Before I’d compulsively bought the eleventh ‘main’ series game in Ubisoft‘s Assassin’s Creed franchise I took stock, as I always do, of my experience with the series thus far. I entered as a devout Prince of Persia series fan looking for an open world game and I got a terrible stealth game in the original Assassin’s Creed. Assassin’s Creed II was a fantastic game and each entry after that lost my interest more, finally avoiding the series post-Assassin’s Creed III until the promising return of Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which exhausted me to no end. As I tried to figure if it was even worth the half-price markdown that came with the digital purchase the major value judgement I made came from an enduring interest in Greek history, culture, philosophy, and music yet, when I began to play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey it became clear that I’d overlooked the obtuse, bland strokes that the series has always painted within their ‘historical fiction’ universe. Odyssey is not a classic Greek tale of triumph and fated fall nor is it a great, sweeping battle through the Peloponnesian War as it had suggested on the box. Rather Odyssey is a stock-standard action RPG starring a jocular, heedless mercenary as he/she kills anything and anyone in the way of reuniting their fractured family history. Fated to death by underhanded conspiracy that’d been spearheaded by the ‘Cult of Kosmos’ the character miraculously survives a 300-esque opening sequence only to arrive well into adulthood on the shores of the isle of Kephallonia, doing whatever he must do to survive as a murderous thug. I chose to play as Alexios and frankly it doesn’t matter which sex you choose because they’re both idiotic, murderous scum that’ll only pretend to be clever when the game forces brief, childish exchanges with Sokrates mid-game. After spending 75.5 hours controlling Alexios I cannot recommend Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey for its story or quest design but I can suggest that its extreme length and detailed world offer the most dense and bountiful set of mindless tasks to perform in an Ubisoft open world game yet.
Normally I would cut right to the chase and summarize the story of the game as succinctly as possible but, I’m sure most people could figure where things go based on the previous paragraph. In fact there are nine total endings to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and each rely heavily on your loyalty (or disloyalty) to family and friends. The addition of choice smacks of Mass Effect and Elder Scrolls advances in the PC RPG space though your choices are binary outside of the option to gamble a lie fairly often during smaller, less important quests. As you progress from a dirtbag mercenary to a turncoat god-hero of little consequence the true currency of ancient Greece in Ubisoft’s 431 BCE setting is death. There is absolutely no negative consequence for murder and I couldn’t stop thinking about how this series had taken such a nosedive since 2007. One of the most compelling aspects of the original Assassin’s Creed trilogy was that these assassins were a secret order formed to protect the helpless, to only kill the villainous and sway population from ruin under tyranny. Alexios can quite capably kill every human and animal he encounters from the start of the game, excluding children, and the only consequence is a GTA-style ‘wanted’ meter where wealthy politicos fund hit contracts on you. This typically results in up to five mercenaries (of equal or closer level) pursuing your character wherever you go. If you’ve played either Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor series games you’ll quickly recognize this version of the Nemesis system, albeit a slightly more lawless version. This mercenary system is perhaps the only challenging and interesting reason to engage in and perfect combat skill combinations yet the only real bonus from reaching the highest tiers of mercenary status comes with receiving discounts at shops when buying, enhancing, and selling gear. It will all feel a bit pointless 50 hours in when you’ve got all you need and 300,000 drachmae to burn.
The ‘point’ of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is perhaps its most endearing quality in the sense that once you’ve gotten your ship and had a few conversations the ship captain plainly states that there is no rush and the journey is all about having fun and exploring. Go ahead and take your time if you must but I’d reached nearly level 35 before I began to approach the main storyline and when I realized that I’d need to play at least another 40 hours to complete the plot, I was already more or less tired of the gameplay, characters and world. That Cult of Kosmos I’d mentioned previous? There are 42 of them and only a few are handed to you before you become a hunter who must methodically research and assassinate each. You might have to liberate an entire city-state and dig through every quest in an area to find a single clue to the whereabouts to a cult member. This was both the most fun aspect and most frustrating grind of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. I basically breezed through this game on the Normal difficulty setting thanks to the 70+ hours I spent with Origins, Odyssey is basically the same gameplay with some small changes to abilities and controls. To really get to those cult members swiftly and not have to fight a city, ten mercenaries, three captains, a polemarch, and the cult leader on top of that you’ll really benefit from specializing in skills across the three major builds/classes the game funnels you towards. The hunter specializes in archery, the warrior specializes in melee combat, and the assassin focuses on stealth one-hit kills. I found that a good mix of each became necessary to rip through the generally stupid and persistent AI therein. Being able to run a string of four one-hit assassinations, headshot 4-8 enemies at once, then clean up the rest with my spear abilities made for a gameplay experience just verging on Dynasty Warriors levels of arcade-like murder during the endgame stages.
