Rather than being a big grand adventure into the heart of ancient Greece culture during a tumultuous historical period, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey feels like a grind-fest that only gets more demanding over time.
Ubisoft's big new Grecian Assassin's Creed game is quite layered with ways to soak up your entertainment time. Now I know all games in the series are time sinks, but Odyssey feels like it's been specifically designed to prolong gaming sessions through artificially stretching things out. I find myself lost in the plethora of distractions, whether it's gathering materials, discovering loot, buying new items and upgrading old ones, and questing--all of which don't feel engaging or necessarily rewarding. In short, Odyssey feels like busywork at the beginning, and it probably doesn't get much better as time goes by.
Right from the start Odyssey felt a bit off. Origins started out with an interesting and rather exotic look and feel, and pulled me right into Bayek's life. But Odyssey starts off rather drab in this respect. After beating up a few bad guys I ran around the island, looting and exploring. Picking up a group of mats, I realized that old familiar chore would be back--looking for deposits, killing fauna for skins, and looting millions of containers for random rewards. All so I could get better so I had a chance of taking on enemies and progressing the story.
The RPG mechanics have been designed so we keep playing. All of the systems feed into each other and are ordinal: one progression point leads to another, and the next leads to the next. This is to be expected. But how this mechanic is executed makes all the difference, and Odyssey feels like it's just a rote grind towards completion, and that the goalposts have been elongated just for the sake of tempting gamers with microtransactions than actually rewarding them.
Even at the start I was tempted to buy the $10 permanent EXP boost. I was also tempted to buy some good gear. I'm level 6 now and have only found a handful of blue gear, despite having looted multiple areas like shipwrecks and cave chests--even killing a level 5 mercenary while I was level 2 didn't reap any great rewards.
Right now I feel like Odyssey is holding back its hand. I feel like the game is promising greatness around the next corner. Level up again, take on that quest, search for that badass piece of gear and you'll get where you want to be. The only problem here is as soon as you get there, you're instantly pushed towards the next tier. The game is always ready to serve you with new things to do, but if these things are just almost exactly like what you just did only a little differently then the immersion barrier starts to break down.
Did you beat that quest? Okay, here's another one. Slain that general? Go take out the next one, or annihilate this bandit camp. Spent time diligently searching and farming mats to upgrade your gear? Here's a piece of armor that's better--or conversely, you're met with a baddie who teaches you you're longer as good as you thought you were.
Randomized gear was once compelling and interesting, but now it feels like a slog. This is especially true as enemies scale with difficulty, giving you brief reprieve or sense of accomplishment for acquiring that new badass weapon. As soon as you get somewhere in Odyssey it feels like the ladder just resets and you have to start from the beginning again.
Odyssey is really feeling like a live service game and that's exactly what Ubisoft wants.
After all, engagement is king, and what better way to push microtransactions than to make the grind so heavy users want to pay some cash to spare their precious free time? For this system to work properly the game has to be fun and compelling first, and Origins really had a better setup.
Yes, Origins had microtransactions, and yes, it had crafting materials, but the game was more liberal with its rewards (both figuratively and literally) and wrapped things in mystique rather than busywork.
Also remember Ubisoft isn't making an Assassin's Creed game for 2019. Company president and co-founder Yves Guillemot said Odyssey will keep users "playing for years to come," and this artificial grindy system will be the foundation for long-term play.
This kind of pushing and scaling feels too rigorous and should be met with more care. But Ubisoft loves selling microtransactions (like any publisher) and Odyssey feels like a slow burn experience whose mechanics are just too
It's true that quests are more multi-faceted and the dialog system adds some flair to the experiences, but they only seem to push your never-ending grind for XP and gear rather than having meaning. The dialog sequences don't seem to go very far and aren't that interactive--only a few times are there tidbits of lore peppered in. The characters just seem like vehicles for things to do rather than living, breathing individuals.
Maybe they get better the farther you go in the game. I hope so. But for right now the main and side quests just seem like boxes to tick off on some list, ditto for all of the icons and busywork-style XP grinding and material gathering.
Odyssey might be built on Origins' framework, but it's much more heavy-handed with its time soaking properties to the point where it feels like the series went backwards a bit. I feel a bit inundated not only with things to do, but with stuff to collect, and it's not necessarily a good feeling.
And I haven't even gotten to the ship-crew management yet! That adds even more depth to the layered time-sink.
Hopefully things get better as I level up and build Kassandra into a fearsome Spartan warrior...but I don't think so. I've heard the third act is mercilessly grindy and I'm not looking forward to that so much. Maybe this is how Ubisoft wants to monetize singleplayer games now, or maybe this was an experiment to see what happens.
Either way, Odyssey feels like it's suffering from the age-old Assassin's Greed that plagued the series up until Origins' reboot.
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