— A copy of the game was provided, courtesy of Ubisoft —
Period pieces located in the Greek mythology always struck a chord with me. When I heard that the latest Assassin’s Creed would be located in this time frame, it intrigued me instantly. The possibility of combining a game franchise with a such a deep lore, with a time period allowing epic adventures, is a perfect combination (on paper) for a great adventure game. Did the developers deliver on such a promise? They really did it, in a magnificent way.
2 possible protagonists: a first in the franchise
As all the previous iterations of the franchise, the action of this new chapter is taking place in the Animus, a machine allowing to travel through someone’s ancestors memory recorded in his DNA. It is the first time though that a game allows you to choose between 2 protagonists to play the entirety of the game: Alexios or Kassandra. (I personally went with Alexios.)
Each has its own personality, which makes the experience tailored to what the player wants to do. The world can deal with either choice, because you are often referred to as misthios, which means mercenary. It allowed the developers to ease the work of creating all of the game’s interactions twice, which is brilliantly done by Michael Antonakos and Melissanthi Mahut (who was nominated at the Video Game Awards 2018 for her performance).
Exploration VS. Guided Mode
There is another choice that must be done at the beginning of the adventure, but it is not a permanent one: the Game Mode regarding the quests. You can play in either Exploration Mode or Guided Mode. (It can be switched at any time in the gameplay options of the main menu.)
Exploration Mode consists of not indicating precisely where your next quest objective is located. You’ll get instead series of clues based on the information you gathered from talking with characters, previous exploration, etc. You only have a general idea of where to go. It is then up to you (by walking, using a horse or your pet eagle Ikaros) to go further and pinpoint your destination. Near an untracked objective, there is an indicator on screen warning you that you should use Ikaros. The game system doesn’t leave you totally in the blank.
Guided Mode is the way previous games of the franchise worked. It means that you get a precise indicator of where you should go to complete your objective.
A family torn apart
The story revolves around your protagonist’s family. You are a descendant of King Leonidas. Your parents, Nikolaos and Myrrine, have to sacrifice their youngest child, because it was asked by a Spartan oracle. You are thrown down a mountain, holding the spear of Leonidas, which you inherited. You didn’t die though. You succeed in fleeing to Kephallonia, where a man named Markos takes you under his wings. Once an adult, you want to reunite with your family and try to amend the damage done by this tragedy.
The protagonist you don’t choose is your sibling. He/she becomes what the Greek world knows as Deimos, which means terror. In the war happening during those events, Deimos is recognized as one of the most powerful weapons, and the player will need to try to reach him/her.
Multiple story branches and quest lines
The family reunion is not the only incentive to explore Greece. There are 2 other main quest lines available. One is based on a political intrigue. The entirety of the Greek world has been invaded by a shadow organization called the Cult of Kosmos, which is partly responsible for what happened to your family. You can track every member, hunt and track them, until you reach its supreme ruler. By eliminating them all, more information gets revealed to you in terms of the world, and even some links to previous iterations of the franchise. It is a long process, but the reward is interesting (not mind-blowing though).
The last one though is one of the most interesting stories, especially for people fan of Greek mythology. This time around, you can actually encounter the gates for Atlantis. To open them, you need to hunt down artifacts and monsters that originated from this region. By collecting them all, you can go back to the gates and open them. The experience of tracking and killing those mythological creatures is a lot of fun. The fight against Medusa is particularly interesting. Once you go back to the gates, the cinematic that ensues is the one that blew my mind. There is an explanation going from the Animus, to this world, to links with the previous games of the franchise (even before Assassin’s Creed Origins). The reward is very satisfying, especially for those who played other entries in the franchise.
In Greece, romance is everywhere
Ubisoft incorporated in the gaming mechanics of the game the option to determine what happens according to your decision. Throughout key moments, the player can determine how he wants to act. Certain battles can be avoided. The order in which events happen can change. One fun thing that can also be influenced by this is romance.
You meet a lot of NPCs during your playtime. As the Greek mythology implies, love is all around, and nothing is sacred. Heterosexual and homosexual relations are common practice, and you can have the option to explore those options or not. The choices, combined with the wonderful writing included in the game, make this worth seeing, and you will be laughing hard during some scenes. I’m giving a special mention to a NPC called Alkibiades. His acting and delicious lines of dialog makes him one of the most memorable character in the game.
Exploring Greece and reuniting a family is a lot of work. The number of quests available in the game is huge! You’ll never totally run out of things to do, because the amount of enemy camp available is much higher than what the game needs to be completed. It allows you to be able to play in the way you like, fighting only when you decide to do so, and still progress. The variety of the missions is very interesting, from killing, infiltrating, to participating in naval battles with your boat called Adestria. These battles are in the same vein as what can be seen in Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag.
