Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey — Thoughts On My First-Ever AC Game
I have not paid much attention to the Assassin’s Creed franchise for largely the same reason I generally ignored other franchises known to pump out annual games (Activision and Call of Duty); I have heard brilliant things about the first few games or so but my impression of the series since then is one of Ubisoft beating one of its franchises to death for the sake of pleasing more shareholders. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey ended up being my introduction to the franchise after recommendations from a few friends, which may or may not be the best place to start as I know little to nothing about the overall series lore, as well as Odyssey being part of the new-line games that shifted to a more open-world style.
From playing through the game, it looks like the majority of what happens in the AC games basically takes place in an advanced VR system known as the Animus; where the player is not actually the featured protagonist but someone else living through their eyes via this Animus. In Odyssey, you control a woman named Layla Hassan, and she utilizes the Animus to control the main protagonist of the game, which is either Alexios or Kassandra depending on whether you choose to play as a man or a woman (I chose to play as Kassandra). The in-Animus world of Odyssey takes place in Ancient Greece, around the time of the Peloponnesian War which featured full-blown conflict between Sparta and Athens. With my limited knowledge of the greater AC universe, the premise of the game is that Layla Hassan is looking for some artifact/secret of power, and she believes she will find it by reliving the life of Kassandra who supposedly had some connection. Kassandra herself is a misthios (mercenary) with a troubled past, and starts out initially trying to make a name for herself and gets caught up in a much bigger, more sinister plot that involves her bloodline.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is an open-world action game with RPG elements, so the core of its gameplay focuses on combat, exploration, and character progression, and I personally think this is where the game is at its best. The combat system is not super complicated, but it gets the job done and Kassandra’s movement in-combat feels good. You whack enemies, and avoid their attacks by either dodging through them or parrying them, and you are rewarded with counter-attack opportunities of your own for successfully avoiding them (dodging an enemy attack at the last minute slows down time briefly, allowing you to re-position and get some free hits in). To spice things up, you also get access to various abilities that you can use, which cost adrenaline bars (adrenaline is built up through combat by attacking, perfect-dodging, or parrying). Some of the abilities are extremely powerful; my favorite is the bull charge where you blitz in a straight line, knocking down any enemies that get caught in your path (there is also an ability that straight up references the movie 300). What makes the combat even better is that you are also not restricted to using any weapon; there are different weapon classes that all play somewhat differently, from fast-hitting daggers to slow, but hard-hitting maces and heavy blades. You can also ignore all of that and use a bow and just fight like Legolas too; Odyssey is very generous in giving players different tools to approach combat situations. Also befitting of the word “assassin,” there is also stealth, which is not necessary to beat the game but good usage of it will certainly make the game easier. The sheer freedom of viable options you are given is what makes the combat so satisfying.
While I would say most of the game takes place on land, a significant part of Odyssey takes place on the water, and naval combat between ships is an actual mechanic. Ship combat is not super complicated; you wear down enemy ships with arrows and javelins while trying to avoid taking damage, then when the enemy ship’s health is low enough, there is the option to either board or cleave. Cleaving a ship just involves sailing into a ship at full speed which splits the ship immediately and sinks it, while boarding involves your crew jumping on the other ship and fighting everybody on deck. Both options are fun and satisfying, though boarding is generally simpler as it does not require positioning the ship in such a way that allows for a cleave. Also when fighting soldiers in a ship battle, knocking them off the boat counts as killing them, so one thing I would enjoy doing is Sparta kicking the captains off the ship at full health as funny cheese. The ship Kassandra commands can also be improved by spending money/resources on hull upgrades, or by hiring lieutenants, which are found by knocking out various soldiers you come across on land (dealing nonlethal damage to be precise).
The overall exploration in Odyssey is also excellent; the landscapes of Ancient Greece are absolutely gorgeous, and one of my favorite parts of the game is unlocking the various fast travel points and “synchronizing” them. The various locations are also varied in their level designs, from caves to army camps to full-sized fortresses. Some of the locations also have random lore bits which are sometimes fun to read, but the main fun is in the actual clearing of the objectives as you scan every nook and cranny with your eagle (named Ikaros), loot every single possible item as is tradition for an RPG, and murder every poor guard who is unfortunate enough to get in your way. However, unless you are killing bandits, do not expect to just murder anyone casually and get away with it (especially so if you’re clearing an objective in a large city like Athens). If you are caught committing crimes, you accrue a bounty, and depending on how high that bounty reaches, other mercenaries will come after your head. The fun part about Odyssey is that you do not have to pay your bounty to clear it; you also have the option of wiping out your bounty simply by killing the person who issued it; I personally never paid a single bounty throughout my entire play-through, and every time I had to clear a high bounty I simply sought out the bounty issuer and killed them. The one thing I have conflicting feelings about regarding exploration in the game is the actual movement mechanics when exploring, specifically Kassandra’s ability to climb basically any surface possible and her (acquired) ability to not take any fall damage whatsoever. From a gameplay perspective that is pretty awesome as I can freely explore anywhere without having to worry about traversing annoying obstacles, but it does take quite a bit out of the immersion. Ultimately I guess that would be a somewhat superficial complaint considering the other supernatural stuff that is present in-game.
