Historically the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been rather hit or miss in recent years; despite the success of titles like Syndicate and Origins, fans of the series can still remember how awful Unity was – both in gameplay presentation and production quality – and it is this haunting memory that sticks with many of us today. While I’ve enjoyed the mainline series of titles – III in particular because of the protagonist – Unity fell in between the stellar Black Flag and the equally enjoyable Syndicate.
Things really began to change for the series when Assassin’s Creed: Origins was released, not only because the setting was the oldest in the game, but also because of the changes it made to some of the more fundamental systems. The equipment you found and used was much more in the vein of a traditional RPG with stat values as well as the ability to upgrade via blacksmith – and you needed the best gear possible to even have a chance at completing the end-game activities. Origins did a ton of things correctly; so much, in fact that it was hard to find fault with the game at all. From it’s great story and interesting characters to its massive environment and the introduction of Senu, the now-beloved Bonelli’s eagle, Origins basically proved to the world at large what an Assassin’s Creed game was capable of.
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey takes every single one of these elements and either uses them to their fullest extent or outright improves upon them in ways that make very good sense. Odyssey, in short, is every bit as good as Origins and is even better in many ways. Read on for my full thoughts! Mild spoilers throughout so be warned!
This Is Sparta!
Odyssey is set in the year 431 BCE and highlights the history surrounding the Peloponnesian War fought between the Spartans and Athenians – though it involved many other smaller contingents as well, all of which are highlighted throughout the campaign. One of the most remarkable things the game does from the beginning is allowing the player the choice to fight for the Delian League of Athens or the Peloponnesian League of Sparta, which changes your experience during the story.
The importance of choice and freedom of action is the first thing I’d like to highlight here. Dialogue options are meaningful and have consequences, as successfully navigating a conversation could yield better gear, a romantic option, or even a crew member for your ship. Thinking carefully about the things you say, as well as the actions you take, adds a weight and gravity that was missing from this franchise without even realizing it. Giving players this sense of scope and choice makes you feel as though you aren’t only reliving history, but actively having a part in its development, much like an individual strapped into an Animus rig.
Tools of the Trade
Practically every feature and convention from Origins makes a return in this game – the radial compass, for instance – and perhaps most enjoyable of all is the return of our avian companion, this time named Ikaros. As with Origins, Ikaros can be summoned to scout out enemy camps or forts, locating and marking enemy soldiers as well as treasures and other objectives.
The item system is also something that makes a return, with each piece of gear featuring inherent stats – some boost fighting damage, while others provide boosts to things like assassination damage or bow damage – which can also be overwritten or improved upon at the blacksmith. Leveling up will provide your character with engraving options that give various bonuses to attach to weapons and armor. There are a ton of these things and they each allow you to further customize your items to your preferred gameplay style.
There is once again a large variety of weapons, each with its own particular system of combo attacks, bonuses and perks. There are smaller weapons, such as the daggers or short swords that provide quick, slashing combos – but there are also much larger weapons, like clubs and staves, if you prefer. I really felt like this iteration of the series placed a lot of emphasis on player choice and making us feel free to do what we want, how we want to.
A large portion of the campaign focuses on conquering nation-states or city-states by attacking valuable locations and resources, weakening your enemies position and forcing them into an engagement. The map is absolutely massive and features different areas or zones that you can travel to. Each has a recommended level listed alongside it, and your quest objectives are usually tailored along the same lines – I never felt like I was lagging behind, and there were always more quests to do.
As a Greek misthios (mercenary), you will gain the ability to choose which side you’ll fight for – Athens or Sparta – and from that point on you’ll find yourself at odds with pretty much anyone, though your conquests will focus on the side you didn’t choose. By attacking fortresses, killing commanders and burning supplies, you weaken your enemies foothold in contested territory, and will eventually gain the ability to kill their local leader and challenge the remaining forces to war. The large scale battles actually played out really well, almost in the style of Dynasty Warriors. Once you challenge a city-state to battle, you roam the field searching for lieutenants and captains – with each death subtracting from the enemy’s bar at the top of the screen.
Eventually tougher commanders will find you in the field and you’ll need to defeat them to win. The rewards for this mode seem really great and I didn’t think the battling was boring at all. Parrying successfully took a little for me to get used to, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be eager to get into fights just to see how well you can do.
There’s also the mercenary system, which is very similar to the nemesis system from the Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor series, mixed with a bit of Grand Theft Auto. As you do various things to gain the ire of enemy forces, you gain a bounty. With each increasing level, a mercenary will be dispatched to collect the bounty on your head. You can choose to fight the mercenary, hide until they give up searching and your bounty gradually reduces, or simply pay the bounty from the map. This was something I really enjoyed from Origins and they’ve made it even better here.
Naval Combat and Travel
One of my favorite features makes a stunning return in the form of naval combat, and it makes this game feel like the spiritual offspring of Origins and Black Flag. After acquiring your own ship, you are outfitted with a crew and some basic weapons; after which you are free to roam the seas and explore or engage in battles. Much like regular enemies, ships have a level that is roughly parallel with your own. Be careful, though, as some very tough enemies will show up if you keep attacking ships – the bounty system especially applies on the sea.
Your ship, like everything else is able to be upgraded with materials and money, increasing the damage you do, the damage you can take, and everything in between. This time around you can “recruit” (read: kidnap) enemies to staff your ship, with some of these crew members coming from specific side-story missions. They will increase aspects of your ship, like arrow damage or hull health, but can also join you briefly in your in-land excursions and combat. This makes completing side-quests important and gives weight to the decisions you make.
The naval combat is just so enjoyable that it’s very easy to forget about the bounty and those coming to collect it. That being said, I was able to get enough loot to easily pay my bounty and sale away into the sunset.
In conclusion I can’t really recommend this game strongly enough. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you may already be playing and you know precisely what I mean. If you’ve been on the fence a while – especially since Unity – and are looking for a great place to jump back in, you really need to play this as well as Origins, as both have done more for the franchise than practically any other game. To see Ubisoft put out a game of this caliber is pretty awesome, and I can safely say that this game is absolutely worth your time and money.