Assassin's Creed: Odyssey
The latest in the Assassin's Creed series is here with Assassin's Creed: Odyssey! After only a year removed from Origins, did Ubisoft have enough time to capture the Greek spirit or is it more of a rush job like Unity? Our resident Assassin's Creed fan and native Greek reviews...
Brutal, Intense Greek Tragedy With Memorable Character Work
A few years ago, Ubisoft let it be known that, after several years of annually releasing subpar Assassin’s Creed games, they would be would switching to a bi-annual release format. Last year, we saw the fruits of their labor with a sublime performance in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. The way Ubisoft captured the mystic, ferocious Egyptian time-period was worthy of a standing ovation. That’s one of the reasons why it was so surprising when Ubisoft took to the E3 2018 stage to announce that they would be releasing another Assassin’s Creed game, just one year after the release of Origins. Thus, putting the kibosh on the every other year mandate.
Understandably, the gaming community was cautiously optimistic about this game. After all, it hasn’t been all that long since the time of Unity, when the series started to look and feel tired. However, with a great showing last year and a new direction on the Assassin’s Creed series, the series has a new lease on life and it’s evident within the strong performance of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.
Last year, I thought AC Origins was the most brutal AC game to date, especially after seeing someone apply a mask with a blade fastened on the inside on someone’s face. In Odyssey, it’s like they looked at Origins and had a “Hold My Beer” moment, because they bring the brutality and intensity in ways few games are willing to go. That’s part of what we’ve grown to love about Ubisoft’s choice to explore Ancient history. Contrary to visiting the Renaissance, Revolutionary, Victorian, and Pirate Eras, Ancient times afford a higher level of brutality, because it was simply part of that society. Without giving too much away, Odyssey honors that brutality early on by showing us why Leonidas was one of the most legendary Greeks of all time.
Every fan knows that every good Assassin’s Creed game has a lot to do with how well the characters are created, along with the quality of the storytelling. That’s why characters like Ezio and Edward Kenway are thought of so highly, and why people have a hard time remembering the names of the characters in Unity, Syndicate, and even Assassin’s Creed III. Odyssey features some of the most memorable story and character work of the series, at least within the confines of the Animus.
What’s really incredible is that Ubisoft was able to create a story that falls very much in line with every great Greek tragedy. Throughout mythology, every story had a hero, something that made them fall from grace, and a journey to grow and eventually earn their revenge. Odyssey’s story takes that format and runs with it in what is a 40-60 hour Greek Tragedy that rivals many of the greats.
You start off by choosing to be either one of two mercenary siblings Alexios or Kassandra. Both of whom are extremely capable and strong characters, both physically and mentally. They also happen to have a ton of personality. As is evident from the various cutscenes and interactions that create situations to show just how much charisma both of these characters ooze, which is a lot. In fact, one that comes to mind is when an early boss is interrogating a future ally. Suddenly, our fearless hero appears in heroic fashion to roast the enemy and add insult to injury by shoving a valuable artifact of the enemy’s up the butt of a wandering goat. It’s hilarious and wonderfully Greek. You may wonder, what is “Wonderfully Greek”, to those that aren’t part of the Greek culture or don’t understand it, exploits like these are those sophomoric jokes and stories I heard and read about growing up in Greece. Finding ways to piss off your enemies in unconventional ways is SO the Greek way.
The memorable character work isn’t reserved for the main protagonists, though. Every member of the cast, whether it’s in Kephallonia or across the Greek isles, brings their own personality and flair to the story, which serves to help each character shine. As Markos says, “Everybody benefits”. I believe what helps in this instance are the incredible voice actors Ubisoft imported from Greece.
When I demoed the game at E3 2018, I spoke to the developers for roughly 45 minutes about how Odyssey came to be. Among the many details they shared, the biggest one I came away most impressed by was the fact that they used an entire native-Greek cast. In fact, one of the developers shared that Ubisoft had to fly them back from Greece, after Christmas, in order to finish recording the game. Going to those lengths to create an authentic, Greek experience benefits the game tremendously. Nothing feels forced, the accents are 100% true, and characters believe the words they are saying. Thus, it makes Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s characters some of the best of the series.
Choice, Modes, Mechanics, and Features Create More Complete AC Experience
While Origins was a fantastic step in the right direction for the AC series, it did feel incomplete, especially when it came to combat mechanics. It was the first time they rolled out the new fighting system, that didn’t include a counter, like the previous games before, and instead brought in shield usage. It all worked, for the most part, but it still felt lacking, at times. Odyssey plays clean-up with the combat mechanics, whilst adding new elements.
You’ll notice when playing Odyssey that Ubisoft has done away with that useful shield feature. That’s because neither Alexios or Kassandra use a shield. Taking its place is a nifty menu that allows the gamer to use special abilities like Healing, Shield Removal, Adrenaline, Lunge Strike, and the always awesome Spartan Kick, just to name a few. Using these abilities, especially the yell-inducing “This Is Sparta” kick, add greatly to the game, creating a smooth, involved, and strategic way to play. Other new additions to the gameplay are the timed dodge, which if done right, slows down the fight, allowing you to get the upper hand, and the Parry technique, which allows you to block your enemy’s strikes.
