By Melody Klink
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: Is Bigger Always Better?
A gaming title that, for better or worse, so many folks have so many opinions about. That’s bound to happen when you’ve been in the gaming world as long as it has; in its 11-year run so far, the Ubisoft franchise has taken us all over the world, both through time and landscape, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is no different. This time, we explore ancient Greece, circa 431 BC.
This timeline has been raising eyebrows since Odyssey was announced- after all, we learned the origins of the titular Assassin Brotherhood in, well, Origins (more on that later) last year, which is set long after this time period. But Odyssey does bring a few new tidbits of information into the Creed lexicon, and through its modern storyline and a few choice quests, attaches itself to the larger story of Assassin’s Creed. Much like Origins, where it isn’t stuffed with Assassin lore, it’s chock-full of mythology and legends befitting the time. Stepping into the arena of full-fledged RPG, Odyssey expands on the groundwork of Origins by introducing dialogue options, expanding the Abilities trees, adding Bounties based on a mortality system, having multiple endings, and giving so many more sidequests and areas to explore that your head might spin.
Mine did. Just saying. Full-on Linda Blair spinning.
In Odyssey, you play as either Alexios or Kassandra, a pair of Spartan siblings who suffer great tragedy early on in their lives. My playthrough was as Kassandra, so my viewpoints are hers. (Synchronization Complete, AMIRITE?!) As descendants of the mighty King Leonidas, both Alexios and Kassandra play a part in the story, which deals with the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens; long gone are the days of uniting against the Persians, as each faction wages war against the other across the entire map of the ancient Greek world. Per the Creed usual, there’s also a sinister front behind the greatest leaders-- a Cult that is pulling the strings of everyone in Greece. You are a Misthios, or mercenary, and can fight for whomever you please, whenever you please.
But before I delve into exactly what that means, allow me to zoom out and show you the bigger picture.
The world in Odyssey is massive. Reddit user Katharine1886 made a set of comparison maps between Origins and Odyssey, and it’s clear to see the utterly huge scope of the game. While the varying landscape is beautiful, and the clearly labeled Historic Locations are exciting to see, I did find my eyes glazing over as I ran over miles, and miles, and MILES of countryside in my 94 hour playthrough. There are places that you’ll never even see in your odyssey-- far-flung temples and monuments that don’t fit into the narrative itself. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth visiting, but with a map of this scale, you’re bound to end up with extra space. Exploring every bit of the map will net you an Achievement/Trophy called “Hernes’ Homie,” though, so keep an eye out for Viewpoints!
Nabbing said viewpoints, exploring the world and doing quests will also net you Experience Points, which like every RPG in the world allows you to level up, raising your health, defense and damage potential. It also gives you Ability Points, which can be spent on abilities and passive traits suited to your play style- Odyssey doesn’t penalize you for whichever way you choose to play! Maximize your Hunter traits, brawl it out with Warrior abilities, or stealth them to death with Assassin-based play, it’s up to you. And if you decide that your play style isn’t working, you can reset your Abilities with no penalty! All of that sounds great, right? Well…
The problem with Odyssey’s system is that it’s often slanted towards a forced grind.
I’m sure you’re saying, “what RPG *doesn’t* make you grind EXP?!” And I hear ya. The problem is that quests are numbered in such a way that you are forced to interrupt the flow of the story for sake of EXP. For example, I completed a quest at level 29. The next quest in that questline was Level 40! Every other main quest I had logged was 40-50! So I spent the next two days grinding all the way up. So much content is locked in at max level that you waste tons of EXP past the cap, because you couldn’t do anything else before that. For explorers and traditional grinders of Assassin’s Creed, this might not be a problem, but for me this time, it was frustrating. I was sick of raiding Forts and doing meaningless fetch/delivery quests- I wanted the story that I came for. (Note: a few days after I did this, Ubisoft patched the exact point of the game I’m talking about to fix the huge level gap. Not sure what it is now.)
That’s another note I wanted to make: so many people talk about how big the game is, how much there is to do, how pretty it is… but rarely mention the story itself. So let’s loop back around to where I left off earlier- you’re a mercenary with a special pet Eagle at your side, and a job comes your way involving the very man who tore your family apart as a child. This unfolds an entire story of searching for family and redeeming your name in the eyes of Sparta, all while hunting down a nefarious Cult who wants you (and any family you have) dead.
