Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
Disclosure: This review is based on a pre-release date digital copy of the game running version 1.02 and was played on a PS4 Pro. Some of the performance hitches and glitches encountered and touched upon in this review might get ironed out with any day 1, or later, patches. However, anything mentioned below is based on the code provided.
Just when you thought you were out, Ubisoft pulls you back in.
Coming 12 months after the franchise’s ‘revival’ in the divisive Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Ubisoft are back to take you on a new journey with the aptly titled Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Chronologically set even before Origins, Odyssey is a game which seems to struggle with its identity but ultimately ends up becoming a more enjoyable game than it has any right to be.
On paper, Odyssey has all the tell-tale signs fans should be worried about. The exact same engine from last year: check. A mostly copy pasted game play model from Origins: check. Traversal and world design directly brought over from Ubisoft’s last year effort: check and check. However, the overall package and how Ubisoft refines last year’s mechanics while re-introducing features from previous games like Black Flag and the unfairly maligned Rogue (like a full-fledged focus on the ship building and managing your crew) ultimately makes it a package and world the player can easily get lost in and spend more hours than they might want to admit.
Taking place in Ancient Greece in 431 BCE, Odyssey takes place a few years after King Leonidas’s last stand with his 300 Spartan warriors, which of course has been immortalized in popular media by the god-awful Zack Snyder movie. You play as a descendent of the great General and like Syndicate, you are given the choice to choose between a male or female protagonist but unlike Syndicate once you make the choice, there’s no going back, or swapping from either’s perspective for different missions. Both characters are fully voiced and essentially play out the same story and same dialogue, so you won’t be missing out or have access to unique content. There’s no game play difference for either protagonist either, so it mostly boils down to a user preference. The obligatory present timeline plot also returns with the same protagonist from Origins continuing her further adventures but besides a few Easter eggs (apparently Splinter Cell takes place in the same shared universe), the present timeline is just a very minor blip on the greater radar.
Once you start the game and take your first steps, a simple glance at the world map will show a world even greater in size than the mammoth Origins. However, most of the game world is comprised of smaller island nations with the greater Greece (Athens and the like) being the bigger landmass. This is where a refined version of the boating mechanics from Black Flag comes into play. Essentially, boating plays more or less the same as it did in Black Flag with a few more accessibility options and less tedious mechanics to worry about as more things are streamlined for an easier to swallow interface. General on-foot traversal is also mostly the same as Origins, so there’s little in terms of new mechanics for the player to grasp, outside of more combat moves and select-able special attacks instead of them being tied specifically to the weapon you’re wielding (as it was in Origins). The game still offers various kinds of weapons for the player to use from knives to big-ass mallets, each comes with their pros and cons. The frequently and the “loot drop” aspect has been ramped up to 11 and at times it feels more akin to Diablo 3 than what you would expect from Assassin’s Creed. The game is also much more combat-heavy than Origins and I would personally recommend switching the control scheme so the light and heavy attacks are on Square and Triangle (or X and Y on the Xbox pad) instead of the shoulder buttons, owing to how much mashing needs to be done.
Speaking on the identity crisis mentioned at the top of the review, it’s fair to say Odyssey is more of a Western RPG more than anything with a fair few comparisons to The Witcher 3 being thrown around in most previews. Those comparisons aren’t exactly wrong either, as while the game does build on Origin’s frame work, the loot grind, quest system and exploration feels like something which belongs in an open-world WRPG. Every new town or encampment has its share of quest givers ranging from simple item deliveries to quests directly affecting that region’s authoritarian control. Each region or ‘zone’ of the world is divided in terms of who controls it (either the Spartans or Athenians) and doing certain missions or taking out certain key individuals can cause the balance to shift, resulting in a full scale conflict, which you can take full part in and help shape the regions political affiliation. Outside of this, there is a full-game length quest line which has the player finish quests, find clues and strategically assassinate 2 dozen or so hidden-figures in the game, several of whom you will come across organically in the story as well.
At the on-set, the game offers players two distinct choice o
f how to play. First is a “guided” mode which is a traditional game play style whereby quest icons are always marked on your map and next objectives in continuing missions are updated automatically. The “exploration” mode on the other hand requires players to actively explore cities and seek the next steps of ongoing missions with no active indicators on the map. It’s a lot more immersive but for the sake of this review, and finishing this game within this calendar year, I opted to stick to the tried and tested ‘guided’ mode. However, for players who enjoy total immersion mods in games like Fallout, ‘exploration’ mode is well worth checking. There certainly isn’t any lack of content, or reasons to continue playing even after the story is completed in this game.
Over the years, Ubisoft have mastered the art of making the huge world easier for the player to digest, which shows here as the game is littered with small touches which more games should definitely employ. For example, if you’re within a few hundred meters of quest givers, you will not just see a blip on the in-game compass, but if the HUD is enabled, you will see small messages letting the player know what’s nearby on the top left of the screen as well. Similarly, for those who want it, the game has a completely customizable HUD with every single aspect possible to be enabled or disabled at the player’s whim.
The Anvilnext engine is at full force here with draw distances that stretch far into the horizon and well-detailed intricate clothing and ancient Greek architecture. However, expect to see a lot of object pop in and shadow cascades drawing not too far from the player and the staple Assassin’s Creed bugs like NPC’s melding into each other, clipping through buildings and an uneven performance which can occasionally drop from the target 30 (at least in the pre-release review build at my disposal) but never verges in the territory of being unplayable. Character models are also a mixed bag with the 2 player characters being well-detailed. However, NPC detail wildly fluctuates depending on how many times the game expects you to encounter them. There’s no real set-standard and it’s a little bit jarring to encounter some NPC’s which were better off left in the mid 360/PS3 generation. HDR will take a little calibration as on my set, the default pre-sets produced a slightly washed out image. But once calibrated, the HDR is brilliant especially around the dawn or dusk timings in the game’s active night and day cycle. Adding to this, most missions can be done at either night or day resulting in visual difference which is a nice touch and missing from other recent open-world games which may otherwise be more polished. (looking at you, Spider Man).
Ultimately, the game offers a mammoth amount of content, sometimes to its detriment, which makes it really easy to get lost in the massive world and forget about the central questline for hours upon hours. It took roughly 50 hours on the in-game clock before I reached the ending of the ‘story’, yet there was still a lot of content left unexplored. Every region has their own set of quests with a mini storyline and there’s the obligatory Arena that can be visited for high level combat challenges. There are valid reasons for the player to keep coming back to the world, whether it is to find and complete remaining or new quests, complete the shadowy cult questline or even find and fight the many powerful mercenary enemies dotted throughout the game whom regularly drop powerful equipment. At a point, I had to stop spending so much time doing side content and focus on the story, both for the sake of completion and also because I was becoming severely overpowered and over leveled for story zones thanks to the higher levels and equipment. This brings us to our ultimate point:
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is more of the same. It’s yet another enjoyable Assassin’s Creed game with more to do than the last year’s counterpart. Game play is a bit snappier, the world is a bit livelier and there’s more stuff to do. On its own, it is a fantastic game, yet naturally there will be a multitude of comparisons to last year’s effort and how similar the two games are.
While the last few lines of this review may seem to imply negatively, I had a great time playing through this game.
If you liked AC: Origins and wanted more, this is the game for you. With an extremely vibrant world, a flawed but gorgeous engine and more content to cover than you can shake a stick at, Odyssey is a game which I predict will be as divisive as its predecessor. If you can control the art of self-pacing and not getting distracted at every icon on the world map, you’re in for arguably the most well-polished and fun to play Assassin’s Creed game yet.
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Sad..Y u do dis ?