The Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “Every action has its pleasures and its prices.” And when it comes to Ubisoft’s latest entry to their historical action series, he couldn’t have been more right. While there’s enjoyment to be found in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, it comes at a considerable cost — and that’s your increasingly limited time.
Odyssey boasts the most extensive map we’ve seen in the history of the series and to say it’s big would be an understatement. It’s massive, sprawling with land masses and vast seas in between. 50 hours in and there are still numerous areas we have yet to explore.
While the world is undoubtedly vibrant and impressive, there’s not nearly enough variety in its activities. It suffers from repetition, slowly devolving into an experience centered around tiresome level grinding. It’s a monotonous slog that, although gorgeous and fun to play at times, tends to overstay its welcome.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is grand in scale but shallow in the same vein as many other open world games. The difference here is that it forces you to play its most inconsequential moments — for hours and hours — in the name of additional content.
A tale of one – er, two stories
Set in 431 B.C., Odyssey is a retelling of the Peloponnesian War between the Spartans and the Athenians. You can pick between playing as one of two Spartan misthios, Alexios or Kassandra, a brother and sister condemned to a horrible fate. Despite featuring two protagonists, the story is the same no matter who you pick, and this includes dialogue. Kassandra and Alexios do recite the same lines throughout their adventures with only minor changes in the way it’s said. Alexios’ responses tend to come off brash while Kassandra takes a more of a playful approach. Either way, the experience feels the same.
Odyssey’s story does fare better than most Assassin’s Creed games. It’s more of a personal tale, focusing on the tumultuous history of a family torn apart. It features a mysterious cult at the center of a large war and a villain you’d never expect. There are brief moments that deal with the animus, but these are mostly throwaway experiences. Since the present day story has muddled over the course of the series, Assassin’s Creed would be more readily digestible if it just tossed it away altogether.
An introduction of dialogue trees gives you the power to change the course of the story through select interactions with characters. For example, there are moments in the game when you have to decide between being merciful and sparing someone’s life or merely killing them.
Odyssey demands that you complete an incredible amount of outside missions to progress
The same dialogue system is used to pick up romantic partners, although these interactions aren’t as deep as we would’ve liked. Decisions mostly come down to choosing who to sleep with, and scenes come across as situations you’d find in a cheesy porno. It’s not exactly what we’d call romance, but it does draw some laughs.
Even though Odyssey’s overall story is enjoyable, its gameplay is dampened by pacing issues. It starts off strong, but as you progress, you spend far too much time outside of main missions trying to level up. On more than one occasion, I found the difference between my current level and recommended mission level exceeded four, and in one instance, that gap jumped to eight levels. That’s roughly ten hours of gameplay. With such huge lulls between story missions, the power of an otherwise impactful story is significantly diminished.
Grinding ain’t it
Like Assassin’s Creed Origins, Odyssey has an RPG progression system. It includes a standard skill tree seen in many open world games with each weapon and piece of armor having a level requirement and point value. This time around, the skill tree allows you to assign special abilities to both bow and melee weapons. An energy meter fills as you land successful strikes against enemies, and segments of the meter can be spent to perform elaborate moves that dole out more damage.
For seasoned Assassin’s Creed players, combat takes a more simplified approach. Melee attacks are performed with the trigger buttons, one light and one heavy, with an emphasis on timed parries to perform counter-attacks. After a few hours, it will feel like you’re just going through the motions in combat. Ranged attacks do spice things up a bit. Bow attacks can be modified with special skills such as three-arrow shots and even a volley of arrows dropped from above. Arrow attacks work well, though feel a little weak in comparison to the satisfying slashes off swords and axes.
The new bounty system places hits on your head, sending up to five high-powered enemies your way.
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the leveling system, skill trees, or weapon upgrades, the problem lies with how big of an impact they have on how you approach the game. At first, leveling up is a reasonably quick process that asks you to complete story missions, but as the world opens up and you get closer to level 20, you need to think about earning experience points at every turn. It becomes a slow process that cannot be accomplished by just playing through the main missions.
Odyssey demands that you complete an incredible amount of outside missions to progress, and it begins to feel repetitive once you realize that you’ve played all of these quests before: Go here, investigate this, talk to that person, kill this person, grab stuff from a chest. All of it — regardless if you are in Athens, Sparta, or on a remote island — starts to feel the same. High skilled players will also have a tough time completing missions with enemies of higher levels because Assassin’s Creed Odyssey places most of its emphasis on level, weapons, armor, and abilities rather than a player’s skill.
Conquest by land and sea
Odyssey tries to vary the experience in a few ways, but these new additions struggle to remain compelling. Naval battles make an underwhelming and rather simplistic return. Most of the time, sea battles have you launching arrows at enemy ships and bracing for incoming arrows. You can also ram your ship into others to deal significant damage and hurl javelins to create weak points in enemy ships.
