To play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is to engage in an epic hero’s journey that, like any other Assassin’s Creed game before it, is years in the making. But to review Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is to engage in a herculean task that, more than any other Assassin’s Creed game before it, is a monumental undertaking.
In that sense, Odyssey is a lot like its literary namesake, the ancient epic poem by Greek literary legend Homer that’s quite the long read. Like the latest open world game from Ubisoft, Odyssey follows the travels of an ancient hero across islands of mystery and adventure, but is just as much an introspective journey charting its own identity.
Odyssey casts us as a complex lead character who wrestles with parental rejection while casting about for their own destiny. And with a legacy of ten main games and nine spin-offs, it’s a metaphor for Assassin’s Creed itself. Beginning as a collection of compelling but odd subsystems devoted to historical simulation, the series has begun a journey towards becoming a robust action-role playing game. For better or worse, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is arguably the completion of that journey, entrenched in systems of exploration, conflict and reward that feed constantly back into themselves.
And even without all the downloadable content – free and paid – that Ubisoft intends to deliver in the months ahead, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an all-consuming experience guaranteed to keep players addicted for weeks, months or even years.
The world is more than enough
With a world map that’s more than double the size of last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, this game is built to satisfy your desire to explore. But Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s sprawling Mediterranean expanse transcends the tedium that typifies Ubisoft’s least successful games. All the quests to complete, people to kill, places to go and points to synchronize come together into one compelling weave of interlocking systems.
As Alexios or Kassandra, you won’t just discover breathtaking new vistas amidst the diverse lushness of the Mediterranean, but bump into various historical figures destined to make an impression on Greek society. Herodotus, Perikles, Hippokrates and Sokrates are more than just cheesy cameos, but are characters who key you into the nuances of ancient Greece and the formative ideas that Western civilization will be built upon.
And the deeper you plumb into the world of Odyssey, the more you’ll discover about the machinations of ancient Greece’s worst power mongers, the omnipresent conflict between the Spartans and Athenians, and the day to day hardships and realities of the Greeks. Barring a few underdeveloped exceptions, the islands each have their own character and drama unique to them.
One big question mark that hovers over one’s enjoyment of Odyssey is the extent to which the game can feel level-gated. The game’s main story campaign necessitates a modest amount of grinding before allowing you to progress. I personally took no offense, as hours of playing can slip by due to the satisfying nature of the side content. But professionally speaking, Odyssey’s grind served as a major obstacle to review.
Still, the average player needs to make peace with the fact that Odyssey is meant to be enjoyed for weeks and months rather than hours and days. Odyssey is a bottomless amphora of adventure. You’ll fight in gladiatorial arenas, and spelunk subterranean chambers for secrets. You’ll enter the Olympics, and explore ancient ruins that speak to histories and myths of long ago. You’ll face off against terrifying monsters and collect otherworldly artifacts.
“Attempts to expand Odyssey’s scope can feel comically undone by your own mercurial actions. The game is struggling to make the war provide a broader canvas for your adventures, but in execution it feels inconsequential.”
Holding out for a hero
Despite the serious overtones of Assassin’s Creed, the game casts you as one of the funniest protagonists since Syndicate’s Jacob & Evie Frye. While they operated as two sides of one playful coin, Odyssey’s Alexios and Kassandra possess a charming, roguish streak that runs through both of them, no matter how you play them. Whether you cast Alexios as a thuggish brute or Kassandra as a bleeding heart, both possess a hilarious gift for deadpan.
Which isn’t to say they don’t have differences. I played as Alexios on the PlayStation 4 and Kassandra on PC and many of their lines and responses are identical. NPCs treat them the same, using gender neutral language to cut recording costs whenever possible. Kassandra was my personal fave, demonstrating a sort of restrained impatience with the foolishness of those around her. Alexios sports some surprising depth, projecting an oversized heroism that plays like a broad cartoon, but also capable of a nurturing tone.
But what has really got the heads of RPG enthusiasts turning, is the presence of romance options. Alexios and Kassandra can hook up with several characters and these encounters, while amusing, are shallow. Once they’ve wooed a romanceable NPC, they’ll slink off for some off-screen nookie. They are still tremendously entertaining though, and add some dimension to Alexios and Kassandra’s relationship with the world around them. There are a few off-putting instances though when some innuendo is clearly written for Alexios than for Kassandra.
Regardless of who you opt to play, who you choose to seduce and what choices you make in the epic long adventure towards one of Odyssey’s nine different endings, your massive journey as Spartan exile, Eagle Bearer, misthios, Captain of the Adrestia and the West Wind will be a satisfying one.
