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.
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