While you have the option to board ships before delivering the final blow, the novelty of knocking enemy soldiers into shark-infested waters wears off quickly. Rather than spending additional time with the combat you experience in excess on land, it’s much easier to just lob one more round of arrows to sink the ship and send the crew to its death all at once. Before long, you’ll find yourself sailing past enemy ships instead of engaging with them.
Odyssey also introduces conquest battles, large-scale combat scenarios where you hack and slash through dozens of enemies to gain control over a territory. To initiate these battles, you have to lower an army’s grip on a region by dismantling bases, killing enemy soldiers and commanders, looting valuable treasure, and burning war supplies. A meter in each region indicates how strong of a hold an army has on the area, and once it becomes vulnerable, you can participate in a conquest battle.
Like Origin’s, stealth once again takes a backseat to action in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
These battles are fun asides, even if it’s just the same two-trigger combat you’ll find everywhere else in the game. The only difference being that it’s in a centralized, frenzied locale. The real prize is the large amount of experience points you get for completing a conquest battle, and since a region can become fortified again, it provides unlimited conquest battle opportunities.
Mercenaries are the most burdensome feature, usually showing up when you murder civilians, steal, or even kill enemy soldiers. The new bounty system places hits on your head, sending up to five high-powered enemies your way that somehow (even in technologically deprived Ancient Greece) know where you are at all times. Because of this, it turns out to be mostly frustrating since it’s not uncommon to accidentally run into a mercenary that is ten or more levels higher than you. While you can pay off your bounties or lay low until they disappear, once they’ve already seen you, it’s too late — they’ll keep coming for you anyway.
Speaking of avoiding enemies, stealth takes a backseat to action once again in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. While it’s advisable to assassinate enemies without being seen, stealth detection isn’t always consistent. There are occasions when enemies will spot you on a rooftop when It feels implausible. It seems if enemies are facing in your direction within a certain range, no matter if they are a story below you or not, they start to sense your presence.
Meanwhile, you can run up on enemies from behind without them hearing you. Other times, sneakily taking out one enemy inadvertently gets you spotted by another one. It’s a system you can game at times, but it doesn’t feel quite accurate. It’s also become increasingly difficult to assassinate high-powered enemies due to the grindy leveling system. For all these reasons, it’s hard to take out every enemy in a base without being noticed.
There’s one neat addition to stealth, however, and it’s that you can recruit characters and turn enemies into allies. You can assign these recruits to be lieutenants that you can call into battle to create distractions, making it easier to sneakily take down enemies. While the system works as advertised, it still doesn’t bring Assassin’s Creed back to its stealth-focused roots.
A remarkable world, hindered by its own expanse
In some respects, it’s almost forgivable that Odyssey demands you to explore areas that have nothing to do with the main story. From beachside ports and the sprawling streets of Athens to remote woodlands and mountain ranges, the Ancient Greece-inspired world is a stunning achievement — a living, breathing terrain full of interesting characters and set pieces.
While it’s an undeniably impressive world that players can get lost in for dozens of hours, there are technical drawbacks that make enjoying it difficult. Load times between deaths and cutscenes are very long. The game also occasionally stops to load at random times as the screen freezes and buffers. An example of this is the sizable load time between embodying Ikaros (Kassandra’s and Alexios’ bird companion) and returning to your character.
These interruptions are typically brief, though there were a few occasions where the stuttering gameplay lasted for about a minute or so. We did play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on a standard PS4, so these issues may improve or disappear completely on platform’s such as the PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, and PC.
There’s plenty to do in this world, but a lot of it feels like busy work that fights to stay exciting or compelling.
Another technical annoyance comes with the save system. It’s not uncommon to complete an objective, receive the experience points, and then die shortly after, only to return to a spot before a mission was completed. The auto-save system is finicky, so you may find yourself returning to your last synchronization point or where a mission first started. After a while, manually saving becomes common practice before critical spots to prevent any lost progress.
Microtransactions do make a return in Odyssey. You can buy individual weapons, gear packs, drachmae, and materials with Helix credits purchased with cash. We never reached a point in the game where we would’ve been tempted to spend money since gear and useful resources are plentiful throughout Ancient Greece.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey features a rich, lush world lessened by its repetitive activities. Though the main story is compelling, completing it requires you to participate in a massive amount of level grinding through less-than-stellar side quests. There’s plenty to do in this world, but a lot of it feels like busy work that fights to stay exciting or compelling. Odyssey is yet another open world game that misinterprets the meaning of more content.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes, Marvel’s Spider-Man is a recent example of open-world action games done right.
How long will it last?
We completed the main story in 40 hours, but there’s enough content here to last you at least double that.
Should you buy it?
No, not unless you’re a hardcore Assassin’s Creed fan.