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Review: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a Breath of Fresh, Salty, Sea Air

Screenshot: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed is a venerable series, with 11 main entries and 20 entries overall (if you count the Chronicles spinoffs and a couple of handheld versions). As with any series that has 11 (or more) main entries in its continuity, repetition is a danger.  Sometimes games try to change up the formula, in an attempt to spice up gameplay and appeal to new players, while at the same time trying to stay loyal to their established player base. Most of the time this approach falls flat. Games like Gears of War: Judgment and DmC: Devil May Cry are great examples of trying to change up a series in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, but instead both failing to appeal to that wider audience or their core fanbase. Every so often though, changing things up works–in the newest God of War or Resident Evil 7, for example. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey manages to join this rarer second group, because even though it has strayed far from the gameplay that the original Assassin’s Creed introduced, it does so without forgetting where it came from.

 

Screenshot: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an action role-playing game developed by Ubisoft Quebec. Set during the Peloponnesian War in Ancient Greece, you play as either Kassandra or Alexios in their quest to find their family and defend the world against an insidious cult, while also exploring the beginnings of the groups that would become the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Order of the Templars. It follows in the footsteps of Assassin’s Creed Origins and then some, taking bits and bobs of role-playing game elements that were present in Origins and cranking them up to 10, turning Assassin’s Creed Odyssey into a fully-fledged action role-playing game–and it’s an exceptional one. At the beginning of the game you have the option to play as either Alexios or Kassandra, who are brother and sister, respectively. Character choice doesn’t change gameplay, but changes the story slightly. I’d have preferred a system similar to Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, which let you freely switch between siblings Jacob and Evie Frye, allowing you tailor each character to different playstyles. However, this would have removed an important plot element and it turned out to be a necessary evil. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s heavy emphasis on role-playing means dialogue trees, the ability to enter into relationships with characters, and multiple endings which are affected by dialogue choices you make–as well as whether you choose to kill certain characters. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey‘s world is massive and full to the brim with things to do. Synchronizing fast travel spots, side quests, forts, Conquest battles, mercenaries, cultists. There is so much to do in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey that it can sometimes be overwhelming.

Screenshot: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey lets you customize your character in several different ways, with a primary focus being armor customization. Armor types include helmets, footwear, belts, chest pieces, and gauntlets. All pieces have an armor rating, which indicates how much protection it will provide for you, as well as different perks. Armor comes in four different tiers: Normal, Rare, Epic, and Legendary. Higher tier armor will usually have a higher armor level, but higher tiers also have more passive perks, with Legendary armor having a third special perk that is unlocked once you have equipped each piece from that particular set, and is exclusive to that set. These passive perks  include a higher armor rating, more damage, greater elemental damage build up, etc.

Screenshot: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

You can also engrave your armor with additional perks, with Legendary weapons and armor having a max of four different perks. You can also upgrade your gear to increase its stats so that it’s more in line with higher tier equipment. This is mainly useful if you really like the look of a specific piece of armor or because it has a built in perk that might be exclusive to that piece. Weapons work exactly the same way as armor does, with the only difference being that Legendary weapons don’t require every piece of the set to unlock their bonus perk. There are several different types of weapons, including swords, daggers, spears, heavy blunt and heavy bladed weapons, and of course your trusty bow and arrow.

Screenshot: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

With Assassin Creed’ Odyssey’s emphasis on role-playing elements, skill trees aren’t a surprise. There are three skill trees that you can progress through: Hunter, which focuses on ranged combat; Warrior, which focuses on close quarters combat; and Assassin, which focuses on stealth and assassinations. While you may be tempted to dump all of your skill points into one tree in order to get really good at one playstyle, I would warn against this, as there quests and events that will force you into a specific playstyle, and it may be one that you have no prowess in. For instance, I focused on stealth, as I’ve always found it the most satisfying way to play. However, when I found that the next main story mission was the introductory Conquest Battle, which throws you into all out combat, I found myself very much out of my depth. To counteract this, you do have the ability to reset all of your skills, allowing you to respec your character if you feel the playstyle you’ve chosen isn’t panning out as you wanted it to. My main complaint with the leveling system  is that it takes far too long to gain levels. Even when I had played the game for 33 hours, I had only reached level 24 or so, which I feel was deliberate on the part of the publisher to incentivize people to buy the XP boosts which are offered in the store for real-world currency.

Screenshot: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Naval combat returns in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, although it’s not implemented as well as it was for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Customization is pretty limited, and shooting volleys of arrows and throwing javelins just isn’t as satisfying as firing off a broadside of cannons from a pirate ship. One very successful part of the inclusion of naval combat in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey that I really love is the lieutenant mechanic. If you non-lethally take down an enemy combatant, you can recruit them to your crew and hire them as a lieutenant, with Legendary enemies providing better buffs when recruited. This makes gameplay more organic than previous Assassin’s Creed games, and is very similar to the system used in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, where you could knock out enemy combatants and extract them to Motherbase to add them to your staff. Previous Assassin’s Creed games let you use non-lethal takedowns, but there was absolutely no reason to, and the games did a very poor job of telling you how to use  them. This system gives you a reason to knock people out other than achievements, and really makes you think about how you want to play through an area when there’s a legendary enemy you want to add to your crew.

Screenshot: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Two new mechanics have been introduced in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are Mercenaries, and Nation Power. Mercenaries are unique, high level enemies that roam the game world who will hunt you down if you’ve done something to piss of the leadership of whatever country you’re in. The best way to describe it is like a simplified version of the Nemesis system from the Shadow Of Mordor games. Nation Power is a mechanic that allows you to weaken the standing government (either Athenian or Spartan) in any given country. This can be achieved many different ways: killing soldiers from the country in control, burning supplies, killing high ranking commanders, or just straight up murdering the leader of the country. The strength of the country appears in the bottom right of the screen as three bars which gradually empty. Once you get the Nation Power low enough, you’ll be notified that a Conquest Battle is available. These are large scale battles which task you with lowering the enemy army’s “health bar” before yours. This is achieved by killing enemy soldiers, although the fastest way to empty the enemy health bar is to seek out the higher level enemies, as their deaths will lower the bar significantly more quickly than standard soldiers. You can choose to either invade or defend during these battles, with defending being easier but giving fewer rewards, and invading being more difficult with better rewards.

Screenshot: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a visually stunning game, especially when at sea. Dolphins swim alongside your boat from time to time, and when you sink an enemy ship, sharks will sometimes come along to finish off any sailors who survived. The environments are varied and impressive, with mountains, forests, caves, seas and cities with incredibly impressive architecture. One of my favorite moments in the game was climbing a massive statue of Zeus in order to synchronize with the Animus, and I wish that more of the synchronization points in the game were on statues and massive carvings instead of wimpy little buildings so that I could enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Screenshot: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a great example of a game changing up its gameplay without losing sight of the games that came before it. It can occasionally get bogged down by the size of the world and the distance between main story quests, but with the amount of side quests and other random events you’ll encounter, you’ll always find something to keep yourself entertained.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows

 

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