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Assassin's Creed Odyssey
By Colum Blackett
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The reveal of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey marked a new direction for the franchise, with a focus on giving players the chance to craft their own experience. For some, it was the beginning of an identity crisis for the series, with the removal of both the Assassins and the Creed, making the title almost invalid. For others, it was a fresh start for the series, entering a new chapter full of opportunity which would allow the player to control the sexual identity and decisions of the protagonist. It was clear that the franchise was no longer going to be constricted by the Animus, and would for the first time ever be letting players make their own decisions over character selection, dialogue and other aspects of the game. Odyssey takes the franchise even further in the journey towards becoming a fully-fledged RPG, and builds upon the blocks left behind by Origins.
My time playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has been a bumpy ride, bringing about a mixture of emotions. The key question I asked myself when purchasing the game was: Can you have an Assassin’s Creed Game without the Assassins or the Creed? The short answer is yes, as Odyssey proves that it can be done from an ideological perspective, as tyrants and liberators exist in all historical societies. Should it have been done though? That’s a more difficult question to tackle. So before we examine that in more depth, let’s take a look at the game itself.
From the outside, Odyssey looks like 300 crossed with Assassin’s Creed Origins, combining the brutality of Ancient Greek conflicts with aspects of the previous entry. Moments after beginning the game, it becomes clear that this is far more than a retexture of a previous game. For the first time ever, players can select a character, a decision that cannot be undone once made. The choice comes down to two Spartan mercenaries. Kassandra or Alexios. This is due to Layla’s modified Animus accepting pages from the lost book of Herodotus, and DNA from the Spear of Leonidas, which projects a potential version of what history could have looked like, rather than what it was really like. For this to happen, the established animus lore of the franchise has been bent all over the place, removing issues such as desyncronization and bleeding effect consequences. The half-siblings have exactly the same choices, lines and even sexual partners, making the whole selection process rather peculiar. According to previous entries, Layla should be desynchronizing immediately, but let’s roll with it for now. I wasted no time in selecting Kassandra, turning the difficulty up to Nightmare Mode, and enabling exploration mode for my first playthrough.
"Fun but flawed in the eyes of the lore"
Ancient Greece in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey mixes together a wide range of contrasting environments, creating a beautiful experience for the player. When you’re not being attacked by the many enemies of the world, you can use photo mode to take in the stunning views and capture the moment. Although Odyssey feels familiar due to the graphical similarities to Assassin’s Creed Origins, the sandy deserts of Egypt feel a great distance away from the green fields of Greece. Venture to the coast and watch the waves hit the shore, or listen to the teachings of Sokrates in a bustling crowd. Whatever you choose to do in the game, you’ll be met with dynamic, ever changing scenarios that make you wish you had a time machine to visit it all for real. The game does a fantastic job at providing memorable locations in such a large open world, with new surroundings still being discovered after 100 hours of play. The tone of the world can also change in a moment, quickly going from a sunny, clear day, to a stormy, misty night, full of dangers lurking in the dark. You don’t want to be lingering around the woods of Attica after the sun goes down. The player discovers the Greek world along-side Kassandra (Or Alexios), after they finally manage to leave the small island of Kephallonia. behind. You’ll meet a colourful cast of characters along the way too. Who could forget the legendary warrior Testikles, or the tales told by your right hand man Barnabas, an ever loyal companion when facing the gravest of dangers. Following the Misthios on their journey are Ikaros (Senu’s Great Great ikarosGrandfather…. Possibly) and Phobos (At times the slowest horse to ever exist), who provide constant assistance throughout the game.
My first ten hours of gaming were spent synchronising viewpoints. Little did I know that this task would be never-ending, as the map for the game is absolutely enormous. After many hours free-roaming the wild lands of Ancient Greece (on nightmare mode), I began to notice that I had barely gained any XP at all, and that it had been a real graft to level up. In comparison to the enemies (and animals) of the land that all wanted me dead, I was an extremely weak opponent. By not doing missions (as the game clearly intended), I felt like I was being punished, and had to suffer the consequences. Without missions, it can take the player several hours to increase significantly in XP or levels when choosing to free-roam. This graft to progress can create a disparity between the gamer and the world, where you leave your gaming session wondering what you have actually accomplished. Unlike other RPG games such as Skyrim, the game has no intention of rewarding players for wandering the world, with XP awards being almost microscopic at times. Bigger actions on the other hand, such as completing missions or eliminating rival mercenaries are heavily awarded with XP, which can rapidly increase your level.
