The scope is gargantuan. Playing on an original Xbox One, the frame-rate would occasionally drop, but this didn't stop the game from delivering gorgeous vistas. Ancient Greece is the perfect setting for an Assassin's Creed game: you clamber up temples ...and more »
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is aptly named. It is an enormous, meandering journey through ancient Greece at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war as the struggle between Sparta and Athens begins to reshape the Greek world. It will shock you with its breadth and depth: the sea hides sunken ruins, the detail of temple paintings is impeccable, authentically clothed characters wander enormous cities whilst chatting in Greek, soldiers clash on roads as citizens scatter.
You play a mercenary, choosing between the equally statuesque and self-assured Kassandra or Alexios. There is an element of family drama that propels the story forward in counterpart to the overarching historical drama of the setting. The script is exactly the same for both characters; choosing Kassandra, I found her to be a great mix of sharp writing, subtle character animation and a standout performance by voice actor Melissanthi Mahut.
The writers and designers of Assassin’s Creed enjoy artistic license with history, filling in the gaps in their own idiosyncratic style. The game truly finds its voice when it embraces the strangeness of the surrounding mythos of the series itself, entwining it with the more recognisable Greek mythology.. Historical figures such as Herodotus and Leonidas also make appearances.
The scope is gargantuan. Playing on an original Xbox One, the frame-rate would occasionally drop, but this didn’t stop the game from delivering gorgeous vistas. Ancient Greece is the perfect setting for an Assassin’s Creed game: you clamber up temples and historic sites, push through bustling marketplaces, cling to sun-bleached stone cliffs above azure seas, gallop on a horse through autumnal forests. Exploration mode, the recommended way to play, has you figuring out where to go from clues picked up through conversation and observed in your surroundings, encouraging you to pay attention to the dynamic Greece that Ubisoft has created.
The scope extends to a plethora of systems. Get caught murdering or stealing and a bounty will be placed on your head. Mercenaries will then track you down relentlessly, adding a sense of consequence to your transgressions. You can also whittle away at a region’s military presence so it can be conquered by either Athens or Sparta, but this never really grabbed me; it’s potentially interesting that every soldier you kill has an effect, but I was never sure why my mercenary was supposed to care, and with plenty else to keep me occupied, I never cared either.
Decisions play a prominent role, and optional romance has been introduced for the first time, though it’s underdeveloped. It’s fun to see Kassandra flirt with a confidence that would make Aphrodite blush, but perhaps “romance” is too strong a word for these throwaway flings. Oddly, some objects of your (very fleeting) desire can occasionally be recruited as lieutenants on your ship, where they stand around in silence, gazing at nothing until a battle breaks out. The antics on the Aegean Sea are a highlight of the game – the bow crashing against waves as your crew sing shanties and a whale leaps out of the water makes you feel as if you’re the hero of an epic poem.
Odyssey’s writing is good, skilfully navigating humour and emotion, though it would benefit the game if it trusted its writing more instead of throwing combat into situations that don’t need it. Upon being sent on one quest by an amusingly insufferable Socrates, to judge whether a horse thief should be able to keep his stolen steed, I found the thief waiting in a guarded area, meaning I had to sneak past guards and kill a handful of soldiers before meeting him. The action got in the way of the point of this side quest: a dialogue between two characters. If Assassin’s Creed wants to become more of a role-playing game, it should allow the work of its clearly capable writers to take centre-stage more often.
At the beginning, the game feels too slow, teasing you with a range of combat abilities but then making you painstakingly unlock each of them. (The “spartan kick” ability deserves especial acclaim: kicking enemies off cliffs, boats and battlements never diminishes in satisfaction.) This isn’t a game for people who like to speed through a story; after 50 no-nonsense hours the end is still nowhere in sight.
You have the option to buy “time-saver packs” that offer you permanent experience or in-game currency boosts to speed things up – but when it sometimes feels like the game is intentionally slowing your progress, this leaves a bitter taste. I started a series of quests at level 29, only to find that as it built to a crescendo, the game suddenly informed me that I should be at level 40 to continue, interrupting a compelling storyline until I’d gone off and spent hours gaining levels. This feels like self-sabotage in an otherwise excellent game.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is satisfyingly authentic. The sunlight and baked earth of Crete made me a little sweaty, and the buzz of conversation in Athens made it feel alive. It is not a direct re-creation of ancient Greece, but an entertaining world of Ubisoft’s invention, and you get to stride through this place as a capable and instantly likable character. Not everything that Odyssey ambitiously attempts is successful, and it greedily consumes your time, but I’ve relished the many hours I’ve spent with it.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is out now; £49.99.
Games,Action games,Role playing games,Culture,Assassin',s Creed