Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Assassin's Creed Odyssey Review

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The Assassin's Creed games have come a long way since the first back on the Xbox 360/PS3. Altair's journey made way to Ezio who made way to Connor who made way to that pirate guy who was awesome...and then things got a little sticky. Unity was a bad Assassin's Creed game and Syndicate, which came out the year after, wasn't so much bad as it was just over saturation. We were getting a lot of Assassin's Creed over a very short period of time. Ubisoft wisely made the decision to half the yearly cycle, instead releasing the games every other year. Origins was the first step in this every other year approach and it was a great game. While Odyssey didn't wait the full two years to release, with the success of Origins it's clear to see why they didn't. Has enough time passed between releases and is there enough here to warrant another trip into the Animus? Let's find out.

Assassin's Creed: Odyssey takes us back in time to 431 B.C. You play as a male or female character who plays an important role in the Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens. Even though two characters are available (and one has a superior voice actor) they are pretty much the same when it comes to story delivery. You won't be missing anything for choosing one over the other, so go with whichever you feel is more to your liking. I went with Alexios, the male character, and while he didn't have much of a personality at first, he grew on me as the story continued.

The story in Odyssey plays a much more prominent role than in previous entries in the series. Gone are the days of narratives that took you in and out of the Animus (although this does still occur, just to less of a narrative effect) instead replaced with a tale that revolves around a families struggle with a very disruptive childhood. If you think your family has issues, just wait until you see Alexios' and Kassandra's. Starting off the game, you'll begin your story as a mercenary in Greece. Events unfold which ultimately have you leaving the island on a boat to track down your parents. Over the course of the game, you'll be introduced to a number of actual historical characters who will offer tidbits of information to help you complete your quest while also shedding some light into life in ancient Greece.

The personal story in Odyssey is well written and throws in some nice surprises from time to time. Without spoiling anything, people thought dead will pop back up in your life, and betrayals and drama abound in ancient Greece. The name of the game lends credence to exactly what you'll be doing as you play the game, because the game itself is absolutely gigantic. There is so much to see and do in this game that you wouldn't be remiss if you sat down to crank away at the story only to find yourself 4 hours later completing side quests for some random person on an island you stumbled upon while tracking down an evil cultist. This is both a blessing and a curse for the game. It's always great to have a ton of stuff to do in a video game but with Odyssey it just feels like a bit too much. I can't help but shake the feeling that if they didn't take the kitchen sink approach to quest design, the main gameplay quests would have been better off for it. It's a good thing Ubisoft is taking next year off from Assassin's Creed as a franchise because you could casually play this game for a full year if you wanted to. Most of my time spent playing the game has me doing side quests only to level up my character to complete the next story mission. Story missions were great, the side quests were usually hit or miss.

And that leads me into my next complaint, the grind. In the past, Assassin's Creed games typically felt like a linear adventure in an open world environment. With Odyssey, it seems like Ubisoft is trying to dive more into the RPG genre for better or worse. The good news with that is the gear. If you're a loot obsessed player like I am, you will have it in spades here. Multiple weapon and armor types means you'll always be upgrading the look and stats of your items. Taking down mercenaries who are hunting you or killing cultists that are trying to take over the world is always satisfying because you'll usually get a good piece of gear after doing so. The downside of this RPG mechanic though is the grind. There will be times when you will need to do side missions just to get your level up high enough to complete the next story mission. Leveling can be a slog unless you are doing literally every quest you come across. For some, this won't be an issue. The side quests can be fun and exploring the land can be an enjoyable experience. For those of us with limited gaming time, sitting down to do story missions only to find you need to spend the next couple days doing side quests to be high enough level to undertake it can be deflating. It's not a major criticism, but it is worth noting. Some people will hit the grind and really have a tough time continuing on a limited gaming schedule. Ubisoft offers "time saving" unlockables that cost real money (which do work to save time) but then we get into the whole debate of why a game would even need a time saver mechanic. That gets a little messy and has valid points on both sides of the argument. In the end though, if grind heavy games aren't your thing, you might have an issue with some of AC: Odyssey's mid game events.

Gameplay in Odyssey is very similar to what you would expect from the series. Sticking with the shoulder button combat from Origins, you'll carry around two sets of weapons which can range from sword to blades to even spears and staves. The spears were a personal favorite and I kept them constantly upgraded to always have that as my main weapon. As mentioned earlier, you'll do quests in both story and side missions that take you throughout the lands of ancient Greece, but on top of this there are also some interesting side events you can undertake. For starters, we have the mercenary system. Since your character is a mercenary, he has to compete against others just like him. As you do certain things in the world such as killing soldiers or stealing people's properties, your wanted level of sorts (think GTA's stars) will increase and other mercenaries will come after you. You can either take them on directly (and they get tough the higher the wanted level goes) or pay off the person who put the hit out on your head via the map. You can also kill the person requesting your head, but I found that to be more of a pain. Your wanted level will decrease as time goes on so you can just lay low or hunt down the mercenaries yourself.

Along with mercenaries, ship combat returns in this game and it's just as fun as it was in AC4. You'll also eventually unlock the cultist side missions where you need to track down info about a secretive cult to then hunt down it's members and kill them one by one. Killing one will usually lead you to another and so on and so on. It's not a bad system, and the written descriptions gives some motivations for the marks, but overall, it's pretty similar to the mercenary system. It's a good mechanic, just thrown in with all of the others it can give you a bit of gaming fatigue trying to decide on what to do next.

One thing that absolutely needs to be mentioned in this review is just how beautiful the game is. Ubisoft painstakingly created ancient Greece down to the finest details and exploring it is always a joy. Climbing a giant statue of Zeus only to get a gorgeous view of the Aegean Sea is breathtaking the first time it happens. The characters are beautifully rendered and the sunsets and landscapes truly shine on the PS4 Pro (I'd imagine it would do the same on the Xbox One X as well.)

So, at the end of the day, is Assassin's Creed: Odyssey a good game? Yes, it most certainly is. If you have enjoyed the games in the past and followed the stories over the years, you know what you are getting here and it's exactly what you would want. I do wish some of the side quests and grinding were trimmed down and the game focused more on the main story beats, but as it stands, it's still a fantastic game and a worthy addition to the series. I'm looking forward to seeing where Ubisoft takes the series next and I think the extra year spent in the over will truly make something special.

*Reviewed on a PS4 Pro with code provided by Ubisoft

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