Before approaching a mission, I find myself scouting out the surrounding areas in order to pick a suitable battleground in case of conflict. A nice cliff or wall can be the difference between life and death, thanks to the Sparta Kick ability which can be used to defeat even the strongest of enemies. The surroundings can be critical to a successful fight, and creates an element which players can exploit to their own advantage. For example, I recently led a group of Athenians to a Lion den, before finding a vantage point to weaken the enemies with carefully timed arrows. Natural resources within the world also play a key role in the progression of the misthios. Trees and Iron can be harvested to upgrade weapons, or upgrade the ship, improving the chances of winning in combat. The game introduces a refined crafting experience in comparison to the time consuming efforts that were required in Assassin’s Creed III. To craft arrows, players simply collect wood and pelt, and head to the inventory. You can now even select auto-craft for arrows, meaning the game does it all for you. One feature that I particularly liked in AC Odyssey was the ability to dismantle weapons at any time. This allows the player to gain more wood or pelt where necessary.
Although the world can be used to your advantage, it can also provide surprises for those who wander in to unknown terrain. Enemy attacks can come unexpectedly, and you may find yourself facing skilled warriors with level counts way above your own. The best way to stay alive is by carefully selecting your gear, and by making sure you keep upgrading/engraving when you visit your local blacksmith. One thing that I did notice when delving in to the world of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is that actions have consequences. Thanks to the new dialogue selection system, the choices that you make in your playthrough can have repercussions. For example, by choosing to spare the infected residents of Kefalonia, the player learns later in the game that their homeland has become host to a foul plague. For the rest of the game, Kassandra or Alexios must live with the burden of knowing that they could have prevented the spread of the deadly disease. This is just one example of many of how the choices you make in game affect the world around you. Everything from the side you choose, to the targets you kill can be carefully contemplated by the player. The game does not force you to kill targets (other than cultists), and it is up to the player to decide which Nation Leaders/Mercenaries they wish to assassinate or spare. In doing so, they know that their decisions shape the land, and contribute towards the suffering or prosperity of the people. These huge decisions can feel like rewriting history at times, and should really be prevented by the Animus (which clearly isn’t doing its job properly these days). A good example of this is when Kassandra confronts The Wolf of Sparta (whom she thinks is her father). The player can choose to kill or spare Nikolaos, a decision which should be fundamentally impossible within the Animus.
Odyssey introduces a wide range of abilities that the player can unlock, which can be selected depending on the gamer’s preferred play-style. Each of three skill trees focus on a different core aspect of your chosen character. The Hunter, Warrior and Assassin tress all contain abilities which can cause devastating damage to opponents. The only problem with the ability system is that you can only select four for combat and four for archery at a time. It’s a shame that the game restricts your access to all of the abilities at once, but it does make the player select the most appropriate for their game. I personally tried to blend a mix between stealth and combat, in order suit the way I found myself playing the game. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing a good old Sparta kick won’t solve, but it’s best to stay on the safe side and select useful ones like healing for example. You never know when a fight is going to break out, and it’s good to have a way to recover should you take some damage. The Spear of Leonidas has some extremely powerful abilities attached to it, which only seem to get stronger as you progress through the game. After killing members of the Cult of Kosmos, you can take the Spear to the Ancient Forge, where it can be upgraded. This allows you to increase your strength even further, and unlock even more devastating abilities.
Although the game has a great range of abilities, I felt that some of them should not have been locked away. For example, special arrows such as fire, poison or explosive all fall under an ability tree, rather than a simple purchase from a blacksmith which I expected. You’ll find the same goes for smoke bombs, which also fall under an ability tree. It feels like the game really does wish for the player to level up and grind, rather than handing all the tools available straight away. Ikaros also does not have abilities, as was the case in Assassin’s Creed Origins. I think it would have been interesting to introduce abilities like the following: “Theft from above”. “Distraction noise”. “Stone drop”. You get the picture, there’s loads that could have been implemented. Maybe in the next game we’ll be able to send our eagle to steal ammo from enemy camps. That being said, I cannot imagine playing the game without abilities. Conquest battles without healing, shield stealing or overpowered archery attacks would be an absolute nightmare! They really do add an extra element to the game, and unleash a lethal force when enough adrenaline is built up
Dialogue options are a strange addition to the franchise, something which I never expected to occur as long as the animus is still operational. The choices available to the player are endless, especially in side missions, where Kassandra can change the tone of a conversation extremely quickly. One thing you will notice quickly however is her lust for sex at every opportunity. During serious conversations, the game finds a way to make the situation sexual, something which I found to be quite distracting. Other times, I found the choice I selected didn’t overly reflect what was actually being said, making it feel like the dialogue option was pretty pointless. One thing that I did like about the dialogue options however were how you could gain extra information from characters by selecting a question. This allows for the player to learn more about the upcoming quest, and think of a strategy in which to proceed.
