined from the vastly redefined systems of AC: Origins. The bow has been simplified to one option with skills obtained to give the spread, and predator-style shots available only by switching weapons in the previous game. The assassination mechanic is also a little different as there is no hidden blade; instead it’s done with the spear of Leonidas.
The Assassin skill tree offers many ways to upgrade the strength of assassination strikes as well as perform them from a distance. Equipment plays a big part in play style, as gear parts have perks in each skill tree, so a configuration can be made to strengthen certain attack styles over others.
Early in Kassandra’s journey I obtained a ship that becomes a floating base where crew can be recruited and the ship upgraded in all manner of ways to make it a deadly vessel. The ship is crucial for exploring the Islands around Greece as well as pursuing and attacking enemy forces on the water. Ship battle is very similar to AC: Black Flag even to the extent of loot able to be salvaged in the Ocean after battles or boarding ships to fight enemies head on. It was really gratifying to truly get back to a naval component after it being missing for so many titles.
Another interesting addition: mercenaries who started hunting me as I caused more chaos. If I raided bases or outposts and took down region leaders my bounty would grow and more mercenaries would start tracking me. These mercs are VERY tough generally but can be taken down if approached with care. Bounties can also be removed by paying them off or killing the bounty holder. I preferred to keep taking these mercenaries out, as they generally dropped amazing loot, and if dispatched non-lethally they could be enlisted to join your crew. These high-level lieutenants can add perks to your ship, but also assist in ship boarding battles in a major way. The mercenary system also awards perks from merchants as you dispatch more and more of them, which makes Kassandra rise in the Mysthios ranks.
As far as the story and side quests go this game has a very complex and satisfying main storyline, although I dislike the voice actor behind Alexios (the male option) greatly so every time he mingled into the story I cringed. Regardless the main story takes some fantastical twists and turns that bring us to places I was not expecting. The side quests vary from typical fetch and kill missions to some very complex multi-part mini-storylines that are not essential but are quite fun and rewarding. There are also MAJOR side quests that are completely optional, such as the present-day sequences, Daughters of Artemis hunts, and discovering your parentage.
Ignoring the side missions is definitely an option but so much great loot and story beats will be missed if you do. The magic I found in this title is to flow down the story mode and key side missions (flagged by a black and yellow marker) and do the optional sides as they pass by. Changing my focus from finding everything to just enjoying the world and the fun story beats made this one of the freshest and most enjoyable Assassin’s Creed games in years.
I’m glad to see Ubisoft taking some risks to change up the established formula of the series and go in interesting directions. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a marvel and well worth playing for many reasons, but simply experiencing and exploring the stunning world is the icing on the cake. Plus as you can see from the above picture that I got a magical unicorn, and that makes any game amazing!