The final part of Odyssey’s core gameplay loop is character progression, which I honestly think is pretty well done. Like any other RPG, you get stronger as you level up and find stronger gear, but there is a good deal more nuance to building Kassandra then simply throwing on the highest level pieces you find. Each piece of equipment gives different bonuses, so depending on what kind of play-style you are shooting for (hunter, warrior, assassin, or a hybrid of any of those) you would want pieces that give bonuses tailored for that play-style. You also have various equipment of “legendary” status which provide unique effects outside of strict numerical boosts, and there are also sets that reward players for equipping a full set with a unique bonus. Pieces can also be upgraded to match your current level and engraved for additional effects, and if you do not like the meme of characters wearing ugly armor due to a desire to min-max, you are also free to change the appearance of your weapons/armor to something more fashionable as well for no cost. As someone who enjoys spending time to optimize character builds in a lot of games, Odyssey is right up my alley.
AC Odyssey’s core gameplay loop is addicting, but unfortunately its writing is not as consistent in quality. That is not to say it is bad overall, but there are definitely peaks and valleys to it, and some of the valleys are pretty low. I generally enjoyed Kassandra’s story arc and think she is a competently written character who is further strengthened by her voice actress’s work. The various dialog options in quests give you the opportunity to decide what kind of person she is; you can play the RPG “do-gooder” or strictly uphold your status as a misthios and ask for payment for every job, even from little kids if you want (you can also strike a balance). My favorite part is how the game recognizes Kassandra’s strength, and they have dialogue options for you to intimidate NPC’s if they ever get on your nerves, though I advise against doing that in real life. The main story also features pretty important decisions that affect later quests depending on the choice, so I was pleasantly surprised by that; there were a bunch of points through the game where I had to spend a minute or two trying to figure out which decision would have the best long-term impact. Regarding the base game’s story, my biggest criticism of the story would be regarding the main villain, the shadow organization known as the Cult of Kosmos. I will not elaborate much further due to spoilers, but I was not particularly impressed after finding out who the actual leader was. I still felt compelled to dislike them due to their in-game actions on Kassandra and other citizens in the Greek world, so I guess in that sense they played their part well, but aside from that I would not say that a strong villain is a feature of the main narrative. Overall I enjoyed the main story though, and there were quite a few side characters that I thought were excellent, mainly Sokrates and Alkibiades. Sokrates is not too unlike his actual historical counterpart as someone who manages to be both annoying while also forcing you to think about the consequences of your own actions in a provoking manner, and I loved listening to his dialogue. Alkibiades on the other hand is a party animal who always wants to get laid (usually by you), but is a lot more shrewd than he might appear, and he has one of the most entertaining quest lines in the game.
The writing unfortunately suffers a massive dip in quality when it comes to the expansions, Legacy of the First Blade and Fate of Atlantis. Supposedly Ubisoft had different writers on the DLC’s than they did for the base game, and if that is true it makes perfect sense. I will not say much more due to spoilers, but I felt that Legacy of the First Blade more or less spat on the idea of the freedom of choices you could make in the base game, diminished the importance/strength of the base game’s villains, and overall did not feel very compelling with the new characters added. Funny that it seems like Ubisoft acknowledges the same, as there is barely any reference to Legacy of the First Blade in Fate of Atlantis. Fate of Atlantis, in comparison, was not as bad from a writing perspective, and also added way more interesting gameplay elements especially with the three whole new realms, but still felt narratively weak with the gameplay largely holding my attention (which was already starting to fade as I had broken 100 hours at that point). Fate of Atlantis also takes Layla, who is more or less an unknown in the base game and makes her pretty insufferable; perhaps Ubisoft is trying to turn her into a future villain which is about the only reasonable explanation for the way her character turned out after the conclusion of the DLC’s. For the best narrative experience, just play the base game and either ignore the DLC’s entirely or just fast-forward all the cutscenes if you still want the gameplay elements.
Gameplay and writing aside, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is a visual spectacle, and an absolutely beautiful game, and frankly exploring Ancient Greece would not have been nearly as fun if it did not look as good as it did. The soundtrack was also pretty dope, and I was a fan of a lot of the sea shanties I would hear while sailing around Greece’s islands despite not understanding anything that was being sung (to be fair I didn’t listen too closely to try and make out the lyrics).
Overall, the game is a solid experience that’s very fun while having a competent story (for the most part). For anyone who is a fan of open-world games along the styles of The Witcher 3, the game is worth experiencing, though in my opinion I would only get the base game as I feel like the DLC’s make the overall product worse.
Rating: Definitely worth getting on sale, and even retail if you consider the amount of solid content in the game (over 100 hours clocked in for me). I would recommend against the DLC’s though if you want the preserve the narrative in its best quality.