Odyssey is full of choices, and the dialogue system reflects that in full. Players have the option to turn down quests and come back to it later, something which is extremely useful when you’re way below the recommended level. After sinking several hours into the game every day, I found myself at times skipping through dialogue in cutscenes and choosing to read the subtitles instead. This is no disrespect to the voice actors in any way, who did a great job with the characters. It simply saves time. There are moments however where I wish I had not done this, as the game quizzed me and made sure I was paying attention. My first real noticeable quiz came when I first attempted “Lore of the Sphinx”. I skipped the cutscenes without paying attention, and was presented with a selection process for riddle answers. I guessed of course and was killed by the Sphinx for not paying attention. I liked the way in which the game made sure I was still listening, and gave me options in which to choose. Other than a few overly sexual options, and some which didn’t reflect the choice, I think the game did a good job at presenting alternative branches which could create interesting consequences. This is definitely a feature that Ubisoft should use again in games like Far Cry and Splinter Cell, but I’m still not sure about its place in the Assassin’s Creed Universe I might be open to it's return in the Modern Day aspects though.
One of the core pillars of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is stealth, enabling the player to become one with the crowd and neutralise enemies without being spotted. As stealth is such as important element to the franchise, you would expect the game to make missions specifically for this, but this is not the case. When you begin the game, stealth is nearly impossible, with attacks from a hiding spot dealing limited damage. Over time, it improves if you select gear with Assassin damage, but there comes a time when playing where you have to accept that a stealth approach may not be the best for this game. For example: You see an Athenian guard on the edge of the cliff. You can either:
1) Attempt an assassination, risking exposure.
2) Sparta kick him off the cliff.
In any other Assassin’s Creed game, I would pick 1 of course, knowing that my hidden blade would kill the enemy every time, but Odyssey carries on the problem that Origins introduced. Not every character can be stealthily assassinated from behind, or above, no matter what you do. You’d think a knife to the throat would slay even the mightiest of foes, but the game seems to have other ideas about this. Even with full Assassin damage on your weapons, a stealth attack may only deal half the damage you would expect to a captain or brute. You can find yourself above an alerted enemy, but unable to perform an air assassination, something which I found to be a particular problem. The stealth in Odyssey is flawed, and that makes me worry about future entries. When walking with a crowd in Athens for example, a paid mercenary will spot you from a mile away and attack on sight. Long gone are the days of ‘blending’, where a crowd could mask your position.
The game is slightly limited when it comes to ranged attacks. All you can do from distance is shoot an arrow, which probably won’t do much damage to an enemy of the same, or higher level (even with a headshot), or you can try get up close and personal. Neither guarantees an instant kill, and exposes your position immediately. I found that the best stealth attack in the game is actually the spear throw ability, which can be used to quietly kill your opponents. As one of the fundamental strengths of the franchise, I really want to see this aspect improved in future entries. The simple introduction of tools such as throwing knives or bombs would make a difference to the stealth element. Alongside the whistle, rock throwing like was the case in Far Cry 3 would be a fantastic tool to distract guards. The closest right now to this is fire an arrow, or throw a lit torch, both of which alert enemies. Stealth is certainly an optional approach in the game, and many missions don’t even try to accommodate it. For example, the conquest battles cannot be fought from the shadows, and force the player to use the combat system time and time again. One thing that I did like about stealth in Odyssey however was the range of cover from the environment. Tall grass and bushes are frequent across the land, so you can attempt to be stealthy whenever you feel like it.
As stealth is such a vital part of the Assassin’s Creed series, I really hope that the team behind the next game go back to the drawing board and work out the kinks, because for some reason it is extremely difficult in Odyssey, and almost prevents the player from carrying out a quiet assassination. It’s clear to me that more tools need to be given to the player in order to become a stealthier character. For example, Poison darts, smoke bombs, throwing knives and rock throwing would be a massive step forward in comparison to what we have to work with right now.