Why? Because your blood is magical, of course!
You’re a descendant of the mighty Leonidas, and you’re the key to opening and controlling a long lost city…
Which city? I’m going to keep that spoiler to myself.
This jumble of story threads falls against a backdrop of everlasting Naval and Conquest Battles between Sparta and Athens. Pick whichever side you want each time- it has no lasting consequence on your playthrough. It’s honestly about the EXP and Loot. You’ve got your own ship, which is also fully upgradable, for roaming the high seas and for any nautical encounters.
You’ll also have other mercenaries chasing you throughout your journey; with a bounty system in place that resembles the Wanted Level from Grand Theft Auto, mercs can swarm in on you… mostly at really inconvenient times. More than once, I died of keen-eyed mercenaries dropping in on me while I was deep within a fort, drawing the attention of every freaking soldier anywhere nearby.
It was annoying, to put it politely.
Killing them will take you up the Mercenary ranks, and eventually, you’ll be top dog! Doesn’t mean they will stop chasing you, however.
Add all that to a sometimes-clunky combat system and you’re bound to be pissed off at times. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’d shoot an Overpowered Arrow attack off into the distance, despite aiming and holding the freaking camera down so that I’d shoot at my feet! It was like Autocorrect for arrows- not what you were trying to do, BUT IT’S ALREADY SENT. Ducking controls!
The story was fine. Fine feels like a strange word, one used for general platitudes… but that’s exactly why I chose it. It goes in so many directions, but some of it has no substance. There’s no grand finale, no chilling conclusion- in fact, there’s a cutscene at the end, and that’s it. No credit roll, no “The End,” it just puts you right back into the world as if the ending meant little to the narrative. The differing endings come into play here; same scene, different people, as I understand it. And so much story takes place at max level, or after so many roadblocks, that you can beat the game before revealing major players or plot lines. The factor of choice via dialogue options sometimes dampered the emotional impact of a scene; most things don’t just happen to you in Odyssey, you can carefully craft your reaction. There are a few points of real emotional gut wrenching, just nothing as dramatic as Ezio screaming “The Auditores are not dead!” or the desperation and fear that Bayek shows in Origins.
The path of a Misthios is a lonely one at times.
I also expected a lot more mythology in the game; yes, you’ll encounter more Temples of Zeus than you could imagine, and there are a few mythological beasties to be seen, but the gods themselves make no appearances. I guess in that respect, Origins spoiled me. There’s always been a touch of the mystical in the Assassin’s Creed titles, and the First Civilization/Isu do get talked about in Odyssey, we just don’t see as much as usual. I think part of them not showing up has to do with dialogue options, since some of them are distinctly anti-godly power, refusing to attribute your greatness to Apollo, the Fates, Zeus, or anyone else.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying it’s the worst story, or even worst Assassin’s Creed. What I am saying is, as Rock Paper Shotgun phrased it, Odyssey is a “messy masterpiece.” It tries to cram an enormous amount of stuff into an already-enormous world, and it does so many things right… and other things fall to the wayside.
Ubisoft says that they plan to support the game well into 2019, indicating that there will not be a new franchise release next year due to releasing new story packs (free!) as well as season pass story content. The first of the free storylines, The Lost Tales of Greece: The Show Must Go On, released this past week. Covering a play about Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, the story is about 30-45 minutes long and allows the player to recreate history as their legendary grandfather. There are also epic ships and mercenaries to track down and fight, as well as a few mythological beasts on our horizon- the first of which, it seems, will be Steropes the Lightning Rod, one of three cyclops brothers who fashioned the Greek gods’ most famous weapons.
Like Zeus’ lightning bolt. Yeah, they’re good with their hands.
As of writing this article, Steropes hasn’t been encountered by anyone in the game. We’ll see when he spawns!
Overall, I have to say that Odyssey did a lot of things well; after all, it’s not easy to break into the RPG scene when you’re known for Action/Adventure and actually pull it off. I just wish I liked it more than I did. Kassandra is an amazing character- I love her voice acting, her wit and how she’ll unabashedly flex her muscles when she needs to. (You Alexios players will have to tell me about him!) I also dig that Kassandra is technically the canon character for Odyssey, indicated by the novelization of the game and a Reddit AMA earlier this year. I just wanted a more impactful story. Sure, the world is beautiful, and the history is there, and good grief the amount of side stuff, I just wanted to feel it. Like…