The days are just numbered
Odyssey sustains the biggest change to Assassin’s Creed tradition that began with last year’s Origins: combat and assassination. What Origins began with hitbox-based combat and loot-based damage output and damage reduction continues here, but with even greater focus on gear customization. While shields have been discarded in favor of a more mobile two-handed / dual-wielding loadout, an emphasis has been made on dodging and parrying. The result is that combat can feel even more involved and dynamic.
Your skill trees are even more involved than they were in Syndicate though a bit less complex to navigate than in Origins. There are plenty of skill points to go around, which means you won’t be confined to just one of the three paths available to you, but specializing yields major rewards. You can become a powerful warrior who kicks his enemies off cliffs when they can’t be overpowered with devastating assaults, or sow chaos with explosive crowd-clearing arrows as a ranged hunter.
You can approach most challenges any way you want, and best of all, you can spend a small portion of gold to respec your skills at any time. With so many combinations possible through skills and gear, it’s very easy to become overpowered in Odyssey, which explains why leveled threats exist to cordon the game’s areas. This results in awkward moments like being unable to deal surprise kills on enemies or get trampled by mercenaries who look identical to the ones you’re currently slaying, but have bigger numbers over their heads.
Burn the land, boil the sea
“The average player needs to make peace with the fact that Odyssey is meant to be enjoyed for weeks and months rather than hours and days. Odyssey is a bottomless mug of adventure.”
High seas action makes a return to Assassin’s Creed in Odyssey, which is necessary to connect exploration across the many islands that make up the game’s open world. While Origins let you sail a few boats here and there, it’s in Odyssey that we get full sail exploration the likes of which hasn’t been seen since 2014’s Assassin’s Creed Rogue.
You can use your ship, the Adrestia, to take on daring challenges like searching sunken ruins for treasure and facing off against mercenaries and bounty hunters in their own ships. You can also recruit new lieutenants to add buffs to the Adrestia, whether by punching the lights out of an enemy and extending your hand to them or by finishing sidequests that end with an offer to an NPC to join your crew. The Adrestia is also fully upgradeable, meaning you’ll spend resources to improve its offensive and defensive capabilities.
Odyssey also allows you to become involved in the ongoing war between Sparta and Athens, letting you choose to hire your services out in the conflict by dismantling one side’s hold of a region and taking part in Conquest battles that decide which faction retains or gains control of it. And while it’s definitely fun to weave in and out of these crowds to take down lieutenants and polemarchs, this part of the game doesn’t feel fully thought out.
As a result, these attempts to expand Odyssey’s scope can feel comically undone by your own mercurial actions. The game is struggling to make the war provide a broader canvas for your adventures, but in execution it feels inconsequential. You might be taking down Spartan vessels because they’re in your way, but also fighting alongside them later for story reasons.
The narrative also doesn’t seem to acknowledge your conquest actions in any meaningful way, allowing you to overthrow the dominant faction repeatedly for shits and giggles. I know I did and spent a whole evening going “For Sparta! For Athens! For Sparta! For Athens!” In effect, by engaging with the war, Odyssey deliberately invites you to create dissonance between its story and your actions.
There are times when Assassin’s Creed Odyssey can feel like too much videogame. While the campaign remains a compelling adventure to follow, its level requirements demand that you constantly engage in as many corners of its world for experience and loot to progress. But despite that, Ubisoft Quebec has taken great care to ensure that the game’s constant loop of exploration, murder and looting is never the drag it is in other games.
And while some of its features don’t really land as solidly as they could, Odyssey’s ancient Greece is too wonderful to not explore, its supporting cast is too likable to ignore. It will take a long time for me to drink all of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and when I do I’ll remember it as an experience like no other.
Massive open world feels infinitely filled with surprises and adventure
Incredibly rich and detailed Greek setting
An engaging story filled with drama and comedy, as well as likable protagonist and supporting cast
Level-gated campaign progression makes grind a prerequisite to advancing the story
Rich mechanical options feed into each other to create an immersive gameplay loop
Faction-based gameplay on sea and land is writing checks to an idea that the game can’t quite cash
What I played
Progressed more than halfway through the campaign, hitting 70 hours of play time
Achieved 70% completion rate, including 26 / 50 achievements and 28 / 45 club challenges.
Killed a lot of cultists and aided in the conquest of several regions
Reached tier 5 on the Mercenary ladder
Played on: PC, PlayStation 4 Standard
[This review is based on a reviewer’s own copy on PC and review code provided for the PS4 by Ubisoft.]