Assassin’s Creed elements
Odyssey is the first game in the franchise to take place before the establishment of the Assassin Brotherhood, which began in Ancient Egypt (The Hidden Ones). For this reason, the game was always going to struggle with incorporating ‘AC elements’, as many of the key founding pillars had yet to be introduced. Although the game does attempt to remind players than it is an Assassin’s Creed game, it acts almost like a fanservice rather than dedication to previous entries. Origins had some of the best White Room death conversations in the franchise, but Odyssey removes these pivotal moments, and replaces assassination targets with a ‘Shadow of Mordor’ style system. This means that players don’t really know anything about the people they are hunting in the Cult of Kosmos, even after investigations have been conducted. Although the Cult control Ancient Greece and different aspects of society, the player doesn’t have motivation to hunt down targets other than gaining better loot and crossing a name off a list. Previously, games would invest players in their targets, and make an emotional connection to their kill. A great example of this is when Connor finally assassinated his father, Haytham Kenway. When I think back on my Odyssey, I could maybe name two or three targets that I actually know anything about or remember. It seems that the members of the cult only exist to give the player something to do in the game, which is a shame when you think about the great experiences we have had hunting notable targets down in past entries.
The Hidden Blade is replaced by The Spear of Leonidas, which is a pretty cool weapon for the player to upgrade and customise. Unfortunately though, you only get one, meaning that double air assassinations cannot be performed in the game. This is extremely annoying when you find yourself above two targets. Odyssey is also the first Assassin’s Creed game not to feature Animus Loading screens, where you can run around and see your character. Instead, we see the Cult of Kosmos hideout, which adds masks to the floor after you track them down. Although this is a cool new feature, it’s just one of the many ways in which the game distances itself from the past. The game does a decent job at explaining that a precursor group to the Order of Ancients existed, and that a philosophical battle against free will and control took place. At its core, that’s what the Assassin’s Creed franchise is all about. It does however, present a story where one individual and a few friends chose to battle the controlling forces, rather two opposing groups. It’s pretty disappointing to see that Darius, a major figure in the Assassin’s Creed lore has been sidelined to DLC content. Although the DLC looks 100x more like an Assassin’s Creed entry than Odyssey, I can’t help but feel unimpressed that players are having to pay extra to get the full AC experience.
The outfits provide a constant reminder than this is an AC Game, allowing players to equip hoods when tackling the adventures set by Ubisoft. I was overall impressed with the outfit customisation options, especially when the visual customisation system was introduced. One thing however that was noticeably missing was the Legacy Outfits, which have been present in the franchise since the early games. It would have been pretty cool to see the Altair outfit getting some photo mode attention, but unfortunately they didn’t make an appearance.
The best Assassin’s Creed lore elements in the game can be found in the Modern Day sections, where you play as Layla reading her emails. Here you will find a whole array of callbacks to previous instalments, and even transmedia products such as Last Descendants and Heresy. The death of Charlotte de la Cruz is featured in an email, alongside mentions of key Assassins, such as William Miles, Harlan T Cunningham and Galina Voronina. My favourite reference was the presence of Kiyoshi Takakuraa, a member of the Japanese Brotherhood who was first introduced in Assassin’s Creed Initiates. The Modern Day story is always progressing, with Layla being promoted to Cell Leader, but the games tend to focus on pretty boring aspects of the story. When you compare the comic book modern day story aspects to the games, we have one clear winner. This has led to it losing its importance for many fans, with some calling for its removal. I hope that for the next game, we can restore the Modern Day conflict, and see a full scale battle between the Assassins, Templars and Instruments of the First Will.
Odyssey is at its best when it is presenting the player with meaningful side missions that connect to each other. You can play a full arc that all links to each other, creating a chain of stories which you can follow. Here we get to see the protagonist in different situations, and presents the player with a great blend of sarcasm, humour and seriousness.
Kassandra is a breath of fresh air as a female protagonist, when compared to the cold, serious tone we experienced as Aya. She was great all the way through, and I am so glad I didn’t choose Alexios.
Sexual decisions feel unnecessary and out of place, becoming incredibly distracting when playing the game. It’s a novelty which has well and truly worn off for me. It doesn’t add anything to the game.
Great range of enemies and kill moves. The combat and brutality of the game provide hours of satisfactory fighting experiences.
At times the world feels too big. Imagine it without fast travel…
One thing that fans can take away from Odyssey is that Ubisoft intends to provide a ton of additional content for future games. The post-launch content is going to keep players busy for a long time, meaning great value for money.
Overall: The game is fun, but flawed in the eyes of the Lore. It bends the Assassin’s Creed lore in ways that cannot be justified. I hope that for the next game, Ubisoft listen to the Community, and try to make the game more ‘AC’ than this one.