Review: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey – PS4


When Ubisoft first announced that they will be releasing a new Assassin’s Creed game a year after Assassin’s Creed Origins, people were skeptical. After all, part of the reason the franchise stagnated is due to the annual releases that did not feature much changes in gameplay which was becoming very predictable. But Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is much, much more than a cut-and-paste game. It is a reinforcement of the direction the franchise will be going into the feature, as well as having both a compelling story, and mechanics that were refined specifically for the game’s setting.

Instead of going forward in time, Odyssey actually takes us further back to Ancient Greece at a time when the city states is descending into war. The Peloponnesian War, to be exact, led by Sparta against Athens. Central to its story is the family drama of Kassandra and Alexios, grand-children of the great Spartan King Leonidas I, who were separated at child-hood after a false prophecy tore them apart.

The game makes you choose which of the two you wish to control. It will be the first of many choices you would have to make in the game which may affect how the story ends. While Kassandra is the canonical protagonist, playing Alexios won’t affect how the events in the game turns out besides a few changes and references in the script.

As far as the story is concerned, Ubisoft couldn’t have chosen a better time period. Not only was the Peloponnesian War full of battles and conflicts that give color to a misthios’ (mercenary) career, it is also not that far-removed from the era of myth that will allow the franchise’s “First Civilization” artifacts to play a bigger role. In lieu of a hidden-blade (which canonically was used by the Assassin who killed Persian King Xerxes), you will wield the broken staff of Leonidas which, as an Isu (what the First Civilization are called in the game) artifact, bestows its user certain powers.

This is Sparta!

Graphics

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, like its predecessors, is an aesthetic masterpiece. The only limits to how vibrant and wonderful the world looks is perhaps the machine I was playing on. This is a game that is meant to be played on the PS4 Pro, rather than the basic unit that I own. Like Assassin’s Creed III, IV: Black Flag, and Rogue before it, this game – at least from a graphics point of view – is begging to be released on the next generation of consoles than on the one it was first released on. The game is beautiful, but there are a lot of pop-ups here and there, the draw distance also has problems, and there are segments during my play when the game just slowed down. I tried playing other games but didn’t encounter the issue, so I was wondering if it was a problem in the game itself.

There were also times when an NPC or even my horse will render in front of me. Not as bad as when I experienced with Assassin’s Creed Unity, but the were there, though not as often as the pop-ups. Well, I guess I have to be happy I didn’t see any Unity-level monstrosities.

Music

The franchise seems to have embraced the track “Ezio’s Family” from AC 2 as once again, it provides for the base music of both the menu and the main title. I don’t mind because the track is a classic, and evokes (at least in me) happy memories of the past.

I am not familiar with classical Greek music, but the tracks used do evoke the kind of atmosphere that can only come from the land of myths and legends. The sea shanties (I am not sure what their Greek equivalent is called) are very hypnotic and do take me away from the long sea voyages.

Gameplay

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey retains much of Origins’ gameplay, reinforced by subtle touches and a stronger naval element. There were no major changes of the mechanics, but there is improvement or at least a modified execution. While the franchise has been accused of just copy-pasting gameplay for multiple titles before it is updated, in this one, they are at least justified because those “modifications” were done to make Origins’ mechanics optimized for this title.

Sometimes you don’t really need to change a lot if the mechanics were tweaked  to fit the title. It is different for example, with AC 2 and Brotherhood where besides a few additions to make the battle gameplay more action-oriented, the rest – especially the animations – is literally the same. In Odyssey, you have a lot of animations carried over from last year, but you also have a lot of new ones as well, most especially in the way your character fights.

Spartan Warrior

Alexios and Kassandra fight differently from Bayek in that there is no shield. This means that you will be forced to be more aware of your surroundings to prevent being overwhelmed by many enemies at once. Your character is made agile and athletic enough to be counter the deficit on defense. On paper, at least and there will be moments when fighting multiple enemies will make you wish you still had a shield. The plus-side is that you will earn abilities that allow you to grab and throw away your opponent’s shield evening the fight and I can tell you, you will need those especially in all-out battles.

