Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a great game, but it doesn’t feel like Assassin’s Creed
Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is mostly a really good video game. Its version of Ancient Greece might be the most convincing historical setting Ubisoft has yet created, and the world is absolutely jam-packed with things to do. The combat features the same depth as its predecessor, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and climbing up walls and bounding across rooftops feels as good as ever.
The problem is that the game doesn’t feel much like Assassin’s Creed. When the series first came out, its stealth-based assassinations and parkour movement felt brand new, and its twists on the initial Grand Theft Auto-inspired open world design gave the series its own unique flavor. But over the years new features have steadily been added, most still pulled from other games, and, well, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t feel all that unique any more. And Odyssey is the most extreme example yet.
Odyssey puts you in the role of a sell sword during a tumultuous time for Greece, with Athens in the midst of a violent war with Sparta. You can choose to play as one of two siblings; I played as the wonderful Kassandra, who might be the series’ best lead since Assassin’s Creed II’s Ezio. She’s strong and funny, and someone you won’t get sick of even after playing the game for dozens of hours. As is the way of the series, her simple life as a mercenary eventually takes multiple turns toward the strange, as she’s pulled into a complex narrative involving ancient bloodlines and secret societies. Mercifully, the modern day Assassin’s Creed sequences, in which a future descendant is reliving an ancestor’s past memories, are both rare and short, so you’ll be spending mosts of your time in beautiful Greece.
The story is fairly standard stuff, but what makes it interesting is how you actually have some control over the lead character. She still has a distinct personality, but you’re able to make decisions at various points in the game, that somewhat shape her beliefs. This was true in Origins as well, but it feels deeper and more meaningful here. You can choose whether Kassandra accept money as a reward from a poor slave, or spare the life of a criminal. In one particularly harrowing mission, a murderer kidnapped a family, and forced me to choose whether the mother or father should survive. These moments can add emotional weight to otherwise boring missions, and they often forced me into difficult quandaries, as often the morally right decision would mean more work, typically in the form of an extended battle.
As part of this increased focus on character development, Odyssey also introduces romance options, and I’ll just say that Kassandra gets hit on a lot, despite the fact that she carries a massive sword and bow on her back. With Origins, Assassin’s Creed was already making a turn to becoming a proper role-playing game, so the more robust dialogue and decision-making options actually feel right at home. It helps that the game gives you such a likable character to develop.
Outside of that, there’s a lot going on in Odyssey. The naval combat from Assassin’s Creed Black Flag returns, as does the loot and skill tree-focused combat of Origins. You’ll be spending a lot of time in menus upgrading your gear and abilities. There’s also a new feature reminiscent of the “nemesis” system from Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, in which mercenaries will hunt you down, unless you get to them first. It’s not as deep as Mordor, and at times it can be annoying; the mercenaries often appear at the worst times, tracking you down just as you’re in the midst of a completely different battle. Similarly, once you discover the game’s secret society, you’ll be spending plenty of time searching for clues so that you can hunt down and kill its shadowy members. It’s a nice idea, though there are a lot of cult members, and it can get tedious after a while.
As with most Assassin’s games, there’s a lot of repetition in Odyssey, but for the most part it’s enjoyable. The thrill of figuring out how to kill a target who is surrounded by dozens of guards still remains. I’m also completely in awe of the depth of the world. It’s absolutely huge, and the level of detail is stunning, especially when you eventually make your way to the larger cities, like Athens. I really hope that Ubisoft adds an educational mode like in Origins, for those of us who want to explore without getting killed by guards. My one complaint is that the wildlife is a little too wild; at times it felt like I was playing Far Cry, fighting off a constant barrage of lions, bears, and boars, when all I wanted to do was enjoy a nice horseback ride.
One or two of these additions might fit seamlessly with Assassin’s Creed, but with so many it dilutes the experience. There’s not much about Odyssey that’s distinctly Assassin’s Creed. The assassinations feel like stealth missions in any other open-world game, and since I spent most of the game on horseback, the parkour traversal wasn’t a huge part of the experience. I didn’t even wear a hood most of the time; because of the game’s gear system, I was usually wearing Spartan armor instead.
The formula for open-world games is pretty well-established by this point, and in order to stand out, games have to offer something unique. We saw this with Spider-Man on PS4, which featured a generic structure, but still felt vibrant and alive thanks to its web-slinging movement and light-hearted comic book story. The upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2, meanwhile, is looking to build on the foundations of its predecessor by offering an absurd amount of depth, creating a world that truly feels alive.
In a vacuum, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a fantastic game, one that does a lot of things right. But put up against these other experiences, it doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself, and it eschews many of the series’s unique selling points. It’s an Assassin’s Creed game that doesn’t make me feel like an assassin at all.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is launching October 5th on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.