An introduction into to the Ancient World of Greece
Release Date: October 5, 2018
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Genre: Action, Adventure, Open-World
For the longest time, I've wanted two things in the Assassin's Creed franchise: a game centered around the splendor of ancient Hellenistic Egypt, and a game that tapped the wonders of ancient Greece. Those dreams came to be in the form of some of the best-designed and purely enjoyable entertainment experiences in today's modern landscape, and it's the latter we'll be talking about today.
There's magic in Assassin's Creed: Odyssey--so much in fact that I'm starting to think Ubisoft employs mystical wizards instead of developers. Odyssey is in-fact an odyssey. The very word conjures up a grand sweeping adventure across the exotic and craggy isles of Greece itself, sails high and ship cutting through the blue Aegean, with gods, psirens and terrifying minotaurs laying in wait. That's really what Odyssey is; your personal journey across a veritable playground that blurs history with myth and fact with legend to create this mystifying expedition. The game stimulates your imagination in so many ways (at least it did mine) and really taps that inner curiosity that's sparked by museums or universities. There's a very real hunger to know and see more and Ubisoft has provided a sumptuous banquet for our minds.
That feeling of Herculean enterprise is ever-present in Odyssey. Apart from the action-based mechanics which make you feel like a god-king (or -queen) armed with Leonidas' spear, the world itself is shrouded in exotic myth. Sometimes you'll see ruins of a colossal snake at a temple or an impossibly large boar to drive this point home, but other times it's the sheer brilliance and beauty of cities like Violent-Crowned Athens that leave you spellbound.
There's so much to see, so much to explore, so much to do...but it's all paced in a way that isn't necessarily overwhelming but appeals to your natural open-world sensibilities. The world is absolutely infused with this sense of endless possibility, of adventure waiting around the next corner, all awash in a sea of grandiose visuals that immerse you in an ancient world.
The Doubled Edged Sword Life of a Mercenary
Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is set during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, and shows a civilized world riven by war and conflict. Ancient Greece has been torn between the two sides, but players aren't actually forced into loyalty to one faction.
Instead, we play as a misthios, or a mercenary that can wade between violet Athens or red Sparta at will. I absolutely love how Ubisoft handled this. We're a sellsword, a hired merc who plays both sides for profit and gain. You can accept a quest from a Spartan lieutenant to kill Athenians, and then jump over to an Athenian camp and grab some drachmae to kill some Spartans. There's a realistic portrayal of war during this era as many groups of fighters would simply go back and forth to whomever paid them the most, not unlike the Golden Company in A Song of Ice and Fire.
But Odyssey goes farther to illustrate the chaos of the Peloponnesian War. Greece is constantly shifting in leadership; control of specific regions will flux back and forth between Athens and Sparta. What Athens controls one day may be taken by Sparta, and vice-versa, as the two wrestle for dominance of the democratic world.
You can and will have a direct effect on this dynamic shift. Eventually, your meddling sparks grand conquest battles that are quite fun...if not long-winded at times. Things you do will lessen one side's influence--do a bunch of missions for Spartans in an Athenian-controlled region will lower their power, especially if you kill officers and key magisters, burn supplies, and sabotage camps. Once a side's power is low enough you can trigger a big sprawling battle that offers nice gear rewards and experience (both are huge drivers for growth and progress).
This power struggle continues without your presence though. The world is alive and control of regions will change back and forth even without your interference. Ubisoft is pushing its dynamism skills even further with Odyssey.
Like everything else in Odyssey, this conquest mechanic is neatly and organically folded into the historical setting. It feels authentic and taps into the brutality of the bloody war that cut a swath through this majestic and civilized slice of the world.
Exploration, Systems and Loot
While you could definitely spend hours just exploring Odyssey's isles for treasure, marveling at the column-held temples and gigantic statues, and combing ruins for slivers of an age long past, it's still a game and features a grind-based mechanic to propel progression. This manifests in a loot and EXP system that's more expansive than that of Origins.
At first, I was worried this grind would be too intrusive and take too much time. When you get to a certain point in the game this is certainly true. But it's not like that at the start. You're naturally pushed towards mission progression and EXP gaining in a variety of ways, some of which are quite indirect (exploring, killing random enemies, etc).
The loot system is almost an exact copy from Origins. The varying degrees of randomized loot are straight out of games like Diablo with common, rare and legendary items, and taps into Ubisoft's strong focus into optional in-game microtransactions. But what's most interesting about Odyssey is all the different avenues and opportunities the game gives you to earn said loot. There's a freedom here that doesn't totally bind you to certain restrictions if you're skilled or agile enough (more on this later).