Timing is crucial during battles in Odyssey, more so than it was in Origins. And while the player can mow down whole armies once their character has sufficiently leveled, it is still quite possible to get defeated. This forces you to stop mashing the R1 and R2 buttons and keep your wits about you. There are visual cues that tell you when to parry (pressing L1+R1 buttons), and when an enemy is gearing up for an un-blockable strike that you have to evade (pressing the square button).

The Open World


Like any Assassin’s Creed game, traversal is an important element of the gameplay and Odyssey chose the safe route by retaining Origins’ world exploration. Alexios and Kassandra can still free-run on roof-tops (or Ancient Greek’s equivalent of them), but this game feels more “grounded” than ever before. It took me a while to get used to the terrain which is more “rocky” than I was used to. There were times when I had some difficulty with the terrain, but I feel that this is because I’m not that used to it yet. Ubisoft can play around with history, but they can’t really change how the locations actually looked like.

Also, as in Origins, the game itself tries to make you go around and explore. I don’t exactly think Origins’ locale is boring, but the Egyptian dessert is travel-friendly at least. In Odyssey, however, the game is set on various locales with different terrain separated by bodies of water. Each location also has its own ecosystem that determines how often wild boars, wolves, and bears will appear.

The best part of the gameplay would have to be the naval battles – arguably the Assassin’s Creed franchise’s best gift to open-world gaming. Odyssey retains much of what was in Origins’ short naval battles, and brought back elements of naval gameplay from the Kenway trilogy. It still operates very much the same, just swap the cannons for flaming arrows, but at the same time it feels different. It is fun to sail around, sinking ships, taking loot, and basically becoming Lord of the seas.

Now Recruiting

The recruitment mechanic returns to the series with some modifications to make it a bit worthwhile. Since Odyssey is set in a time long before the Brotherhood came free-running their way to their targets, you are recruiting “lieutenants” instead. These are characters you recruit from enemies or special characters you will meet during the course of the game. These will help you whenever you are boarding ships or assist you on the field by “distracting” targets once you’ve unlocked the ability.

The best part is that you can recruit anyone you want, so if you fancy having an all-Spartan unit, or re-forming a Peloponessian War version of Achilles’ Myrmidons, you can do so. But remember that you won’t be able to customize their appearances nor improve their levels. The game’s Lieutenant mechanic’s similarity with the Nemesis System of the Middle-Earth games is just skin-deep and does not allow you to increase your bond with your crew. But on a positive note, I consider this as Ubisoft’s first step for making a proper army mechanic for the series.

Conquest Battles

Odyssey also introduces large-scale combat scenarios called Conquest Battles. This allows you to pick a side and help them to victory by killing as much of their enemy as possible. Almost all regions have conquest battles, and all you need to do is to lower the current faction’s grip on the territory by assassinating the leader, destroying supplies, or robbing their war chest. A meter in each region indicates how strong their hold is on the area, and once it becomes vulnerable, a Conquest Battle becomes available.

This is a great place to earn both valuable loot and experience. It’s also extremely fun, if a bit repetitive on your 20th try. But they are also valuable places to really learn the battle mechanics that you might won’t mind it. War can be exploited to your advantage in this game, and the Conquest Battles is the best way of showing it. I always side with Sparta in these battles (Sparta eventually won the Peloponnesian War in real life), but I won’t mind undermining their war effort if it means I can initiate a mechanic that will give me a decent amount of XP and loot.

Going the RPG Way

Origins introduced RPG mechanics to the series in dire need of revitalizing and Odyssey takes that a step further. As mentioned earlier, each increase in your level not only increases your health and damage, but gives you one skill point you can use to unlock abilities. It’s the same as in Origins except that you are limited with eight ability slots – four each for melee and ranged abilities. Assassin abilites are also counted in the melee slots so there’s about two branches of the skill-tree that you’d have to pick abilities from.

While this might sound a bit restrictive, it actually isn’t. Odyssey allows you to change your abilities on the fly, swapping an assassin ability (which might need you to be anonymous before you can use it) with something else that best fits your current situation. If you are not satisfied with the current skills you’ve unlocked, you can always ‘re-spec’ for a fee, allowing you to unlock abilities you need NOW as opposed to just randomly unlocking abilities.