Taking that analogy one step further, there are conquest battles as Delian (Athenian) and Peloponnesian (Spartan) Leagues ebb and flow as they take control of different parts of the map, allowing you to join in with large scale battles and earn rare gear in doing so. As fun as this might sound it is a pointless diversion and earns very little reward compared to completing character and story quest lines. As much fun as you’ll have playing with gear, such as a bow that automatically shoots fire arrows with each pull, or abilities (such as the ‘tame’ ability that recruits animals as fighters) much of what you’ll be tasked with is exploration, theft, and mass murder. If that sounds fun you can absolutely just run around killing everything you see for 40 hours and you’ll complete a great deal of quests simply exploring and murdering everyone. You could play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey for 300 hours and still have timed/procedural quests to keep you going for 300 more, it is endless misanthropy and the world unfortunately scales with (or above) you throughout. As with Origins I was bored of everything around the 40th hour but it took nearly 80 to finish things, though with Origins I did -everything- and with Odyssey I did the bare minimum amount of exploration beyond great hunts, cult assassinations, and upgrading my spear. When my time was limited to 1-2 hours a day on the Playstation 4 I did begin to feel like completing Odyssey was a chore but I did admittedly want to go back and complete every smaller quest after it ended.
The trouble with the prospect of tons of DLC, a hundred more quests in the main game, and continuing on comes with the Nioh-like aspect of Odyssey’s gear systems. You get loot constantly and much of your resources will come from dismantling that copious gear (one by one!) so that you can upgrade your armor and weapons to your current level and attach custom perks to each item through engraving. You earn better engraving perks (i.e. +25% Headshot DMG, +5% CRIT Chance, All Arrows Pierce Shields) through completion of questlines, tasks, and as you progress through the skill three. I chose to emphasize critical hits, headshots, and warrior damage for most of the game until I began to use fire damage modifiers and began to really power through enemies using fire attacks. As with most action RPGs I focused on spear combat, it was very good in Origins and that same system is in tact in Odyssey. Where the gear system runs into trouble is when you’d like to switch things up and are faced with the randomly generated aspect of non-legendary armor sets where the bonuses aren’t worth it unless you’ve got Epic level rarity items that have three perks built in and one slot allowing for a fourth. At some point I didn’t want to change any of my set, despite how ugly it was, because I had +200% headshot damage, instant fire arrows, and intense critical hit damage. I’d painted myself into a corner where what I’d been doing was the only really effective option and it’d take about 3-5 hours to reset those options unless I wanted to use a Legendary armor set to determine my play style. Again, like Nioh the special armor sets take a while to obtain and require all five pieces to give additional bonuses (i.e. the Immortal Set gives a ‘second wind’ ability when you die). I stopped experimenting as a result and the combat would become even less interesting over time when faced with the prospect of a full rebuilding of my gear. Origins was undoubtedly a better game in this respect.
At some point the Skyrim-vision set in and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey became a series of repetitive tasks set in increasingly less distinct areas with protagonists that were not at all unique. Though the snap into combat was briefly entertaining as I became too strong and clever for the games AI the slog through the final set of assassinations came with little fanfare. The story reunites you with the three core members of your family at various points and depending on how you interact with them each will either live or die by your hand (or your negligence) culminating in a family gathering at the end. None of this is particularly touching or meaningful as you’ve really been swept through meaningless interactions with each where they either plead for help, offer suggestion, or threaten death. The identity of the Ghost of Kosmos (their leader) is so incredibly obvious as soon as you have the first 3-4 clues and killing her places you in a scene where… Ugh, you see Pythagoras (?!?) through a vision offered through a mystical pyramid… If you thought the ending to Assassin’s Creed II was a surprising and very stupid fucking set of events, get ready for that scene. With everything tied up in terms of my family and the cult there were a few optional Character quests to do such as research the identity of Alexios’ real father and most of these ultimately lead to gear upgrades and apparently back to the ‘real world’ aspect of Assassin’s Creed which I have zero interest in pursuing.
So, the gist: Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is a phenomenal value for those who are compelled to take a completionist approach to open world video games. Everything has a checklist, the game will hold your hand through basically everything, and none of it is truly difficult once you understand that the AI operates on very simple rules of perception and aggression. The graphics are lush, varied, colorful, and generally realistic in their deformed recreation of Greece circa 430 BCE. I could speak to the ship battles, arena, the supernatural quests and any number of other details but at this point I am so worn out by Odyssey that it becomes painful to consider how truly mediocre the experience is. Vast and senseless busywork to kill time with. Low recommendation.
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