Loot is scaled to your level and gets better and better as you move forward. But Odyssey gives you an edge right from the start with its new engraving system. This lets you use collected materials to imbue your gear with extra magical properties--properties which are actually unlocked the more you kill enemies with specific items or find pieces of unique gear.
Engraving is just part of the layered crafting system that ties into many different areas of progression--and this is monetized, of course--to form a cohesive web of game design. Most of everything affects something else; collecting materials can lead to ship/weapon/armor upgrades, engravings, arrow crafting, and so on. Loot directly affects combat proficiency, quests directly affect progression, and so on and so forth. There's a synergy here you'll recognize from Origins.
Odyssey's RPG features are more layered this time around and adds the series' first dynamic dialog system. This much-needed feature adds tremendous depth to your experience. Sometimes the dialog is filler or flavor text to add more spice to your merc-slaying questing, but often you simply don't know the big decisions from the small ones. Letting someone go can trigger a line of quests or events that have some big consequences, or killing a particular officer can have Spartans after you for quite some time.
I found myself enamored with this dialog system and enjoying the camaraderie between characters like Odessa and Kassandra, and meeting Herodotus for the first time was amazing. There's so many other unique figures and NPCs that add more color to your experience--as if the beautiful verdant woodlands and sandy shores weren't vibrant enough.
Combat & Mercenary System Breakdowns
Combat has been superlatively refined to the point where you can actually perform amazing feats of skill and ingenuity. While playing, I was consistently surprising myself by killing some tough bosses earlier than I should've. It's the type of game that consistently rewards you for experimenting and trying new things.
Trial and error is your friend in Assassin's Creed: Odyssey. The Spartan Kick ability is perhaps the best example; right from the start I was kicking higher level enemies off of ledges and using fall damage to kill them. It never ever gets old and is always an advantage.
But it doesn't end there--you can use your torches to give instant fire arrows, for example, or use the Spartan Kick to interrupt enemy power attacks. You can even tactically sequence your parries to gain adrenaline (kind of like mana that's used to use abilities) to fuel long-winded battles.
Thanks to the new mercenary system, Odyssey's combat can lead to immensely tense and challenging battles that have you fighting whole braces of enemies. We're talking Spartans, Athenians, and multiple bounty hunters trying to annihilate you (and each other) all at the same time. It's hectic, chaotic, and very very fun.
The merc system is basically like Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis system and a means of trying to keep you in line. But it's mostly an engagement hook (a very effective one), and mercenaries tend to devolve into unique loot messengers. I now see them as vehicles that deliver awesome loot to me once they get kicked off a ledge.
Once you cause too much havoc in ancient Greece, someone will send out a mercenary just like yourself to hunt you down. These mercs can pop up anywhere and travel across the world--sometimes they pop up as you're fighting a camp. Sometimes two will pop up, or three, at one time. These battles get very interesting very fast, and are one of my favorite parts of the game.
At one point, after I took out Elpenor and his fort, I was rushed by a mercenary alongside reinforcements. No biggy, I thought, as I deftly dodged, parried, and sliced my way through enemies. Then another mercenary came and started throwing firebombs at me. Whittling them away little by little, I managed to survive for a good ten minutes in this melee royale. But that horn sounded again, and yet another mercenary joined the fray--this time one with a tamed wildcat. Things got out of hand, and I got overrun, but I was still trying my best amid the calamity. There were explosions as bombs were thrown at my feet and fire arrows flew, there was, of course, lots and lots of parries.
Even though I died many times in such crazy battles, I never ever shy away from mercenaries or pay off my bounties no matter what happens. They keep you on your toes and keep things quite interesting because you never know where they're going to strike or pop up. Plus they always drop sweet rewards.
One more thing about combat. Sometimes it doesn't matter what level you are, and if you're good enough, you can kill a baddie that's 2-3 levels higher than you (but don't really try an enemy more than 4 levels above you). The game really plays into your trained Dark Souls reflexes of timing and dodging.
Kassandra (or if Alexios, if you prefer the lesser experience) can quick-dodge or roll out of the way from attacks. Learning how to best use this is crucial to adapting to crazy battles. Using rolls and a proper parry-Second Wind-Spartan Kick sequence can be your ticket to surviving battles with level 10-11 enemies as a level 8.