Rest assured though, the game gives you ample opportunities to use all those abilities but although some of them are must-haves, some you can live without. That doesn’t make the ability useless, but it allows you to spec your character into a specific archetype that will best works with your style. Even some OP abilities are locked out in certain situations which can mean the difference between surviving the battle or waiting for the last save to upload.

This game also forces you to grind like any RPG. Grinding is either a good or a bad thing depending on how it is executed. Odyssey’s grind swings towards the “good” side although there are some negative points in there too. For one, if you are not prepared to witness how hard Assassin’s Creed has embraced the “open-world, action-RPG” title, then you’re going to have a problem.

Your character’s skill and survivability rests on your level relative to both the locale’s difficulty level and your target. As in Origins, each location has a recommended level that gives you an idea of what the regular enemies’ levels there are. Simply put, if you are on level 15, you can pretty much take on enemies and missions up to two levels above you. It can be hard because a level 15 can’t assassinate a level 17 guard, much less a captain, but you can at least defeat them. As opposed to facing someone five levels above you, then you are just inviting to be one-hit killed.

But grinding for XP isn’t as tedious as it seems, especially since Conquest Battles rewards you with a lot of XP and they’re very fun to do. There are also a load of “jobs” you can undertake as a mercenary with postings on major towns and even on your ship, the “Adrestia.” They don’t net as much XP as a normal side-quest or a main mission, but it’s something. Each island or province also has side-quests that give decent amount of XP you can use to level-up. I’ve seen play-throughs where the player has already reached level 30 while still in Attika.

My technique (honed from playing Origins) was to always be at least two levels above the recommended on your next location. So if the Athens mission requres you to be at least level 15 and the area says as much, I’m going to make sure that I am at least on level 17 before I go there. Getting a head-start is the key.

Lastly, Odyssey’s big bad is the Cult of the Kosmos – the Templar Order in one of its previous incarnations, and the way the game sets them up as targets independent of the story missions feels like a master-stroke. The story missions do dwell on the effects the Cult’s actions have on your family, but a large number of the cult members can be killed independently of it.

Killing each “outed” member drops clues (among other things), as to where their bosses are and who they might be. Each member is under a specific “branch” led by a “Sage” or a ranking member. As for the lower-ranked ones, the game directs you to certain locations where you can fish for information. This approach to the Cult of Kosmos provide a welcome distraction from the main story, and gives you added incentive to grind yourself to a high level.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey not only continues Origins’ “reformation” of the franchise, it thoroughly smashes old conventions and ideas of what an Assassin’s Creed game should be. While it retains the core elements of the early games, it is in no way beholden to them, even to the point of going against what fans previously held unchangeable.

Conclusion:
In closing, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey continues on the improvements made by Origins while dialing up the fun-factor in the game. It has embraced its identity as an Action-RPG while retaining a more than tangible connection to the series’ roots. It has a compelling story – one of the best in the series – and tells it in a way that integrates side-missions and takes advantage of the political climate of the era.

Odyssey fulfills the need of a strong stand-alone title in a franchise that has traditionally been strong when it is connected to each other. You do not need to have played the previous games to understand the story, and the modern day segments were contained enough to be accessible to casual players but has tidbits that will satisfy hardcore franchise fans. Yet, this game is Assassin’s Creed through and through, and the numerous assassin abilities, stealth options, and other trade-mark franchise features like the Isu artifacts, and assassinations do drive home the point.

While not without its faults, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is the sum total of the development of a franchise from the first game up to this one. It features all the improvements in the series in terms of the gameplay and the story-telling all while transitioning from a stealth/action game into an action RPG.

With the twilight of the eighth generation of consoles fast approaching, it is comforting to note that developers are not slacking off on making quality games. 2018 alone has been really awesome in terms of the number of quality games released. It is a fitting tribute to a generation that blew game development wide open, while offering us tantalizing clues to what might be in store for us in the future.

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