Combat mechanics aren’t the only add that make Odyssey feel like a much-improved game. The new Bounty system is a great new addition that makes fighting Bounty Hunters worthwhile. In Origins, Bounty Hunters were alway on your take, and would wreck you if you came in contact. In Odyssey, they’ve added to that by creating an entire system for it, that feels reminiscent to Warner Bros.’ Nemesis system they made for their LOTR Mordor series. The more bounty hunters you face, the better equipment you get, and higher your hierarchy becomes in the mercenary world. Where it doesn’t relate is that Bounty Hunters don’t suddenly grow in rank if they kill you. Either way, it’s a cool approach to Bounty Hunters that actually make you want to fight them.
Two new features to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey actually help the game feel like you are actually in the Animus, experiencing the story the way it was always meant to be experienced. Those are the Exploration Mode and the ability to make tough decisions in the game. When you start the game, you’re given the option to choose between playing Guided Mode or Exploration Mode. There isn’t a massive difference between the two, except that Guided Mode will tell you where you need to go on every mission, whereas Exploration will simply give you clues and it’s up to you to use the map and find your way. I actually liked this more, because it requires a certain amount of self-reliance to find your way, instead of the autonomous style some games have become.
As far as Choices are concerned, this is a major inclusion that’s been missing for some time in Assassin’s Creed. While it’s still, for the most part, a linear game, being able to choose the outcome of certain situations is quite rewarding and nerve-wracking, in the best possible way. For example, there is a moment early on where you have to choose whether or not to kill this family because they’re infected with a seemingly incurable, infectious disease or kill the priests that are trying to murder this innocent family. It creates a moral situation of “Do you eliminate the few to save the many? Or do you save the innocent and stop the fanatics?” It’s a moral dilemma that somewhat shapes the story but not in a way that’s too noticeable. In fact, the addition of choices seems like it’s in its infancy, but it’s a good start.
Choices, exploration, mythological creatures, and memorable characters, this is all starting to feel close to an Elder Scrolls game, isn’t it? Well, another new feature doesn’t help change that feeling, as for the first time, Assassin’s Creed has created a Steal feature. That’s right, no longer can you enter someone’s home and take all their money, weapons, etc. Now, if you’re caught, you could get attacked or have a bounty placed on you, because you’ve done something morally wrong. It’s a neat feature that has a hand in making Odyssey the most authentic experience the AC series has ever had.
Gender Choice Creates Little Replayability
It became a big deal when Ubisoft revealed the ability to choose between playing as Alexios or Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. For the first time, you could choose to be a female character in an AC game, which is a major improvement for the franchise. That being said, your choice doesn’t effect the story, at all, thus creating very little replayability once the campaign is complete.
I think this is a major disappointment, because AC has all the bones to create two different storylines for the two siblings to intersect later on, but they chose not to do it. Instead, if you choose Alexios, they mention that Kassandra is your baby sister. If you choose Kassandra, they mention that Alexios is your baby brother. A better way to approach this, in my opinion, would have been to have the two siblings start on two different islands far away from each other, going through different situations. That way you could truly experience two different stories. Thus, making AC Odyssey more replayable. I understand that it may have been more demanding to do it the way I’m saying, but it could’ve taken Odyssey from great, to at least a nomination for Game of the Year status.
Another issue I found in AC Odyssey is that some of the quests are broken. For example, I had one quest where I spoke to a priestess who asked me to get a famous spear for her. I did it, came back, and had 3 options. Give her the spear, say you couldn’t find the spear, or ask about the reward first. I asked about the reward first and she hands me 750 Drachmae and says I earned it. Yet, I never gave her the spear and kept it. I couldn’t talk to her again, so it was very odd. It’s highly likely a launch patch will take care of this and any other quests like this, but it was hilariously odd to see.
Greek Culture/Mythology Done Right
My name is Matt Malliaros. I am a Greek American that has spent part of his life, growing up in Greece. Being Greek, knowing, and living the culture has been a major part of my life. Growing up, we didn’t really have many games that focused on Greek culture or even mythology. That’s why my brother and I gravitated toward the God of War series, when it first released. In saying all that, my expectations and excitement level for this game were through the roof, when it was announced. It became one of my top titles of the fall, after I demoed it at E3 2018. Now, after experiencing everything Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey has to offer, I have to say it’s everything I hoped a game based in Ancient Greece could be.
Unlike God of War’s roid-raged, fully mythological approach Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey offers an accurate look at the personality and the lifestyle of Greece. We are a fiery, funny, generous people with tremendous pride in our culture and our place of origin. From the intense Greek-style music I could listen to for hours, to the mannerisms, to the Malakas, to the perfect representation of the Peloponnesian War, to various islands we inhabit, to the various mythological beasts that are fought, I’m proud to say that Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey does the Greek culture justice.
It’s a game that Assassin’s Creed fans will enjoy, but more importantly it’s a game that everyone should experience to understand Greek culture. Historic games like these are a bit of a novelty and Ubisoft has stepped up their game in this genre. So, it’s important that we appreciate what they’ve done and how they’ve embraced a culture that most gamers haven’t been able to understand. It won’t win Game of the Year, officially, but for Greeks I think it’ll win it in our hearts.