It won’t take a lot of time for you to see which type of missions you prefer doing and emphasizes on those. The Quests option available in the main menu is well made and allows to track everything you’re doing properly, along with the recommended levels you should be before tackling them.
A point also worth mentioning is the commitment from the developers to just offer gamers a plan for post-launch content that is really beefy, from free updates to DLC packs. If you decide to purchase the season pass, it will even give you access on March 29th to a remastered version of Assassin’s Creed III, which also includes Assassin’s Creed Liberation. It is $40 US / $50 CAN, but with this much content, I think it is worth the investment. (Of course, every piece of content can also be purchased separately.)
Loot Heavy adventure/RPG
I didn’t play Assassin’s Creed Origins, so the incorporation of RPG elements is new to me. I didn’t expect to be this much of a loot oriented game! The inventory screen (seen in the image just before) is a place where you’ll spend a lot of time. Each piece of equipment is qualified as being either common, rare (blue), epic (purple) or legendary (gold). There are even some cosmetic items that can be earned for your horse or your boat. Each item has its own statistics, and additional benefits can be added on certain pieces when you visit blacksmiths.
You will collect a lot of equipment, which can be equipped, dismantled (to get resources necessary to upgrade or craft) or sold. A nice quality-of-life present in the game is that when you collect a piece of equipment that is considered better than the one already equipped, there will be an indication on the HUD. It’s a very useful nice touch.
Special abilities to make you stronger
Every RPG game needs to have a decent skill tree for its protagonist, to entice players and giving them the incentive to play for a long period of time. The situation applies to Odyssey. There are 3 branches of evolution: Hunter, Warrior and Assassin. Each one has skills related to a particular style of gameplay. You can assign 4 ranged and 4 melee skills. It is deep enough to allow multiple configuration. You are not happy with a special set? Just a couple of drachmae (the gold unit in the game), and you can allocate your ability points in a different way. You get those points by leveling up your protagonist.
You’re not the only mercenary in town!
Across your journey, you’ll encounter other mercenaries like you. There is a tiered bounty system, making every one of them hunting each other. It is reminiscent of what can be seen in the Shadow of War and Shadow of Mordor games. What affects this system? Your actions. When you are going around doing possible bad things like killing, stealing, etc., you can obtain a bounty on your head (not unlike what we see in a Grand Theft Auto game). If you reach a certain threshold and meet a mercenary, he will target you and try to kill you. If you prevail, you raise a tier. The higher you’re located, the tougher the fights will be. If you reach high levels of bounty, mercenaries with a higher level will go after you.
In certain situations, it is worth questioning yourself about the validity of the fight. You want to avoid it? Avoid the enemy. You can also hunt down a special kind of enemy, which are bounty providers (the world map allows you to do so). Kill the provider and the bounty will disappear. As a last resort, of course, if you have enough drachmae, you can just pay off the bounty.
With the number of things to do and a vast world to explore, the developers give you a way to fast travel throughout the map: synchronization points. There are many dozens of them spread throughout the map. Once you’ve been there and synchronize, it becomes a fast travel location. It is simple, yet very efficient way to implement this game mechanics. With the number of different islands spread throughout Greece and the size of the map, if you don’t want to spend dozens of hours just travelling, this functionality is a blessing.
There is one thing I’ve learned very deep in my playthrough: there is a way for you to call out your boat. If you used fast travel, and are now located very far from it, but you need your boat for a mission, you can just locate the nearest port on your map, then from a specific location, call it up. It would have saved me hours if I had known earlier.
Very demanding game for the hardware
I played the game on the original PS4. Even if I was unable to see it with its maximum resolution and HDR, the game looks incredible, with very beautiful sceneries that recreates Greece in a way that fits the game perfectly. The draw distance is much higher than what I anticipated. The entire ensemble allows for the game to be displayed in an epic way, fitting the story and what it tries to accomplish.
The caveat for all this is that loading times in the game are not negligible and frequent. When you die (which happens a lot of time), there is a load screen that can easily take a 10-15 seconds. I’ve seen some terrible drops in frames-per-second during open-world scenes on the water and during big battles with many enemies. These drops were not game breaking, and lasted only a fraction of a second though. They were just noticeable enough to be annoying.
The game I’ve played the most this generation
Despite the little shortcomings I’ve mentioned, this is the game I’ve played the most on my PS4. I have my platinum trophy, a runtime of more than 100 hours, and I’m not done, because I plan to play all DLCs and get all the trophies associated with them. For many gamers in the recent years, Skyrim played this role. Maybe it was more The Witcher 3. Both great games that I’ve tried, but never finished. For me, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is the open-world adventure/RPG game to beat and get its hooks on me. It is worth the nomination for Game of the Year during the last Video Game Awards ceremony, and hopefully the standard has been set for the next game.