What's more is how dynamic the weapons are. All of them have their own styles, strengths, and weaknesses in battle; hard rolling away from enemies gives you more distance to strike with a spear, whereas quick-dashing is great for closing the distance if you need quick strikes with poison/enflamed daggers. Mix and match weapons at all times and try new things, and above all else, don't be afraid to fail in battle. Getting too comfortable in Odyssey means you're not experimenting enough and you want to be keeping things fresh.
The Honing of all Mechanics in Odyssey
Now let's talk about ships for a moment. I think every major mechanic of Odyssey has been honed to near perfection (well despite the glitches and bugs and such) and ship-to-ship combat and ocean exploration, are no exception.
Aboard my ship, I feel like Odysseus setting out on some grand adventure. I can sail across the Aegean into the fog of myth, or choose to sink merchant ships for precious loot, or simply drink in the beauty of a setting sun. I can check out a nearby isle for treasures or goodies. Or I can take on multiple mercenaries in an epic, spear-throwing and fire-arrow blasting fury that sets the very waves on fire (yes, mercs will find you at sea too).
Ship combat is exceedingly fun and sailing across the waters is always entrancing. The waves crash, the tropical isles speak of hidden secrets, and the splendor of ancient Greece rolls by in a kind of hypnotic beauty. Cities like Athens come into focus, resplendent in regality and incredible monuments, and the playground itself just unfolds at your discretion. If, of course, you can survive the dangerous waters that are teeming with high-level sharks and enemy ships ready to chew your bones.
Ships are also tied to crafting material gathering (or buying, if you'd rather spend money in the Ubisoft store than time) and are another part of the game's cycling engagement ecosystem. Players can upgrade the ship in a variety of ways, including the hull to add more health, or make it more vicious by upgrading attack prowess. There's a lot of things to upkeep in Odyssey, and your ship is one of them. The world is gated off behind level barriers that can be broken with consequences, but if you earnestly want to push into certain areas you need to level up, fortify your loot, and build up your ship.
Another nifty part of your ship is your crew. How you complete quests can actually unlock lieutenants and first mates that boost your ship's efficacy in various ways. You can also recruit new members by sparing them after sneaking up on them. Doing so is imperative to rounding out your ship's strength.
If that wasn't enough, Odyssey has a splendid mix of main and side quests. Every side quest feels hefty and has a little weight. Some are obviously more meaty than others, but the game will definitely surprise you at times. I found myself actually caring about certain characters because of their dialog and their situations, and I'd react accordingly with my own dialog choices.
Other times though I actively despised them. This is the sign of good writing, and it's something Odyssey does often. There were NPCs where I understood their motivations and what they were trying to do, but disliked how they were doing it, and it actually affected how I interacted with them.
The quest-line is a great jaunt through the heart of ancient Greece lore and ties lots of history together with legend with deft grace. The cultist system, in particular, is quite enjoyable and acts as a propellant to explore the world and unlock more secrets behind this weird, shadowy snake cult.
What's Hot, What's Not & Final Thoughts
Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is a must-have game of 2018. I think everyone who has a passing interest in history should pick it up or at least try it, and that especially goes for any AC fans. Ubisoft has created magic on a massive scale, infusing a world with incredible visuals and awe-inspiring ancient cities that make you feel like you're living through history itself.
Combat is fun, intuitive and actively engaging, and the RPG mechanics are robust to ensure more meaningful gameplay experiences. Everything in Odyssey feeds itself and your time never feels like its spent in vain--even if you spend a few hours just roaming around the Aegean.
Once again Ubisoft has one-upped itself and created something special that redefines the series while pushing its own skillset ever higher. We don't know where the franchise will go next, but if it's anything like Odyssey, I'm sure it'll be absolutely amazing.
+ Amazing atmosphere
+ Incredible visuals breathe life into ancient Greece
+ Next-gen dynamism--NPCs, world events, etc
+ Combat is massively enjoyable
+ Spartan Kick
+ New mercenary system keeps things interesting and chaotic
+ Unique blend of legend and history
+ Ship combat and exploration brings adventure to the high seas
+ Cultist system ties history with intrigue
+ Hunting mythical beasts transports you into a fable
- Glitches and bugs froze my game up and inhibited progress
- Can be grindy at times
- Enemy lock-ons can be finicky during larger-scale combat
Last updated: Apr 7, 2020 at 12:34 pm CDT
The Bottom Line: Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is a must-have game of 2018 that blends ancient myth with historical splendor. It's a sprawling achievement of freedom and adventure.
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