Spoiler-Free Review: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

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Also see: Plague in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was my (first?) quarantine game. For about a hundred hours, I’ve wandered around ancient Greece. The game is lengthy, expansive and huge. Perhaps too much!

A lot of that was working through my Odyssey itself. I also spent a bunch of that enjoyably side questing, both the scripted and generic varieties.

There was also a non-trivial amount of it merely admiring the scenery and enjoying the journey itself, including taking photographs. Some of those photographs might end up printed out on my walls. This is a gorgeous, gorgeous game. If you play it, play it on the largest screen available.

My game review format is typically to divide into sections by level of spoiler contained therein. The first section will be spoiler-free. The second will spoil things.

This is the spoiler-free review. It seeks to answer one question.

Should I Play This Game?

Short Answer

If you’re looking for a relaxing experience that lasts a long time, I highly recommend giving this game a shot. I think it mostly does its jobs exceedingly well, and I am very pleased with the time I spent on it. I have not played previous games in the series or many with similar mechanics, so I can’t fully compare to see if this is better or worse than those games. But my guess is this is near the top.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is an open world, action RPG game set (mostly) in ancient Greece. Battles are real time, with success depending on choosing them wisely, fighting them well, and having the necessary levels and gear. Over the course of the game, you’ll do quests, gain experience and gold (technically drachme), improve your gear, choose new abilities and learn better how the game works.

The game can perhaps best be thought of as a sort of one-player MMO. It copies the core open-world structure and quest structure from such games, with a greater emphasis on the overarching plot.

The closest parallel I’ve played would be the excellent Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I am not sure which game is better. Skyrim is better at offering an RPG experience, planning in combat and more interesting managing and customization of abilities. Odyssey combat is more viscerally satisfying, but after a while it runs together. Odyssey has stealth and naval elements Skyrim is missing. Odyssey gets to be in Greece, so it has a better world. It also has a better main plot and more interesting side quests. Overall, I think the comparison is close.

Biggest advantages: Gorgeous open world to explore that does its setting justice, strong voice acting, satisfying combat and stealth play, strong central characters, great story and writing including side quests, lots of game to play, game length is very long, some meaningful choices.

Biggest disadvantages: Lack of deep strategy in combat or otherwise, hot spot gaming, some necessary going through side quests, game length is very long and can get repetitive, non-trivial time spent traveling on both land and sea that you may not want, lack of certain types of choices or interactions that would have been welcomed.

Overall rating: Tier 2 of 5. Not a Must Play, but definitely Worth It.

Further Details That Help You Answer

Combat as is now traditional is split in three. You can use a bow, you can try to sneak up on them and assassinate them, or you can fight with melee weapons. Fighting with melee weapons is about dodging and parrying their attacks then attacking back and timing your abilities wisely. Fighting with a bow doesn’t seem great in general, and forces you to divide your ability points, but is useful in spots. Stealth is always welcome where available.

One issue with combat is that you heal your health between battles, so often you’ll be rewarded for running away, healing and then coming back, even if you can’t pick up an additional stealth kill that way. Whereas your adrenaline, which powers special abilities, doesn’t refill outside of battle, so you’ll be tempted to seek extra easy battles to refill it, and/​or to not use your cool abilities.

Imposing your own limitations on what you’re willing to do will help balance things out and also keep things fun. Choose your own path.

Odyssey tries to use its world to let you figure out where to go, offering you the choice as to whether to be guided or unguided. They tell you unguided is how the game was meant to be played. I believe them.

If you choose unguided, you’ll be left to listen carefully, look around and figure out where things are, target location icons get turned off.

The problem is that if you fail to locate even one thing, that will block your progress in the quest, which will in turn often will block you in the main quest. You end with a type of ‘hot spot gaming’ where if you don’t figure out what the game wants you to click on or which building the game meant, you wander around endlessly until you get it right.

I chose to therefore leave Guided on. The game still forces you to do enough looking around for my taste. If you remind yourself to look around and stop and smell the roses, rather than charging ahead to the icon, you’ll still get most of the good part of the experience. After a while, the game starts turning off the icon once you get close, so you’re forced to go semi-unguided anyway. It’s probably for the best. Perhaps the right thing to do is to be Unguided, but to flip Guided on whenever you spend more than a few minutes trying to find something and getting frustrated.

The game is long. Shin Megami Tensei levels of long. Completing the main quest lines is not going to happen in under about fifty hours. All the game has to offer is more like one hundred or more. That does not mean you can’t enjoy the game on less than fifty hours, but you will not resolve all the main plot points faster than that.

Some of this being long is that doing main quest tasks does not level you fast enough to keep pace with your enemies. You’ll need to do some number of side quests to keep up, which some players will find boring and repetitive. They did get somewhat repetitive in places, but I enjoyed the setting and flavor a lot, so I didn’t mind.

Reasons of time commitment and repetitiveness are the best reason to not play Odyssey. After a while a lot of what you do gets somewhat repetitive and bleeds together. One can only kill so many bandits, after all, in either Odyssey or Skyrim. Or, there could be another open world game that’s better or excites you more. They take a long time, so one can’t properly check out them all.

The game’s graphics, as noted in the introduction, are the most gorgeous I have ever seen in a video game. It is a delight simply to walk around and see the sights. Even after dozens of hours, this aspect never gets old. I cannot think of a setting that would outdo this one, on this level.

The voice acting is top notch as well, as are the background sounds and combat sound effects. That makes a real difference. It made it quite pleasant to sit back and listen to the stories the quests are telling, even when it’s clear I’m not making meaningful decisions.

The game’s setting is also rich in its cultural feel. They do a great job with the writing. It’s a great place to be. I even feel inspired to go back to the Iliad and Odyssey, and otherwise appreciate the legacy we’ve been given.

You will make choices. Some of them are easy. Others are not so easy, and feel like genuine dilemmas. There’s also the frequent choice of where to make extra effort to use stealth in order to not kill guards, who to make an effort to recruit instead of kill, how much to worry about who your horse runs over or what to do if civilians join the combat or put a bounty on your head. Some of those choices will matter a little. A few will matter a lot. Many of those choices won’t matter in a visible way. That doesn’t mean they didn’t matter. Dead is still dead.

A lot of your journey, and the things you must do, are essentially scripted. There are tasks you are forced to do to get to the end of your path. Not all of them are things I was (in my role as the character) thrilled to be doing. I definitely wished I had more choices and options in some places.

Your first choice is which of two characters to play. Everyone says Kassandra is awesome and you should play her. I chose Alexios instead anyway, and he was good too. Perhaps I missed out, but I think I enjoyed the game more this way.

I was happy to experience the plots of scripted side quests, and ended up doing most of them. Multiple people were often happy to watch (and listen) to those side quests, although they were of course more interested in the central moments and plot of the game, and also came largely for the scenery.

Historical accuracy is a mixed bag. There’s a certain amount of ‘ancient Greek soup’ going on, where as interesting bits and people as possible are thrown together at once. It mostly serves the game well.

By toggling on or off being guided, the difficulty level and a few other options, you get to choose your experience.

I found Normal with Guided to be a good place. I had challenging moments that kept things interesting, but the overall experience felt like a journey rather than a challenge. I self-handicapped in a few ways to keep the experience more fun, such as not optimizing my equipment until things got hard.

That should be enough information to decide. The game is on sale for the next two days on Playstation 4. You can get the complete edition for a $30 digital download, as opposed to $60 for Assassin’s Creed Origins. If this sounds like it appeals, I’d pick it up.

I hope to write a second, spoiler-filled discussion of the game, while it is still fresh.

In the comments to this post, please refrain from spoilers.

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